Opinion | I’ve Spent $60,000 to Pay Back Student Loans and Owe More Than Before I Began

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But I just couldn’t get on top of them, even though I lived with roommates and, eventually, left freelancing for a full-time gig. The work was great — I spent my days reporting about science and producing live science events; I even met Stephen Hawking!— but, like most entry-level journalism jobs, it didn’t pay much. Plus some of my federal loans had interest rates as high as 8.55 percent. I began to flail.

Sallie Mae, my main loan provider at the time, suggested forbearance: That meant my loan payments would temporarily be suspended without going into default. The accrued interest would be added to my principal. It sounded like a reprieve. It was actually a trap.

And so, my principal grew. That forced my minimum monthly payment higher. Sometimes I’d attempt to pay for a few months, then get snowed under and go back into forbearance. Jobs with higher salaries at my level didn’t materialize, so I got thrifty: I borrowed rather than bought a laptop and recording equipment. I opted for free furniture and didn’t buy a car. I picked up additional reporting gigs for extra cash.

Many nights, the growing debt paced the edges of my consciousness, keeping me awake. At the same time, I knew all the career success I’ve ever had has been a direct result of my education and the loans that enabled it.

I continued to pay what loans I could, and for the rest, forbearance. Today, 14 years after my last day of school, I’ve paid $60,000 toward $78,000 of loans. Somehow, I am now $100,000 in debt.

And yet I am ineligible for the CARES Act.

It turns out in 2010, in the wake of the housing crisis and recession, Congress decided private banks should no longer be in the federal student loan business and ended the Family Federal Education Loans program.

From that point on, federal student loans were to be held only by the federal government, and private student loans would continue to be held by private banks, for all new loan applicants. But for those — like me — who still had those loans which are held by private lenders but backed by the Department of Education, the federal government decided to buy some of these loans from the commercial lenders. But they didn’t buy them all.

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