Jess and I have exchanged many emails regarding her issues with Sallie Mae. She told me that she reached such a point of desperation, that she actually sent a letter to her Congressman pleading for help. Much to my surprise, her Congressman actually helped! He sent a letter to Sallie Mae asking about Jess’s options. According to Jess, Sallie Mae had the audacity to reply to a United States Congressman and say thanks for writing but she has no other options.
Having heard this, I asked Jess to answer a few questions to share her personal student loan story.
Sherpa: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Jess: I went to a large state school and majored in Criminology and then got my Masters in Public Administration. I really wanted to work for the government and potentially change things. My main motivation was public service.
Sherpa: Before you took out the loans, what warnings did you receive and what were your expectations regarding repayment?
Jess: I wasn’t well versed in the loan process at all prior to taking out loans with Sallie Mae. It was really a last minute decision. I thought my parents would be willing to pay for tuition but when the bill came for my first semester they said they weren’t paying for it so I had to think quickly because university was threatening to drop me from classes. I knew I wouldn’t qualify for federal loans at that point because I knew my parents made too much money so with the advice of an old high school classmate I started down the road to Sallie Mae loans. I know I didn’t do my research… I just didn’t know what to look for, or even how to interpret the fine print. I just knew I needed money and fast. I was able to qualify quickly and before I knew it I had money to pay school and even some to spare. I never had anyone call me and educated me on the different types of loans or really what I was even signing up for. Now I realize I should have consulted someone but unless you are taught about these types of things then you don’t know to do that and in college you aren’t concerned with what is going to be going on 10 years down the road.
Sherpa: If you had the chance to do it all over again would you still take out student loans?
Jess: I have been asked this question a lot! Would I do it over? Well two things on this, first I am a HUGE advocate for education, I think college is probably the most important thing in someone’s life, for many reasons that are even beyond the obvious pros for setting yourself up for success. So, from that angle, yes I would do it over again. Second, I met my husband in college and he is the most wonderful person anyone could ever meet, and I am not just saying that because he is my husband. So, from that angle, yes I would do it again tomorrow! If I could do it over again I would have researched, and researched before making such a big decision and I probably would have consulted an expert.
Sherpa: As someone with lots of student loan experience and a Masters in Public Administration, what do you think is the fairest way to fix the student debt problem in the US?
Jess: I don’t know the answer to this one. I am sure this is a hard obstacle to tackle from a government perspective. I think one thing that could help is to educate our youth on these things, early on. In high school even, get them to start thinking about how they are going to pay for college. I know my goal for my kids is to start an 529 plan as soon as I can and ask people to contribute as much as they can for birthdays, etc. I also plan to talk to my kids about school, and loans and where we (my husband and I) stand financially so they know what they need to do. Give youth the tools to find answers for these things, with the internet its not hard to find anything. A big joke in my house is failing to plan is planning to fail…..very true!
Sherpa: If student loan rules do not change, what will your life look like in 10 years?
Jess: My life in 10 years… I will still be paying loans. In fact I have until I am 58 to enjoy paying down these loans. I think my total payment for college will end up close to $400,000.00!!
Sherpa: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about student loans for college?
Jess: My advice would be to do your research, get someone to help you through the process, and consult them regularly about what you are taking on before you sign on the line!
I really admire Jess’s perspective on education. Student loans have become a major burden in her life, but she has not let these negatives diminish her college experience. Not only was college where she met her Prince Charming but it was also the place she learned many life lessons. Even though one of those life lessons will cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, Jess has not adopted an anti-education point of view. It seems she just wants to help people avoid the expensive lessons she learned.
Readers: What do you think about Jess’s ideas to educate our youth before they leave for school? Can we teach them smart financial aid decisions while they are in high school?