5 Borrowers Share Their Student Loan Struggles — and How They’re Moving Forward

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Many of us have been raised with the idea that it’s taboo to talk about money. But sharing our struggles, especially when it comes to student loans, can help us feel less alone.

I spoke with five student loan borrowers about the challenges they’ve faced as a result of their debt. Plus, they shared the steps they’ve taken to reclaim their financial lives.

Although the student loan struggle is real, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Learn about the obstacles these borrowers faced and what they’re doing to overcome them.

1. My student loan interest just kept ballooning

Monique Prince is a social worker who took out $60,000 in federal loans for her master’s degree. After graduating, she couldn’t afford her monthly payments, so she got on an Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan.“[This] was helpful because it allowed me to make much lower monthly payments,” says Monique.

“[This] was helpful because it allowed me to make much lower monthly payments,” says Monique.

But she didn’t realize how much interest was adding up each day until her balance got out of hand. “The payment does not cover even the interest accruing,” Monique explains. “My balance is now over $80,000.”

Unfortunately, Prince’s payments are too low for her to make a significant dent in her debt — but she has a plan to make the loans more manageable. “When I am able, I am going to refinance it into a private student loan offered through my local bank,” she says.

Through refinancing, Monique might be able to snag a lower interest rate, as well as ease the burden of monthly payments. Now, she shares the lessons she learned with her friends and clients.

Monique encourages students and families to use tax-advantaged savings accounts so they can take out the least amount of student debt possible.

“[If] your child intends to go to college, open a 529 account to pay for it,” she says. “Let your money grow and compound.”

2. It took me a long time to make big purchases

When you’re paying student loans every month, you might not have much money left over for other expenses. Nicole Firebaugh learned this lesson after graduating from Southern Illinois University in 2015.

“I had a little over $12,000 in student loan debt,” says Nicole. “While that isn’t a lot in comparison to most people, it still has made a huge impact on me financially.”

Nicole was eager to buy a car following graduation, but she had to be patient. “The biggest impact the loans have had on me is my ability to make major purchases,” she explains. “It took me … years after starting to pay loans to feel comfortable enough to buy a new (used) car.

“Even with that,” she continued, “my budget for a car was super tight, as I had to consider my student loan payments along with car and insurance payments when looking.”

Now, Nicole carefully tracks her budget and makes extra student loan payments when she can. “I map out my finances each week and break down payments I have to make each month into four so I can essentially make smaller payments each week,” she explains.

She advises other students to minimize the amount they take out in student loans and to avoid spending student loan money on non-school expenses.

“That one extra night of going out and partying is instantly gratifying … but cutting back a night here and there or finding ways to be thrifty can really pay off.”

By tracking her spending and making extra payments on her student debt, Nicole is moving toward financial freedom.

3. I have to prepare for a huge tax bill

J.R. Duren, a personal finance reporter at HighYa, racked up more than $120,000 in student loans. To ease his monthly payments, J.R. got on an IBR plan. After 25 years of on-time repayment, any remaining balance on his student loans will be forgiven.

But J.R. won’t be totally free of his debt. “Right now, my biggest struggle is figuring out how to pay for the taxes I’ll be responsible for when my IBR comes to an end,” says J.R.

When the government forgives your loans, it often treats the balance as taxable income. IBR offers loan forgiveness, but you could still get hit with a huge tax bill.

If he could go back in time, J.R. would have worked during college and grad school.

“If I could give advice to my younger self and to college students and grad students, it would be this: If you can work, work,” advises J.R. “I know it seems impossible to work full-time, take a full load of courses, and keep your sanity, but that short-term craziness is well worth long-term financial freedom.”

Even by finding part-time work during college, you can reduce the amount you take out in student loans.

4. Student loans made me delay major life milestones

Chris Henjum is the co-founder of Esqyr, a public benefit corporation that provides affordable test prep. Like many other borrowers, Chris had to put off certain milestones due to student debt.

“My student debt delayed significant things in my life: marriage, children, and feeling even close to financially stable,” Chris says.

According to a 2015 Student Loan Hero survey, one in seven Americans with student loans have delayed marriage because of their debt. One in four have put off moving out of their parents’ house, and nearly half of student loan borrowers have yet to buy a car because of their loans.

“The enormous drag student loans place on young people — including the delays in starting a life — is huge,” says Chris. “There is an enormous economic and social price that we’re all paying.”

For now, Chris chips away at his student loans slowly but steadily. And he encourages future students to consider their return on investment when choosing a college.

By prioritizing the ROI of a school — and your college major — you could make back the money you borrow to pay for it.

5. I feel a ton of stress about my student loans

Dave Barr is no stranger to the financial challenges of student loan debt, but he says one of his biggest struggles is the emotional toll.

“The emotional side of student debt is something that really isn’t talked about,” says Dave. “We are more comfortable talking about horrific things we see or watch on TV, but not about these giant obstacles that are causing stress in our lives? And if we are struggling and falling behind, we feel even worse about it.”

Dave wants to break that taboo. He recently started the personal finance blog CommonCents Millennial in an effort to do so. “The best way I have dealt with the emotional toll of student loans is to talk about it,” says Dave. “Raise awareness about how it is okay to be stressed about it.”

Dave shares these challenges with his friends and on his blog. Plus, he advises others about steps they can take to deal with their debt.

“Once I opened up that conversation with a lot of my friends, they said it felt great to talk about it as well,” says Dave. “We were able to help each other out in different ways, whether that be a savings account to use or a loan provider to check out.”

By sharing their experiences, Dave and his friends are able to help each other deal with the stress of student loans.

You’re not alone in the student loan struggle

Over 44 million Americans are dealing with $1.4 trillion in student debt. This financial burden leads people to put off big purchases and delay life milestones. But if we can share our struggles with one another, it might make everyone’s burdens a little lighter.

Ready to get serious about your student debt? Check out this student loan advice from 12 finance experts.

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures


4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.