Student loan borrowers in the United States have accumulated more than $1 trillion in debt, and although the government is working to give students relief, many are still in the hole because their debt keeps growing.
ATLANTA – Student loan borrowers in the United States have accumulated more than $1 trillion in debt, and although the government is working to give students relief, many are still in the hole because their debt keeps growing.
Emma Klauber, a student loan borrower, received her undergraduate degree in 2008 and her master’s in 2009. She pays thousands of dollars in student loans every month.
Emma Klauber graduates from NYU in 2009. (Emma Klauber)
“It was a given that I would be taking out student loans, my parents wouldn’t be able to pay for my education,” Klauber said. “But I don’t think I understood at the time. You just don’t really have an awareness at 17 or 18 about the contract that you’re signing and the long-term impact it will have on your life.”
After graduation, Klauber didn’t have enough income to pay back her student loans. She says it’s tough to pay off the debt because the starting salary for many recent graduates is so low.
“I definitely stayed in forbearance as long as I could, but that will harm you in the end because your interest continues to accrue,” Klauber said.
Now Klauber has hundreds of thousands of dollars to repay. For years she felt like she was drowning in debt and was forced to switch careers to increase her income.
“It wasn’t until about two and half years ago when I made a really big career transition from working in nonprofit arts education to working in tech that I was able to sort of break even,” she said.
Emma Klauber working for a nonprofit after graduation. (Emma Klauber)
“Now, I feel like I can catch my breath and manage my monthly payments – which are nearly $2,000 a month,” Klauber said. “That is so much money that I could be saving and putting towards my future.”
Although the government has paused federal student loan payments, that doesn’t help borrowers like Klauber with private loans.
“[The] majority of my loans are private,” she said. “It’s great that I was able to refinance, but I couldn’t refinance without changing careers and getting a higher paying job to qualify.”
Student loan expert Anna Helhoski says millions of borrowers are struggling to pay back their loans during the pandemic.
“Private student loan borrowers were left out of any kind of coronavirus relief, so in that case, they really only have the options that their lenders make available to them,” Helhoski said. “In the United States, student loan borrowers owe a collective $1.67 trillion in both federal and private student loan debt.”
However, even borrowers that only took out federal student loans are struggling. Apryl Wishecoby, a first-generation college student, graduated from a private liberal arts school in 2009. Wishecoby says her federal student loans have been in forbearance multiple times because she can’t meet the payments.
Apryl Wishecoby graduates from college in 2009 as a first-generation college student. (Apryl Wishecoby)
“Unfortunately, I had to put myself in forbearance a lot of times and deferred my payments which has unfortunately added a lot of money onto my balance,” Wishecoby said. “The balance was $93,000 when it was all said and done from my bachelor’s and my master’s and as of this morning, my balance is $133,004.”
Wishecoby says her income makes it impossible to meet the monthly payments of $1,000 a month. However, if she was able to pay the monthly amount, her payoff date wouldn’t be until 2039.
“It’s suffocating to know that, even though I’ve made payments in the past – they’re not going anywhere, it’s still the same,” Wishecoby said.
Klauber and Wishecoby are among millions of borrowers who are struggling to pay back their student loan debt, but they both say they wouldn’t change their college experience.
“I really value my college experience and my college education,” Klauber said. “I wouldn’t change those things, I think I went to the right school for me, I met amazing people who will be my colleagues for life and I don’t think I would have developed into the person I am today without that experience.”
“But I didn’t know this was how my life was going to look and unfortunately, I don’t think anyone took the time on the end of the lending system to explain that to you,” Wishecoby said. “That way you could potentially make an educated decision.”
Some Democrats have suggested a $50,000 student loan forgiveness plan that would make 36 million borrowers debt-free, but it won’t help borrowers with private student loans.
“In America, we’re drowning in debt,” Klauber said. “Why should student loans have to be another debt that has so negatively impacted our life? Why should we have to be held into these lifelong sentences.”