Is student loan forgiveness worth taking a job I don’t want?
November 29, 2015 5:24 AM   Subscribe

A Masters degree mistake, huge debt, and a brand new job. Major career questions inside!

So I just finished a Masters degree. Which is great! Except…it was a catastrophically poor fit, in a field I ended up having no aptitude or interest in. Yup. Big mistake.

I’m glad to have finished, to have not panicked and quit—and I’ve managed to land in a decent, interesting job, parlaying my degree into something much, much better aligned with my personality and interests. A huge relief. But now…well, it’s time to pay the piper. My student loans kick in in January, they’re massive, and I’m realizing that committing to this new job and new career—which I like—will mean accepting a lifetime of debt. Basically, becoming one of those people who get on Income Based Repayment, make a nominal payment every month, forget about it, and resign to never, ever getting out from under the loans. It’s pretty bleak.

Unless…I take a job that qualifies for loan-forgivenss

The snowflake-y background:

I was a journalist. Good at it, loved it. But after enduring one layoff after another, one folding publication after another, and finding myself on the verge of turning 30, about to lose my job again and armed with nothing more than a BA in English…well, I panicked. I was craving stability. I did my research, weighed the pros and cons, and found something that would guarantee employment and income: speech language pathology.

I know. It seems random. And it basically was. I was looking for a program that would accept me, that was somewhat language-related, and that would save me from the constant instability and low pay of journalism. I saw the job prospects, the flexibility, the decent pay. It was a good plan.

Except: I was bad at it. Practicum after practicum reiterated the fact that I wasn’t cut out to be a clinician. I was great at studying language and communication. I was terrible at interacting with special-needs kids. So as graduation neared, I cast about for alternatives. I found an intriguing job posting on the Internet—at a boutique “insights” firm, one that does custom research into play-based behavior for kids’ media companies—that called for recent Masters degree grads. Seemed to fit with the speech work I had done. I applied, and…I got it.

A few months into it now, and I really like it. It’s thinky, cerebral, pop-culture-y, and it scratches my journalism storytelling itch. The salary was more or less on par with an entry-level speech pathology job, with some room for growth. And, technically, it requires a Masters degree. I felt like I had dodged a bullet.

Except for the student loans. I’m just shy of $100k. There is no conceivable way I can put a dent in this at my current salary—or really at any salary short of six figures.

But…I could easily land a public school speech therapy job. Pay isn’t great. And it’s not a job I would thrill to. But I could do it. And, with the public service student loan forgiveness, it would be a get-out-of-jail-free card on my loans. I’d have to work for ten years, sure. But I would dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and interest.

Financially, there’s no question that taking a school speech job is the smarter move. But…ten years can easily feel like a prison sentence. And the YOLO part of my soul keeps whispering to me that I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. That I need to live for today and pursue a job that I genuinely enjoy. And who knows where that can lead?

But I also can’t pretend that I don’t have MAJOR stress and anxiety and shame thinking about this debt. And NOT PAYING it would be committing to a lifetime of this massive psychological cloud hovering over me. I already have issues with anxiety, panic, and feelings of failure, and this obviously would not help.

So, AskMe: What would you do? Anyone out there have experience taking a job solely for the loan forgiveness? And to you loan skirters, what is it like to commit to never paying your loans? Is it a livable life? What’s the greater stress?

I feel like I’m stuck with two shitty choices. And I’m turning 33 soon, and…well, I’m feeling self-conscious and failed and deeply, deeply worried about making a catastrophic decision.

What to do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am your age, and I have realized I want to orient my life choices towards greater freedom in the long run. For me that means financial independence, career independence, being less beholden to others. But naturally, these don't all come at once.

It sounds like the public school job is a dead end for you. It could get you out from under the debt, but once that's over, then what? Can you grow the life you want in that career path, or would you want to shift to something else as soon as possible?

I don't know if the current job you've found is right either, but I have to think that in yen years you could build a strong career in many kinds of fields. If it is something that you could do, where you could pour a lot of energy and build something, then it might have better long-term upside as well as not being soul-crushing. But, the key is, "might". It won't if you hop ftom job to job without a plan. You need to be building something, going upwards.

