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The student loan trap

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Jessie Suren, her mom and aunt celebrating Suren paying down her student loans.

Jessie Suren, her mom and aunt celebrating Suren paying down her student loans. Courtesy: Jessie Suren

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Jessie Suren used to be that person whose phone call you dreaded.

“I was on the phone telling everybody: ‘We can garnish your wages. You’re going to be sued,'” she said. “It doesn’t matter if your kid is sick. It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford this. It doesn’t matter if you just had a baby.”

The summer after college, she found herself working at a call center, hounding people who had fallen behind on their student loan payments. Meanwhile, Suren was sitting on $70,000 in college debt herself, plus interest. It was a grim job, with strict rules about downtime and bathroom breaks. It also had nothing to do with criminal justice, her chosen major — she wasn’t using her degree, and she wasn’t making enough money to pay it off.

Suren wasn’t alone. The national student loan debt has grown to over $1.5 trillion. According to a study from the Brookings Institution, about 40% of borrowers are on track to default on their loans by 2023.

With every call she made, Suren feared she was staring at a window into her future. She would spend the rest of her twenties doing whatever it took to get her balance to zero. On today’s show, we’ll follow her journey to pay off the mountain of debt that put her middle-class dream on the line.

Hosted by Reema Khrais
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