Student Loans: Snapshot of an Elder Millenial’s Mid-30s Angst
The Chapter 13 Bankruptcy that my $55,000 in student loan debt caused in is finally wrapping up. I have a bit of saving, a steady business, and have become a cohabitating Mom instead of a single one.
Bankruptcy has done for me what it is, at its highest and best, intended to do — allowed me just enough space to get back on my feet. And yes, that took every bit of five years.
I am ready to finally move forward as a full-fledged adult financially. I am ready to pay these loans off.
Day Two: Deep Breathing
I ask my bankruptcy attorney’s office when I can begin paying my loans. She says most servicing companies will contact you after the final release. Typically a few months away. I begin putting money aside and wait.
Day Three: Oh, I am no longer a human.
I received two letters in the mail from the company that holds my loans. One dated for the same day of my Bankruptcy’s end admonishing me that student loans are not dismissed in Bankruptcy (Duh!). The second, a scary letter dated the next day telling me I am the world’s worst human and now owe over $67,000 on the $55,000 I started with five years ago.
Day Four: Shaky Hands, Cold hearts
I call the loan company. Several prompts later, a woman comes on the line. She does not say “hello” or any of the other customer service niceties most typical of these types of calls. Instead, she drills into my contact info. Spitting out demands one after the other. When this is finished, she launches (without a breath) into a bunch of disclosures that basically boil down to this:
This is a student loan. That means we own you. You began taking on this debt when you were 18 and starving. And, we will make damn sure that you’re still paying for it when you’re 88 and starving…Because you will never get rid of this.
Finally, shaking and near tears, I interrupt her. “This is the most dehumanizing phone call I’ve ever had,” I say.
She takes in a breathe and launches into more disclosures. It is very clear she does not have the freedom to allow herself to care. I can almost see the timer beside her that I’ve heard these companies use to track phone call lengths.
Finally, after over five minutes of her lecturing, she tells me I have three options:
- Pay it all off now. (Ha! Wouldn’t that be lovely? Maybe Daddy Warbucks is hiding in the closet).
- Pay as much as I can possibly afford for as long as I possibly can to them, but (and here’s the heinous part) I will still be in default and they will still be able to garnish my wages, tax returns, or social security until I am caught up. Caught up is around the price of a moderately sized automobile — which means at a $1000 per month payment, I won’t get there for close to a decade. My children will need student loans of their own before mine come out of default with this option.
- Consolidate and refinance with them. This piece is murky. There is none of the normal disclosures and considerations around payment size or interest rates that we would think of as normal for loans. Simply a push to do it and do it now or I am essentially owned by this company until my mid-40s.
Clearly, option three is the way I am headed. I am terrified and feel like a complete failure. A couple of unwise decisions from the days before I was legally old enough to drink are going to continue to be the defining financial decision of my life for the foreseeable future.
Right now, this blond-haired blue-eyed, privileged gal from Florida is hearing the message loud and clear: That so-called American Dream is not for poor kids from the South no matter her other privileges, or anyone else unprepared to pay for college or make good financial decisions in their teen years. I can’t help but wonder if it’s this difficult for me what it must be like for others who have even more stacked against them than I did.