Melisa Boutin wished for the American dream and opportunity. Originally from St. Kitts-Nevis in the Caribbean, she emigrated to the United States when she was just a teenager.
She did everything by the book. She entered Florida on her own and became a legal permanent resident. Although the federal government offers financial aid to eligible non-citizens, Melisa faced unique hurdles because of her home country’s approaches to education and aid.
“Because I graduated [from high school] outside of the United States, it was difficult completing financial aid and application forms,” she says.
To finance her education, she ended up borrowing nearly $70,000 in student loans, some which had interest rates as high as 9.00%. Now, she’s tackling that debt head on and educating other recent immigrants about managing student loan debt and financial aid.
Financial aid obstacles as an immigrant
When Melisa entered the U.S., she had just graduated from high school in the Caribbean. She settled in Florida because she had an aunt who lived in Miami and worked for the University of Miami.
Determined to go to college and get her degree, she started to research financial aid options.
“Living in Florida as a new immigrant, I thought it made sense to check out the University of Miami,” she says. “The school gives grants to high school graduates from Florida. But even though I was living in Florida legally, I didn’t qualify because my high school was outside the U.S.”
Unable to qualify for those school grant programs, Melisa looked into federal financial aid and started to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, she found even more obstacles.
“Where I come from, there are no income tax returns,” she says. “So I had no way to enter that information.”
Melisa’s parents remained in St. Kitts-Nevis. She was on her own in Florida and sent money she made from part-time jobs back to her family in the Caribbean. But in the eyes of the federal government, she was a dependent. Her dependency status limited the number of options she had.
Applying for federal assistance
Working with the University of Miami’s financial aid office, she was able to complete the FAFSA as a dependent with her aunt as the guardian. With that change, and entering the numbers on her aunt’s tax return, she was able to access federal student loans.
However, the amount she could borrow wasn’t enough to cover the full cost of attendance. To fill the gap, she needed additional help. Since she was a recent immigrant, she turned to a Caribbean company for a loan. With that money, she was able to pay for school. However, those loans would come back to haunt her.
Melisa’s student loan wake-up call
In her freshman year, Melisa looked at her debt and was shocked by the numbers.
“I realized I would be on track to graduate with over $100,000 in debt,” she says. “I had to figure out a way to get off that path and take control of my financial future.”
She transferred after sophomore year to a less expensive four-year school in Texas and went on to graduate school to study engineering. She applied — and won — several scholarships through FastWeb, a site that has a database of thousands of scholarships.
But she still graduated with over $58,000 in student loans. Thanks to high interest rates, that balance quickly ballooned to over $70,000.
However, one of the toughest obstacles she faced was the private loan she borrowed from a Caribbean lender. After graduation, she paid over $4,000 toward that private loan, only to find out later they applied it only to the interest charges, not the principle.
“Banks in the Caribbean have limited regulations, and there are few financial protections,” Melisa says. “You can go over a year without receiving a statement, and they can apply your payments differently without telling you. I felt they took advantage of me.”
Managing student loan repayment
After she graduated with her master’s degree, it took Melisa nearly eight months to find a job in her chosen field. She deferred her loans while job searching until she got back on her feet. Once she got her first full-time job, she reviewed her debt and came up with an aggressive plan.
“I got my job, tallied up everything I had and owed, and came up with a plan to prioritize,” she says.
Her loan with a foreign lender had a 9.00% interest rate, so she focused her efforts on paying off that one first. By coming up with a budget, tracking every dollar, and limiting any extra spending, she was able to pay off $13,000 in debt in one year.
Because of her hard work, she was able to pay off her student loan debt in full just five years after completing her graduate degree — all while sending money back to St. Kitts-Nevis for her family.
Paying it forward
With her debt gone, Melisa is focused on helping other students navigate the financial aid process and manage student loans. She became a certified financial education instructor to help recent immigrants and millennials develop a plan to repay their debt. She also launched the blog Your Money Worth to share advice.
For those struggling to handle their own loans, Melisa recommends tackling your debt directly.
“My advice is that the first thing you do is release any stress or shame debt causes you,” says Melisa. “No matter how you fell into debt, whether you had to borrow to cover the gap or chose the wrong school, the first step is taking responsibility for the debt you have now. Get on top of the debt you have, and create a vision for the life you want without the debt.”
If you’re ready to aggressively pay down your debt, these tips can help you eliminate your student loans faster.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.30% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.
Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. 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. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.
All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.47% – 6.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.47% – 6.30%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.51% – 8.09%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.02% – 6.44%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.69% – 7.21%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.79% – 8.39%6||Undergrad & Graduate|