I am a millennial. I am not drowning in my student loan debt.

In 2006, just months after graduating from high school, I stood in line for an hour at my university’s financial aid department, waiting to digitally sign a promissory note, stating… well, I don’t actually remember that part, because I was 18 and I didn’t read it. Legally, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol, own a gun, gamble in a casino, or run for public office, but I was allowed to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt… per semester… and they just trusted that I’d read the fine print.

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From 18-25, I went through the same annual process, spending approximately 45 minutes filling out paperwork, declaring that I understood what I was doing and the conditions thereof, in exchange for a direct deposit of thousands of dollars… wait for it… post-tuition. Despite the fact that “longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s,”* and the fact that it’s against federal law for a credit card company to give a card to anyone under 21, without steady income or a cosigner*, I was sixty thousand dollars in debt to the federal government, when I received my bachelor’s degree four years later. What was my desired career field, you might ask? Did I want to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? Nope. I wanted to be a home-ec teacher.

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Plenty of research has already proven that the human brain hasn’t fully matured until age 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully developed.* This is not new information, either. The very fact that you must be 25, 30, and 35 to run for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, defends the point that the federal government has long been fully and accurately aware of the immaturity found in most 18-25-year-olds. Recent neuroscience simply backs up that decision. The government is offering a terrible deal to college students… and judging by the articles in my Google feed, it’s become pretty common knowledge.

Just this week, I’ve read about how Maine will offset the cost of student loans, through tax cuts, in an attempt to entice a younger population to relocate to the aging state. Several articles report that saving for retirement, buying a home, and having children are just a few of the major milestones being delayed by thirty-somethings “drowning” in student loan debt. To add insult to injury, Twitter is apparently full of Millennials, pissed at Hasbro for Millennial Monopoly’s blatant failure to capture their plight… which should surprise absolutely no one, when the company itself is run by a baby boomer, who brings in $7,000,000 annually. It’s everywhere, y’all… this news that student loan debt is ruining our lives!

Except, if we’re discussing federal student loans… they shouldn’t be, because our student loan system is a dreadful model, not just for borrowers, but for the federal government and by extension, the tax payers. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, only to find there were no teaching jobs available, I was able to immediately enter graduate school, extending my borrowing period by another three years… still three more shy of the 10 year cap. As was the case four years earlier, my major and intended field had no bearing on how much I was able to borrow. I chose librarianship, a field rarely more lucrative than teaching and much harder to break into, and the payout was another sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Why did I borrow so much? Well, not only was I going to school, during all those years, I was also going through some pretty weighty personal crises. Married at 19, I suffered a house fire less than a year later, an eviction and a total of ten moves in the next two years, a sociopathic partner who refused to work, a miscarriage, the death of my best friend’s infant daughter, and finally, a divorce… just as I entered grad school. After all that, a good portion of it was spent consolidating my debt; because, I did start thinking about the long term financial implications of borrowing so much, when my life settled down a bit, at 23.. I worked two jobs and took online classes, but graduate hours were so much more expensive than my undergrad hours, that each year I told myself it would be the last time I accepted the max… and it never was, until my last semester, at 25… the age when modern science says my brain had finally matured.

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Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been in school until the full development of my prefrontal cortex, because when I totaled my student loans and realized where I’d be after graduation, I started doing my research. For two years, I read up on debt consolidation and forgiveness programs like it was another course… which it should have been, because there was a lot of information out there. So, when I graduated at 25, I was prepared… fortunately, because the surprise semester that followed the failure of my graduate portfolio presentation ate up the six month grace period for repayment. I had approximately two months to send in all of my loan information for consolidation under an Income Based Repayment program, because they wouldn’t qualify if they were in default. Prior to consolidation, just two of my loans would’ve added up to $1,900 a month.

Once I was accepted for the IBR program, however, my monthly payments were $0. Working half time at the library and substitute teaching simply didn’t provide enough discretionary income to require a minimum payment. The following year, it only went up to $40. Only when I became a full time librarian was I expected to make a substantial payment, of about $300 a month… which went down when my family size increased with marriage and will go down again with each child we have. If I was drowning in anything, it was my private student loans, not my federal ones, which doesn’t seem to be the dominant complaint. Even so, my struggle with these was less about the monthly payment and more about the lack of impact, considering the interest rate. While my federal loans were also accumulating interest, I was able to sign up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

You see, because I’m working as a public librarian, a lower paying position than many in the private sector, providing much needed services to the community, the government has struck a deal with me. If I work in public service for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments, I can apply to have the remainder of my debt forgiven, tax free. While there are plenty of fear mongers writing narratives about how this won’t actually happen, there’s no research to actually back that up. Even the current administration has only suggested closing the doors on the program, not pulling the rug out from everyone already enrolled. In fact, I’ve actually already been grandfathered into my repayment program, as it only considers my income and the current ones consider the income of the entire household.

