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Attaining a Degree + Student Debt = Diminishing Returns on the American Dream

Posted on August 6th, 2015  Posted by Kristen Yancey
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Wait, what?! This is not the ethos engrained into the youth of American students. I can recall from a very tender age learning that if you work hard and smart, it will pay off.

Fast forward twenty years. Many of us are in our late twenties/early thirties are just now experiencing secure and gainful employment. You know - the kind where you can maybe afford a reliable car with insurance not sponsored by parents, maybe the obligatory acquisition of a cell phone. Don’t get me wrong - this degree of independence is an accomplishment today. However, many cannot help but to feel short changed.

Particularly indignant are those who maintain a chronological timeline of goals for their life planning. Millennials are struggling with their ability and opportunity to launch into marriage, home buying and childbearing because they are battling with student loan debt. There are some students who simply opted to move forward with their lives as planned and subsequently have deferred their loans for years. There are also some that just have not made payments; those who are in serious default. They have decided to embrace the ostrich philosophy of keeping their heads buried in the sand. They simply refuse to play the repayment games of ‘which program do you qualify for?’ which are listed on loan providers’ websites, phone calls, emails, letters, and the companies they pay to collect.

Here is my question about repayment: Why are the terms of repayment so difficult?

If we qualify for a repayment program (which practically everyone does), why are we not simply placed in the program that benefits the student at the greatest capacity? For the most part, people figure it out with their loan servicers - however, these are government loans we are paying off and we are paying way too much for them. There are some repayment programs so strict if you miss one directive you lose your opportunity to complete that program and have to begin again, no retroactive inclusivity permitted, no ‘time served’.

I have been encouraged by a “Student Loan Assistance’ company to file my taxes in a certain way just to qualify for certain programs. I am married with children and therefore benefit from having a family through IRS credits and deductions, as it should be. I was encouraged to file married filing separate and forgo the benefits for our family because the benefits for my payment would be ‘awesome’ and I should not pass up this opportunity. And maybe that is all true. Perhaps if I jumped through all of those hoops, I could make my student loan situation better.

But why in the world should I have to? Why should student loans be the deciding factor for our financial lives, our taxes, our homes, or our children? I guess being “student-centered” ceases to exist when one graduates or ceases attending school, whichever comes first.

What do you think? Is it irresponsible or selfish to desire and choose developmentally appropriate life events in the face of massive student loan debt?

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