"I have been incapacitated by debt for a decade," says writer MH Miller in a recent article in The Guardian. At one point, things got so bad that he found himself hoping he'd die from an undiagnosed medical condition ... that is, until he found out that his dad would then be liable for paying off his student loan debt.
Miller's article seems to have hit a chord among readers. It's not hard to see why when you consider that 44 million borrowers across the U.S. owe a total of more than $1.4 trillion in student loans. Can you relate?
Here are the biggest takeaway's from Miller's story.
Student loan debt is not the result of a bad decision
Those unfamiliar with student loans or higher education in the 21st century might chalk up Miller's experience to a bad decision, but many of today's college students and loan borrowers know it's an all-too-common situation that seems impossible to avoid.
That's because the price of a college education has skyrocketed, and many college students, like Miller, don't have families who can afford to pay out of pocket. Miller describes that his parents were frugal but made just enough to cover the bills. However, because college degrees are now a standard requirement for many jobs, when it came to getting an education, there was no question that Miller's family would "find a way to pay for it."
Miller's parents also believed that a good school, despite being out of their price range, was important, and banks too easily financed loans neither he nor his parents could afford. Miller writes, "so we continued spending money that we didn’t have – money that banks kept giving to us."
In other words, it's the kind of financial decision that, when it comes to education, often seems like a necessity but leads to significant setbacks later in life.
The financial balancing act is super stressful
"The delicate balancing act that my family and I perform in order to make a payment each month has become the organising principle of our lives," Miller writes. Indeed, many borrowers are faced with the impossible situation that they owe more money than they make.
While his parents filed for bankruptcy after losing their jobs, Miller's loans remained. His father was a guarantor on his debt.
In the article, Miller says both he and his parents wrote letters to lenders asking for relief. In his situation, he was dealing with private lenders and detailed the struggle just to get a longer loan term or a lower monthly payment. "We were nothing to these companies but a number in a database. And they fully controlled our fates," he writes.
Refinancing can bring relief through
Finally, Miller refinanced with SoFi. "The main difference is that I now write one cheque instead of several, and I have an end date for when the debt ... will be paid off," he writes.
Still, he's one of many borrowers who, despite taking steps to remedy his financial situation, feels stuck. He admits that his monthly payment is still more than what he can reasonably afford, that he lives paycheck to paycheck, and that he relies on friends and family. "I still harbour anxiety about the bad things that could befall me should the paycheck disappear," he writes.
Miller expects to pay off his debt in 14 years, when he turns 44.