Dealing with a large amount of student debt

What do you do when your student loans pile up?

OK, let's get this straight, right out of the gate: Most students do not graduate with horrific amounts of debt -- roughly $27,000 on average. But that's nearly double the amount students owed in 1993 -- and that's adjusted for inflation. And student debt loads are rising. That has big implications for the economy, as heavy debt loads make it hard for people to borrow. That stops them buying cars and homes, prevents them from starting businesses and saving for retirement. In the worst cases, people find themselves buried under their student debt, unable to escape as costs mount.

Justin Geary and Dexster Adair know what it's like to be burdened by student debt. Geary lives in Oklahoma City and is carrying nearly $150,000 in student loans. He has a bachelor's degree in Sport Wellness and Recreation Management and he works two jobs, but says he still can't afford his payments. Meanwhile, Adair owes a little more than $300,000 for his bachelor's degree and an MBA in Entertainment. He's currently unemployed, living in Fort Hood, Texas.

Adair says as his loans started to rack up, he thought he'd be in a position to repay them after he graduated. But that wasn't the case.

"I didn't think for once I wouldn't be in a position or have the opportunity to maybe pay them back," says Adair, who currently lives at home with his parents.

Once he graduated, Adair got a job at a studio in Chicago. But he was overqualified for the position. Since then, he's applied for 250 jobs, but it's been hard for him to find work. His loans are currently in deferment, but he knows that eventually he will have to pay them off.

"It's hard when you have so much debt," says Adair, 31. "There's a lot of expectations of what someone my age should have or where they should be at this point in life."

Adair has a 2-year-old daughter and receives aid from his parents to help raise her. But as far as settling down, he says he doesn't have the resources to do that right now. He says his degree wasn't a good financial investment, though he values the information and knowledge he learned while studying in school.  

"It's kind of hard when you invest so much in your school and then it's almost like you have to go into a whole other field," says Adair. "I basically got myself into a bunch of debt for information that I'm not even able to use."

How to get rid of your student loans without paying

Loan forgiveness and discharge programs may help ease -- or even erase -- your student loan burden.

Geary, 26, was the first person in his family to go to college. A financial adviser told him that she could help make it affordable, and encouraged him to pursue a college degree. It took him five years to graduate and his parents couldn't help him out. He took out a large amount of federal and private loans to pay for school.

If he paid the absolute minimum on his loans, Geary says it would cost him about $1,600 a month. Right now he's only paying off his interest and is in default on one of his loans.

"My credit has suffered. It's suffered a lot. Every time you miss a payment or go into deferment they still report it. So it's been rough," says Geary. "More recently I just decided it's something that I can't stress about. It's going to be there and it's going to be there for a while. But I just try to go on with life."

Geary says if he could do it over, he might not go to college.

"I got a sports management degree in a market where there's not a lot of sports, so it didn't do a whole lot of good. So now I'm working in the finance department. I think there are opportunities without college these days if you just start young and just work your way up," says Geary.

Geary says he's sought help from organizations on how to deal with his federal loans. As for Adair, he's started to explore teaching as a way to help resolve some of his debt issues. He says he may go into the teaching field to utilize some of the loan forgiveness options available to him.

Geary offers this advice to prospective students: "Seek out the resources that are available. Look into scholarships and grants. Know what you're going into before you go into it."

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.
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I want to know how the interviewer was able to conduct this interview without asking these two people what the $@!! they were thinking taking on that much debt! Is it maybe because the interviewer has a point of view that is skewing these interviews? I was a single parent for 20 years. When my kids grew up and left home, I went back to school. That was in 2008. I worked full time, went to school half time, paid as I went and graduated with an associate degree that was enough for a very good promotion and I did it debt free. Why do students today think they should be able to go to school, not work while in school, take out massive amount of loans and we're supposed to feel sorry for them because they have so much debt? Sorry, this woman has no sympathy.

Perhaps Anna is part of the problem. Colleges and Universities having so many assistant-to-the-deputy-the-acting-dean of XYZ is a major cause of tuition rising 2x or 3x the rate of inflation since WELL before the Great Recession. One of the reasons given for the real estate implosion was that folks who were originating mortgages didn't have 'skin-in-the-game' in terms of the borrowers realistic ability to service the loan. Perhaps out institutes of higher ed should be backing the loans that the students they're admitting are taking out so as to warrantee their admissions and program pricing policies.

My College has a "Sport Studies" program that they say:
Sport/recreation is one of the top industries in the country. The economic impact of the sport/recreation industry and the abundance of sporting opportunities mandates the services of qualified/skilled practitioners.

Degrees and Preparation

A bachelor’s degree in sport studies with a concentration in sport management or athletic coaching education paves the way to a variety of career opportunities in the sport and recreation industry that involve leadership, management, coaching, programming, marketing, selling and legal aspects.

Sport Studies graduates are employed as:

athletic directors (high school/collegiate); professional sport administrator; youth, high school and college sport coaches
aquatics managers ;sport media personnel; recreation facility directors; sport psychologists; event management directors; adventure recreation directors; sport marketing and promotion personnel; parks and recreation administrators; facility operations manager; sport agents; recreation specialist; youth sport programmers; sport equipment managers

all that for just $11,000 a year (tuition in state ~$9k, plus fees and books ~$2k) So $44k later you can be unemployed and looking to be a high school sport programmer making $14k a year. An my college is a legitimate school that turns out some highly sought after Chemical Engineers, Emergency Managers, and Nurses. (and many not sought after English, Sport Studies, Art History majors)

I was able to find the names of the universities these two attended with a quick search of the internet. Others can do the same if it is that important to them. In the end, does it really matter which schools they attended? I'm pretty sure these sums are not typical of the average graduate of these institutions and the level of debt says more about the students themselves and poor decisions on their parts than anything else.

rickevans033050 is right: the schools should have been named. It is public scandal that both for profit and public institutions misrepresent opportunities to young gullible students. The programs need public shaming.

Entertainment management? Sport wellness and recreation management? It would have been nice if the story had named the schools these two dupes attended. $150,000 and $300,000 sound like the kind of debt physicians completing medical school owe. Colleges and universities especially the for profit ones are very aggressive about boosting their bottoms line by convincing naive students into drowning themselves in college debt. They are especially fond of targeting students with programs that appeal to a students sense of fun, i.e. "Fashion Marketing" aimed at fashionistas and "Sports Management" aimed at the ESPN Sports Center crowd.

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