College debt is devastating grads. Read their stories to understand why.

How will college debt affect you? Readers share a range of stories. Some left college debt-free, but others are still feeling its stifling effects.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
New York University (NYU) holds its 180th commencement ceremony in Yankee Stadium in New York, New York, on May 16, 2012. According to Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt load for the class of 2012 was $29,400.

Editor’s note: At the end of our June 10 cover story, “What ‘free college’ costs,” we asked to hear about your experiences with college debt. What follows is a selection of reader responses.

“This debt has definitely affected our lives negatively”

My student loan payment of $500 per month prevents me from buying a house. My car is 16 years old. I can’t afford to buy a new one. But I’m not 25 with my whole life and earning years ahead of me. I am 62. And I am not alone. Many senior citizens are still saddled with student debt. Think of the impact on our economy – stifling.

Gina R. M. Armer, Ph.D.
Lacey, Washington

* * *

Both my husband and I left college with a large load of debt, and then added to it over the years with additional degrees. We’ve been paying since 2000 and now, at age 41 and 45, we still owe over $15,000. Neither of us has ever had particularly well-paying jobs.

This debt has definitely affected our lives negatively, and will affect our children because we have not been able to save anything for their college.

I watch friends our age take chances with starting businesses or relocating to somewhere they’ve always wanted to live, and it can feel frustrating that we have had to pass on those things. We are still renting instead of buying a house, driving questionable vehicles, wearing secondhand clothes, etc.

I know that we will never truly “retire” in the way people hope to retire.

Nicole Filizetti
Minocqua, Wisconsin

“I accrued a whole lot of debt” 

Going to college as a single parent, I accrued a whole lot of debt. 

I graduated in 2008, right when the recession hit. I was fortunate to get a job in my field, but it was a position with a nonprofit that paid less than $22,000 a year. I remarried and had two more children, and ended up working as a cashier for a few years to better accommodate our schedules so we didn’t have to pay for child care. Paying off debt while also paying for child care is impossible. 

Now that my kids are school-aged, I’ve been able to go back to working in public schools and using my degree. 

I chose to go into a field that notoriously pays poorly, but I’m extremely fulfilled by my job. I’m two years away from qualifying for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I’m constantly worried that the current administration, namely Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, will pull that rug out from underneath me and thousands of others.

I work in a much-needed position and I feel I’m successfully helping teenagers with it. I’m fine with receiving lower wages as long as I can be rewarded with my loans being wiped away – and I’ve kept up my end of the deal.

Lynne Greenlee
Bozeman, Montana

* * *

I left college with about $64,000 in student loan debt, including the cost of my master’s degree. Because I am a teacher, I took out a 30-year loan to afford the payments.

After working in public education for 17 years, I still owe about $39,000. My husband owes about $13,000 after initially owing about $28,000. We work as a teacher and a librarian, plus other supplemental contracts.

The recent Public Service Loan Forgiveness program seemed like a godsend, but we were one of the thousands whose applications were turned down even though we felt we had done all the right things according to the information we had.

We even pursued the issue through our congressman, but it was to no avail. Combined, we pay almost $500 a month in student loan payments.

Casey Clarke
Meridian, Mississippi

“I left college debt-free because …” 

My wife and I paid our own way through college, including master's degrees. We made the conscious choice to go to state colleges rather than have student loans. While I believe that society as a whole benefits from an educated populace, I'm not sure the best route is to "give" people a totally free education. There is great value in working to accomplish one's goals. I think the government needs to help make college obtainable, but not doled out for free.

Rogers Speer
San Francisco

* * *

I left college debt-free because of the following factors: My mother went to work in a cafeteria; I was a waitress in the college dining hall for free meals; I never ate out; I worked during high school to save money; and my unmarried aunt who was a clerk in an office helped me financially.

I do not believe in free college because it is unfair to students who do not go to college. Give every high school graduate $10,000, but don’t just give money to college students. It’s not fair.

Muriel Horacek
Altadena, California

* * *

I sometimes feel almost guilty – I just graduated from a computer science program at Boise State University. Because of that degree, I landed a job that pays $100,000 each year.

I’m 37 years old, and I’ve wanted to go back to school since 2008, but with three kids I just didn’t want to go into debt when I know we need to send them to school in the coming years. 

So why did I finally go back to school? My husband took a job at Boise State University. An employee benefit is that spouses and children can take up to nine credits each year for only $5 per credit. My degree was quite inexpensive, and I feel very fortunate.

Melanie Jones
Boise, Idaho

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