Has my student debt condemned me to a life of mediocrity?
October 28, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Due to a breakdown in negotiations, I have $30,000 more student debt than I thought, leaving me with $35k. I live very, very simply, and after college I wanted to go travel the world for a few years and not worry about a career or marriage or consumer debt. Am I totally, completely screwed into a life of mediocrity?

The practical side:

I don't see how I could ever in a million years pay this off. Even if I paid $500 a month, which is twice my living expenses save rent, it would still take six years to get rid of. And $500 a month means six years of the best part of my life doing nothing but working. Even if I could manage to throw $100 a month at it, that debt would be hanging over my head for the rest of my life.

What are my options? Is there any way to dig myself out of this? I don't think I know ANYBODY with this much debt, and I feel like there's no way out.

From a philosophical standpoint:

I don't know what to do. I never actually wanted to go to college, but I was convinced by various agents because of the alleged fantastic benefits an education would bring me. I've been waiting to be free since I was fourteen, and it was always just around the corner. Everyone's always said, "Just wait till your done with high school!" or "When you get that BA you can do whatever you want!" Now, it's "oh just get a job, pay off that debt and you're totally free!" It's pretty clear I've been lied to, and I'm angry that I've been trapped by a system I never wanted to be a part of in the first place. You can tell me over and over again how important college is, how I would go nowhere without a BA, but it's now pretty apparent that I'm going nowhere with one.

I do not care about money or cars or mortgages. I do not want a family for years and years. I just want to see the world, pay my own way and free myself from the mindlessness of working a 9-5. Now I'm afraid that this debt will force me to, and when it's gone I will be so deep in a life I always planned to avoid that I cannot escape.

I feel completely broken, hopeless and idiotic for getting into this. What the hell do I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (58 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
posted by box at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2008

"Am I totally, completely screwed into a life of mediocrity?"

No. You are young and being rash, it depends on what kind of loan you have. You are a grown up and can apparently read and write. You applied to college, got into college, signed paperwork to get into the loan, no one trapped you. You can most likely defer it for for a long long time. If you don't know people that have this much debt, you might just not have met the right people.

Go read your loan papers, read their website, call up a customer service rep and ask, just don't sweat it.
posted by stormygrey at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of students have this much, and more, debt after school.

What's your minimum payment on the loan? Factor that into your monthly expenses -- whether you're living in an apartment or jumping from hostel to hostel -- and go out and live your life. You might not be able to do it the way you imagined, but what in life turns out exactly like you expected? Not much. There's no reason you have to pay off this loan in 6 years. If you want to, you can, but there's no reason you need to. School loan debt is considered good debt.

Or ask for a grace period. One time I accidentally missed a payment on a school loan, so they called me to find out what was wrong. I apologized, paid it immediately, but they offered to postpone payments for a year if I needed to. I declined, but still -- could be a possibility for you.
posted by nitsuj at 10:04 AM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm looking at at least $60k after grad school, so you're not alone. If your goal is really to see the world, have you thought about the Peace Corps or the Foreign Service? PC will allow you to temporarily suspend payments while you're abroad, and the Foreign Service can pay extremely well -- think free housing plus a decent salary and good benefits -- depending on what languages you speak and how much "hardship" you're willing to endure. A lot of Foreign Service officers talk about "banking" their salary, but you could use it to make a huge dent in what you owe.
posted by rebekah at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get a job that involves lots of traveling. Best of both worlds.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

What was your degree, and what did you plan on doing after you traveled the world? Is your "life of mediocrity" only postponed by your world-wide jaunt? If so, you're limiting yourself.

Of course, your major really doesn't tie you into any particular field. Plenty of my friends majored in some engineering field, only to go into other things because opportunities were there.

Maybe you can find a job where they pay you to travel the world. Or you could get a job somewhere else in the world that has a low cost of living, and still pay off your loan.

And as stormygrey said, $35k might sound like a lot now, but you aren't in the worst of it.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:08 AM on October 28, 2008

I graduated in 1997 with two degrees and $46,000 in debt.

I paid a ridiculous amount of my income towards it, lived with a roommate or boyfriend and split expenses until I was 31 years old.

When it was paid, I had the best credit of any of my friends; I was very very poor for a long time but then was able to use my awesome credit to get married, build a house, and travel.

So, you know, suck it up. Debt doesn't magically go away. You accrued this debt and I assume you are still young. Pay it now, and if you're smart, you can still travel and do what you want within reason.

Budget carefully; every time you get a tax return or a gift of money from someone, pay that towards the PRIMARY BALANCE.

I understand your philosophical stance; however, things in this world cost money. You would have had to pay for plane tickets, hotels, gas money, renting cars, traveling insurance, etc. anyway. Those things aren't free; how were you going to pay for them?

If you really feel you can't live with this debt, there are ways to get it paid down without paying it. You just have to teach in the inner city, join the Peace Corps, be in the military, that sort of thing. Some of these options allow you to travel and repay your debt at the same time, so that's always a possibility.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm endlessly deferring my loans, which are much more than yours. Also, most people I know endlessly defer their loans and then pay the absolute minimum for the next 30 years. This may not be the best option from a purely financial standpoint, but it doesn't sound like you are interested in getting rich right now, you sound like you are interested in living, and endlessly deferring and paying the minimum is the best way to do that.

