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The Truth About Life with a Huge Student Loan

One of the issues of this presidential campaign as well as of the recent Occupy movement is the cost of higher education and the burden of student loans. I’ve heard some people remark that people who complain about the cost of student loans are “whiners” and that they should have realized what they were getting into and acted more responsibly. Others trot out the old maxim, “I worked my way through college – today’s young people should do the same.”

I would like to start this article by saying that I am not, in any way, whining. I merely want to share some facts, including real dollar and cents information, on what life is like with a huge student loan and why something truly needs to be done about this growing problem.

I was very fortunate. I received a large scholarship for my undergraduate education, and my father generously covered the small percentage that we needed to pay for. I attended graduate school one class at a time which was paid for by the college since I worked there full-time.

My husband was not so lucky. He came from a poor background. After high school, he worked for several years and helped support his family. He returned to college in his mid-twenties. By attending a community college and a four-year institution at the same time, he was able to complete his undergraduate degree in three years. He then went on to law school – working full-time and attending school part-time in the evenings. In 2001, he graduated the month after our first child was born with $111,000 in debt.

That first student loan payment came due that November. Even with consolidating loans and the thirty-year graduated payment plan, the bill was for $800. It could have been a million dollars. The reality was, we simply didn’t have the money. We firmly believe in paying our bills, but there was no way we could pay that one. We worked with the Department of Education which holds the loan and were able to obtain a forbearance. We would pay $300 a month. It was a stretch, but we were able to pay it. I believe we paid that for two years. We then went up to $450 a month and $600 and finally the full amount which we have been paying for several years now. We currently pay $860 a month – more than we pay for our mortgage payment.

The issue is that during the years we couldn’t pay the full amount, the interest kept accruing. At its highest point, the loan reached $130,000. We have now been paying on this loan for over ten years. During that time, we have paid $73,964.98, yet the principal amount is still $126,082.58. I will repeat that so that it can sink in – we have paid over seventy thousand dollars yet the amount we owe is still fifteen thousand dollars more than we started out owing! Can you understand why this can make people throw up their arms in frustration? As much as I would like to honor this debt and pay off this loan, pending an unexpected financial windfall, we will most likely die before it is paid off.

Meanwhile, it has impacted every financial decision we have made. It affects our ability to save for our children’s education and retirement. Plus, there is the psychological weight of knowing that we owe this money.

I stated in the beginning that I was not whining and that is true. We have been blessed. We are able to  make the payments. My husband’s education allowed him to pursue a career which gives him fulfillment and allows me to work part-time from home and home-school our children. Plus, at least he received both an undergraduate and graduate education for the amount we owe. Today, that amount of loans can easily be accumulated simply obtaining an undergraduate degree. If both a husband and wife have this amount of loans, the result is truly financially crippling.

Unlike home loans or car loans, which are based on income and what you are buying and can be made as prudent financial decisions, student loans are based on hope – the hope of future earnings. I know that when we were signing for these loans, we knew the amount was large, but we had no concept of what it would take to pay them. We certainly didn’t have the money to pay for the classes out-of-pocket. They were necessary for him to obtain his education. We simply hoped it would all work out.

Today, as a parent, I don’t know how to advise my children. I want them to be able to fulfill their potential and obtain a higher education if that is what they want. At the same time, I know the reality of living with large student loan debt. Something must be done about the high cost of higher education and the burden of student loans. This is a very real issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.

 


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a Master of Arts degree in Applied Theology from Elms College. A former Senior Editor at Catholic Lane, she is now the editor of Today's Catholic Homeschooling. She is also the author of The Catholic Baby Name Book and Letters to Mary from a Young Mother. She has two biological sons and one adopted daughter. Visit her blog at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com.


