I paid $64,305 for a $23,000 student loan.

In the past ten years, I paid nearly triple for loans I took out in undergrad.

  • I took out two loans at 13.5% & 11.5% totaling 23K as a junior and ended up paying 64,305.23 for them over the span of a decade.
  • My loans were not covered by the CARES act, it just opened an opportunity to pay them off. If it were not for the CARES act I would have paid 86,765.75.
  • I would have been rejected for PSLF even though I have worked for eligible nonprofits for the past decade.
  • In my 32 years on this earth I have lost sleep due to being hungry and unsafe, but I cannot understand how Navient employees sleep at night.

Why I Needed to go to College

It’s not easy to think back on my childhood — but I can’t help but think about Debbie Rill, Matt Edris, Freda Martine, and Nina Jett’s bright impact on the years I spent at the Milton Hershey School. After MHS, I pursued higher education to ensure I’d be equipped with the tools to make a difference in the lives of people — just like they did for me — and to make them proud that I went as far as I could go in life. Less than half of students who come from my background obtain a college degree in 10 years. Even less pursue and obtain graduate degrees. So I did whatever it took to get through college, including taking out loans.

There are quite a bit of bipartisan arguments out there discouraging people from poverty, particularly nonwhite people, to not go to college. “Some people aren’t right for college; go to trade school instead” is a good example of one. These arguments are not new and can be found as far back in musings published in 1928. I spent a great deal of my life processing my own lived experiences in how the educational system is broken, particularly for black students, no matter how explicit or subtle the pressure was.

Why I Needed Loans

Since graduating high school in 2006 I moved apartments 16 times. That is 16 different addresses over 14 years; 16 different apartment leases with different landlords; 16 different times I had to collect everything I owned and move it to a new location. Stable housing matters greatly to me. I was awarded several scholarships to attend Drexel and Temple covering my tuition entirely. The opportunity of housing was why I chose Drexel over Temple, as Drexel offered housing and Temple did not, but I did not know at the time of enrolling that I’d run out of funding for my housing by my Junior year.

I sought help from Drexel’s financial aid office. They instructed me to sit in their financial aid office and read through a three-ringed binder for financial help. I remember reading page by creased page, knowing it had been studied by the eyes of countless students who came before me. I did not find any opportunity in the book, so I ended up calling Sallie Mae. I also remember that very well: sitting in a newly opened Taco Bell on campus staring a thousand yard stare into a parking lot that is also no longer there and listening to a Sallie Mae, now Navient, rep reading me my last rites. One loan was 10K at 13.5% and the other was 13K at 11.5%. I understood exactly what I was signing, however, my only misunderstanding was that I thought Sallie Mae, renamed Navient, was my only option to financing my education. I knew I needed to get a college degree, I couldn’t take time off to finance it — but I didn’t know that unnamed government loans existed beyond the Stafford loans.

Sallie Mae, now Navient, is an Inexcusable and Loathsome Operation

The two loans I took out never budged in hard times. After graduating into the Great Recession all of my missed payments and subsequent late fees were added to the principle. Sallie Mae, rebranded Navient, absolutely did not believe that me living on a salary of less than 10K for a year after graduating was enough of a hardship to defer. Sallie Mae, who now after years and years of just being absolutely horrible is going by a new name: Navient, called me three times a day, everyday, telling me their half-baked financial strategies: simply spend less, simply make more, all before finishing the call by imploring ‘it was your choice to take these loans out.’ I have been employed since I was 16 years old, I worked part-time during undergrad, up to four jobs until 2012, and I worked full-time during both of my master degrees. I put in harder than hard work, especially as our generation on the whole makes less than recent generations before us. It was incredibly rich then to hear someone tell me to just work harder, and in retrospect it is even more offensive.

Luckily, if you could call living through that experience ‘Luck’, I did not need to have a deferral conversation with them during the pandemic of 2020 — but so we are all clear, these two loans were not eligible to be put on pause by the CARES act if I did need to have that conversation. The CARES act, however, did open up an opportunity for me to knock these two loans out now rather than continue to pay on schedule.

I write this with a decade’s worth of mixed feelings: I finally paid these two loans off at 64,305 dollars and 23 cents. That is 2.8 times what I took out. Had I paid what was suggested by Sallie Mae it would have taken me until 2030 to pay off, totaling $86,765 which is 3.7 times the amount I took out as a junior. I will also say my student loan provider overloads offered to refinance these for 9.5% and 11.5% respectively. Hard pass. I have only ever lost sleep at night due to being hungry and unsafe, but even I still can’t comprehend how anyone who works for them can sleep at night.

Student Loan Debt: Democratic and Republican Plans

There is no respite for poor Americans. Every day is a battle on nearly every front, even before the pandemic. The discussion of this specific financial pain by legislators — like many discussions dealing with inequities — leaves out the frontline voices from the experience. Student loan debt: a long-discussed topic in the United States of which continues to rise and are not dischargeable even in bankruptcy for the generations who came after the Baby Boomers. Student loan debt is known to hinder opportunities for those who have to take on that burden, with huge disparities on the weight of that burden: if you are black or brown that financial pain is much worse.

Joe Biden’s plan to integrate more progressive debt cancellation is a fantastic economic move, and more importantly, one that would tip the scales towards being more equitable. The Democratic and Republican parties could not be more different on this subject. Prior to the pandemic, there were quite a few things that Republicans proposed, but one I want to highlight that should set the tone for their platform is how they proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program — and let us not forget that in practice the Trump administration denied nearly everyone who applied for it after their 10 years of serving: 1.1% of applicants were approved. The CARES act and continued student loan payment relief does not affect all student loans. If past behavior, or current think tank penmanship, is to predict future behavior — then Republicans will offer more of the same.

I paid my dues, nearly three times over — and I can safely say that no one should have to deal with this going forward.

Drexel Psychology 2010, Penn Ed Policy 2015, Harvard Health Management 2018, Yale Blavatnik Fellow 2020

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