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The Dreaded Tuition Debt

June 24, 2020

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Over the years, I’ve become very mindful of the stress that is felt with student loan debts – between reading about it and listening to grads talk about the size of their financial burdens. It seems to be constantly on their minds.

NOW IT INVOLVES 44 MILLION YOUNG AMERICANS

Are you sitting down? Here’s an astounding fact: the amount of outstanding student loans reached an all-time high in 2019. It is now $1.41 BILLION, according to Experian, the credit-reporting agency. That’s a 6% increase from 2018 and a whopping 33% spike since 2014.

In 2019, it was estimated that the average borrower has over $37,000 in debt, while more than two million owe $100,000 or more. That debt should pay itself off over time with a lucrative career.

WHY DOES COLLEGE COST SO MUCH MORE NOW?

Many ask why things have changed so much in the last 25 years. It’s quite simple: for much of American history, college was for the elite – if you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t go.

Then in the late 1950s federal student loans appeared. Years later, the student loan system as we know it today was born out of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which was designed to “strengthen the educational resources of our universities and provide financial assistance to students in two forms: grants (which did not have to be paid back) and low-interest student loans (which were intended for those from upper income families who had the means to pay back the loans).

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

HOW DOES A SIX-FIGURE DEBT AFFECT ONE?

I came across an intriguing article written by Elissa Sanci and titled, “Dating with Debt” that appeared in Marie Claire magazine’s February 2020. She begins by saying that “a lot hinges on the third date with a new person. At this point you’ve seen enough to determine the direction you want this relationship to go. Namely: 1) a casual fling, 2) your next serious partner or 3) someone you never want to see again.”

“THIS IS THE DATE WHERE YOU SHOW YOUR CARDS”

“This is where I revealed what I thought made me undatable. It was the reason I believed I was still single after a number of awkward encounters. Gathering all my courage, I formed the words I hated saying, ‘I have student debt.’ After four years at the University of New Haven and two earning a Master’s degree in journalism at NYU I was saddled with a $120,000 debt – for a career that did not guarantee a hefty return on investment.”

“I WAS THE FIRST CHILD IN MY FAMILY TO GO TO COLLEGE”

Sanci goes on to say that, “Being single and in debt conjures anxiety like none other. I started to equate my self-worth with my net worth – and I was in the red. When I casually mentioned to a date who was a law student that I had school loans, his eyes went wide and his head jerked back. ‘For journalism?’ he asked. ‘Good luck with ever paying those off!’ There was no fourth date.”

“On my second date with a charming physicist he mentioned how many of his classmates had six figures’ worth of debt. He felt bad for them, but he couldn’t relate. His grandparents had footed his bill. This time, I didn’t bother bringing up my story.”

“IN SEPTEMBER 2017 I SAID, ‘I HAVE STUDENT DEBT’”

“Then I looked into the eyes of this man I really liked and added, ‘A lot of it.’ He blinked twice, waiting for me to continue. When I didn’t he cocked his head. ‘And…?’ he asked. I blurted, ‘Like so much I’ll probably be paying it off until I’m in my 60s.’ He replied, ‘You’ll get through it. You’re a motivated person.’ And that was that. It didn’t come up again because he didn’t care. He didn’t like me any less.’

“MY DEBT WASN’T THE DEALBREAKER I HAD SET IT UP TO BE”

“Months after I had bared all, he pointed out that I had gotten worked up for no reason. And that’s when it hit me. Worrying that my debt was making me “undatable” was what was actually making me undatable – not the debt itself. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that I was willing into existence by stressing about it.”

Shaun Nelson-Henrick


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