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Life with big student debt: tales from four college graduates

The cost of a college education in the US has soared in the past decade, rising much faster than inflation. The result: More students everywhere are borrowing – so much so that cumulative student loan debt now tops $1 trillion, more than American consumers owe on credit cards. 

Two-thirds of today's college graduates have debt, and many now have monthly payments of $700 or more. How do they swing it? Here are the student debt stories of four people who graduated within the past 15 years.

1. Jenny Hecht

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Graduated from Colgate University in 1996 and University of Michigan School of Social Work in 1999

Amount owed: $75,000+

Job: intervention specialist for at-risk high school students.

When Jenny Hecht finished her graduate degree in social work, she had nearly $50,000 in student loans. She paid for college and graduate school herself, but most of the debt is for graduate school.

"The University of Michigan was rated the No. 1 school in the country at the time, and I made an investment," Ms. Hecht says. "I didn't know that once I had my [master's degree] nobody would care where it was from."

Hecht expects to pay back the loans, but wishes she were allowed to refinance, as people can with other loans: She's stuck at 8.5 percent interest.

With a family, and a job that pays less than $40,000 a year, her payments haven't kept up with the interest on her debt, and her original loan is now more than $75,000.

"I don't want to sound like a victim, because I chose this career," Hecht says. "We live a modest lifestyle. We're able to pay our bills and stay afloat, except that this student loan debt is hanging over our heads always."

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