Graduating with $100,000 in Student Loan Debt Is Not the End of the World

It Doesn't Have to Be Overwhelming; Manageable Repayment Plans Exist

Yahoo Contributor Network
Graduating with $100,000 in Student Loan Debt Is Not the End of the World
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Elizabeth Geitz

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 | As a 24-year-old living in Illinois, I currently owe about $96,000 in federal student loans. In high school, I became set on studying psychology, and knew it would require education beyond an undergraduate degree. I wasn't overly worried about the amount of loans I would be taking out because I believed that the value of the education would be priceless and having a career I was passionate about would be the ultimate success.

After my high school graduation in 2006, I went straight to DePaul University, where I obtained my bachelor's degree in psychology and the initial $20,000 in student loans. I graduated in four years and enthusiastically applied to one graduate school, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Not only did I earn my master's degree in clinical counseling in two years, but also the remaining balance of my debt.

When graduation was approaching in 2012, the reality of student loan payments was setting in, along with anxiety. I was burnt out and disillusioned with counseling after completing my classes and internship, and the thought of working in my field made me anxious as well. I wasn't prepared to make $1,200 monthly payments for 10 years.

Telling my mom I didn't want to work in my field was a traumatic experience in itself, but then I started looking for jobs outside of my field. Three months is not a very long time, looking back, but I felt pretty desperate by the time I landed the temp job that eventually turned into a permanent position.

Relieved to be bringing in money, I still knew the impending monthly payments of $1,200 would not be manageable. I started doing more in-depth research of my options and discovered the income-based repayment plan, which significantly lowered my payments to about $100 a month. At first, a 25-year repayment period made me uneasy, but the reality is that this plan allows me to pay less over 25 years than I would over 10.

Many feel strongly about students taking out immense amounts of student loans and being responsible for paying them back. In my case, I couldn't have gotten my education without student loans, and I don't regret any part of the process. If I had taken a different path, I would be wondering, "What if?"

Now that I know, I have education and experience that has shaped who I am and a better idea of what I want going forward. This plan allows me to budget my payments as one part of my financial picture, rather than being the whole picture.

Ultimately, I never want to feel trapped in a job I hate, and while it should be a student's responsibility to compare the cost of education to the expected salary in their desired field, I don't believe in shutting doors on one's self prematurely. Today, I feel positive about my values and decisions and would recommend anyone else to follow a path lead by their passions, but also guided by logic.

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