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STUDENTS WITH DEBT FEEL LIKE THE POOR ON TITANIC

By Stuart Siegel, CCPS

Who got off the ship first?  Rich people.  Everyone else was just left to drown. 

I have nothing against rich folk.  In fact, I wish I were in the club.  But even if I had sipped bubbly and dined on lobster and caviar every night, I doubt I would’ve ignored the screams of four out of ten college graduates going down with the ship.

Imagine the victim’s faces, realizing the irony of it all as they watch the lifeboats being filled with the privileged few; the banks and assorted essential industries, paddling off to safe harbors.  The same government that loaned them the very money they needed to be educated so that very same government could tax their future earnings has again preferred to bail out the ne’er-do-wells of high finance and let the common citizenry swim for it.

For a country depending on the next generation to get us out of the economic mess we’re in, the inability of recent grads to pay off unshakable debt, let alone crack the monthly nut creates a lack of faith in a brighter future and that is truly a horrifying prospect.  It’s as though the Pharaohs have returned.The College Board reports that student debt is increasing by eight percent per year while incomes have all but stagnated.

This means that the debt graduates are carrying is growing faster than their initial chances to earn the money to repay it.

Once a student graduates, loans go into repayment within six to nine months, regardless of what the job market is doing. Loans can be deferred, but never erased (unless you die or are permanently disabled). And when those payments are due, many will face the prospect of paying back not only fixed-rate federal loans but also high-interest private loans.

For those unable to find adequately paying jobs, and there will be plenty, the consequences of defaulting on student loans can be life-altering, ranging from ruined credit reports to garnished wages to liens placed against property and bank accounts. Not even declaring bankruptcy can hold them exempt.

Today’s graduates don’t deserve the hand dealt them.  They were told by those who were to be believed and respected that a college education was the way to a better life.  They were told that if they worked hard, they could go to the college of their dreams.  For way too many, that dream has morphed into a nightmare.  Perhaps, someone should have pounded into their brains this old adage instead, “Never pay retail when you can get it wholesale.”

The options graduates have at their disposal are few and to some, not very inviting.  Here are the best alternatives of dealing with unmanageable student debt that I can come up with short of fraud and embezzlement.

Lower the payments

If your monthly loan costs are simply too much, one simple and immediate solution is to reduce them by finding out if you can lengthen the amount of time you have to pay the loan, say from 10 years to 20 years, for example. Of course, extending the loan term means paying more interest over time, but lowering the monthly payment amount may be the top priority right now. Remember, borrowers can always increase the monthly payments later – and thereby shorten the length of the loan – as the financial situation improves in the future.

Consolidation

Students often sign up for a number of different loans to finance their education. This may mean ending up writing several checks to different lenders at various points in the month. By consolidating, a new loan is taken, which is equal to the total debt, and that is used to pay off all existing balances. Then there is just one student loan bill each month.  One good point about consolidating federal loans is that there are no origination fees deducted because they were already paid when the other loans were issued.

This will make life easier, but it may not necessarily lower the overall monthly outlay, depending on the new loan terms. If a consolidation loan does reduce monthly payments, you should make sure the terms of the loan are closely examined. And you should remember if you will be paying off the consolidation loan over a longer period, the loan will cost more in the end, so it may not be the best choice.

Last resorts

There are some programs that allow deferment and/or forgiveness of student loans.  It’s possible to cancel some or all federal student loan balance by signing up for any one of a number of programs aimed at making a positive change in the world.  For example, teaching in an elementary or secondary school in a low-income area can reduce some federal loan totals.

The Peace Corps:  Volunteers may apply for deferment of Stafford, Perkins and Consolidation loans and partial cancellation of Perkins Loans (15% for each year of service, up to 70% in total). Volunteers make a real difference in the lives of real people with two years of service in more than 70 developing countries.

AmeriCorps:  Serve for 12 months and receive up to $7,400 in stipends plus $4,725 to be used towards loans.

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA):  Volunteer with private, non-profit groups that help eradicate hunger, homelessness, poverty and illiteracy. Provide 1700 hours (42.5 weeks) of service and receive $4,725 or $2.78 per hour. Volunteers may qualify to postpone loan payments while they are involved in the program and receive stipends, which can be used to pay off student loan debt.

Health professionals who spend two years working with the National Health Service Corps serving communities who have a shortage of medical help can qualify for loan forgiveness of up to $25,000 a year. In addition, many law schools have loan forgiveness programs for newly minted attorneys who take jobs in public interest law. If you have a strong interest in making a difference, the commitment can also help you relieve some of your student loan obligations.

You can always go home

Hopefully, there’s room at the inn.  So unless you’re the “I want to make a difference in the world type”, a doctor or lawyer, there’s not much for you to do short of moving back in with the parents. For today’s college graduates, there are no easy answers, no quick fixes.

But there is something you can do about it.  Start with complaining to your congressman  or woman (their offices actually listen to their constituents), senators, and the President.  If three million graduates exercise their right to protest and demand change,  it’s possible that there will be a reason to believe in the emancipation of the college graduates of today and tomorrow.

For college admissions and financial aid information please visit: http://www.collegetuitionsolutions.com

For more on what you can do about student debt contact the Project on Student Debt at https://projectonstudentdebt.org/voices_post.php

 

Stuart Siegel is the owner of College Tuition Solutions, Inc. where parents of college bound students receive the support and advice they need so their son or daughter can find the best possible academic, social and financial college match. College Tuition Solutions, Inc. does not sell and financial products of any kind.

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