A Twitter follower recently contacted me and offered to tell her personal story in order to help other college-bound students. Since she claimed that she had “made every possible mistake,” I couldn’t resist the offer.
Kathleen chose to attend a private, for-profit art school, with relatively high tuition. According to Kathleen, her father “didn’t go to school but had a great paying full time job as well as many side businesses but he choose not to pay for my education because he thought that I would get more government aid that way.”
He was wrong. Unfortunately, the way the financial aid system works, your tuition is based on your parents’ income whether they offer to help you pay for college or not. Having high income parents who don’t help pay is a worst-case scenario and ruins your financial aid eligibility. The only ways around this are to get married, have a baby, join the military or wait to go to college until you are age 24 and considered independent of your parents.
So, that’s strike one against her.
Kathleen qualified only for an abysmal $900 in merit aid, based on her good grades in high school. Not only did she not qualify for financial aid grants, but she didn’t even qualify for many subsidized, federal student loans. So, she turned to the private student loan market.
I wish that someone would have told Kathleen at this point that this school was simply beyond her financial reach. She needed to look at lower-priced state schools. Instead, she signed the private loans and graduated with $92,000 in debt in 2010, at staggering interest rates of 14.25%, 11% and 9%.
“As of today,” Kathleen explains, “I have accrued over $18,000 in interest and the loan providers expect $1200/month for 10 years or $1050/month for expending my biggest private loan out to 24 years. I have about $365/month in forbearance on the federal loans but the others are all private, resulting in limited repayment options. I am also quite at a loss with the high interest rates because nobody in the world is consolidating private loans right now. I did the math and if I can pay everything off in 10 years, I will have paid a total of $175,000 and if I pay the rest of my private loan off in 24 years, I will have paid $244,000.”
Ouch. This is an absolute nightmare, and at this point—as she perceives—her options are limited.
The good news is that she does have a job in her field that she likes, and is earning a respectable living, but these debts are killing her and are simply unsustainable.
Her best bet to avoid striking out? Try to get the income-based repayment adjustment on the federal loans. Then, talk to Dad. See if he is willing to help her deal with the high-interest private loans. Since he didn’t help pay tuition earlier, and earns a good living, perhaps he would be willing to make a contribution now. If he would consider paying off the highest interest loan, that would be a great start. If not, maybe he would be willing to give her a loan to pay them off, at a more reasonable “family” rate. That way, more of the family’s economic resources could stay within the family, rather than going to fund faceless, uncaring, and predatory lenders.