Also, remember you aren't going to be making the salary you are making now in 5 years. You will make more and more money and paying 35k in loans will not seem like the impossible task that it does right now.
posted by whoaali at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2008

It took me 10 years to pay off my student loans. I had two kids when I finally made the last payment. Millions have survived, you will too.
posted by COD at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel completely broken, hopeless and idiotic for getting into this. What the hell do I do?

First off, shut up and grow up. You are not broken. You are not hopeless. But you definetly are idiotic if you thing that you are someone screwed because you mishandled your personal finances. The world is not against you. The world is not holding you back. The only person holding back is you and the fantasy world that you live in. You have no concept of what "freedom" is. Your version of freedom sounds more like the type of freedom a 13 year old wants - freedom to have no responsibilites, a safe place to go home too, and without a bill or care in the world. There is a reason why 13 year olds are allowed to sign legally binding contracts, to own homes, or make loans. So stop being 13 years old.

35,000 dollars in student loan debt, while a lot, is nothing. It is not debt that is designed to be paid off in the short term. Spreading out the debt payment over 15-20 years is entirely reasonable and expected. The idea of a student loan is that, based on the fact that you get a degree, you will come out of college with a higher earning potential. You make more money because you have a degree (at least 1 million more over your lifetime). You might not want a job. You might want to spend the rest of your life doing nothing and not actually have responsibilities and let the world serve your needs and wants, but tough shit. The world is not here to let you pretend to be a trust fund baby.

You have plenty of opportunity to fulfill your dreams of seeing the world after college. Plenty of people travel around Europe. Plenty more join the Peace Corps or charity organizations. It's amazing that you're worried about this debt when you don't seem to be worried about how to pay for your extravagant travels. You are going nowhere because you would rather waste your life and whine about it rather than actually do something about it. Stop waiting to be given your life - go and live it! If you are unwilling to do that, then why should anyone support you to be the waste of space you wish to be?

Stop being afraid of the world. Stop asking the world to give you your fantasy life. You're an adult now. You have plenty of options and your 35,000 dollar loan is nothing. Get a job. Become a guide boook writer (they make no money, have tough lives but you do get to see the world). Work on a cruise ship. Join a marketing company that has a multi-national presense. Teach english in another country. There are a million jobs that you can do to pursue your dream of travel while still making the money necessary for you to live. And, without a college degree, those types of jobs would not be available to you. So stop whining and start living! Holy hell, there's so much you can do!
posted by Stynxno at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2008 [67 favorites]

I graduated with similar debt, deferred several times, only paid them when I had a job that could support me plus the extra monthly payment, traveled the world, made art, etc. I eventually paid them off. The only difference between me now and the friends of mine that had no college debt is that they were able to save that money I sent to my loans... and they used it as a down payment on their first house. But you don't want a house for years and years, so that should work out just fine for you.
posted by xo at 10:21 AM on October 28, 2008

If the fed decides to lower interest rates again, consider consolidation. I consolidated in the early-mid aughts when rates were at the absolute lowest, and locked in a stupidly low rate of 2.5% or something. I pay the minimum, and probably will, for a long, long, long time, as it's more profitable for me to put the excess in a high-yielding savings account.
posted by zsazsa at 10:22 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Step 1 is to stop seeing yourself as a victim. Accept 100% personal resposibility for your situation and 100% personal responsibility for getting yourself out of it. How you do so is up to you but it probably involves applying your education in the form of a job. It's not out of the question to pay down your debts and still save enough to travel 1 or 2 weeks a year.
posted by rocket88 at 10:31 AM on October 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Man, I can't favorite Styxno's comment hard enough.

Do the math on your own numbers- if $500/mo is twice your living expenses, that's $750/mo, or $9k/year. If you got a job that paid $30k, you'd take home about $26k give-or-take. That's $17k/year, or $1400/mo you can pay in rent. If your living expenses truly are $250/mo, then I'm assuming you live in an area where you can easily rent for far less.

That, in my book, is doable-and-then-some. Get a job. Pay your loan minimums and save every penny you can. You can still travel.
posted by mkultra at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2008

Oh pfffft, $35k in student loans is nothing. I know plenty of people with over $100k in student loan debt.

Here is what you can do:
-defer your loans for a year and go ahead and travel.
-start off making a very small payment every month. even if you can pay $100 a month, it will help keep the interest from getting out of hand. Go ahead and travel.
-Get a job that pays you decently and that won't make you crazy.

-Start paying $1000 a month on your loans as soon as you can and you'll have them paid off within 3 years. Seriously. This might mean taking on a part time job, selling some of your stuff on ebay and living frugally. It might mean you live with roommates for awhile.

-Think of the satisfaction you will have when you send that last payment!
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2008

Step 1: Own your decisions. You made them, no one else did.

Step 2: You want to be out of debt? Make a plan and execute.

Step 3: Grow up. Rid yourself of the idea that working a 9-to-5 is "mindless". Also, don't fool yourself that the best years of your life are the youngest ones. The best years of my life started about three years ago and I'm 39.

