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Half a million bucks in student debt?

Student debt is reaching new heights for many American students. Money host Tess Vigeland, senior producer Paddy Hirsch and personal finance expert Liz Weston listen to some particularly harrowing stories of student debt. One med student is faced with $440,000 in student debt, which he says is "not an uncommon number" among his peers. Grads and students shared similar stories of finding cheap and free ways to have fun and giving up material comforts to make ends meet.

Liz Weston -- whose 9-year-old daughter was listening in -- said that the conversation about student debt has to start long before the student even start applying for college: Their freshman year of high school. "You don't have the conversation when they have the acceptance letter in their hands," she said. Parents must clearly lay out how much they are willing to give towards their child's education and how to manage debt responsibly.

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Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.
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In all the discussion about student loans too few people ever mention the GI bill as a remedy against massive debt. I cut and pasted this out of a recruiting website, but you can confirm the details with a web-search or a recruiter.

"GI Bill and Military Education

STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT
Uncle Sam Wants to Help Repay Your Student Loans
Under the Student Loan Repayment Program, when you enlist, the Army will pay back up to $65,000 in qualified education loans (up to $20,000 for Reservists), the Navy up to $65,000 and the Air Force up to $10,000.

Each year 15% of the loan balance or $500, whichever is greater, will be repaid by SLRP."

Yes, it requires you to serve to earn benefits. It is not a give-away program. If you want a handout look somewhere else. If you have pride in yourself, it is a good option.

And as an additional benefit, for the rest of your life you can stand proud and say "I, too, am a Veteran".

The GI bill is a great option, but when it comes to those serving in the medical field the slots are limited. It is also worth remember that not everyone qualifies for the GI Bill. Persons with chronic diseases (such as Type I Diabetes Mellitus) or persons with musculoskeletal injuries (reduced range of motion in a shoulder due to an injury) also do not qualify. While I do believe more people should take advantage of this plan and should serve their country, it is not the perfect solution to the problem.

I have listened to two of your programs on student loans and was jumping up and down in frustration and not being able to engage you and your guests in discussion. Thanks for highlighting this serious issue. As a college counselor of several decades, I have seen it all and nothing changes. While your report certainly was sensational (Hampden, ME - $ 400,000), you could have provided a better service with a more in depth report - I found it pretty superficial. There are three areas of discussion: 1. financial aid counseling and guidance at the high school level is limited and ineffectual at most schools from my experience. 2. Financial aid counseling at college is also ineffective. Your approach was at # 3. "How to pay back enormous loans after college or worse after you leave college without a diploma. You didn't really address that very well except to highlite horror stories of where some people have come. The typical financial aid letter for new students leaves out several $1,000's of costs, money that students will borrow at the last minute before enrolling on top of the loans that came with the F/A award. There are financing options for college that are worth considering - Northeastern University's Co-Op program helps the student partially earn their way through college. ROTC and National Guard (part-time) programs can pay for most of college leaving the graduate with a job following graduation and no debt. While in college, there are careers that offer student loan repayment programs and there are strategies for working your way through college. It does not take rocket science to access some of these options and frankly, if someone knowingly takes on enormous debt, it reflects on the lack of fiscal and personal responsibility in today's society. Shame on us! We can do better.

One important point is that the person in public service in Mpls went only to public universities and still has huge debts. The growing cost of public education is a big concern.
For people in medical fields (not only physicians), the NIH has a loan repayment program (http://www.lrp.nih.gov). The medical student made reference to such a program through his potential future employers; individuals can apply to the NIH program.

One important point is that the person in public service in Mpls went only to public universities and still has huge debts. The growing cost of public education is a big concern.
For people in medical fields (not only physicians), the NIH has a loan repayment program (http://www.lrp.nih.gov). The medical student made reference to such a program through his potential future employers; individuals can apply to the NIH program.

I owe more than $60K (govt. & private), and it's growing by the day. I stopped paying -- I couldn't keep up. It came down to this: pay off my debts or LIVE? I chose the latter. I had a job in publishing for several years, then the recession hit. Now I make 10 bucks an hour working in a manufacturing plant. It's a struggle just trying to put bread on the table.

If life becomes unbearable here, I'm thinking of moving to Canada or Australia -- but I hope it doesn't come down to that. I don't give a fig's leaf about what the lenders want to do about the debt.

I see many comments from people who are unaware of the circumstances that may surround persons entering medical school in this day and age.

I would first like to say that while many may see the caller's plan as "bad," I would argue that the plan this student is participating in is what medical schools of today are looking for in candidates, do we really want to quibble over whether our doctors have an extra degree or not? Medical admissions committees of today look for secondary degrees because they have a little bit more of life experience than undergraduate students trying to enter medical school right away and have proven themselves with the demands of secondary education.