  • Claire

    Hi Patrice,

    Great article, as usual. I don’t envy you those huge loans at all. Jennifer Fulwiller wrote an article along these lines that you might be interested in: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/why-i-dont-worry-about-paying-for-my-kids-college-educations/

  • Hi Patrice,
    I think that one of the things that people must consider is that not everyone SHOULD be college bound. I have heard people comment that their children WILL go to college. They demand it. There are people who would be much happier pursuing a trade. While trade school is an expense, it is usually a more realistic one, and there is a very real knowledge that tradesmen are needed. Have you tried to find a plumber or electrician who can make it to your home some time before the next decade begins? We need to encourage our children to pursue areas of knowledge in which they have talent and which will bring them a sense of fulfillment in their every day lives. College is the solution for some, but not all. I agree that it has become exorbitantly expensive. Perhaps a lesson in real life mathematics should be a pre-requisite for college attendance, or at least for signing those loan papers. Signing loan paperwork and not really knowing what you are agreeing to is similar to signing permission for a surgery and not understanding the weight of the decision. It is a lack of informed consent.
    I have told my children that I am not planning on paying for their educations. If they are truly motivated, they will figure out which direction they are called to head in. I keep them all in prayer and that, I think, is the best donation I can give them.
    I hope that you have a windfall and the student loans can be wiped out, by the way!

    🙂

  • James Littleton

    Patrice:

    Thanks for writing this. This major problem in our society needs to be resolved by the government, banks, and yes the universities. My oldest three children have a lot of student debt, though not as much as you mention. With the other children (I have 14 living) we are advising them to stay away from any more debt than say a few thousand dollars which they can pay off quickly. God has other ways than inordinate debt if it is His will that they attend college. I wish I learned this lesson earlier, but it is all part of God’s perfect plan. We currently have three in private Catholic University (Ave Maria) with many more to come. Of the three one is in the seminary, so no tuition. The other two have little or no debt (one a senior and the other a junior). With God’s help they found scholarships, grants, work in student government and such for more compensation, and they work part-time during the school year, and then during the summer to pay all costs. God has many different paths in store for His children. Trust in God and be not afraid. He does provide. The author’s current situation is very unfortunate, and all too common, often much worse,, but it can be seen as a purification and redemptive cross. It will all work our for the good in the end. Especially don’t be afraid to bear much fruit and multiply. The more we trust Jesus, the more He likes to shower His gifts. Peace of Jesus.

  • Thank you for your comments! I greatly appreciate them.

  • What you are describing is usury pure and simple. I paid a student loan many years ago in full. The “education” I purchased with that money was worthless from day one. It was all a scam. I did the best I could with what I had achieved but I learned a valuable lesson: this has become a country of scammers where everything is permitted if it serves the almighty dollar. IN GOD WE TRUST don’t make me laugh the motto should be SALVE LUCRUM! in Latin so the fools are not alerted of their impending doom. But it is also coming to an end: the wizards at Wall Street, Pennsylvania Ave., etc. have been able to scam everyone for amounts way above what anyone can pay. Now the scavenging begins and it is THEM who have been fooled by their own schemes. The time is coming when no one will be able to pay. It is already a well known truth that no company is safe and no job is secure.

    The wall on which the prophets wrote
    Is cracking at the seams.
    Upon the instruments of death
    The sunlight brightly gleams.
    When every man is torn apart
    With nightmares and with dreams,
    Will no one lay the laurel wreath
    As silence drowns the screams.

    Confusion will be my epitaph.
    As I crawl a cracked and broken path
    If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
    But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
    Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

    Between the iron gates of fate,
    The seeds of time were sown,
    And watered by the deeds of those
    Who know and who are known;
    Knowledge is a deadly friend
    If no one sets the rules.
    The fate of all mankind I see
    Is in the hands of fools.

    Confusion will be my epitaph.
    As I crawl a cracked and broken path
    If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
    But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
    Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.
    (From “Epitaph” 1969, Ian McDonald)

    and I would add this:

    And nothing can we call our own but death
    And that small model of the barren earth
    Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
    For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
    And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
    (William Shakespeare, King Richard II)

    The time to cash the death you have purchased with your schemes is at hand. You have conquered the world and now you must surrender your souls to the eternal fire. All gold turned out to be fool’s gold. The sun will raise over a new world and you will get to see from Hell and burn with desire in the fire that is not quenched. These, gentlemen, are your wages. Every soul you oppressed is now glowing with happiness and the measure of their happiness is your own hell. Where are you dollars now?