When I was 20, I thought I was going to be the bassist in a touring metal band. It didn't work out that way, but that wasn't the end of my life, either.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

I am making a student loan payment, house payment, and a car payment every month. I have to get car insurance as well. I went to college and got a better job than I would have if I would not have graduated. I have close to 4 times your debt. Sorry that life hasn't been what you expected it to be. You have options, use them. Don't sit here and have a pity party for yourself. Read all of the suggestions here. There are a few good ones. But as for being in debt, having to work your whole life, not traveling, etc, join the crowd, there are millions of us. I can't remember the last time I left my corner of the world, let alone had a day off that didn't involve the doctor. You don't see any of us whining.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 10:46 AM on October 28, 2008

Yea, $35k is not an exorbitant amount of student debt at all. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was an average amount. The minimum payment really won't be that much in comparison to what you'll be spending to travel.

Which leads to the more important question: What is your plan for traveling and seeing the world? I don't think the debt has much bearing on the answers to this question. Others have offered good ideas (Peace Corps, working overseas, etc.). Make a plan, and start working towards it.
posted by Herschel at 10:47 AM on October 28, 2008

35K? Big whoop! My sister had 90k+ when she was finished her education. I personally am paying off my 24k student loan and in 2 years I have paid it down to be <1>At least 75% of the people I know and work with have had/still have student loans just as big or bigger than yours. I'm sure Styxno's comment seems harsh, but dude, it is RIGHT ON THE MARK! You are being hysterical and immature, thinking that somehow your life is over because you have a student loan. Its time to put on your big girl/boy panties and handle this like an adult. Panicing and being all "Woe is me! The world has dealt me a horrible blow!" is not only completely inaccurate, it is childish.

You, as a grown up, decided to go to school and get an education and (hopefully) better yourself. Sure, you can convince yourself that you had no say in the decision, that people 'tricked' you into going, but you did have a choice and you are again taking NO responsibility for your own decisions.
You, as a grown up, seeing that you didn't save any/enough money in highschool to pay for college, had to take out a student loan, something that I am guessing the vast majority of your classmates also did.
You, as a grown up, decided not to work during the school years/save most of your money from the summers/live ridiculously cheaply so you didn't make any payments towards it during school and had to continue to incur debt while in school.

You are not a victim, and the sooner you realize that the sooner you can start addressing it. Start by deciding WHAT you want to do as a career. If you don't want a 9-5, fine. But decide on a career now that is reasonable, attainable (hollywood actor does not count), and that will allow you to do the things you want to do. Thinking you are going to magically fall into the perfect job that pays 80k a year that isn't a 9-5 with just a BA is insanity. To get where you want career wise you usually have to start at the very bottom of the food chain, doing the unpleasant jobs for minimal pay, and fight your way up. if you can't make your payments then ask for a reduction of your monthly payment, or possibly defer (but that would be last choice for me because all it does is bite you in the ass harder when you have to start paying on it.) If you are committed and really want something I'm sure you could do it. Just don't expect everything to be handed to you.
posted by gwenlister at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2008

When you say "a life of mediocrity," don't you really mean "a life of responsibility?"

Your best bet is to get a job and realize that you're incredibly lucky to be in the position you're in.

If you don't like the whole 9-5 routine, go back to whatever college you graduated from and start selling pot for a living. That way you can keep giving the finger to the man while simultaneously making enough in a year or two to pay back your loans.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2008

First, as others have said, take ownership of your own choices: You were presented with loan documents. They had big numbers on them. You signed them anyway. I did the same thing, and I still feel kind of dumb every time I get a statement in the mail, but at the same time I know that no one forged my signature.

Second, I think you should take some time to really think about what a meaningful, goal-oriented, and successful life means to you. I have met people who had the freedom to travel the world all they want who live what you could call lives of mediocrity: spoiled, lazy, self-centered, aimless. I have also met people who had the freedom to travel the world all they want who live fascinating and good lives. The same goes for people who work 9-5. The difference is never having or not having student loan debt.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:01 AM on October 28, 2008

Another vote for Peace Corps!

How much are your monthly payments? I'd estimate them to be somewhere around $200, which is chump change compared to housing/travel/food costs. People who own cars generally pay more that that in insurance and gas per month. So how about this- don't own a car, and don't let your student loans become an excuse to moving forward and doing what you want to with your life.
posted by emd3737 at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2008

I have $30,000 more student debt than I thought, leaving me with $35k

Also, I have no clue how you thought you could get a degree for 5k..... That makes me so curious, what 'negotiations' broke down....
posted by gwenlister at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would contact the folks in the loan office, and tell them that unless they forgive your debt, let you bum around the world for a couple of years, and have a job waiting for you when you get back, you will hold your breath and stomp your feet.

Student loan withstanding, you at least have a degree in something I presume you are interested in and enjoy, which is a position a lot of folks might envy. Pay it off as fast as you can and be done with it.
posted by timsteil at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Due to a breakdown in negotiations, I have $30,000 more student debt than I thought, leaving me with $35k.

This statement doesn't make sense. Either you borrowed the money and signed for it, or you didn't.

Frankly, you are overestimating the impact of this situation because of your emotional reaction to it. Work on emotional management, the rest will fall in line.

Do not default.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2008

Oh, goodness. I have married friends with 100k student loans. Each. Advanced degrees, yes, but fat lot of good that is when one of them decides not to work and be a stay at home parent instead. They still manage. You are far from alone in dealing with this.

