In Their Own Words: Student Debt Stories from Ohioans

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, Ohio borrowers owe more than $57 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 Ohio is above 1.7 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, 62% 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, Ohioans who graduated from public or private 4-year colleges owe more than $30,600 in student loans: the 17th 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 Ohioans 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 grew up on Ohio, but I went to a small private school in South Carolina, where they included federal loans as part of my scholarship package, so I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that I would have to pay them back, and no one ever spoke about them. After graduation, I moved to Texas and was living on my own working retail fulltime. Six months after graduation, my student loans hit, with a $300/month payment that I was completely unprepared for and couldn’t afford at all making 9 dollars an hour. I looked into switching to income based repayment, but I didn’t want to be paying back my student loans for 20 years. I distinctly remember one week where I ate like raw cookie dough for dinner three nights in a row, because all I had in my house was flour and sugar before my next paycheck came in. I ended up getting a second job just to pay my student loans, and I worked 55-60 hours a week for nine or ten months before I finally got a promotion that allowed me to cover everything with my salary. Even now eight years later, I’m still counting down the months until they’ll be paid off.”
~ Bethany N.

“…I have $50,000 in student loans. Both of my college aged sons will have student debt when they graduate. As a single mother I have been unable to pay this back and will most likely die with the debt. Please do not do this to my children. Stop bankrupting our children for paying for the education they need to be successful adults and citizens of the USA.”
~ Patricia D.

“Retirement income won’t cover the debt. Had bankruptcy some years ago but couldn’t declare student debt.”
~ Kathleen Z.

“Student debt has hurt both our sons and ourselves. Because we were working middle class people, we got little student aid help, just loans. This debt, added to our home mortgage, was an essential element in losing our home at the 2008 crash. Our children are harnessed also with massive college debt. It’s a travesty and something must be done about it. I can’t see that her record will support struggling families, just plunge us into more debt.”
~ Ellen P.

“I suffer from chronic health issues that impact my ability to work. I can barely afford food and housing, much less pay on my student loans.”
~ Elizabeth S.

Problems with student loan companies:

“Even with [Public Service Loan Forgiveness], I will continue paying back $100,000 in private student loans in collections, as well as private loans through Navient. I am a slave to the system, nothing is my own and my life is not free, so long as these debts are continued to be placed out of reach for me to repay them…I went into poverty to help our local communities, and now I have over $100,000 in student loans in collections. Where is the justice in that? Student loan lenders are predators, and need to be controlled. “
~ Megan W.

“..nearly every month, one of my lenders sends me something, indicating my account is in error, requiring phone calls and emails to set things right. Most recently, Navient turned off my automated payment without notifying me (until the collections threats arrived). When I finally was able to straighten things out, the rep I spoke with set my payments for double what they were! I was double billed three months running-thank god I had that going to a credit card, otherwise I would have had a bunch of overdraft fees to contend with also! Navient alleges to have corrected the situation today and will be issuing a refund for the overpayments…Long-term impacts? I have almost no savings: the tech bubble, the 2008 recession, and the bankruptcy of my former employer decimated my 401k, so I scrape by paycheck to paycheck, trying to find full-time work while juggling two part-time jobs and grabbing contract work when I can.”
~ Andrew S.

“My particular story with my student loan debt start during the 2016-2017 school year with Wright State University. I was on a payment plan to pay my remaining balance that I owed to the school. The remaining balance after all my loans and scholarships were processed. During Spring semester, I paid off all of my remaining balance I owed to the school. When it was time to verify our FAFSA for 2015 tax, my parent hadn’t filed 2015 taxes. Soon after, since I wasn’t able to verify my FAFSA, the school took away my loans and scholarships. Therefore, increased the balance I owed to the school. Soon after, during the summer, my parents filed 2015 taxes and paid what they owed to the IRS. But, when I tried to turn the Tax Return Transcripts to verify my FAFSA, Wright State wouldn’t take them. Only three months pass after that, and my balance was already moved to a third party collector. I use to get rude phone calls from the collector trying to bully me into to paying everything right away, even after explain my family’s finance situation. Though, now I’m on the verge of trying to set up a payment plan now, and still trying to get on my feet financially, it’s still difficult. I just don’t want anyone to go through what I had to go through to get to this point.”
~ Chris L.

Victims of predatory for-profit colleges:

“My sons will be carrying their debt for too long, and it is wrong. The University of Phoenix is one of the worst schools for piling on student debt for the sole purpose of profit. Predatory education will help in destroying America…Both of my sons are heavily in debt for their higher education. They have debt I did not have to incur when I went to college. We have let our children down and allowed too many people to get rich off of their debt.”
~ Da V.

“My son is struggling to pay off his student debt. He owes over $40,000.00 after getting an associate’s degree at a for profit school. That’s the same amount his brother owes after getting a master’s degree at a different school. Please do all you can to help all dealing with huge student debt so they can set aside money for their retirement instead of being burdened with paying off their debt. Otherwise, there could very well be a growing number of people who will retire in poverty and that will bring another set of serious issues for this country. Thank you.”
~ Catherine C.

“I currently have about [$28,000] in student debt…The [Everest University] career services team have signed me up for an extreme amount of junk mail coming to my email for different job services that do not pertain to my field of study. I have spoke with them multiple times and advised that I will not be taking myself from my current position to a lesser one that would ultimately hurt my families financial obligations. They are of no use. The claim was that they would help me find a career, I think they have just spammed my email. The degree seems to be of no use to me as of this current moment.”
~ Dee D.

“I attended ITT tech from 2009 to 2012. I graduated with a computer electronic engineering technology degree (CEET). It was more book work and math then anything. The labs sucked and did not have a lot of lab time. I could of learned most of it on my own. Now my federal loans through Navient are in forbearance. I have loans through Peaks as well. It was too late for me to file forbearance with peaks. ITT found me a job through there career placement department starting off at 10 dollars an hour. I’m making 13 an hour right now and have been there for almost three years. I can’t find another job anywhere because of the line of work I am in. The job I have I could of easily learned on my own without the degree. I could work in a warehouse for 13 an hour. So now I am in a dead end job. I am attending DeVry now and ITT transferred 26 credits over to DeVry. So here I am starting all over again.”
~ Michael M.

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 Ohioans and for the rest of the country.

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