First Person: My Student Loan Debt Stole 10 Years of My Life

Yahoo Contributor Network

I graduated college in the mid-1990s with a student loan burden that I carried around for 10 years. I had it extremely easy compared to the many people who have shared their student loan horror stories. According to a recent article by Business Insider, the student loan burden in this country has now risen to $1 trillion. And, colleges continue to hike tuition costs. Since student loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy and many people can't get jobs even with a college degree, people are dealing with snowballing interest charges on loans they may never pay off. I think people need to think about how the student loan debt affects everyone in this country, not just the people with federal and private student loans that have become unmanageable.

Destined to rent

Because of my student loan debt, I was turned down for a mortgage on a home in my 20s. My situation is becoming more common as people are stuck in low-rent apartments. I don't think the real estate market will ever be able to experience a full recovery as long as the average young person has tens of thousands of college loan debt. Parents used to be able to help their children buy a first home with a cash gift, but now many parents are busy either paying off their own loans or the loans they co-signed. For me, renting was an economic disaster since I rented an older duplex with no insulation. The rent was low, but I had to pay $500 a month for electricity to keep the duplex heated.

Trapped in a job

I was unable to move for about 10 years because of my student loan obligations. I felt as though I was tied down to my job in Indiana because all my extra money went toward my student loan. I didn't like the crime, weather or pollution in the area where I lived, but couldn't make a move until I paid of my student loan debt. After paying off my debt, I saved up about $10,000 so I could afford to move across the country and find a new job.

Obligated to work overtime

Although my employer didn't require me to work 7 days a week, I felt obligated to do so in order to pay down my debt. I knew I'd never get out of my student loan debt by making interest-only payments. I resented working every day and missing out on fun activities. However, I was determined to get out of student loan debt before my 30th birthday. I feel terrible for students today who say they will be paying off their student loans for the rest of their lives.

Forced to delay retirement

I couldn't afford to save any money for retirement for the first 10 years of my career. I've talked to financial experts who estimate I'll be 10 years behind on my retirement savings because of the delay. Although I could make catch-up contributions when I'm older, that will only decrease my cash flow. I may delay retirement until I'm 77. In some ways I feel as though my student loan debt stole 20 years from my life. It stole 10 years on the front end of my career and it may steal another 10 years from my retirement.

With people devoting so much of their income toward student loan debt repayment, they have less money to purchase items and participate in the economy as consumers. I know I rarely bought anything new in my 20s as I paid down my student loans. Instead, I shopped garage sales or accepted family hand-me-downs.

With two sons in college, I don't want to see them go through the same thing so we focus on saving to pay with cash each semester. I am stunned by the high cost of tuition. Still, I am disturbed by the alarming student loan debt in our country. I used to think it wasn't smart to include student loans in bankruptcy, but now I think in many cases it's warranted. People take out student loans in good faith that they will receive an education that leads to employment. And in today's world, that's not a guarantee.

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