My advice is to look for a career path that will allow you to pay down the debt in the long term and build a life for yourself. In other words, revisit your decisions. That probably involves taking the job you want now and then looking to see where you van head that would take you upwards.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:41 AM on November 29, 2015

I have had jobs that I don't love and I've had jobs that I love (have one now!) - with that in the rear view mirror, I would personally 100% angle toward a job I loved and figure out how to deal with the debt. It is incredibly taxing and exhausting (for me) to deal with my LIFE when I'm in a job that I hate. I'd stick with the job I love, maybe find a part time source of income to help with the debt, and work toward making the next-ten-years trajectory something fabulous. There could be interesting AND lucrative branches on your current path over the next decade.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:43 AM on November 29, 2015 [16 favorites]

Taking a job doing something you hate will be just compounding the mistake you made by pursuing the degree in the first place. The odds are extremely high that you wouldn't last long enough to qualify for the loan forgiveness in the first place. Either you'll burn out or you'll be fired. And it sounds like you wouldn't be doing the kids you work with any favors either.

Keep the job you are doing and enjoying. Work with your loan companies. And dig in, create a budget, live frugally, and aggressively pay down that debt. I graduated with a Masters in 1996 and $50k in debt. I dicked around, consolidated my loans, lowered my payments, and eventually defaulted. By 2002, I still owed $50k. I decided to tackle this once and for all. Even though I was working at a non-profit job, I was able to scrimp and save, and was able to pay my loans off in full by 2008. It wasn't easy, but it was super rewarding.
posted by kimdog at 5:48 AM on November 29, 2015 [13 favorites]

I agree that you shouldn't leave the job you love. Debt sucks, and in ten years you may be debt-free, but you'll be even farther from a job and a life you really like. Also, you don't want to burn out of public school service in Year Eight of your ten year sentence, leaving you just as in debt as before.

Also, speaking as a public school speech pathologist...don't do this. Don't do it to the kids, don't do it to the other teachers in the school. Don't take a job in the schools unless you can dedicate yourself to it. Kids and families will be looking to you for real help, and if you think you'll reach a point where you're just going through the motions until your debt is repaid, please don't take this job in the first place.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:51 AM on November 29, 2015 [33 favorites]

Your calculations don't mention the effect on the kids you'd be working with.
posted by amtho at 5:58 AM on November 29, 2015 [19 favorites]

You are such a goofball. You didn't fail! You transitioned out of a collapsing industry, applied to and got into a Master's program, successfully completed it, and then found a job you love. Come on, give yourself some credit here.

It is so, so early. Your student loans haven't even kicked in yet, and already you've decided that they've ruined your entire life? That seems premature. Who knows - maybe in six months, you'll have gotten used to making your income-based repayments, and you'll be so interested and engaged in your work that you'll hardly think about them at all. Or maybe you'll feel like kimdog, and you'll be motivated to pare down and live frugally and take on some part time work to pay them off, and doing so will feel like a massive achievement. Or maybe a similarly exciting but better-paid job will open up in your new field, and you'll start paying off your loans in bigger chunks. Or, yes, maybe the loans will be a real burden, the glow of your new job will wear off, and it will feel right to take a different job with the goal of loan forgiveness in mind. You just don't know!

As someone who is infinitely familiar with that state, I'm pretty sure this is just anxiety brain talking. So take a deep breath, meditate on your accomplishments, and take it one day at a time. Take it from a random person on the internet - ultimately, you're in a really good place, I swear. Good luck.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2015 [28 favorites]

No, don't take a job you won't like. You are more likely to be successful and somehow move into a job that pays more when you're following your passion. Some people have the magic touch to be children's therapists but most don't. Don't force this and make yourself miserable. Pay the minimum in your debt and wait for it to time out. Make a budget and try to stick to it. You're giving up lattes and nice shoes to do a job you like.
posted by Kalmya at 6:25 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am a bit thrown by the fact that you are making pretty much what you expected to be making when you started your degree.

I wonder whether you were (explicitly or not) counting on getting a loan forgiveness job when you started the program, which sounds like it was a well thought out and planned decision?

If not, I agree that this sounds like anxiety speaking.

You took on the debt load to get out of the job stress of the journalism field. It worked! You found a job in your target income range that you enjoy. Go you!

The public school jobs will still be there down the line if anything happens to your job, and who knows what else might open up (including policy oriented jobs in government or school systems that might also work for loan forgiveness).

Your loan payments (with the income based repayment, a new thing not to be taken for granted) are the cost of the job security you wanted. Your misery (either at a job you don't like, or by dwelling on the payments that are a normal part of many people's lives) does not need to be rolled into the cost!

I also made a big career change for the sake of, among other things, job security. Years and years of job insecurity (with interspersed unemployment) can grind a person way down.

