As American students now cumulatively owe about $1 trillion in student loan debt, Yahoo is publishing first-person accounts from those who are still paying and those who have lessons to share. Here's one story.
FIRST PERSON | In 2004, I began pursuing a statistics degree at North Carolina State University. Growing bored and noting the lack of women in that department, I switched over to film studies. Wanting job prospects, I later added a marketing major, finishing up with the school in 2008.
Like many of my fellow students who could not afford the expenses of higher education out-of-pocket and did not get all of the necessary scholarship money, I borrowed money.
On top of the federally subsidized loans, I borrowed from a private lender and took on unsecured debt to get through school. Through a series of misfortunes, I could not begin paying my creditors until 2011, which led to vastly negative consequences. For me, it is nearly impossible to secure viable employment and safe housing. It has not been easy. I have made some sacrifices, but I have put nearly $3,000 toward the $13,000 I have in federal loans. When I return to work, I plan on tripling the amount I put toward student loans so that I can be out of debt in 1.5 years and hopefully get married.
Word of advice to those who are already caught up in student loans: Do not miss a payment. Lending companies are less than understanding, as it is much more profitable for them to tack on more debt. I learned this the hard way in the summer of 2011. Student loans are wonderful in theory, making college accessible to people who might not otherwise get to go, but the system is broken. Something is definitely wrong when the system thrives on indentured servitude. To avoid this, realize that sacrifices will be necessary for the next four to five years as you work toward a break-even point. That diet of Ramen noodles and water? It's a lifestyle now.
Word of advice to those who are not caught up in student loans: Do not take them. It's far more worth it to work through school. It's nice not having to choose between rent, food and debt. Look for every possible scholarship. Borrow money from family. They will probably yell and browbeat as much as the average lender, but at least there are hugs and a free meal afterward. Do your homework. For class and in real life. Research your major. Find out if that degree will provide a viable job after graduation. There's nothing worse than taking on five to six figures of debt only to realize that it'll take making coffee for 20 years to pay it back.
I'm now 28 and live in Raleigh. Looking back, I would have played the college game a lot differently. I probably would have lived at home, worked part-time, and started at a community college. A frugal lifestyle is hard, but it would probably be better than the daily stress I take in from having a riptide of debt keeping me from the shore of prosperity.
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