6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting into Student Loan Debt

In the United States around 44.2 million people are in student loans debt. That’s $1.44 trillion in student loan debt. The 2017 stats are shocking.

I feel like I could swing a branch and end up hitting someone student loan debt.

On average, people have $25k - $35k of student loan debt alone.

I walked out of university with over $80,000 worth of it.  I have friends and family with even m–


You got it.  

Here are the 6 things I wish I knew before getting into student loan debt.

Spoiler alert: don’t.

1. You Actually Have To Pay It Off

Ok so like...DUH.

Pero seriously, I had no actual understanding of what it meant to get myself into student debt.  

My parents signed off on it like it was nothing, so I didn’t think much of it either.  They even co-signed for me.

I think I didn’t realize the weight of it all because “I was college bound and this is the only option.”  I’m not sure my parents understood either.  Either that or the pressure of the “American Dream” told us that this was the only obvious choice.  Why else did we move to America?

I come from a family of Filipinx architects and doctors.  College was not this expensive in the Philippines, but in the USA, it’s a whole different ball game. (look at me making butch sports references! #ButchQueen)

My parents made too much to get substantial financial aid, but not enough to actually pay for two kids’ college tuition.  If this is what it took to get an education in American my parents were willing to go for it. They called up that bitch Sallie Mae and struck a deal.

Faced with the situation of being an extremely closeted, immigrant boy, I needed to make life look exactly as people wanted it to look.  This also was the only option for me.

Little did I know, this option (even after scholarships) would put me into $80k of debt that I’m currently responsible for.

What a fun realization to have. Imagine your senior year being faced with a dark cloud that you’ve been trying to ignore.  “It’ll start pouring soon,” I thought as I exchanged my $500 textbooks for $15.


2. Even After Filing Bankruptcy, YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY IT.

Student Loans are not dismissible by bankruptcy. Of course there are always exceptions.

But considering how complicated it is (not that you shouldn’t at least try if you need to), I would say for the majority of cases, it’s not dismissible by bankruptcy.

Or at least you should treat it like it won’t be.  

Because even if you do something as drastic like filing bankruptcy (which dismisses most types of debt), these people still need their money and they need it NOW.

They will figure out a way to get it from you no matter what.  They will garnish your wages, your taxes...all of it.  They finna get your money.  And then will collect. With interest.


3. Not Even Death Can Keep You From Its Grip

Y’all get the very sliver of a Bible reference just now? That’s right. I read books. *nail painting emoji*

Ok so I mentioned that my parents co-signed my student loans.  In my contract, it may not explicitly say it in these words, but if I die or lose my ability to pay, IT WILL BE ON MY PARENT’S SHOULDERS TO PAY IT OFF.

Gurl WHAT.  

I mean, yeah that’s what cosigning means.  Cosigners are responsible for the debt in the event that you can’t pay it.  It’s in the contract.  It’s safer for these companies to have a backup person and that’s why they’re willing to give you larger amounts even if your credit is bad.  It’s more secure for them.

Let’s say you’re at the club getting your life and spinning into death drops...but then you accidentally reverse it and drop dead?

Sorry, Sallie with the good hair will be knocking at your parent’s doors instead.

What I’m saying is, understand the implications of co-signing.  It’s quite a heavy burden to put on anyone.  I love my parents and I want to take care of them well one day. It’s unsettling to think that If something happens to me, they will have to carry the weight of my student loans.  It’s one of the reason I’m paying off my debt as aggressively as I can.  (I’m such a momma’s boy.)

On the flip side, if someone is asking you to cosign something, DON’T DO IT unless you’re actually willing to pay for the whole thing. If you cosign, then their debt is your debt.  This can mess up relationships if you don’t understand that.


4. The Value of Education VS the Cost

My major was in Business Communications Information Systems (BCIS).  It was a hybrid of business and technology, and my focus ended up becoming front-end web development.

It took me a couple years, but did it really need to cost me almost $20k a year to figure that out tho? My gawd.