I think that may still be dogging you? it takes a while for that kind of mindset to really dissipate. For now, give a shot to trusting yourself and even extending a smidgen of faith to the universe (unwarranted as it might feel).

You did your research. So far everything is going according to plan. Breathe. Budget and pay back your loans faster than you have to, if you can, but enjoy your life. That's the point.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:28 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Basically, becoming one of those people who get on Income Based Repayment, make a nominal payment every month, forget about it, and resign to never, ever getting out from under the loans. It’s pretty bleak.

My advice is... re-think how bleak this really is. The newest IBR programs offer terms like payment capped at 10% of your income and loan forgiveness after 25 years. You'll never get out from under the debt -- at least not for 25 years -- but you'll be doing the job you like and living a life you enjoy. If you think of it like a 10% tax rate on not being miserable... I dunno, feels pretty worth it to me.

My husband's loans are much bigger than yours and unless he wins the lottery, there's no hope of ever paying them off. (There are way worse graduate paths to take than speech language pathology, trust me....) I absolutely understand what you're talking about with the stress and anxiety and shame, but for me (as chief financial planner of our household) getting enrolled in the IBR program has been a massive relief and taken away so much tension from our relationship and our lives.

Anyway, I think you've done great. You earned a masters, found a job you like, and successfully pivoted to a new, more stable career that it sounds like you're pretty good at. You honestly couldn't expect more of yourself. So please stop beating yourself up. You're doing fine.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 6:29 AM on November 29, 2015 [14 favorites]

What would make it harder to get out of bed, every morning, for a decade of your life - the fact that you have debt, or the fact that you're heading into work to do a job you don't like and aren't that good at? I could live with the debt but my spirit would be crushed by hating my job but being trapped in it just to get rid of that debt. I vote for staying where you are.
posted by billiebee at 6:29 AM on November 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

Just do the IBR. Wait tables on the weekends if you want to pay them off faster.
posted by k8t at 6:32 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some IBR-esque programs do forgiveness after 20 years. Would you rather spend 10 years in a job you hate and aren't good at, or 20 in a career you like? Plus, you're much more likely to be in a position to move up and find the jobs in your niche that pay enough to make a dent in your loans if you're doing something you actually like and are good at. You really don't know what path your career will take over the next few decades, despite what your anxiety is telling you right now.
posted by MadamM at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

10 years is a LONG TIME. It would be much more effective to see someone (ie, that old AskMe standby, a therapist) to learn to manage the shame and anxiety over the debt than to compound said anxiety for TEN YEARS with a job you don't like.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:45 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eight hours a day of hating your job. Do you spend eight hours a day worrying about your student loans? Stay in the job you enjoy.
posted by Etrigan at 7:03 AM on November 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you're more likely to find "surprise" sources of income — bonuses, salary increases, eBay sales, freelance projects, inheritances, lottery winnings* — than you are to find anything that makes up for 40 hours a week at a job you don't like.

When I graduated, I thought it would take about 10 years to repay my loans. (I realize I'm lucky that that's all it was.) In the end, it took me about eight. I didn't live a life of utter deprivation, but I did cut some corners and I did make advance payments when I was able. Making even small dents in the debt was liberating.

There are two ways to attack it: practically and mentally. Practically means things like making sure you're locked into the lowest interest rate possible, and bringing your lunch to work a lot (for instance). Mentally means not letting this become a source of shame but realizing that it's just part of your new normal for a while and, like others have said, this is in many ways a small price to pay for escaping a situation with few great options and finding a job you really love.

(*OK, some more likely than others)
posted by veggieboy at 7:11 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Double-check the exact terms of the loan-forgiveness program. Many of those aimed at teachers specify schools that receive federal loans and/ or certain hard to staff subjects.
posted by tamitang at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2015

It's not impossible to pay off your loan in a decade or less in your preferred field. You just have to live like a monk and be totally dedicated to debt reduction. But isn't that better than spending the same amount of time in a field you actively don't like in order to get the same result?
posted by slkinsey at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I worked as a school SLP for two years and burned out quickly - and I love being a speech pathologist, special needs children, all that stuff. You would need to work for several years in a lowing paying, high-caseload position with large groups of children. Like you, I was planning to stay until my loans were forgiven. It was absolutely not worth it, and I cannot emphasize enough how much happier I am in a position I actually enjoy that pays me enough to chip away at my loans. Don't do this to yourself and don't do it to those children.
posted by a hat out of hell at 7:20 AM on November 29, 2015

Better to moonlight for extra debt repayments than be at a job you hate full-time for 10 years.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:30 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's absolutely no shame in taking on debt to pay for your education, especially as that education has got you into a stable job you love! Stick with the job and work on the feelings of shame instead. Life is so much harder in a job you hate.
posted by corvine at 7:35 AM on November 29, 2015

I think you are silly to consider leaving a job you love for one you are sure you will dislike, and should take the advice on loan management in this thread. Not qualifying for loan forgiveness is not the end of the world.