While many of those who have applied for forgiveness report being denied, it’s simply because they didn’t do their research or were given the wrong information, having enrolled in the program early. There is a catch to PSLF, in addition to a lower paying job: annual paperwork. Every year, I recertify my income for the IBR and my employment for verification that it qualifies. In exchange, I get an update on the number of eligible payments I’ve made, all but canceling out any chance that I’ll make the aforementioned mistakes.

Now, plenty of Millenials, with outstanding student loan debt, work in positions that don’t qualify for PSLF. The ones with smaller totals are paying them off as quickly as they can, to avoid interest charges and that’s undoubtedly the best approach. The rest, however, have their own option under an IBR, which is to apply for forgiveness after 20/25 years of payments, depending on when they signed up and under which program. This, however, is not tax free. That’s the only catch, beyond paying on these loans for so long.

Is this good for the federal government, for tax payers? Fuck no. This is a wretched, absolutely unsustainable model. Canceling PSLF seems like an obvious choice to some, but the core reasons are still valid. If there’s no incentive to do so, few lawyers and doctors will work in low paying public service jobs. Rural and poor urban areas won’t have teachers or librarians, the latter of which requires a master’s degree. Few will even enter into careers as police officers and EMT’s. Should all of these positions require advanced degrees? Absolutely not. Higher education, in many ways, is a total scam… but it’s a scam we’re still supporting in this country. While I hope to see more emphasis placed on technical degrees and apprenticeships and on-the-job training, more companies demanding applicants show them what they can do, as opposed to who taught them, we’re not there yet. I had to have my degree to do my job, a job I not only love and am lucky to be well-compensated for in my field, but one that makes a huge difference in the community.

I didn’t break any rules taking out my loans to get my degree and I’m not breaking any rules with my plans to receive loan forgiveness for working in my position. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to change the rules and prevent people from getting into these situations in the first place. We shouldn’t be giving teenagers tens of thousands of dollars to major in journalism or literature or education. We shouldn’t be letting people borrow for 10 years, if they’re not going into fields that can repay the debt. We shouldn’t be giving out thousands in direct deposits, after paying the schools, because my personal crises shouldn’t have been covered by the federal government. Some would say the government shouldn’t even be involved and private banks should have to compete for borrowers and choose what fields they invest their funds. Whatever the solution, students, the government, and tax payers are all getting screwed under this system, unquestionably. The only entity coming out on top is the universities, because as many economists agree, the reason tuition costs have risen so much is that colleges know their students can secure the funds through the federal government. Hopefully, future generations will boycott these institutions.

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In the meantime, though, no one should be “drowning” in federal student loan debt. If it’s that bad, follow these links, get out of default, do the paperwork to consolidate and get into an Income Based Repayment plan. Don’t be more the victim of this terrible system than you already have to be as an American tax payer. Take advantage of the fact that our truly fucking awful student loan system does favor the borrower, in some ways… while it still does.

PSLF – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

PSLF application – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-application-for-forgiveness.pdf

Income Driven Plan information – https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action
Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892678/

https://www.thebalance.com/credit-card-companies-love-college-students-960090

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

https://www.businessinsider.com/age-brain-matures-at-everything-2017-11

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“I’ll just need you to sign this waiver before recess.”

I’m gonna let you in on a great BIG secret. Gail is the only person in my life who knows this…. and multiple people know that my vibrator is named Fluffy.

secret

It is HUGE.

sinkhole

The secret, not the vibrator. The vibrator is actually fairly small, so’s I don’t stretch myself out before the next time I get the real thing.

Here it is, y’all.

I owe $135,000 in student loans.

shocked face

Yup. That’s what it costs to be a librarian these days. Oh wait… I forgot to mention something…

NO IT FUCKING DOESN’T.