Some options: consolidate is good, you can even consolidate a single loan just to change the payback terms, and the feds are really good about temporary hardship deferrals if you get in there (basically just ask, and you get it). You can get into a "graduated" payment plan, to keep payments low to start with increases as you presumably make more. You could decide that you are "never" paying them off and just consolidate to a 20-year plan graduated, then do it again in five years, and so on. You could even move overseas to avoid paying them at all (I'm not recommending that, but I recall seeing a story on cnn.com about folks doing that sometime last week).

So, no, your student loans have not condemned you to a life of mediocrity -- if this does you in, you were never going to escape that. You're going to endure many other, and bigger, setbacks in your life... can't let them stop you. Time to get angry and dig in your heels.
posted by Pufferish at 11:22 AM on October 28, 2008

Due to a breakdown in negotiations

My guess is parents agreed to pay majority of loan, leaving anon with only 5k to pay, then something went tits up and he/she's stuck with the whole bill now.

Regardless - I agree with about 99% of the above. This sucks, I know. It's not a death sentence. You could be in much worse shape, and you're young, go live and be happy and suck up a couple hundred bucks a month in payment to the Gov.
posted by tristeza at 11:22 AM on October 28, 2008

My guess is parents agreed to pay majority of loan, leaving anon with only 5k to pay, then something went tits up and he/she's stuck with the whole bill now.

If this is what really happened, your best bet is to make up with your parents.
posted by spaltavian at 11:28 AM on October 28, 2008

Also, I have no clue how you thought you could get a degree for 5k..... That makes me so curious, what 'negotiations' broke down....

I'm guessing from the tone of the post that they thought someone else was going to be picking up (a large part of) the tab.

N'thing styxno, though. $35K in low interest loans is not a huge amount of debt for a college graduate. You can still do your Ras Trent thing and have a real job. Not to say you don't want to spit your silver spoon out completely, but that would be a waste.

And not to be unhelpful, but drop the "convinced by various agents" schtick. That way lies madness.
posted by rhizome at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2008

And $500 a month means six years of the best part of my life doing nothing but working.

Working does not exclude you from having other things in your life: friends, interests, personal growth, and so on.

With the right job, work and the other things you want will overlap. In other words, there are jobs you can do that may not solely be time sinks as you pay off your loan.

If you choose jobs wisely, and grow along the way, your income may rise, leading to you paying off these loans in less time
posted by zippy at 11:39 AM on October 28, 2008

Well, you've certainly got a spanking out of this post. Don't take it harshly or personally, you're looking at some terrific advice. I'm sure you are a lovely bloke, but still need tempering that life eventually gives you. $30k really isn't much money, honestly. If you are making minimum wage it is, but if you get paid $100/hr, it dissipates quickly.

I am an independent web programmer. If I can find an internet connection and have my trusty laptop, I can work anywhere on the planet. Last winter, I holed up in Amsterdam for three months, programming by day and enjoying the amazing city by night.

I created this lifestyle for myself. I decided that I was willing to risk the ups-and-downs that come with being independent and being an entrepreneur. Being a cube-mule doing the 9-5 gig is much safer, but I don't prefer it. Because of this, I allow myself to see the world as my finances and my desire allows.

Nothing in the world can stop you if you want to follow in a similar. Well, except for your own self-doubt.

I highly recommend googling Chris Guillebeau, he's also a world traveler and he has a couple ebooks on the topic. Great stuff. Good luck, take a deep breath, you are at the beginning of life's fantastic journey.
posted by bprater at 11:59 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

$35,000 isn't actually that much. It's only a bit more than the average car loan, which many people don't seem to have trouble paying off.

I'd suggest that the problem is in your head, and once you become motivated to pay this off you'll find it's not that hard.
posted by randomstriker at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm not quite seeing the connection between student debt and being "doomed" to a family or marriage, or a life of mediocrity. Unless you were planning to bum around without a job for years and years and now you can't fulfill that master plan, in which case, no sympathy from me. However, you can still have a job and travel the world and have student debt, and not be a mindless drone. I met a guy an hour ago who works for Delta and leaves the country every other weekend on whichever flight has room.

If it makes you feel better, I had that much student loan debt. And I know people with over 100K. 35K sounds like a big scary number in total, but you're supposed to pay it off over the next 20 years, not the next five. It's like a mortgage - you don't see too many people pay off a house in five years. I pay mine off month by month, and I think my plan estimates it will be paid off in 20 years from date of graduation. I could pay it off faster, but have various reasons for not doing so.

As others have mentioned, you can defer the payments, or set up a payment plan that allows you to pay a lower payment now, when you don't have as much cash, and a higher payment in five years, when you will have perhaps finished traveling the world, or will at least hopefully have a job. Here is some information on other options. I will also note that there are certain lines of work that could aid in your ability to cancel or defer loans. They are mentioned in the link.

...not worry about a career or marriage or consumer debt.
Well, the good news is that from what I read, student loan debt is not consumer debt. So you're free and clear on that one.

You can tell me over and over again how important college is, how I would go nowhere without a BA, but it's now pretty apparent that I'm going nowhere with one.
You can't blame your lack of success on the system tricking you or the BA itself. Just having a BA doesn't do you too much good if you don't have any drive or ambition to do anything beyond "travel the world for a few years and not worry about a career". I am all for traveling the world - but the people I know do it while holding a job that allows them to travel the world (and get paid for it!). Don't blame the system for the fact that you aren't taking advantage of your degree. It's like taking a job at the local fast food place and then claiming that college didn't do you any good. It's only as good as what you make of it.