Assuming you do have some interest in the speech path world, I also think your journo background plus your new qualifications position you for some non-clinical jobs in that direction. Research speech pathology advocacy and seek informational interviews with people at the relevant organizations. Explain your situation and ask where they think you could fit.
posted by zennie at 7:52 AM on November 29, 2015

Oh please do not become a school speech path if you're bad with kids. Please please don't. Forget whether or not you'd be unhappy - you'd be depriving those kids of the opportunity to work with someone who is happy to be there and good at their job.

If you are interested in the theory, just not the practice, sometimes large school districts will have office folks with different kinds of expertise (i.e. speech paths who deal with policy/training for the school speech paths); that might be something you could do.

Otherwise: you like your job, and while I realize it's not a great consolation, there are lots and lots of people our age in the six-figure student loan club. Therapy can help with the anxiety. Becoming a school speech path for the loan forgiveness, though, is a recipe for disaster.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:59 AM on November 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Stay where you're happy. Working in public schools damn near killed me and I WANTED to do it.

You need to re-think your finances. You assume that you'll be making the same money forever. That's silly, you'll get promotions and raises and that changes your financial landscape. You may get a partner who make all kinds of bank and who can help you with your debt.

For now, do whatever it takes to get out of debt. Get the smallest, cheapest apartment you can handle. Use public transportation or drive the shittiest, shit-box car. Eat at home and bring your lunch. Get a second job.

Figure out how to pay at least $500 per month on your loans, that will make a real dent in them.

There are a couple of books I can recommend to help you get in the right mindset,

Your Money or Your Life, talks about non-traditional ways of re-framing your relationship with money. Another good one is Dave Ramsey's (I know, he's a total tool, but the information is solid) Total Money Makeover.

Don't freak out. Don't make anymore decisions based on fear.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:07 AM on November 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Another vote for DO NOT take a job that you hate and are not good at. Take the job you want and live a little under your salary level. If you pay just $100 extra every month toward your student loans, you will make very good progress after ten years. And keep living that way, put in half of every raise and bonus, and you might even have the loan paid off in those ten years. You can do it, lots of other folks have done it. DO NOT waste ten years of your life in a job you hate.
posted by raisingsand at 8:40 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Keep the job you have and enjoy, and side hustle to pay down your student debt. Can you dog sit or dog walk? Sell vintage stuff on ebay or etsy? Babysit on the weekends? Check craigslist for gigs? Write fancy addresses for wedding invitations? Charge $10 to haul a trashbag's worth of stuff to Goodwill? If you even make $100 extra from a side hustle and put 100% toward your loans, you can chip away at your debt.
posted by shortyJBot at 9:04 AM on November 29, 2015

You say that pay isn't great at public school jobs, implying you're making more now. How much more? $12,000 ish more? Isn't that just about enough to actually pay off the loans with the excess in about the same amount of time?

Look at the numbers; post them if it makes sense.
posted by metasarah at 9:56 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd like to point out to everyone that $100k at 6% interest (I'm just guessing on the rate, obviously, could even be more!) has a minimum monthly payment of $1,110 for a 10 year term, which, without consolidation, student loans have automatically. So paying $500 a month isn't going to make a dent. At 6%, $500 accrues in interest, alone, each and every month. So if the poster gets income-based repayment it's possible they won't even touch the principal, ever.

You are right to be concerned. However, income based repayment exists for this reason. It looks like you'd be paying 15% of your discretionary income (10% is only for new borrowers after July 2014). Do the math, see how it's going to go for you, make sure you qualify. You'll need to know your interest rate and balance. That page linked has a repayment calculator and all the info you'll need.

In my personal opinion the entire student loan industry is a giant racket, and is in fact stealing. So feel free to IBR away! Seriously. It's holding a generation hostage and should be entirely redesigned (or even abolished). I worked in the industry for four years listening to horror stories, and that was 20 years ago. It's so much worse now.
posted by clone boulevard at 10:16 AM on November 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

As the parent of a special needs child who requires language therapy, please, please don't take this job. As much as I love my kid, her disability and her language delay can be frustrating and exhausting. The demands made on her team are great, and the only reason they all get through it is because they genuinely love what they're doing and want to make a difference. My child wouldn't make it without school-based services, so please don't do this as a job you hate; you're not the only one who will suffer.
posted by headspace at 10:27 AM on November 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

As someone who has always taken jobs I "love," the idea of a steady job that will result in loan forgiveness after ten years sounds better.

