For anyone that has gone to college, thought about going to college, done any research on college, or knows someone who has been to college, you can relate when I say student loans are the bane of my existence. They’re always running around in the back of my mind, reminding me that this month’s payment is swiftly approaching, regardless of what my bank account looks like. It's stressful, to say the least, and can easily develop into a state of constant anxiety. And right now, I can't afford my student loans, so that anxiety has escalated to the next level.
I graduated from Clark Atlanta University in 2011 with just about $100,000 in debt from student loans. Fast forward eight years, and I now owe about $120,000 in student loan debt, thanks to interest — a number that I just can’t pay off. To preface, my loans are a mix of public and private loans plus financial aid. I’ve been able to defer a certain number of loans and avoid the monthly payments for now, but they still accrue daily interest — about $4 to $8 a day. I’ve also been able to adopt an income-based repayment plan with a few other loans, where they base my monthly payments off my current income. This has brought one loan to a $0 monthly payment and around $50 for the others, but daily interest still accrues, and my small monthly payments are barely putting a dent in that interest. Nope, I’m not even hitting the actual loan amount. The icing on the cake is my one private loan that I can no longer defer has defaulted, and the debt collection agency is summoning not only me, but also my sister (the co-signer of the loan) to court for failure to pay — an actual lawsuit.
My wonderfully successful and beautiful sister is nine years older than me, and she co-signed on a student loan for both my brother and I when we first entered college in 2006 and 2007, respectively, because my mother’s credit at the time wouldn’t cut it. I’m super grateful for her stepping up when she could so that her younger siblings could attain a higher level of education, but due to the present issues with my student loans, it’s put a slight damper on our relationship. Both of our credit scores have been affected and lowered at least 50 points each thanks to the defaulted loan. Having to explain to her that we have to go to court soon for my inability to pay my loan is kind of embarrassing, to say the least. She doesn't really yell when she's angry, but I did get one of those "This is really disappointing" looks accompanied with a heavy sigh. She's definitely tired of having to deal with my mess as if I were her kid instead of her sibling.
The only options I've come up with are becoming an egg donor or a sugar baby.
The options I have for my one defaulted loan are to either pay off the full $25,000… or pay off the full $25,000. I'm honestly terrified of what's going to happen, and even more terrified knowing something could happen to my sister as well. I don't know if they're going to start withholding our wages or what, but I have a feeling it’s going to affect our relationship even more if she’s held accountable for the $25,000 as the co-signer. The hearing is at the end of June, and so far, the only options I've come up with are becoming an egg donor or a sugar baby. But apparently, you can't be an egg donor if you have a history of smoking, and you have to put out something serious to get a sugar daddy to hand over $25,000. So, neither of those options are realistic for me.
On top of it all are the fake "loan forgiveness" companies that call me once a week trying to scam me out of money I don’t have. You mean to tell me if I pay you $250 today, you'll release a $10,000 "grant" that I don't have to pay back and my debt will be cleared? Yeah, sounds legit. All they need is my Social Security number or bank account number to put me in an even deeper hole of debt than before.
Any time I spend money on myself, eat out, buy something new, take a trip, or give a gift, I’m always thinking I shouldn’t have done it because I have all this debt to take care of. It feels like I can’t possibly practice any type of self-care or have fun until I’m debt-free. It’s a wild and shameful mentality to have. I stress out about things that haven’t happened yet because I’m always reminding myself I owe $120,000 and counting. It literally makes me sick. The spiral into my dark place happens so quick: The thought pops up just as I'm finally NOT thinking about my finances every five seconds, and it gets harder and harder to dig myself out of it.
Over 44 million Americans are currently living with student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero, and more than 11% of those loans are 90 days delinquent or in default. Mine is one of them. And while my monthly payments are lower than the average, how are people supposed to afford the average loan payment of $393 per month if they can't even find a solid paying job in their field? The average 2019 college graduate makes around $48,000 annually, according to CNBC, but that's if you can find it. The job market it so saturated that according to a 2015 report from Glassdoor, about 250 people are applying for any given job. Not to mention the cost of living has steadily increased over the years, with the value of wages dropping while housing costs rise “twice as fast as inflation and one-and-a-half times faster than the household median income,” per a 2018 Pew Research Center report.
I have made the decision to prioritize my self-care and mental health so I can stay sane enough to keep moving forward.
And I know it could be worse. I’ve been self-employed as a freelance copywriter for about three years now, and I love my job and how far I’ve come. But my student loans are still a dark cloud steadily following me through life. I want to feel like a responsible adult, but I just don’t make enough money to get me out of even the tiniest hole with my loan debt.
In the end, through trial and error, I have made the decision to prioritize my self-care and mental health so I can stay sane enough to keep moving forward. I've come to terms with the amount of debt that I owe, but if I solely focus on that dollar amount, I'd never have time to brainstorm other ways to make money, to expand my work portfolio, or even put my best work out there to further my writing career. My happiness is more important than my student loan debt, that's for sure. If I’m truly going to be paying my loans from the grave (which is exactly what it feels like), I need to take advantage of the other things this life has to offer. Because right now, it’s my best option.