Beverly was a lot nicer than I thought she'd be. As far student loan officers go, she was a peach. Calling me only a few times and never leaving nasty messages threatening to drag me through the streets by my toenails until I admitted to the millions I'd stashed under my mattress since graduating from grad school.
"So what can you pay?" she asked after I explained for the third time that my delinquency was situational and not by choice.
I gave her a number, my max, and she let out a disappointing sigh on her end. "OK, I'll set it up," Beverly finally conceded.
I've got a little less than $80,000 in student loans and I consider myself pretty lucky. Unlike my lawyer friends who've racked up nearly four times as much, I'm squarely below the six figure mark. But then again, they also make four times as much, so my debt superiority complex sort of misguided.
Thankfully, I have hardly any credit card debt because, come on, who in their right minds would give me a credit card? In college, I knew this kid who owed nearly $20,000 on a Visa he used to buy booze and sneakers. Back then I thought, "What an asshole!" But I think he was on a scholarship, so I'm going to take a wild guess and say he finally paid down that party card, whereas I'm contributing to the nearly $1 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt currently ballooning in the United States.
We like authenticity around here at xoJane. Real shit for real chicks, is how I describe the site to folks who ask. And there ain't nothing more real than having the rent due while also having debt up to your eye balls. It's like an invisible roommate who does nothing around the house but who you're positive is eating all your Kashi Go Lean in the middle of the night.
Debt. We all have it but not a lot of us talk about it in any tangible way outside of this sort of perverse pride in having it. According to a random PsychCentral.com article I found, "Instead of feeling stressed by the money they owe, many young adults actually feel positive about their situation." I didn't want to believe it until I found the actual study quoted, "Youth debt, mastery, and self-esteem: Class-stratified effects of indebtedness on self-concept."
Researchers found that the more debt young folks had, the more empowered they felt. One reason could be because they consider debt -- specifically student loans -- an investment in the future. But that fog lifts at around at 28 when all your forbearance has been sucked dry and so have all the job boards.
At 31, I'm just now throwing away my rose-colored glasses and taking a good hard look at what I owe. It ain't pretty. For years I figured it'd just go away, or more specifically I'd hit either the big time or the Lottery, whichever came first. Well I sorta already hit the "big time" -- book, movie deal -- but no one told my bank account.
Try explaining to a student loan officer who clearly Googled you that those monthly payments just aren't going to work.
"But you have a best-selling book and a million-dollar movie deal." Huh? Who said that? That guy got a lesson in publishing and film option agreements that probably made him really sad.
So now that I'm being sorta adult about my debt (i.e., opening mail and answering calls from numbers I don't recognize) the whole thing has predictably become less scary. Facing you fears and all that. And, of course I want you all to do the same. Of course the first time I made in payment in months friggin' hurt, but it hurt so good.
As we all know the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, whether it be too many nights out drinking and eating up your hard-earned cash, an academic diploma you can't pawn or a serious medical condition your evil insurance company wouldn't cover, we want know what you owe and how you got in the hole. Maybe then we can all crawl out.
Mandy: I came to New York with $18,000 in savings in 2005. By 2012, I had amassed $55,000 in credit card debt. It came about through a variety of factors. Obviously, the main one was through my own irresponsibility and making irresponsible choices like trying to keep up appearances with wealthy people (which I don't say to shame myself or others with debt, but rather to take ownership of the fact that I have absolutely spent money irresponsibly). For me, declaring Chapter 7 was a way to take my life back. I have over two years sobriety from drugs and alcohol, and I'm attempting to gain a sense of financial sobriety as well. I think part of this journey comes with acknowledging and dealing with my own personal failings, which for me resulted in the decision to file bankruptcy. I no longer use credit cards and am changing my attitude to get more excited about budgeting -- which I'm now equating with a form of self-love, very much along the lines of sobriety.
Somer: I racked up a ton of credit card debt in my early 20s, worked hard to pay it all off, and said I would never have debt again. But here we are. I'm actually thinking of selling my car so I can knock out about $10,000 of my current debt, and that will free up a good chunk of money each month to put toward my credit card debt and medical bills. I know it can be done -- this isn't my first rodeo -- but paying off debt can be overwhelming.
Mad: I'm fortunate that my debt is pretty manageable! And I am doing my best not to get into more by using my credit card only once per month and always paying at least my minimum payment.
Olivia: I graduated school about two years ago. I really only started paying these loans about a year ago. I haven't paid my parents back at all (Sorry, mom and dad) and the deli guy is really understanding. My finances have become a really dismal game recently with loans. I love paying them back in full and seeing how long I can live on $50.
s.e.: For some reason, my student loans feel like the most burdensome part of my debt, even though they're comparatively small at this point. Maybe it's because I've been paying on them for what feels like forever, and I can't imagine a time when I won't be making an electronic funds transfer to VSAC every month. I was lucky to go to a well-funded school with a big endowment for low-income students, and thus didn't have to take out very many loans to go to school, unlike a lot of college graduates.
Lesley: I still can't say the number. So I'm using an outrageously priced sports car as an estimate. My debt wasn't always this high -- it was relatively reasonable when I finished grad school for the last time, but then I had to put my loans on voluntary forbearance for several years because I couldn't even afford to pay the interest on my starting salary. As a result, I already owe far more than I borrowed, and will likely pay the borrowed amount at least three times before I'm done.
And that's assuming I pay them off before I die, which I am not confident will happen.
OK, it's gallery time ya'll! Whether it be too many nights out drinking eating up your hard earned cash, an academic diploma you can't pawn or a serious medical condition your evil insurance company wouldn't cover, we want know what you owe (or don't owe -- you no-debt folks are welcome, too). Send a photo of your totals and tallies to firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or show us what put you there -- we wanna see your Loubie closet, busted lung, whatever. Because an honest assessment of your financial situation really is the first step. (Plus, it's always nice to know you're not alone.)