I think you should grow up - maybe a mindless 9-5 and a little responsibility would be a good thing right now.

Regardless, you will be okay. Seriously.
posted by ml98tu at 12:37 PM on October 28, 2008

I don't have advice, I'd just like to point out: the vast majority of the people in here who gave you advice are probably people with regular day jobs -- who were good enough to help you out even though you sneeringly compared their way of life to "mediocrity."

My point being: perhaps the life you consider to be "mediocre" only appears that way because of a particular attitude you may have. Think on that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Good-bye Mr. Anonymous! I hope you have enjoyed these months at the Sammarkand Inn! And what will be your next destination?"

"Dunno, dude, I'm a traveling independent philosopher and I go where the wind takes me! I don't even give my name!"

"Ah, Mr. Anonymous, this is the fifth time I've heard that today! Am I misunderstanding an inscrutable American figure of speech, or are you just totally mediocre?"
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:39 PM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

box: Default

You cannot discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy unless you have been permanently disabled. It will follow you the rest of your life until paid off. And the Feds can seize any income tax refunds, can take up to 15% of any paycheck, or take any federal benefits such as Social Security disability or retirement checks.
posted by JackFlash at 12:56 PM on October 28, 2008

Just to provide a random note of sympathy - yes, that sucks.

Yeah, blah blah blah, other people get into this much debt, blah blah blah.

Point is - you've specifically said you didn't *want* to go to college, somehow you got pressured into it, and now you're $35k in the hole for something you didn't want in the first place. People who spend sometimes more than their first years wages on a car fresh out of college are dumb too.
Really? A new car? Worth wages to you for an entire year? (Are you living in that thing?)

So yeah. Just wallow for a bit.
Possibly find somewhere to go outside and scream for a bit, possibly in the rain with only a t-shirt on. That kind of shit is therapeutic.

Then, come in, sit down - and read all these other posts. Yes, it's cool. Other people have done it, almost all the people you went to college have done it, and even a bunch of people who didn't actually finish college are having to do this shit.
You will survive. You can even thrive. You can even still go travelling. There's hints above.

And hold yourself to higher standards - don't make the mistake of getting a crap-ass-there-was-no-point-going-to-college job, the world out there thinks you are fully capable of paying back $35k with your brand-spanking-new college degree, so go out there and go out and get something you freaking *deserve* for your hard work, that piece of paper that others value so highly, and that will pay that sucker off. Get the jobs with the pay, and just cut a third of whatever you're earning to paying the debt, before you see it. Yes. Figure out how much you want to live and save on comfortably, and aim for a job paying 50% over that. You need to save for some SE Asia!
Shoot for higher goals. What's the worst that happens? You fall shorter of them, but still higher than your previous expectations.

Good luck.
posted by Elysum at 1:01 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Get a second job. And a third job.

oh, wait, do you even have a first job?

What did you major in? Why do you not have A job?

How old are you? That matters. I realize that at the age of 22 or whatever that $30k seems insurmountable. But, seriously, dude, get a job. Get two jobs. Get a third one on the weekends. Clean offices. Tend bar. Wait tables.


Your expenses are only $250 a month? You're LUCKY. So keep them low, and get out there and work it.
posted by micawber at 1:05 PM on October 28, 2008

I do think Stynxno's comment perfectly sums up my initial reaction, but I feel like I've had a similar freakout to anon's so I am also a bit sympathetic.

Anon, this situation sucks. Getting a surprise $30k of debt put on you is going to make you freak out a little. I don't blame you. It sucks that college is expensive, and it sucks that you were expecting one thing ($5k in student loans) but then got another ($35k in student loans). You have my permission to be pissed and upset about this for a little bit, if it makes you feel better.

HOWEVER, this is really, seriously, truly not the end of the world. It's a life lesson that is going to make you a stronger, smarter, and more diligent person in the long run. You can choose to be a victim and freak out, or you can get over it and learn something.

It sounds like things you can learn for next time are:

1. Listen to your gut. You seem to think you were pressured into going to college. Well, you let yourself be pressured. You can't go back in time and listen to your gut about college, but maybe next time you feel like you are being pressured to do something that you are uncomfortable with, LISTEN TO YOUR GUT or at least think about it more carefully before co-signing for loans for something you don't really want.

2. Be more clear in your agreements, and have agreements put in writing! If it is true that you thought you and your parents had agreed one thing, and then something changed, what you need to learn is that ANY financial agreement should be VERY CLEARLY planned out and agreed to and put in writing so that both parties can refer to it. People's memories of agreements tend to change over time.

3. We all make mistakes and do things we wish we hadn't. Welcome to the club! At least your mistake hasn't compromised your health, your criminal record, your credit history (except positively, if you pay it back!), your ability to make a living, your reputation, or anything else significant. Lots of people's mistakes have cost them much more than an extra bill each month.

4. Be diligent. Know what you're getting into when you sign something. People here don't feel bad for you because you have to sign a contract to get a student loan. How did that happen? You did it yourself! Maybe you didn't know what you were getting into, but you have no one to blame but yourself. Next time, be more aware of the significance of signing a contract / promissory note.

