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Student Loans? Heck No

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I was scrolling through Facebook recently and came across a post by a college that my daughter had been accepted to this past spring. This school was at the top of her list, but came with an almost $60,000 price tag per year — and that doesn’t even include housing or taking into account her two-latte-a-day Starbucks habit.

This particular post caught my eye because it linked to an article on the perils of student loans, and essentially said that they were a bad idea and if you couldn’t afford the cost of a college without borrowing huge sums of money, then maybe you should just take your backpack and skinny jeans and go somewhere else.

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I found this incredibly ironic, since the school had offered us a mere pittance in grant money (enough for probably two days of instruction and a pencil) but “awarded” us several loans. Not to mention the fact that their financial aid presentation at their Accepted Students event was comprised of mostly information on the many different types of student loans and how to secure them. “Yes! You can get a loan without your parents help!” the staffer enthused. I was fully expecting Oprah to appear and start yelling, “And YOU get a loan! And YOU get a loan!”

Seven out of 10 graduates from the class of 2012 had student loans, with the average amount of debt owed at $29,400.

And it wasn’t just this particular college — every school plugged student loans as a way to entice our daughter to come to their campus, even though they were clearly out of our price range (and out of most families’ reach it would appear.) But we’d already heard too many horror stories; a teacher friend who was nearing 40 said she was still paying off her loans with no end in sight. Ominous headlines warned about how American students and their staggering $1 trillion debt were ruining the economy. All repeated the one sentence I kept hearing over and over: Student debt is forever.

And then last week, this heartbreaking story about these parents in California, grieving the 2009 death of their daughter while at the same time struggling to pay off her student loan debt that exceeds $200,000. The couple, Steve and Darnelle Mason, have tried everything to get lenders to help them get out from under the mountain of debt their daughter incurred while studying to become a nurse. They recently launched a Change.org petition to “allow student loans to be eligible to be discharged in bankruptcy” and even set up a GoFundMe page to appeal for help.

“The frustration for me is that I can incur any other kind of debt — I can buy luxuries, I can travel, I can do all kinds of things — and that debt can be discharged in bankruptcy if I become unable to pay for it,” Steve Mason said in an interview with TODAY.com. “This debt, where young people are falling into debt to better themselves to become productive members of society, can’t be discharged through bankruptcy. It seems like it’s backwards.”

Change will come slowly if at all, and may be of little relief to those currently looking for ways to pay for college or those in the process of struggling to pay back loans.

In June President Obama proposed a bill that would give student borrowers the opportunity to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income, and also outlined ways to help federal student loan borrowers who are at risk of defaulting on their loans. But change will come slowly if at all, and may be of little relief to those currently looking for ways to pay for college or those in the process of struggling to pay back loans.

Time.com cites a study done in December by the Institute for College Access & Success that says seven out of 10 graduates from the class of 2012 had student loans, with the average amount of debt owed at $29,400. “The total amount of student debt is growing basically at a constant rate,” said Wilbert van der Klaauw, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “The inflow is much higher than the outflow, which is likely to continue in the future as reliance on student loans for college is expected to remain high.”

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With all the negative information out there, it was easy for us to decide not to use student loans as a path to financial aid. In the end we took that school’s advice and took our business elsewhere — to a school that was a better fit for our daughter and considerably less expensive — and who ultimately offered her a scholarship that will cover roughly half of her tuition. We’re determined to help her pay the rest without taking out any loans so that she’ll emerge from college relatively debt free. If she can get that Starbucks habit under control, that is.

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