The Costs Of Student Debt

When I moved to my current city, starting a new job in a new place at the same time that all my student loan payments had to begin, I was in dire financial straights. I hadn’t earned enough money in the six months between graduation and that move to have any kind of cushion to fall back on (all my work during those months was at ten dollars an hour which was enough to live off, but not enough to start any kind of savings or financial safety net) so I had to put the entire move on a credit card. It wasn’t that bad since I was living pretty light, tossed out the couch I had up to that point, and had a large Jeep I could hook a trailer up to instead of needing a full moving truck. Still, between that, groceries, gas, and the constant needs of living in a new place while waiting a month for my first paycheck (my job paid monthly), I racked up enough credit card debt that it made me uncomfortable.

See, I didn’t have anyone I could simply ask for financial support. I bet my parents would have helped out if they knew, but I was still a few desperate, broke years away from being willing to accept money from them. It also didn’t help that, when I eventually talked to them about my concerns and mounting debt, they told me that was normal for every student right out of college. So I accrued quite a bit of credit card debt in that first year before my income rose enough that I was finally breaking even. After all, I would have rather died than moved back into my parents house, a fact I could barely admit to myself at the time, let alone anyone else. I managed to make my payments on time, slowly worked the debt downward, but then got set back during the holidays. It turned out that, for my first five years in Madison (until I paid off my car loan, actually), my only financial safety net was my credit card, so any time something came up, it went on a credit card.

Since I was born in a white middle-class family and, despite their flaws, had parents who cared enough about financial stuff to teach me to budget and how to manage my credit, I still have very good credit despite that. I would have been far better off if they’d given me actually good advice about student loans and hadn’t convinced me that nearly six digits of student debt was a fine amount of debt to pick up over four years, but I didn’t get that. I got budgeting advice, how to balance my checkbook, and how to work the bullshit system that is your credit rating in the US. So despite my credit card activity and generally high amount of student loan debt, my credit is pretty good. It could be better, of course, but that’s not likely to happen until I get my student debt paid off and can do stuff like buy a new car or a house or do some bullshit with bank accounts.

Thanks to my careful management, I was always able to manage the highest priority debt in terms of what I could pay off first and what would have the biggest snowballing impact. A lot of that got messed up by the pandemic, the doubling of my rent as I moved away from my roommates, and two years of financial strain due to lower income, changing taxes, and various life events that cost about a grand every six to eight months (the consistency of that last figure has been incredibly frustrating). Still, I’ve been making progress, working overtime as needed, and am finally back at a place where the full weight of my snowball (minus the increase in my monthly rent that went into effect with my latest lease renewal) can start rolling down my debts again.

I feel only a small amount of satisfaction as the numbers that have stayed largely the same over the past few years start to noticeably drop at the start of each month (when I pay my bills). Mostly I feel exhausted, burned out, and stuck in a cycle it will take another few years to escape from. If I’m lucky and nothing terrible happens, I should be debt-free in by the time I’m thirty-five. If I get incredibly lucky, find a partner/roommate that I can live with over a long-term or manage to land a job that pays significantly more than my current job does, it’ll be gone faster than that. I learned long ago not to make plans for things in my life to unexpectedly improve, so my financial plans are conservative, cautious, and built in with room for a yearly event that is going to cost me a thousand bucks I don’t have budgeted for it.

This isn’t a hopeful plan. It is a regretful one, if it is anything other than simply “a plan.” I’ll have spent a third of my life paying off debt I accrued in a nineth of my life that caused a snowball of debt to descend on me after that because there is no option in my country’s applications for government supported college loans for someone who has a relatively wealthy family but receives zero financial support from them. If I’d had actually government loans, I expect I’d be all paid up by now. Instead I had to get mostly private loans and had to deal with an endless cycle of companies selling that debt to each other and creating new hoops for me to jump through so they can hopefully make me miss enough payments to ruin my credit, balloon the debt, and send the debts to a collection agency that would hound me for the rest of my life.

This system is truly setting my generation up for failure and I can’t wait to finally extricate myself from this bullshit in another four or five years.

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