What Every Millennial Wishes You Understood About Student Loan Debt

I am so sick of being told how our generation is such a pain in the ass. You know what's really a pain in the ass? Practically owing my first born (and their first born) to Sallie Mae for my student loans.
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Young woman in a graduation mantle and a hat climbing stairs with a heavy ball chained to her leg, vector illustration
Young woman in a graduation mantle and a hat climbing stairs with a heavy ball chained to her leg, vector illustration

I am so fed up right now I could scream. I turned on the news (as I do every evening) and was greeted with the information about how the Feds are raising interest rates. That isn't what bothered me so much, as it was the bitching by several pundits about how millennials don't want to invest in purchasing large ticket items, like a home or vehicle.

It was like someone had thrown down the gauntlet. I am so sick of being told how our generation is such a pain in the ass.

You know what's really a pain in the ass? Practically owing my first born (and their first born) to Sallie Mae for my student loans.

So here, let me provide you with the top five things that all millennials wish you understood about their student loan debt. And then maybe you could take several seats.

Student Loan Debt Fact #1 - Newsflash: This Sucks For Us

The first thing I would like to dispel is that we all just went joyfully, hand in hand to Sallie Mae, and took on the student loans, and are just thrilled to pieces about it. You mean I got an education that I now can't use in today's job market, and I will be paying it back for the rest of my life?!

You all do realize that even when you declare bankruptcy, you cannot discharge your student loans. That's right. It is the ONLY LOAN that doesn't go away in bankruptcy.

There are only four main ways to discharge your student loan debt:

(1) Pay it off

(2) Pay on it for 25 years consistently then have it forgiven

(3) Work for peanuts for 10 years and have it forgiven

(4) Die

In case that didn't make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, let's continue with the truth bombs . . .

Student Loan Debt Fact #2 - No, We Can't Work A Job And Pay It Off While In School

Every time I bring up student loan debt, I hear about how someone, back in the 70's, was able to go to school and work to pay for their schooling. Well, isn't that just peachy.

Guess what? Do you know how much tuition has risen since you were in school? Try 1,120 percent. No, that's not a misprint. That's not 120 percent. That is one thousand, one hundred, and twenty percent. And before you tell me that the cost of everything else has gone up as well in that same time, I would like to note that the cost of food has only risen 244 percent.

Yes, when a private institution cost only a couple thousand dollars a year, you could absolutely work to pay it off. I worked both while in school, and two jobs on summer breaks, and that wouldn't have touched the $44,000 a year private tuition cost for my degree.

Which brings me to my third point . . .

Student Loan Debt Fact #3 - Shut It With The Lazy Shit

I swear, if one more person calls my generation lazy, I am going to kick them (not really, but still). Almost every millennial I know works their ass off. I myself have at times have worked FOUR jobs to make ends meet. But real wages haven't increased at anywhere near the same rate as the costs of everyday items. And while those costs affect you too, you are not burdened by an extra $200-$1000 in monthly payments to pay off your student loans.

So before you go throwing around the lazy card, why don't we look at YOUR debt that you are paying off? Is it from credit cards for frivolous items? Or a car loan? Or is it from trying to finance your education? Because I am pretty sure it's one of the first two. How about those without loan debt cast the first stone, eh?

Student Loan Debt Fact #4 - We Actually Do Want To Pay It Off

That's another comment I hear all the time, "Oh, you just wanted to get the education, and now you want the cost of it forgiven" or "That's why you kids like Bernie Sanders, because you just want everything for free."

And while, yes, getting things for free would be super awesome, we are not delusional. We don't want everything for free. Nor do we honestly think that our debt will somehow just magically disappear. However, we can never refinance our loans, which, mind you, are at 8 percent interest, unlike your mortgages.

Also, we would be THRILLED to pay it off, but that will literally never happen when all we can pay is the interest on it, and never even touch the principal. I personally owe $253,000 for my law school student loan debt alone (I got a full-tuition scholarship to undergrad).

Which do you think is more likely, that I will actually find a job where I can pay that back? Or that I will continue paying on it for the next 25 years, and the government will just have to make a wash of the rest of it?

To the Bernie Sanders thing, maybe he just understands how frustrating it is for us that we are killing ourselves trying to pay this debt off, and never making a dent. So while the rest of his generation berates us, he is actually listening. No wonder we love him!

Think about it - do you really think we want to be moving back in with our parents? Do you really think we want to be putting off buying a home or a car? Or is it maybe because we owe so much each month to pay the loans, that we literally have no more money to put towards the bigger ticket items.

Student Loan Debt Fact #5 - We Honestly Didn't Feel Like We Had A Choice

Of course, many may read this and think - well, you always have a choice! But we as a generation felt like we had to go to college, if not get some additional degree past that. I took a survey of almost 200 women on their college and post college decisions for another piece I'm writing, and almost one third of them went on to get an additional degree after college.

That is likely because, like me, they graduated into the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. If all you Boomers were getting laid off, do you really think people were going to hire us newbs? Of course not. So we had to do something, and many of us went on to get another degree in hopes that the economy would turn around.

There are also a number of us millennials who are the first in our family to go to college. That means there it is very likely that neither us, nor our parents, fully understood the lifetime burden we were foisting on ourselves when we took out these loans.

The point of all of this is to say . . . give us a break. We are trying. We are doing the best we can, with the hand we've been dealt.

So the next time you want to get on some tirade towards a millennial about our generation and student loan debt, how about asking what they are doing to make ends meet instead? Or better yet, just don't bring it up at all.

[This post originally published on LiberalAmerica.org.]

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