Lots of jobs fill like a not-so-great fit at first. If there's any chance you'll get the hang of working with kids, I'd take the school job.

In fact, would you qualify for any pension or retirement benefits after ten years there? Not needing to work is far better than just about any job. Even the most "fun" jobs get annoying after awhile.
posted by salvia at 10:30 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out some of the more aggressive personal finance blogs. Especially relevant for you will be this one. I would start by reframing paying off your debt as just an abstract financial goal, instead of thinking of it as a personal failure or "mistake". Then start finding ways to increase your payments, just like you would if you were saving for a new car or whatever. Paying off that amount of debt is challenging but certainly not impossible.
posted by deathpanels at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got talked into taking a job I hated and was not suited for. Two months in, I woke up one day and realised I had a choice: either quit, or jump off the nearest bridge. That was how soul-destroying working at a job that didn't work at all for me was.

Stay in your current job.
posted by Tamanna at 11:02 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Imagine this: you're 42. Your life is generally great: great family, dog, steady job. You've been aggressively paying down your loans, but about three years ago, your then-puppy got hit by a car. The vet was able to save him but only with $15,000 of surgery. You have managed to pay that credit card down to $2,000, but you still owe about $38,000 on your student loans.

You met an incredible person when you were 36 and got married (at the county clerk's office of course, since every penny was going to student loans). Then together, you began working on your longstanding dream to [have kids / live on a sailboat for a year / move to that small town near your families]. You're really excited. It's been going well. You can almost take the next step on really living that dream. With just one more year of savings, and once your loans are paid off, you can afford to [move to that nice neighborhood with good schools, where a group of families all go trick-or-treating together and your two beautiful kids can safely play out on the streets / afford that rural home or sailboat and make ends meet via living frugally and occasional Air BnB guests].

So here is my question -- which scenario do you prefer:

Option A: Launching into that next phase of life in a year, with a small pension even, and with the savings you set aside from doing the same amount of scrimping and saving -- having made the best of the school job for ten years, not loved it but also having made good friends with some of your fellow teachers?

Option B: Preparing to work at your "fun" job for five more years to finish up your loan payments, meanwhile staying put in the crummy apartment you've lived in to scrimp and save on your loans, and dealing with the new management (these cocky young 26 year olds who think you're out-of-touch and are too busy looking at their social media stream to look at the balance sheet)?

Will you feel like Option B is "worth it?" Do you feel like Option B wouldn't be the scenario because you'd be such a rising star that you'd have long since outpaced the school salary? If so, I'd go with that one. Otherwise, I'd go with Option A.

As someone who isn't even 42 yet, it seems to me that if you're like most of us, the non-work parts of your life -- your dog, your partner, your children, your dream of living in a beautiful place, some community project, and even your hiking or gardening or fishing (or whatever hobby allows you to just enjoy being alive) -- will increasingly become much more satisfying than work. The difference between "a fun and exciting job" and "a fine job where nothing bad happens" might be, like, 15 points of life satisfaction, while having an extra six hours at home each week with your kid might be, like, 120 points of life satisfaction.

There are a few exceptions: job security remains important (because it's key to supporting that other life), feeling respected by others is crucial, and having job flexibility to take time off is also valuable. But on these fronts, at least the first two, I tend to think that the public sector might actually be better. Private-sector jobs, especially in start-up like environments, can be more unstable, involve longer hours, and require you to stay "trendy" in a way that provokes insecurity as you increasingly care more about [being there for your aging parents' health issues] than the latest [doge] trends.

Again, if you think that you have the ambition, charisma, drive and skills such that by taking the fun job, you'll rocket to the top, win the IPO game or become a top-dollar consultant, and have the funds to retire early, then go for it and make that happen. But all this "I've failed" stuff makes me think that you're just looking for a nice, steady gig where someone pays you to do a good job.

