Question: I’m 32 and have a degree in Occupational Therapy. I owe $25,000 in government student loans and $60,000 in high-interest private loans — although my mom is a co-signer. I went to a great college: it was private and expensive, but I have learning disabilities that they could face. But I will never forget how, in early 2018, my professors told me that by the time my classmates and I graduated, we would probably struggle to get jobs due to changes in the profession. Well they were right. And of course, after taking out these huge loans, it was too late to fix it.
I was graduating, the pandemic hit, jobs were in short supply, and even though I’d searched and applied for almost everything for almost two years, it didn’t matter. So I’ve been doing my job in a group home for eight years now, making $16 an hour. I sometimes work more than 50 hours a week and also support a severely disabled adult who is 100% financially dependent on me. As it is, I can barely make it from paycheck to paycheck.
I feel like I can never afford my payments even if I find a better paying job. I feel like I have a useless degree at this point. I would give anything to go back and not go to college at all. It wasn’t worth it. My credit score has gone down because I missed a payment, and I already have a mountain of other bills owed on credit cards and medical bills. I’m literally trapped by these loans. I don’t have any payment options that they would ever pay out and refinancing is not an option because my credit score is so low. (Note: For those with personal loans and a good credit history, these are the lowest student loan refinance rates you may qualify for.) I can’t afford legal counsel. I’m trapped. Going to college ruined my life.
Answers: Unfortunately, private student loan borrowers have fewer safety nets than government student loan borrowers, but the first step you should take with your private student loans is to contact your lender to temporarily lower your payments or negotiate a new repayment schedule , say professionals.
That may or may not provide the relief you need, so pros say you should look elsewhere as well. “You could benefit from credit-specific counseling from the Institute of Student Loan Advisors (TISLA) or from personal financial advice from someone certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC),” says Anna Helhoski, student loan expert at NerdWallet. TISLA is a nonprofit organization that offers free counseling to student loan borrowers, and the NFCC is a nonprofit financial advisory organization that offers debt management plans, student loan advice, credit report reviews, and more.
Have a question about getting out of student loans or other debt? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Pentis, a certified student loan advisor and college finance expert at Student Loan Hero, also says it’s wise to consider the option of signing up for a debt management plan with the help of a nonprofit, low-fee credit counseling agency. “That way, they have one monthly payment instead of multiple, and they might even see a reduction in their interest rates,” says Pentis. “On the other hand, a debt management plan would suspend their ability to borrow during those three to five years, and it would take even longer to build a positive credit file thereafter,” says Pentis.
For your government student loans, look at an income-based repayment plan (you can see the four types here) that “fixes your monthly student loan payment at an amount you want affordable based on your income and family size.” the government states. Then the loans are often forgiven after 20-25 years, depending on the plan.
Another thing to consider is the Borrower Defense Loan Discharge Program on federal loans, which helps borrowers who have been misled by their schools. “If the reader believes that her occupational therapy school misled her about her career prospects before the professor pointed out the reality, and she has supporting documentation, it may be possible to owe some or all of the federal loan debt pay,” she says to Pentis. Borrower defense rules have come and gone with every change at the Department of Education, but recent changes are making it easier for distressed borrowers to qualify, particularly because the Department announced in March 2021 it would streamline the program’s approval process by $1 to deliver billions of dollars of relief to 72,000 borrowers.
It’s also worth noting that President Biden recently extended the federal loan pause until at least August 31.
Bankruptcy can be an option, but you would need to find a way to afford the attorney, and paying off student loan debt is often very difficult in bankruptcy. With funds already tight, you may want to ask friends or family to help pay for attorney fees, work out a payment plan with an attorney, or even find an attorney who will practice on a pro bono basis. But Pentis says, “Bankruptcy may not be the fresh start people often imagine, as there is no guarantee that a consumer’s debt will be 100% paid off. It will also severely damage their credit report and score for years to come.” While not the ideal solution, bankruptcy could ultimately bring some much-needed relief if your low income, dependent obligations, and medical burdens make it impossible , pay off a student loan and other debts.
Bottom Line: “Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix or easy fix — but there are resources to help you deal with it and stay afloat,” says Helhoski.
Questions edited for clarity and brevity.
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