Anyway ... I hope you get over your funk soon and put this into perspective. Otherwise it will eat away at you and you'll never be able to enjoy life. What's done is done. Accept it, accept responsibility, and move on.
posted by tastybrains at 1:22 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem is not what anonymous's personal goals are, or even what they feel are their own 'anti-goals' - the problem is that they are currently, heavily, heavily regretting that they did not follow their goals.

Yes, yes, they used words like 'screwed' and 'mediocrity' that seem slighting of others choices and therefore appear to have offended many others in this thread - except that it isn't about other peoples choices, this is how they feel about those particular choices for themselves.

Following other people's advice is how they got into this mess to start with (current path in life conflicting with internal goals).

And honestly, I actually know many people who regret having gone through a hastily chosen or ill-considered college degree (*sigh* the number of comp sci graduates who realise on graduation they never want to work with computers? The default choice for most of the undecideds around first dot-com bubble). Conversely, I haven't met any yet who regretted backpacking around the world for a couple of years, even/especially when they then did go on to get a college degree, in an area that followed their passions.

In all of it - the anon is fresh out of high school and college. There are many, many years to live, and many, many choices that can be taken down the road.
They're probably just stuck with all the high-school advice that what they do (have done) now is really really important and will decide the course of your life and career! I'm allowing the possibility, that maybe, if you made really good choices and like it, there's people who'll do the life plan thing, but from your early twenties (late, early thirties - ok, friend in their 60s are putting this into perspective for me) but there's so many options. Another year or two, even a few months, and they'll probably have a much better vantage point than they do currently.
posted by Elysum at 1:24 PM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Elysum, I just really think that's a fanstastic post.

I think some of the terminology in Anon's post turned a lot of people off and made them feel defensive. I don't think Anon meant it that way, and that it came out in the midst of a freakout. I know I can identify with feeling a little hysterical about similar things, especially from when I was just starting life after college.
posted by tastybrains at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2008

For what it's worth, the most interesting people I know are the ones who have worked strange and interesting jobs in order to pay off their student loans (and who are still paying off their loans now into their thirties). They have jobs that let them travel all over the world (at their company's expense), wonderful significant others, nice condos/houses, cars that don't suck, and many interesting friends. IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU !!
posted by olinerd at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not to sound cold, but it is pretty unrealistic to expect to leave college and travel around without worrying about money, which is what it sounds like you wanted. I mean, that can be reasonable, but only if you have some manner of financial backer in the form of rich relatives/sugar mommy or daddy.

That said, there are opportunities to work, pay off your debt, and travel. If you want to move to a non-English speaking region, look into opportunities to teach English in that region. Working abroad may not give you the constant-vacationing/exploring experience you wanted, but it seems like a pretty good deal if you want to meet new people and explore new cultures.

Yes, you will be paying off your student debt up until your own kids go to college. A lot of us are, so you're not alone!
posted by lacedback at 1:59 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm afraid that... I will be so deep in a life I always planned to avoid that I cannot escape.

You won't. As long as you're single, you can always drop out of that life. (Even if you start a family, you might still be able to manage it, if you have the right partner.) In fact, it's a whole lot easier to drop out than to drop back in. After all, when you're backpacking around Fiji, nobody's going to ask you difficult questions about the five years you spent as a banker; but if you're interviewing at the bank, five blank years on your resume might count against you.

I suspect that you're afraid of becoming numb and forgetting your dreams. Take that "mindless 9-5" for now, but balance it by finding a community of like-minded people who remind you to keep dreaming. Go looking for people who are leading lives that are interesting to you, and keep in touch with them. When it's time for you to make the jump, you'll be better prepared than you are now, monetarily and otherwise.

We all trust advice that we shouldn't, and we all pay for it. You'll live.
posted by sculpin at 2:48 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should expect a pile-on like this anytime you trash 90%+ of the Mefi communitie as stuck in mediocrity because they're paying off student loans and to some extent, trapped in their jobs. However, it sounds like you're just freaking out, overwhelmed by the enormity of your situation. Just giving you the benefit of the doubt that you're not as hysterical and whiny as your question seems, you do have a serious problem. You feel trapped by your debt and worried that you wasted your time with a bachelor's degree.

Your BA is a good thing. If you didn't enrich yourself emotionally, socially and intellectually while getting it, then you screwed up. But, even if you did, it's still a piece of paper that makes you much more competitive compared to other applicants.

Save up enough cash to make interest-only payments for a year. Ask for a 1-year forbearance, go abroad, get a job teaching English. China worked for me, I got a steady salary, a place to live, casual environment and several free months per year to travel. I made enough cash to occasionally make payments, generally enough to handle the interest. It's not that hard, almost anyone can do it.
posted by bluejayk at 2:54 PM on October 28, 2008

