Over Thanksgiving, just before helping ourselves to another round of leftovers, my niece and I got talking about her student loans. What struck me the most was her answer to this: How often, I had asked, do you think about that debt?
“Oh, every day,” she immediately replied.
Yes, pretty much. “More often than it is good for me to think about it.”
Megan has attended nearly half a dozen colleges — some nonprofit, some for-profit, many online — as she’s tried to sort out her path. That’s left her with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Part of why this is always on her mind is because of her inbox. She struggles with payments so she gets messages from her lenders, of course. But she also gets emails, more than once a week, from Sallie Mae asking her if she might want to borrow more.
“Still need money for school?” one subject line inquires.
If there’s one word to describe her feelings about student debt, Megan says it’s this: Overwhelming.
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About one in six American adults has student-loan debt — which totals about $1.5 trillion. That’s more debt
than Americans owe on their car loans and more than they carry on their credit cards.
We talk a lot about student debt on a macro level, especially now as politicians sound alarms and offer plans to forgive loans for college. We also often talk about it in only the most dire of terms, through extreme stories that paint all debt as bad.
We want to hear the full range of stories, to capture more of the nuances of the values and drawbacks of borrowing for college. And we want to hear more about the real ramifications of this debt, on a personal level. What is it actually like to live with it?
How does borrowing for college affect people’s dreams? How does it change them and their everyday lives? For many, surely, student loans open up opportunities. At the same time, they become a weight.