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Student loan crisis at its ugliest: I graduated and found out I owe $200,000

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By following his intellectual passion into a career where he needed a graduate degree to advance, this guy ended up with $200,000 in student loan debt -- even though he has gotten several plum jobs in his field.

Every new paragraph had me wondering how this bioethicist could get out of the trap set by his education loans.

With every bump in salary comes a bump in payments. My current payment is about $1,500 a month—that’s almost 40 percent of my take-home pay—and despite having paid more than $75,000 toward my loans, I still owe about $190,000. Remember, I started with $200,000 in debt. With more than eight years of some of my private loans at 8 and 9 percent interest, and my federal loans at more than 6 percent, Sallie Mae and the federal government have made it very hard to make progress.


Fortunately, after that, I was also able to refinance some of these loans with a good, financially stable, and not-likely-to-die-soon friend (thanks, Steve) as a co-signer. After six years of attempts, I was actually able to start paying more of my principal balance.

My situation has finally stabilized, and I should be able to avoid default, though things haven’t improved otherwise. My payments are still crushing, they will be around for decades, and they severely limit my life choices.

He admits that he made some bad decisions. 

What's unfortunate is how many millions of other Americans are in the same student loan trap.

The amount I owe is uncommon, but my story is not. The data show that millions are struggling with large amounts of student debt—debt that will result in some of the painful experiences I have gone through. So at a minimum, I hope this serves as a lesson to stay informed and temper your academic ambition with consideration of the financial costs and the investment you’re making.

But that doesn’t get to the heart of the systemic problem: Education is outrageously expensive and too risky; schools indoctrinate students and their families with lofty ideals and benefit from their ignorance without accountability; and students and their families can borrow at unprecedented rates, allowing schools to continue hiking tuition. Though its advent was surely well-intentioned, our loan system is confusing and exploitative. In a country we often think of as a meritocracy, it’s appalling that we have an education system that frequently does more to punish students for getting educated than it does to reward them.

Ultimately, like many other enlightened countries that recognize education as a critical public good—foundational to the economy and a just society—we need to move toward free public education, including graduate school. Where will this money come from? Given the billions we spend on federal student loan programs and the disgusting amounts of money many college presidents and administrators make, I’m sure there’s plenty of money that could put us in the right direction. To start, we need more substantial efforts to refinance and forgive student debt. There are millions of people like me who would like to get on with their lives.

Currently, about 40 million Americans owe $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.

This is a big, big deal and very common... there needs to be a plan when going to college. I talk about ROTC a lot, scholarships, and letting businesses pay for college, but we need to get kids to start saying, "No."  Look at college like a purchase--does it make sense?  Go to one that does. 

Easier said than done. Most colleges still have price sticker shock. 

It's easier said than done because colleges are marketing machines built on ego.  Both of us have some hefty schools behind us. I wanted Georgetown. Luckiest day in my life when they rejected me... but still, if I had gone to Eastern CT State University, I could've had the job I have now.  Arguably, my network would have changed and that makes a difference--so, maybe I wouldn't have been writing or doing some of the things I do now. Adults need to put the breaks on this--you wouldn't let your kid go out and drop a savings account on a Ferrari, so don't get all ego-driven about Ivy League or unless they cough up the cash.  Then honor the scholarship by achieving. 

We need to learn to say "no."  Pass on the purchase.  THEN, we need to credential much of the learning that's out there...for students and professionals where it makes sense to do so.  I bet you wouldn't pass on a genius coder who learned it with his gaming buddies... 

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