While the advice you've been here given is good, I want to sympathize with your predicament. 35,000 dollars is a lot of money and just because other people have more debt than that does not make it more reasonable. If your degree helps you earn the money to pay that off, great, but it doesn't always work that way. There is something ridiculous in the way we've accepted the notion that one should start off ones adult life deeply in debt because of decisions we made as highschoolers or decisions made for us by others.
While we obviously do need to ensure a rigorous education standards for some careers, and a university is a good way to do that, there seems to be an awful lot of less than necessary time and money being spent on degrees that are far less defined in their purpose. I find it hard to accept that the system of going straight from high school into university, trying to decide who you are and what you want to be while taking on large amounts of debt is the best idea out there. I know too many people with degrees that don't seem to have gained them much in terms of knowledge or in terms of employment. It isn't even clear to me anymore which of those purposes a college education is intended to address...
But that is getting off the point, and the point is that there are a lot of people who do feel ripped off and depressed about the money they owe and the educational experience they had, but even so, that shouldn't prevent you from trying to enjoy the life you want to lead. Again, the advice here is good, defer your loans, pay what you can, and if the worst comes and you do default it isn't the end of the world. What's done can't be undone so you need to live with the decisions you have made and stop fretting about the past. What you feel now won't necessarily be what you feel in years to come. I've known many people who didn't put their degree to work until many years after they received it, and, again, some who never do, but that hasn't prevented them from doing the things they love. Just don't beat yourself up over this and think this is a one way ticket to a life in hell, it isn't.
Good luck.
posted by mr.grum at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2008

You cannot discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy unless you have been permanently disabled. It will follow you the rest of your life until paid off. And the Feds can seize any income tax refunds, can take up to 15% of any paycheck, or take any federal benefits such as Social Security disability or retirement checks.

It's all true. But if Anon plans to leave the country, and doesn't care about money or cars or mortgages, s/he might be okay with all that. Not a decision I'd make, but, then again, I don't think my priorities are the same as Anon's, and, in any case, it didn't seem from the question like Anon has considered the option.
posted by box at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2008

Teach english abroad. I went that route for nearly two years after graduation in an awful job market. While I didn't make fabulous amounts of money, it allowed me to travel and make payments on my student loan. I lived in Osaka, Japan, but there are many other options available.
posted by TravellingCari at 3:39 PM on October 28, 2008

$35,000 college debt is nothing. Why do you feel like you need to pay it off in six years? Educational loans are usually fairly low interest rate, so if you just make the monthly payment you're not destroying yourself financially. If you can somehow finance traveling the world, you should have no problem making the monthly payment on a college loan. There's no reason you can't do both simultaneously.

I hopes this makes you feel better instead of offending you: you seem to have a skewed perception of the world and your own life. It's not bad, you just have it worked up that way in your head. I'm only 24 and I think your idea of six years seeming like a long time sounds childish. So is the idea that $35k of college debt is going to be hanging over your head your "whole life."
posted by Nattie at 4:03 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm all for the flexibility that graduating college with a minimum of debt can give you, but your situation seems like nothing to freak out about. If your living expenses are indeed $250/month, then even paying $500/month on your loans seems doable on a reasonable part time job, or on a succession of temp or contract jobs, interspersed with equal periods of carefree travel.

But you don't really have to pay $500/month on your loans right now, do you?

As for "mediocrity," I really have no idea how you define the term, but there are a lot of exceptionally creative people who have done great work while supporting themselves, and even a family. There are even more who have thrived under some other constraint.
posted by Good Brain at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't understand why you need to pay it off in six years either. I graduated in 1991 with a shade under the debt you have, and I just paid all mine off last year (and that was after paying the last chunk several years ahead of time; based on the terms of my loan, which I'd refinanced in the late '90s, I could have taken another several years).

I'm not going to lie and say that having that kind of debt at a young age didn't make a difference; it did. It limited certain choices and my finances in ways that of course did have an effect on my life, and not always in a comfortable way. (I even sympathize with your anger -- I was pushed very strongly to go to a private school that we patently couldn't afford by my parents, who kept insisting that all the debt I was taking on would be fine because my excellent education would automatically translate into a lucrative job.)

Having said that, it does you no good to see yourself as a victim or to catastrophize your life over this. I traveled, wrote plays, fell in love, protested in the streets, created a satisfying career, and did a million other things during the whole time I was paying off my student loans. I may not have wound up leading some glamourous life I envisioned at 21 (and I never won that Pulitzer, either), but that doesn't mean I lived some pathetic life of quiet desperation and mediocrity, either. I did the best I could with the circumstances at hand. You can make the same choice, too -- but it is a choice.

As a practical matter, I recommend All Your Worth as a good guide for learning how to synthesize your student loans (and again: you can pay them off over more than 6 years!) into a budget that will allow you to pay for your essentials, put some money into savings, and still have something left over every month for enjoyment. I got into financial trouble and trashed my credit for years because I didn't know how to put my finances into balance, and this is hands-down the one book I wish I'd read back when I was just starting out in the same position you're in. Good luck.
posted by scody at 4:29 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't see how I could ever in a million years pay this off.

35000/1 million years = 0.035 per year
35000/12 million months = 0.002916 per month

But more realistically...

35000/10 years (120 months) = $291.66 per month
35000/15 years (180 months) = $194.44 per month

With interest, you'll have a bit more, sure, but student loans are designed to be paid off in 10-15 years. Let's hope that you have a job after graduation and/or the common sense to budget properly.
posted by k8t at 4:31 PM on October 28, 2008

I assume that with a college degree, you can do basic maths.

Two years of minimum monthly payments plus one year of deferment gets you three years footloose and fancy free for a mere $2,400. That's nothing. That's three months of working to buy your way into three years of whatever it is you want to be doing out there in the big wide world.

Alternatively, join the Peace Corps.