Yes, budgeting and saving is a great idea. But you could also make your income-contingent loan payments and then set aside all those savings for later, rather than sending all those savings to the loan company. I'd do the math and see where you end up after ten years, and seriously think about whether you'll love the fun job SO much more that you'll be happy doing it for like, 50% longer until you're free from the loans.

tl;dr -- Fun jobs are overrated, especially in youth. Make a long term plan that gives you as much financial freedom as possible after ten years.
posted by salvia at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason why you're not considering doing speech therapy with adults? Working with kids and working with adults are two very different kettles of fish, so I think it's premature to say that you're a failure at being a speech language pathologist just because you had trouble establishing a rapport with the children you worked with. I don't know about the availability of adult speech therapy jobs or the pay rate compared to doing speech therapy with kids, but it seems like the best place to start looking for jobs if you wanted to.

Are you currently working at a nonprofit? If not, are there jobs similar to yours at other companies that are nonprofits? Public Service Loan Forgiveness doesn't care what type of work you do or how it relates to your degree, just that you work at a qualifying organization.

As someone who also has oodles of student loan debt, I totally understand the anxiety of owing that much money but I would say that after time you do get used to it. There's no reason to feel ashamed; even if you never got a job in speech therapy for the rest of your life it's netted you a great job with lots of possibilities for the future. My personal take on things is that tuition is incredibly overpriced anyway so I don't feel too bad about making low IBR payments while waiting for the government to cover the rest. It's certainly better than not paying at all-- you can trust that the government will come for its due if you default on your loans.
posted by fox problems at 12:34 PM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

You realize that only FEDERAL loans qualify for loan forgiveness, right? And there's a cap well below $100k on what the federal government gives out for loans, so assuming some of these are PRIVATE loans -- this plan is not going to help you at all.

And as a parent who's kid has had several SLPs, I would personally beg you from ever interacting as a clinician with a child if your practicum only served to prove that you either a) hate it, b) have no talent for it, or c) both a and be in some combination. Children with special needs deserve only the best and too often don't get it as it is. If it's not something you either have passion or talent for, please don't do it.
posted by zizzle at 1:00 PM on November 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

But…I could easily land a public school speech therapy job. Pay isn’t great. And it’s not a job I would thrill to. But I could do it. And, with the public service student loan forgiveness, it would be a get-out-of-jail-free card on my loans. I’d have to work for ten years, sure. But I would dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and interest.

I'm a medical student so the topic of public service loan forgiveness is one that comes up a lot. Multiple independent financial advisors who specialize in working with graduate students have told me the same thing: do not trust the PSLF program. If you happen to be able to take advantage of it, great! But don't upend your life to qualify. There is no guarantee that after putting in your ten years you will actually receive the loan forgiveness. If the program changes in the meantime (and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that as the first wave of beneficiaries become eligible, sticker shock is hitting hard and the program is likely to be significantly revised), you'll have spent x years in a job you hate for literally no benefit.

If you're looking for a middle ground, I suggest you look for qualifying jobs in public service that wouldn't be so terribly horrible for you. There's no requirement for loan forgiveness that you work in the field of your graduate study. If you can find a job that interests you that happens to involve working for the government or a non-profit organization, you can take your chances at PSLF that way.
posted by telegraph at 1:30 PM on November 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

What's the interest rate on your loans? Are there tax breaks for paying interest? What's the difference in salaries between the two jobs? You speak in hushed tones of "loan forgiveness", but if you actually work out the numbers, how much of a concrete boost in salary does that equate to? For example, forgiving $100k of debt with a 6% interest rate after 10 years, works out to an effective salary boost of about $15k/yr. Although I don't know the typical salaries in your field, public school salaries are pretty low, so it's not inconceivable that you could be making $15k/yr more in industry after a couple years. $15k/yr is also a minimum wage job for 20 hrs a week.

So, I'd suggest working out in concrete terms what the loan forgiveness actually means. Then figure out of it's reasonable to make that much money in industry, maybe with some work on the side.
posted by losvedir at 5:45 PM on November 29, 2015

It sounds like on some level you are going to be miserable and stressed out either way.

However: if you have a job you like, you will think about the loans on and off, and be stressed, and maybe have the option to make money on the side or get a raise or something.

If you have a job you hate, and are bad at, and are actively doing badly with small special needs children, that you can't quit for ten'll be thinking about that for 70% of your time because we spend 70% of our time at work. You'll hate 70% of your life for ten years so you can pay those loans off.

(And that's assuming you stay employed for ten years. I don't know if speech language pathologists get any special privileges in the public school system, but every public school teacher I know is hating life and getting pink slipped every single year and if they're lucky, getting rehired.)

As a former journalist who took a stable job that I don't so much love any more and now can't get into another field for shit...take the one you like.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:19 PM on November 29, 2015

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