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by Phil Stott | February 28, 2017


From time to time, as part of my remit with regards to covering anything and everything related to careers and job opportunities, I like to look in on student debt. It is, after all, an unavoidable fact of life for the vast majority of the millennial generation: the average student from the class of 2016 who used loans to finance their education had over $37,000 in student debt by the time they hit the job market.

If you read enough coverage of the loan sector, you’ll often see references to millennials putting off marriage or buying homes as they focus on getting their student loans under control, with the key idea being that the debt is just a bump in the road that millennials will eventually get past. But what’s typically missing from those pieces is an appreciation that, for many people, the bump is more like a mountain: the kind of debt that can’t possibly be repaid and that, no matter what you do, can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

To wit: the video below, from Yahoo Finance. In it, visual designer Courtney Cassidy shares her story of winding up with almost $100,000 in student-related debt—an amount that, by the end of the video, it seems unlikely she will ever be able to repay.

The full video is just 5 minutes, and is well worth watching in full—it’s one of the most compelling pieces I’ve seen on the dangers of taking loans without fully understanding what you’re signing up for.

 If you don’t have time for it, I’ve broken out a couple of the key points below the video, including Cortney’s description of how the debt load affects her life every single day. 

In Cortney’s case, a handful of decisions as a 20 year old that she admits she didn’t fully understand—and had little to no guidance on—have put her in a place that, years later, she seems to have no hope of escape from. But the specifics of how she got into debt are nothing we haven’t heard before (no prizes for guessing that the for-profit college industry is involved). What’s most striking, to me at least, are the everyday details of what it’s like to live with that kind of debt:

  • According to Cortney, the debt “has negatively impacted almost every aspect of my life.”
  • She would “be living off of almonds and water from the tap” to try to afford payments.
  • She currently gets “8 to 10 phone calls a day” from debt collectors, starting at 8 am, all the way until 10 pm.
  • Her grandmother, who cosigned a portion of the loan, also gets called regularly.
  • She is “constantly in fear of them calling random friends and relatives”—something that is apparently common practice for delinquent loanees.
  • Her credit score is “trash.” 

So what, if anything, can we learn from this?

First, I want to underline the point that student loans are not inherently bad—they fuel the majority of the college sector.

But, having said that, it’s clear from stories like this that there is no shortage of bad actors who are willing to take advantage of people who don’t fully understand what they’re getting into—at both the college and loan company levels. Short of legislation to shut these actors down, which does not seem to be a priority at the moment, the only thing that anyone can do is to look out for their own interests.

Ultimately, that comes down to doing your research into everything to do with your education, from the reputation of the college, to the financing options, loan providers, terms and conditions, and the likelihood that the qualification you’re paying for will enable you to find a job to pay them off.