Seven years ago, when I was 18, I sat in a financial aid office… alone… next to a bunch of other 18-year-olds who had competent parents acknowledging that they were still children. It was here that I was offered one of two choices: accept a little money… or… accept a lot of money!

little girl with moneyHmm…

There were extenuating circumstances here. My mother had left me my senior year of high school to go live with her online boyfriend a few hours away. It was made clear that I needed to get out of her house, so she could sell it, which she did not do for three more years. Gail and I had drifted and she was paving the way for her own shit decisions, so I clung to my ex-husband in a desperate attempt to hold onto something-fucking-anything-at-all surrounded by all that change. I was unable to transfer my job to the college town where we moved and my future ex-husband was “really trying to find work”… so we needed the money. Then, I threw myself into my studies, not allowing a lot of time for more than my video store job and my ex-husband was “filling out applications everywhere” with no luck… so we needed the money. Then there was a house fire that “started out of nowhere” and we lost everything we owned… so we needed the money. Then there was that one job and that other job and even that last job that didn’t pay my ex-husband “illegally” and totally not because he made them up… so we needed the money. Then we were evicted, even though he was “paying the rent”… so we needed the money. Then I got pregnant… so we needed the money. Finally, fucking finally, I was getting shot of him and starting a new life and buying new furniture for my new apartment where he wouldn’t be breaking in and stealing from me while I worked two jobs… so I needed the money.

No matter what happened in the past, my financial aid was how I cared for myself… even if it’s just retroactively from this point in time. I’m not sure that, given the opportunity, I’d have even let a Christian Grey swoop in and pay off all my debts, because that would mean I never provided for myself. Okay. Fine. I’m lying a lot. I would totally let a sexy millionaire shove me full of jacks and marbles in exchange for $135,000. Yeah. That’s actually exactly my going rate for weird shit. I don’t really have a problem with paying back these loans, though, because I finished my degree and ultimately accepting them allowed me to leave an abusive relationship while educating myself. I’ll gladly pay back $135,000 for the $303 it cost to hire a paralegal and get a diploma.

bargains galore

My point here, is that the majority of these life-altering decisions were made when I was a child. Lawmakers can talk all they want about legal age of consent and being tried as an adult, but your basic Intro to Psych student can tell you that the pre-frontal cortex has not fully matured until around age 25*, and ironically so, because they’re likely 19 and paying for this class, that laptop, and those new shoes on credit. At 18, I could’ve signed my life away to kill for Uncle Sam, but couldn’t have owned a gun for target practice? I couldn’t rent a car, but I could get a credit card? I couldn’t drink alcohol, but I could make a binding legal commitment to an unemployed sociopath? I couldn’t gamble, but I could legally sign onto thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of debt… repeatedly?

kids in suits
Sure, sure. I’ll sign the promissory note.

In Mississippi, you have to be 21 to get a marriage license without parental consent.* That’s brilliant and that’s my proposal. Pick one legal age for all of these decisions and don’t make it fucking eighteen. I work with 18-year-olds and the majority (yes, there are exceptions – end disclaimer) of them are not capable of making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives so strongly as getting married and taking on extreme financial burdens. Had I not been married, I couldn’t have accepted near the amount of loans I did, because my parent’s income would’ve been considered. Had the law said I had to be 21 to get married, maybe my mom wouldn’t have taken off. I don’t know. Maybe this wouldn’t have helped me, but it would undoubtedly help many others. Three years of brain development is astronomical, particularly when you’re discussing the part of the brain controlling….

  • Foreseeing and weighing possible consequences of behavior
  • Considering the future and making predictions
  • Forming strategies and planning
  • Ability to balance short-term rewards with long term goals
  • Impulse control and delaying gratification
  • Modulation of intense emotions
  • Inhibiting inappropriate behavior and initiating appropriate behavior
  • Simultaneously considering multiple streams of information when faced with complex and challenging information

I understand that one of the arguments against this is the Armed Forces. That’s why I exclude them entirely from these restrictions. If we’re going to allow 17-year-olds to fight for this country, buy them a round of shots. Whether or not I think we should be doing that in the first place is a different issue. Additionally, I suggest a firm 18 for medical decisions without parental consent. We allow a 15 year old to get Plan B, but not fucking cough syrup or even birth control? How about we not let children medicate themselves at all before they’re old enough to understand the potential consequences for their health? I’m not referencing a moral dilemma here. I’m referencing studies of the human brain.*

Personally, I’m lucky. I lost the baby and there’s a warrant out for my ex-husband’s arrest, keeping him away from this state. Yeah. Those things make me lucky, because my marriage only affects me emotionally… mostly. I owe three times what I’d make in a year with a full time job, but I’ve applied for an income-based consolidation plan and in 25 years, they’ll forgive what’s left. At least I actually graduated. My friend from high school who dropped out, though, after years of accepting the maximum allotted amount for a woman with three kids,  primarily due to her shopping addiction? Well, according to Direct Consolidation Loans, you can receive complete loan forgiveness as long as…

“Your servicer receives acceptable documentation of your death.”*

bling casket
To be fair, she’s probably already purchased this.

Yeah. I look this shit up.

http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/adolescent_brain/Development/prefrontal_cortex/

http://www.usmarriagelaws.com/search/united_states/mississippi/

http://www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov/