- Lisa Sass, 31, took out $50,000 in private student loans to pay for college.
- After 10 years, Sass almost doubled the amount he borrowed and could not make monthly payments.
- He wants to be able to consolidate student loans into the Biden student-loan credit assistance program.
This story as told is based on a conversation with Lisa Sass, a 31-year-old senior executive from the Greater Phoenix area in Arizona, about her student debt. It has been edited for length and clarity.
At age 31, I never imagined I would be nearly $100,000 in debt – and that’s just for student loans. I left Northern Arizona University over ten years ago, before I officially graduated in 2013. Since then, my student loan debt has more than doubled.
I currently work full time as a senior account executive at a marketing and public relations firm, where I earn $70,000 a year. Since I can’t afford the initial $1,000 monthly payment, I pay $500 a month on my loans. Paying half allows me to cover expenses and other bills, but my student loan is interest only.
As a high school student, I did not understand the impact these loans would have on me and my family throughout my life.
I was the first person in my family to go to college, and although I received a small scholarship from NAU, I still needed to find a way to pay for school, especially as a foreign student. So my parents and I took classes to understand better Free Application for Federal Student Loans (FAFSA). in 2009.
We attended two workshops held at night. I went to my high school library with about 15 other students and their families and we went through the application process. It didn’t have a big impact on me, especially as a 17 year old who just wanted to get out of my hometown. I didn’t really understand the meaning or seriousness of the loans, but I think my parents did.
Halfway through college, I ended up losing my scholarship – I was put on probation – and needed to find another way to pay the bills. In addition to federal loans (now paid off, thanks to my parents), I turned to private options.
I still didn’t learn how loans worked, but I was determined to reach my goal and make my family proud. I asked my father and grandfather to co-sign the loans, assuring them that I would work hard to get a good paying job after graduation.
They reluctantly agreed, and I took out my first personal loan in August 2011 for $26,000 with a 13% variable interest rate. The following year I borrowed $27,500 with 12% fixed interest with my grandfather as a cosigner.
After my fourth year at NAU, I was accepted 2 unpaid summer internships and part-time restaurant jobs to save money
The two internships were the last 10 points I needed to officially graduate. At that time, I lived in Hacienda Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles. I didn’t pay rent, thanks to living with my grandparents, but I went to my internship every day. My job is less than five miles from my home, but my internship is 25 to 30 miles away.
I spend almost $100 a week on gas and stay on the move every day. Also, I get calls every day asking for my $1,000 monthly payment. Just like today, it doesn’t matter how much I pay, it didn’t affect my previous loan.
After my internship, I was offered a full-time position at a public relations office in LA, so I left NAU without officially graduating. I wanted to get a full-time job, but because of a salary cap I couldn’t pay the minimum monthly salary, which was $800 at the time.
Car payments along with other debts have been holding back your wallet. In 2016, I received a Student loan tolerance, which stopped the payment but not the interest. This helped for a few years, but my payments started again in 2018. This time it was $500 a month.
In April 2019, I finally moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, hoping for a cheaper cost of living.
I freelanced for an agency in LA and another in Phoenix while working as a driver with Postmates on nights and weekends. I did well and even enrolled in a summer semester at Mesa Community College in Phoenix, since I need 10 more elective units to officially graduate. I took three online courses in five weeks and finished with a 4.0 GPA, then transferred those grades to NAU. I received my diploma in the mail a few months later.
I paid the money to go back to school, and it was cheaper than my tuition at NAU – only $85 per credit hour. This helped me postpone my loans for another year, but the interest continued to accrue. With private loansyou can only defer your payments if you go to school – specifically, if you return to college, attend graduate school, or participate in an internship, clerkship, fellowship, or residency.
When my loans were postponed, I decided to just focus on my work and save money. Since the Cost of living in Arizona increased significantly – almost to California level – during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am back to where I was financially a few years ago.
I feel like there is no end to it
My monthly minimum payment is currently set at $980, but I can only pay $500. I am “behind” about $2,600 in payments. I still have $95,576 in debt, and it’s bad Private loans were no longer part of President Joe Biden’s forgiveness program.
I go back and forth on this topic, as I see both sides. I think loans should be repaid, but I don’t think interest rates should be as high as they are. These are the interest rates that scare everyone.
I also think that school should not be too expensive. But despite what I think, I remain in this situation.