Secondly, I do not believe that life should stop for medical school. Having life experience / feeling the strain of personal and professional life I feel is a great asset to this caller. He now has an extra aspect to connect and be able to understand his patients. Family should not be second to secondary education. We do not expect Ph.D. candidates to place their lives on hold so that they can receive an education (and most of whom are actually paid to go to school by the universities they attend), why would we expect this of physicians during their training? Medical school is 4 years with 3 to 12+ years afterwards for residency training. How can we expect persons to place their lives on hold until after they are trained, many wouldn't be able to have a family until they were in their mid to late 30's or later if this were true.

Third, it also is shocking to me that some would think that because of his chosen career path, Vascular Surgeon, that he should give this up in order to have the National Health Scholars Corps pay for his education. The NHSC is a very selective possibility for many entering medical school. They are overloaded with applications and accept as many as they can, but it comes no where close to paying for those who want to enter primary care to begin with. You have to know from the beginning that you want to serve in a primary care and frankly there are going to be shortages of essentially of all physicians in the near future, so to say that this young man should give up his dream because it doesn't qualify for someone else to pay for it is somewhat ridiculous. We should be treasuring that this young man wants to do anything to give back and has chosen a field to take care of his fellow man.

Finally, many make reference to the military option. The military reserve type option is overwhelmed with applications every year. This program is essentially maxed out. Perhaps he has tried qualifying for this program or is not eligible for this program. Secondly the Uniformed Services Medical School accepts about 100 students every year. While this is a great option, it is also limited.

I personally want a physician who wanted to go into medicine. The above comments seem to only want someone who can afford medical education or qualify for free education. This is only an option for a select few. We need to realize that there are many, many students in a similar situation to the caller. He is not the only one. Lets focus on the real issue that is that medical education is an expensive endeavor whether you go to the most or least expensive school. It is a time intensive, draining, personal commitment. Lets take care of the men and women who are choosing a career in which they must dedicate their lives to others and not themselves and make the pathway a little easier rather than demean a single participant in the process.

"We do not expect PhD candidates to place their lives on hold so that they can receive an education (and most of whom are actually paid to go to school by the universities they attend), why would we expect this of physicians during their training? Medical school is 4 years with 3 to 12+ years afterwards for residency training. "

I completely agree with the premise that life should not stop for medical school, however many institutions absolutely believe life should stop for PhD candidates. PhD programs (at least those in the physical sciences) are no less demanding of time, energy, and intelligence than medical school. I say this based experience of my close friends and I (all going through Ph.D. programs, medical school, or combination MD PhD programs). Many PhD expect all consuming devotion to your chosen field of study to the exclusion of personal happiness and health. Additionally, unlike medical school, women PhD students who work with chemicals or radiation cannot become pregnant at any point during their research or early professional years. For a woman who wants to be a chemistry professor, unless you take time off at some point you must delay having children until at least 1 year into your professorship. Assuming you went straight to college, graduated in 4 years, went straight to graduate school and completed it (~ 5.5 year), and did a postdoctoral fellowships (1-2 years), the soonest you could possibly consider having children is 30.

That being said, the cost of medical school is prohibitive for those who are not
a) independently wealthy
b) willing to take out exorbitant loans and try to pay them back by going into a high paying specialty

This country needs more primary care doctors and pediatricians, not more specialists! Financially incentivizing the training of those doctors who are willing to take these lower paying medical positions should be of national importance.

I was unaware that Ph.D. candidates in the physical sciences had such a demanding curriculum. I apologize. I have only been exposed to Ph.D candidates in Engineering and Social Science specialties, most of whom were able to get married and a number of whom have had children (or at least did not try to prevent having children) while still in their program. However, I believe your point is well taken that graduate education is a demanding arena no matter what field you enter.

I disagree that the country does not need more specialists. While the demand on primary care doctors is the greatest, every year the AMA and the Association of American Medical Colleges produce articles and statistics that show physician shortages spread across the entirety of specialties. Financial programs for those entering primary care do exist, but we need more of them. However, we must have a discussion about the overall cost of medical education and it's effect on physicians and the choices they make.

I've got $40,000 in student debt. It's annoying, but it’s not an unbearable sum and I did know what I was getting into. However, I feel like the government is taking advantage of students with the student loan program. It’s a safe loan, practically guaranteed since the government can withhold tax refunds, social security, and you can’t easily declare bankruptcy. It is more guaranteed than loans with large collateral like a house loan and a car loan. Yet the government takes this very secure loan and pushes a fixed APR between 6-9%. That was the lowest I could find, something about a new program making student loans go through the department of education. That strikes me as government exploitation. There’s no reason the interest rate can’t reflect the security inherent in the loan.

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