To Pay Off Loans, Grads Put Off Marriage, Children
A sad story about how many young people are in terrible trouble with high student loans – often because they took out expensive private loans, even though they qualified for much cheaper government ones:
High school's Class of 2012 is getting ready for college, with students in their late teens and early 20s facing one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make.
Total U.S. student-loan debt outstanding topped $1 trillion last year, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it continues to rise as current students borrow more and past students fall behind on payments. Moody's Investors Service says borrowers with private student loans are defaulting or falling behind on payments at twice prerecession rates.
Most students get little help from colleges in choosing loans or calculating payments. Most pre-loan counseling for government loans is done online, and many students pay only fleeting attention to documents from private lenders. Many borrowers "are very confused, and don't have a good sense of what they've taken on," says Deanne Loonin, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and head of its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.
More than half of student borrowers fail to max out government loans before taking out riskier private loans, according to research by the nonprofit Project on Student Debt. In 2006, Barnard College, in New York, started one-on-one counseling for students applying for private loans. Students borrowing from private lenders dropped 74% the next year, says Nanette DiLauro, director of financial aid. In 2007, Mount Holyoke College started a similar program, and half the students who received counseling changed their borrowing plans, says Gail W. Holt, a financial-services official at the Massachusetts school. San Diego State University started counseling and tracking student borrowers in 2010 and has seen private loans decline.
The implications last a lifetime. A recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys says members are seeing a big increase in people whose student loans are forcing them to delay major purchases or starting families.
Looking back, Ms. Romine wishes she had taken only "a bare minimum" of student loans. She paid some of her costs during college by working part time as a waitress. Now, she wishes she had worked even more. Given a second chance, "I would never have touched a private loan—ever," she says.
Ms. Romine hopes to solve the problem by advancing her career. At the bank where she works, a former supervisor says she is a hard working, highly capable employee. "Jodi is doing the best she can," says Michael Matthews, a Beaufort, S.C., bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with Ms. Romine's situation. "But she will be behind the eight-ball for years."