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Question 3

Do you have student loan or credit card debt?

Photo prompt #3: Take a picture of the most expensive thing you own.

My student-loan burden is large, but not quite as large as it could have been, thanks to some major generosity from both my parents and my undergraduate institution. Brown gave me a pretty good scholarship — I don’t remember exactly how much, but somewhere between a third and a half of tuition — and my mom basically turned over most of her income to making payments while I was in school.

I still have a chunk of debt from my undergraduate education, but the majority of the balance I’m paying off is from grad school. In retrospect, I wish I’d put a little more effort into getting some outside scholarships or grants for journalism school, because Boston University’s financial support is severely lacking.

Some colleges are now including expected monthly student-loan payments with financial aid letters, which is definitely a feature I wish was around when I was 17.

The mere thought of credit cards causes me to shudder. When I was a kid, my parents had some credit-card debt that they fell behind on, so one of the telephone skills I learned early on during my latchkey years was deflecting bill collectors. So I was always pretty aware of the traps of credit.

Still, I did run up $3,000 in credit-card debt in the summer after undergrad, but that was mostly from paying rent during the couple months before I got my disbursements in grad school. I was able to get a job late that summer to reduce the amount I’d put on the card, and then may have put a couple hundred dollars on it for my “adult wardrobe” — slacks and cardigan sweaters — which I figured at the time would be proof that I’d molted into responsible adulthood. I chipped away at that balance for a couple years by making the minimum payments, and paid it off at the end of 2011. I do not put anything on credit cards at present, and do not plan on doing so.

Dealing with student loans is one of those things that is so anxiety-inducing that you instinctively avoid it, like going to the dentist when you have a toothache. But it is always worse to avoid making the call than to confront it. Once I manage to force through the crippling anxiety, I’ve always been able to get a forbearance or lowered payment when I needed it. Grasping the Sword of Damocles is a little more comforting than just nervously looking at it hanging over your head.

I do want to point out that student debt is the only kind of debt that is not dischargeable by bankruptcy — well, unless a court rules that you are a completely hopeless case, in the vein of a quadriplegic or completely undone by mental illness. This was not always the case. It would be nice if there was some sort of Constitutional challenge to this state of things –- equal protection, anyone? — but I will not hold my breath.

My lifestyle is obviously skewed by living in New York, where paying around half of your monthly wages to rent is considered a “good deal.” Student loans and the high cost of living here definitely mean that I have to keep the belt tightened. But, to be honest, as a child of that nebulous middle to lower-middle class, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a situation where I wasn’t on a budget. My parents weren’t exactly starving in a garret, but we lived in an apartment, not a house, and money was always a bit tight.

But luckily, I don’t have too many expensive tastes, and I’m living with a frugal Yankee boyfriend who gets very excited at the idea of making dirt-cheap cleaning products out of baking soda and shopping at the nearby (and surprisingly well-stocked) dollar store for dinner.


  1. Justin at 1:52 pm, October 12, 2012

    I have student loan debt. I just pay it every month, based on my income. In 20 years it’ll be forgiven or I’ll luck out and find a way to pay it off sooner.

    It’s not bad really, Especially compared to other forms of debt.

  2. Roxanne Palmer at 2:00 pm, October 12, 2012

    Hey there! It sounds like we are in similar boats. I am also on an income-based repayment plan, thankfully.

    I’m curious as to what you mean in comparison to other forms of debt. Are you thinking about credit cards and the big interest rates associated with those?

  3. Justin at 2:49 pm, October 12, 2012

    The interest, in addition to the amount of leeway they’re willing to give you. I’ve found the federal student loan people to be pretty helpful about payment plan adjustment, etc.

    I can’t see somewhere like BoA being quite so nice about it.

  4. Roxanne Palmer at 2:58 pm, October 12, 2012

    Likewise, I’ve had a really good experience with the federal people. I remember being so nervous before I called to ask for a deferment, but it only took about 15 minutes on the phone! I think I had this irrational fear that they were going to berate me for being a deadbeat.

    I am very, very glad that I never had to take out any private student loans. I’ve heard some real horror stories about Sallie Mae.