In Their Own Words: Student Debt Stories from Floridians

This is part of an ongoing series by Higher Ed, Not Debt highlighting student debt issues and personal stories across several states.

The student debt crisis in the United States continues to grow, and the impact of the crisis is being felt across the lives of 44 million people across the country. Totaling at $1.5 trillion nationwide, student debt has a significantly debilitating effect on the lives of students and families. It presents a fundamental issue that majorities of the public want to see addressed.

Collectively, Florida borrowers owe more than $79 billion in federal and private student loan debt. While data on the total number of federal and private student loan borrowers is limited, we at least know that the total number of federal student loan borrowers in Florida is above 2.3 million, according to the office of Federal Student Aid. Including people who only took out private loans, the total number of borrowers is expected to be higher.

In 2017, 50% of BA graduates in the state incurred student debt from an ever-increasing price of higher education – their financial futures foreclosed upon due to this debt.

On average, Floridians who graduated from public or private 4-year colleges owe more than $24,000 in student loans: the 7th lowest average in the countryUnfortunately, despite this ranking, the Prosperity Now Scorecard ranks Florida 42nd among states and the District of Columbia in resident prosperity, with 15% of Floridians living in poverty. Many Floridians are liquid asset poor, and are unable to afford higher education among other expenses.

However, this debt doesn’t just come from college tuition and fees alone. In addition to the holistic costs of the college experience (housing, food, transportation, materials, etc), students may find themselves deeper in debt because of predatory practices by student loan servicers. Hundreds of thousands of borrowers are subject to the exploitative practices of student loan companies that increase borrowers’ debt burdens through sloppy servicing and deceptive counseling practices.

Others are victims of for-profit college scams. After the uncovering of widespread fraud and abuse among some of the largest for-profit college chains, defrauded borrowers are still left holding the bag.

To best show the real affects of the student debt crisis, we want to go beyond data alone. We want to share some the stories that Floridians submitted to us that illustrate the many ways that student debt is impacting their lives, and their calls to fix this crisis.

The debilitating impacts of student debt:

“I don’t have much student debt but as a mother not receiving child support, I can not pay my small loan and am unable to complete my degree due to this.”
~ Heather B.

“My debt is stopping me from fulfilling my right to happiness. If a billionaire can get a clean slate, why can’t the poor? Student loans must be fair, and they must be able to be processed through bankruptcy or wiped out as a bad debt. As if these private schools with their billions of dollars of endowments can’t afford a little mercy? They are evil if they punish the poor.”
~ Val D.

“With over almost 100,000 in student debt. and a household income of just over 50,000 net. My student loan debt has been the biggest barrier to living a normal and stress free life. My wife has about 20,000 and is currently in school to attain certifications to procure a job. My loans are federal and private, and I cannot afford to pay both. I have made the decision to pay the federal loans as income based, and forego payment on my private loans. This debt has crushed my finances and my emotional state. The as much as I feel responsible for my debt, I also feel that I was not provided enough information about private loans when I applied for them to finish my bachelors. If they could be consolidated into one federal loan with one payment I would not be in this position.”
~ Morgan P.

“While I am paid a decent salary, I struggle to pay my $400/month student loan bill — and I am enrolled in a reduced payment plan already. Higher than average cost of living in a coastal community and working in public service make for a very tight budget. I had to evacuate my home for Hurricane Irma in September [2017]. For days, I thought I would lose everything except for the things I could fit in my car. But I was lucky. My house is OK and my employer thought ahead financially and had enough to pay us disaster pay for the two and half weeks we were closed due to hurricane damage. Many of my friends who are also paying back student loans were not so luck and had to use their savings and borrow money from family and friends to keep up with their student loans. They are still struggling, three months later, to get their finances back in order. No interest forbearance would go a ling way to helping those who have lost everything, who had damage to their homes that had to be fixed and are struggling to make ends meet after the storm.”
~ Alexandra K.

Problems with student loan companies:

“I switched banks, which was a nightmare but well worth the hassle. I was double charged for two months in a row because of a duplicate auto debit I thought I had addressed. I spoke with my bank and Navient. I submitted the refund request for one month to my bank, and one to Navient, just to see which entity fixed it faster. My bank sent a receipt email upon receiving my request, and had it dealt with within 30 days. Navient? Haven’t heard a word. Mistakes happen in all businesses. A good business that cares about their customers expedites a solution.”
~ Virginia M.

“I have a fairly well paying job, but high child support obligation which is not factored into living expenses. I am 33 and forced to live with family because of this. SallieMae and now Navient wants about $600 a month, which is impossible. I worry that I won’t be able to continue to make payments and will have my wages garnished and lose my car, which would make work difficult.”
~ Clayton S.

“When I started college in 1999, my parents wouldn’t help me with my tuition. My only option according to the financial aid office at my new college was to max out my federal loans and pay for the rest with private loans from T.H.E./Great Lakes. So I did that. At the time, Great Lakes told me that I would have a choice of repayment plans. I figured that if I took a longer repayment term, the monthly payments would be bearable, even though I would owe close to $100K in private loans. However, when I went into repayment, Great Lakes told me that I did not have any choice in my repayment plan. I have to follow the 10-year plan and have no options for lowering my monthly payment. My Great Lakes payment is approximately $800/month. Combined with my $500/month payment for my federal loans, I pay about $1300 a month. Had I known in 1999 that I would have no choice of repayment plan for my private loans, I would not have taken them out. Now I’m stuck. I feel like I was lied to and taken advantage of by Great Lakes.”
~ Kelly S.

Victims of predatory for-profit colleges:

“I was very tactfully explained [by ITT Tech] to me that their accreditation was a national one and was just as respected as any other degree even going so far as to point out that schools like [University of South Florida] only had regional accreditation. In addition, I was clearly told that my degree would be applicable for work and future education. It was not until after I graduated that I discovered that not only was the degree not transferable but some employers would not even consider the degree valid because it was from [an ITT] school. To this day I work in a call center. It has taken me 4 years to get ANOTHER 2 year degree from another school and I still owe 18 thousand on my ITT degree. I really dont need to be paying this.”
~ Jim K.

“I joined [the Art Institutes] online at 35 in hopes to get a Bachelors in Accounting. What I got was an Associates in Business Admin and debt beyond belief. No hopes of continuing my education or getting a better job. I got suckered and for 10 years now I have tried to work my debt out with the school and lenders with no help, and they blame me when, for years, I have asked for help and only got taken advantage of with debt I may never will be able to pay back. That is unless I win the lottery. Continuing education should help a person advance not put them in debt with no way out.”
~ Katalin N.

“I attended and graduated from ITT in 2009. My two-year degree cost more than my sister’s four-year at [Washington State University]! Currently I am not a drafter nor do I use anything I learned at ITT. Not that they helped me get a career either. That commercial of the ex-roofer was my exact story sans career. Now my phone won’t stop ringing due to dept collectors.”
~ Matt G.

“I am stuck with student loans from ITT Tech for about $32,000 and with a degree that is good for absolutely nothing!! I was promised a good education and help finding a good position within my field of study, that i would make a certain amount of money once i had my degree, and all i was left with was debt and lies and no job placement. It’s ridiculous, people laugh at my degree when i went to interviews.”
~ Ricardo G.

These people could be your neighbors, your co-workers, they could even be you or members of your family. Their stories are relatable, and therein lies the problem: too many people are suffering under student debt, and more will if we don’t tackle college costs and crack-down on predatory practices by industry. We must solve this student debt crisis for Floridians and for the rest of the country.


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