OK, I have a confession to make. I turned 40 last year and I’m still paying off my student loans.
And nope, it’s not because I went to some extravagantly expensive college or pursued a million degrees. After high school, in what I thought was a very sensible move, I enrolled in a city/state college with very low tuition. I was there for four years for my BA and then another two for grad school. However, I had almost no help with tuition or room and board. I worked part-time through college, but that wasn’t enough.
So, like many, many people out there, I took out student loans – to pay for my tuition as well as my living expenses. I honestly didn’t think I had a choice. Where I grew up, everyone went to college, and although my family didn’t have a lot of funds to send me, not going to college just wasn’t a choice. Everyone took out loans, so I just jumped on the bandwagon, assuming I’d pay them back sooner than later.
Well, that was almost 20 years ago, and here I am. It’s not that I haven’t paid the loans down at all. They’re low-ish. But the balance is still there.
The thing is, between graduating college and now, I have had two babies. And during the years when my kids were young, I was a stay-at-home mom making almost no income. So I went into forbearance on my loans for a few years, or paid the minimum.
Then there was the year that my husband lost his job, and we were living on very little and collected government aid to get by. That year you can bet that both of us deferred our loans.
Yep, my husband is still in student loan debt hell as well. Here’s the kicker, though. He thought for many years that a portion of his loan would be forgiven, because he had worked at a low income school district, which made him eligible for a student loan forgiveness program. Well, after working there for the required five years, he learned that he graduated college too early to be eligible for the program.
It was a tough freaking blow, for sure.
Wanna know something, though? My husband and I aren’t an anomaly: it turns out a ton of people – even folks as old as we are – are still paying off their student loans.
Take these 2017 stats Pew Research Center. Four out of ten adults under 30 still have student loan debt. But even after that, a good chunk of adults have student loan debt: 22% of adults aged 30-44 do as well. By the time people reach 45, only about 4% of people still have student loan debt (gosh, I hope I’m done with this by then!).
Obviously part of the reason older adults have less student loan debt is because they have had more time to pay it off. But that may not always be the case – because, as Pew Research Center mentions, students are now much more likely than ever to take out student loans to pay for college.
Why? Because the cost of going to college is through the fucking roof expensive.
It’s ridiculous that our generation has been put in this position. The cost of college is astronomical. It’s been that way for years, and it only seems to be going up. Add in that the cost of living has increased, without salaries matching it, and it’s no wonder that so many of us can’t pay off our student loan debt.
I was glad to find those stats because it made me feel less alone (and less like a fuck-up, honestly) about the fact that I haven’t been able to fully pay off my loans yet, even as I fall into middle age. If this is you, too, please know that you aren’t alone – and you certainly aren’t a slacker.
Going forward, I’m thinking that some changes need to be made in our country. If college is such a necessity (and there is debate about how important it actually is), then dammit, it needs to be affordable. We can’t put our next generation of kids in position where they graduate with their big shiny degrees and then can’t afford life for the next few decades.
It’s just not right, and something needs to change, pronto.