Alternatively, default.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:45 PM on October 28, 2008

I used to feel like my student loan debt was a big weight, but it's turned out not to be a big deal at all.

Get a low interest rate, get on an "extended" or "income contingent" repayment plan (if these are federal loans), and deduct the interest from your taxes.

Then, you can either work a job that lets you travel (teach somewhere you get summers off?), or travel around with this debt. To travel, you could earn the money along the way, if you find jobs that pay in US$ (eg, on a cruise ship), or if you go to countries with currencies worth more than the US$.

Or you can just save and then travel. Assuming your payment is $200 / month, you'd have to save up $600 before a three month trip. That's two weeks of work at $10/hr and a 25% income tax rate. At that tax rate, if you earn $10/hr, then for every 40-hr week you work, you can take six weeks off. If you earn $15/hr, for every week you work, you can take nine weeks off. It's a bit less than this because you have to pay living expenses, but it's still a pretty easy situation.
posted by salvia at 6:04 PM on October 28, 2008

I hate suggesting this to people, but the vast majority of newbs who come to Korea to teach English are just out of university, and looking to pay off student loans.

You could pay off your 35K debt pretty easily in two years of working here, if you save money carefully, killing two birds with one stone -- travel and debt reduction. For more information, there are a large number of past AskMe threads on it, most of which I've probably commented in, and you can check out my Korea-related site linked (secondarily) from my profile.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:38 PM on October 28, 2008

I think you are not the only person in this country right now who is wondering, why is the American dream seem so distant, maybe even impossible? Why is the only way to start to get ahead, getting that college degree, mean saddling myself with tens of thousands in debt, and housing is so expensive in so many places, and it's so hard to save? This is a real problem. Times are tough right now.

It's not just that everyone doesn't accept enough personal responsibility. I know how many people on this site are fervently supporting Barack Obama and I heard his speech just this morning talking exactly about the economic challenges that regular people face, and student loan debt is one of them. Higher education should be affordable for everyone and there should be more service programs open to you, that will let you do something to make a difference and wipe out some of that loan. Did you look into AmeriCorps? Lots of interesting opportunities, the pay is not fantastic but they will help pay down that student debt. You could move somewhere new for it, even. Give it a shot.

And another thing to step back and think about is, it's only money. Really. The loan is yours, you can't go back in the past and undo it. You can't change the fact that you owe the money but you can change how unhappy you'll let it make you. You are already free. Defer the loan for a bit if you want to travel the world, if you live simply, I don't see why you couldn't do this now.

And things could be worse. You could be in Afghanistan right now. You could be in Haiti living in abject poverty with no clean water, hardly any food, trying to dig your house out of tons of mud from the recent hurricanes. Heck you could be one of the majority of people in the US who don't have a college degree (so many doors are open to you, when you have one), you could be struggling to pay your gas bill and keep your minimum wage job and pay your rent, no health insurance. Try hard not to feel sorry for yourself and be grateful for what you do have. Good luck!
posted by citron at 7:31 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey guess what -- I'm in the same boat with a similar amount of student debt and I'm currently working and living halfway around the world in New Zealand in the best (and best paying) job I've had so far. Life is awesome, interesting, and exciting.

How did I do it?

- For over a year beforehand I worked two jobs - a fulltime one during the day and a part-time (but more fun and more social) job with flexible hours I put in during weeknights and weekends
- I found a roommate and a room with incredibly cheap rent. Not the nicest place I've ever lived in, but I didn't care because I wasn't spending much time at home.
- I saved up, and also made extra payments on my loans to pay them down.
- I made sure that I would have enough to cover my loan payments at the lowest repayment schedule for all the months I'm away.
- I applied for a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand. They're pretty easy to get, and you can get them for all kinds of countries and it sounds like you're young enough to qualify.
- I knew I would be OK. I had a bit of a reserve saved up (although not much) but was confident in my ability to get a job, ANY job, to support myself. Bartending, serving, temp work, whatever.
- I got a temporary administrative job in a communications department, worked hard and proved myself and convinced the company to hire me on full time. I'm now doing corporate communications and design.

If you're flexible, think creatively, and know you can rely on yourself you'll be OK.

What may look like a horrible situation right now may be a good life lesson in self-reliance. I realize that makes me sound like a parent, but it's true.

I don't love working. But I love the confidence I have from knowing I can work and rely on myself to get through just about any situation. For me, working hard and supporting myself is worth it for the freedom and independence I get out of it. Once you're dependent on someone else to support you, you've got a leash around your neck.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 10:57 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone else mentioned, it's good to take a look at the interest rates of your loans and consolidating them when rates are low. This is especially important if you have variable rate loans so pay attention to news that may indicate a drop/rise in the interest rates.

I came out of college with $25K in loans but over 60% of that was consolidated at 3.25%, and one of the loans requires payments only once every three months. Online savings accounts (check bankdeals.blogspot.com) are pretty much sure to be at least 3%, so at worst I'm losing 0.25% in interest, while I'm usually either breaking even or slight profit by paying minimum payments.

I suggest making a plan based on your interest rates. Consolidate the low rate loans and pay the high rate ones quickly. If you want to teach English abroad, you could probably pay all of your high interest loans in a year or so.
posted by NeoLeo at 10:37 AM on November 5, 2008

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