'The government garnished my wages' -- Defaulting on college debt

Are you drowning in student loan debt?

Student loan debt can be devastating. It can seep into every nook and cranny of your life. That was Anna's situation not too long ago, when she owed about $20,000 in loans for college and a master's degree in education. Today however, she's got a job as a college administrator, she's up to date on her payments and she's no longer dodging calls from collection agencies.

"I had moved to New York City for graduate school and then when I graduated I decided to go into a different career than what I studied for. And while I was trying to work that out I was waiting tables and I wasn't making a lot of money. So I decided that I wasn't able to afford my rent and all of my expenses as well as my student loans. So instead of calling them up, I figured I would just stop paying them until I could afford them, not thinking that it would take quite so long," says Anna.

Collection agencies started calling her -- at home and at the office -- at all hours of the day. It wasn't unusual to receive seven to eight calls in a day, Anna says.

"I felt that there wasn't a lot to be done," says Anna. "I didn't have any means to pay it back and I figured that once I did get some more money I was definitely going to go back to being responsible. But at that point there was just nothing to be done."


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.

Read more about Anna's story in The Billfold


Soon, her wages were garnished. She picked up the phone, nervously, but was surprised to find out how nice and helpful the debt collectors were. Eventually, after sorting her situation out, she realized that she was in a position to start paying off her loans and live comfortably enough.

"I think that if I had had more education and more knowledge about what my options are I would have dealt with the student loan situation a lot earlier. I didn't realize you had the chance and the opportunity to rehabilitate your loans once you've been in default," says Anna.

She advises anyone struggling with debt right now to make their payments, stay on top of the loans, and realize that student debt collectors are there to help you. She says if you do find yourself in default, don't be afraid to try to work with your creditors to get out of it because there are options out there.

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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