Life with big student debt: tales from four college graduates

College costs have soared in the past decade, rising much faster than inflation. The result: More students borrow – so much so that cumulative student loan debt now tops $1 trillion, more than Americans owe on credit cards. Some grads pay $700 or more a month. How do they swing it?

By , Staff writer

2. Ann Marie Gorden

Graduated from LaSalle University in 2009

Amount owed: $130,000+

Job: public relations

Unlike most student borrowers, Ann Marie Gorden got all her student loans in the private market through Sallie Mae. Only recently did she realize that interest rates on her loans vary – from 4.5 to 9.75 percent – and that nearly $64,000 of the debt charges interest of at least 8.375 percent. Ms. Gorden tried to consolidate at a lower rate but was denied.

In her first job, Gorden made $28,000 a year. She lived at home and went without health insurance so she could make her $700 loan payment each month, which covered just the interest.

Now she lives in Boston, makes $45,000, and pays $1,200 a month.

"At 18 years old, you don't really know what you're getting yourself into," says Gorden, who wishes more advice had been available then. "Those last two years, I was approved for over $60,000 – for a 20-year-old, without a cosigner, with no job, no sense of a future job – and they just gave it to me."

Still, Gorden would not trade her education at an expensive private school. "I could have gone to a state school," she says, "but the experience was so much different."

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