In Their Own Words: Student Debt Stories from Michiganders

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, Michigan borrowers owe more than $44 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 Michigan is above 1.3 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, 58% 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, Michiganders who graduated from public or private 4-year colleges owe more than $31,200 in student loans: the 11th highest average in the country.

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 Michiganders 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 have been out of school for 3 1/2 years and I also have a parent plus loan that my mom struggles and works over time to pay back. I am the first in my family to graduate from college, so everyone pitched in to help when I was in college. But now we pay and very high loan amount of 940.00 per month for my mom, and right now I am on income-driven repayment plan. I wanted a higher education but…we should not be paying more for an education than for a house mortgage…”
~ Ebony L.

“Myself and now three adult children have combined close to $200,000 in student debt in order to try to get decent jobs. We will almost for sure be indebted for the rest of our lives. This will hinder my children from being able to buy a home or start a family. This is bad for the future of this country and ultimately will hurt the economy.”
~ Terri M.

“I have $87000 in student loads (mine and my daughter’s Parents plus loan) and I am 54 years old struggling to make ends meet. This is a nightmare for my family’s financial health and retirement.”
~Craig F.

Problems with student loan companies:

“I recently wrestled my loan away from Sallie Mae/Navient. I am now with another servicing company but I have to point out that shopping for and selecting the new servicing company was a crap shoot. I had a list of them but no information about them or the loan features. I couldn’t make an informed choice…When I graduated from I had $24,000 in debt. I didn’t know that if I paid for 20-25 years that the balance would be forgiven. I also don’t recall having information like you’re given when you take a mortgage – an amortization plan. I wound up with compounded interest and fees on my loan that increased it to what I currently owe $55,000. The new servicing company told me that the 9% interest rate on the loan would never change so I can’t shop for a lower interest rate.”
~ Cheryl H.

“I took out loans for $30k for undergrad and $20k for grad. With interest and unsubsidized loans, I now owe $61k. That’s $11,000 in fees and interest ALONE. I could do another whole YEAR of college for that. I have Navient and Nelnet as servicers, and their customer service people have NEVER been nice, even when I’ve been in tears over the information they’re giving me. At this point, I’m going to be in debt until I’m 90, which means no house, no kids, no savings. (And let me add, that with this amount of debt, they demand between $800-1200 PER MONTH in payments – I make just over $1000 [per month].)”
~ Stacey C.

“I went to [American Intercontinental University] online and worked my tail off to graduate…They told me that I would have a job guaranteed if I completed the Masters program…I have had said degree for 10 years now. I have not found work and every time I contact the school I am told there is no jobs in your area. I have a wife and 3 children and now I cannot get a house for all of us because my student loans are destroying my credit. I get calls from Navient. Nelnet, as well as Fed Loan servicing all of which claim they have my student loans and even though I do not have a job (I am on disability) I cannot get a break anywhere. I am paying 924 a month for a 3 bedroom Trailer. I cannot afford to move and there is no place around me that is available anyway. If my student loans were not on my credit report I could own my own home. Student loans are the greatest Ponzi scheme to ever be invented and used to screw so many students out of money.”
~ Dennis H.

Victims of predatory for-profit colleges:

“It started out innocently when I attended Davenport University, a small for-profit college near my home, and graduated with an Associates Degree in Business Management. Upon graduation, I couldn’t find employment, but I remember the admissions lady saying to go for a bachelors degree then employers would be lining up. The only interviews they were able to find were low paying jobs and they even sent half a dozen other recent grads to interview for the same job. I maintained employment making truck deliveries for a distributor, but still couldn’t find gainful employment. A few years later I attended Keller Graduate School, another for-profit school. I was told that they do have a job placement service upon graduation which was a benefit since Davenport University now abandoned their Indiana Campuses which I attended and now only operates in Michigan. I still never had any luck finding a decent job after my MBA.”
~  Timothy B.

“Here’s the issue my daughter had: she attended a for profit broadcasting school that went bankrupt and ceased operations before she had completed her training. This should have resulted in some relief possibly entire forgiveness of the loan. The loan had changed hands and no one at the servicer present when this happened has any inclination to help her. I think she eventually paid the loan in full. This was money spent for nothing.”
~ Charles P.

“This is disgusting…these sleazebag schools are robbing and cheating our young folks – including veterans! My own nieces and nephews have been RIPPED OFF after serving their country. There needs to be ACCOUNTABILITY.”
~ Anthony K.

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 Michiganders and for the rest of the country.

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