Article: The Realities About Student Loans

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I finally paid off my student loans. I logged in and transferred enough to cover the balance. Quite frankly, I felt like something might happen, that I might get a letter telling me they had gone back and checked the past forty years, and that I still owed thousands. That’s the sort of luck I have had. The only thing I ever won was a wrench in a grand opening of a hardware store and I was seven. Never used it and gave it to my dad for his birthday. He probably never used it either. The whole pay off was anti-climactic, like paying off a car that you finally need to get rid of because its tires were worn and the transmission was shot. I figured there’d be fireworks, like the ones on my phone on New Year’s Day, but no, not even fireworks. I did finally get a letter telling me that if the payment cleared, then they would consider it paid off, but if there were insufficient funds, it wouldn’t be. Seriously? When I pushed that button to transfer, that money disappeared from my account. If they didn’t get it, I was going looking for who did. Forty years may have passed since my college days, my drinking and fighting days, but take my money, and I can still whip somebody even if killed me in the process.

The loans had been guaranteed student loans, except one, and I don’t recall what type that was. Mostly, the student loans were low interest ones, but when lumped together through a consolidation process, the interest piled up over time. After twenty years of making minimum payments, I hadn’t made much of a dent in the principle. When I had called some years ago to make sure my payments were deferred since I had reenrolled in the university to get a Graduate degree, I learned the frightening reality. They couldn’t even give me detailed information about how much loan interest was being paid by the federal government while I was in deferment because the loan corporation received one payment from the federal government, and it was not itemized by borrower. The federal government simply cut the check or transferred the funds. They had no idea who they were paying interest for, or if the amount was accurate. I also learned most of our federal elected officials were invested in the loan corporation, which was another reason they would likely never forgive loans as we’d been led to hope for by politicians running for office on both sides of the fence. I had written to all the major news channels, but none of them responded. I felt like it was bigger than Watergate or any gate, but I guess they didn’t see the corruption that way, or maybe they were investors, too, or maybe the loans were owned by China or Russia.

I didn’t feel any major sense of satisfaction from paying off the loans. Perhaps, it was because I was exhausted, worn down by the system, and perhaps it was because typically when one applied more toward principle, that borrower gets a break on the loan. Unfortunately, that was not the case with student loans. If I applied extra, they applied it to a future payment to a payment date I thought I might never live to see. The only good that came from the payoff was I wouldn’t have a payment during my retirement years, and I figured at least my kids wouldn’t inherit my debt---maybe there’d be something for them when I was gone, after all.

I remembered the first student loan I got as a freshman. I had to get that loan from a bank, a bank where one of my friend’s dads worked. We’d known each other in kindergarten, maybe attended the same birthday parties that year, but had gone to different school systems—me to the public one where all the lower- and middle-class kids went—and she had gone to a private school, so she didn’t have to socialize with the likes of me. Her dad whipped out his pen, sat behind his cherry desk in his leather chair, and congratulated me on being accepted into a public college, shared a bunch of banking gobbledygook to me about loans and interest, none of which I understood, and I signed on the dotted line.

By the time I needed another, my friend’s dad wasn’t in the student loan business, and I had to get it from a different company. By the time I had my bachelor’s degree, I had six loans. At the end of my graduation, I got a job making a very low salary and didn’t think I would ever get them paid off.

Additional realities that weren’t shared was that one doesn’t have to have a college degree to be successful. Another reality that wasn’t shared is that there is a ton of scholarship money out there for almost anyone, but time must be spent locating it. Another reality is that if one attended part-time and worked, it might be feasible to graduate with no debt. Those who make loans are never excited for a student’s success. They are excited for their own personal success through student loans.

My final paperwork showed that of the fifty thousand borrowed and paid on for forty years, I actually paid eighty-five thousand in interest plus the original principle. Despite my experience, I wouldn’t change a thing. As a first-generation student, I had planned to go to college. I didn’t know what to major in and I didn’t know how to navigate the world of higher education, but I grew to love and respect my faculty members and the academy and was thankful to have been a part of it. It was worth every penny.

Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two story collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over four hundred fifty publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. You can also find his website here.