Western Michigan University is my alma matter, and I appreciate it for what it was.

But by the time I graduated, all of the technical knowledge I learned was outdated.  

Of course, it’s the nature of the tech industry, but in terms of modern front-end web development, I was spending semesters learning things not even close to the modern pace.

I learned most of the things I needed to learn on the job, and everyone I know says the same.

Before going into debt, I wish I had more information to better weigh the value of my degree against the cost of it.

As I gain experience in my industry I’m learning that as a front-end web developer I didn’t need need a piece of paper. I needed to learn HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

It’s unfair to say don’t go to college. It got my foot into the door of my first job so who’s to say I could have done better.  *shrug*


5. Don’t Focus on Getting An “A” in French, Focus on Actually Being Able to Have a Conversation In It.

For all of my experience in the educational system, in retrospect, I was more told what to think rather than how to think.

If you told me the boxes I needed to check to get an “A” in French, I would do it with perfect execution.  But to actually have a conversation with someone in France...that’s a different story.  

I want to point out that there’s a difference between the two.  

One is about looks and perception. The other is about skills and usefulness.  Once in awhile, we come across teachers or mentors that can help us balance both, but there has always been a clear dichotomy for me.

In my industry, tech folks care less and less about what school you went to.  I’m seeing a trend that people care more that you can *actually* do the things they need done.

In the tech world, we care more about skills and abilities rather than the piece of paper that claim you have them.

Obviously there are some careers that need degrees and certifications.  Those requirements (hopefully) protects us from situations like pretend gynecologists.

Consider the career path you’re taking.  Are you using a degree as an excuse for you to wait for permission to do something?

AnTEAways... here’s the last point.


6. Debt is Bondage

You know that “American Dream” I mentioned my parents working so hard for? That house with 2.5 kids and the white picket fence?

It’s dead.

It’s been replaced with the new “American Dream”. Choice.

Debt takes away your options.  

It makes you trade your dream job for the stable job you hate.

It makes you stay in one place for a long time because the rent is cheap.

It makes you buy a 3 piece chicken tender to split in the middle with your friend because “y’all out in these skreets trying to make it.”

Debt gives you dreams deferred.  And if you’re not careful, debt will dry you up like a raisin in the sun.

Debt makes you accountable to Caesar.  You must pay him what he’s due.

I’m paying my debt off aggressively.  I’m lucky to have a job that allows me do that while still maintaining a semblance of a dignified life. (I’ll still split those tenders with you tho, babe.)

I’m in a very lucky, rare and privileged position. Not everyone gets that. It’s sure as hell not guaranteed.

The sad storylines I see:

  • Because of social and familial pressure, you need to get a “good job.”
  • You ignore your passions and you choose to plagiarize your parent’s life.
  • To get a “good job” you need to go to a “good school”.
  • To go to said “good school” you need to get student loans.
  • You learn about stuff you don’t care about for 4 or 5 years.
  • You go out searching for that “good job” you're not even guaranteed.
  • You get hired in an entry level job doing things you never cared about in the first place.
  • You have to stay at this job so you can pay off your debt for the rest of your life.
  • You still want to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do, but now life’s obligations are in the way.
  • Low key: You’re in too deep, and you’re definitely drowning.

Maybe it’s not that dramatic, but it’s also not that far from the truth.  

I hope we can all break from our illusions before we get trapped.

Find your True North:

  • If you are considering student loans, do you understand the full weight of what you’re about to do?  Can you face the implications of what this deal means with student loan companies?  What it could mean to you and your family/co-signers and do THEY fully understand what this is going to take?
  • Is it a requirement that you get a piece of paper telling you that you can do something?  If so, can your earning potential handle the gravity of your student debt?
  • Is the degree that you’re going for what you want?  Is it something that you’re passionate about? Is it something you would be trying to do regardless if you want to do regardless if you were in school?  Our heart’s truest desires have a tendency to come out eventually.  Don’t make it a six figure lesson, and make decisions that honor you dreams and desires.
  • Don’t plagiarize someone else’s life.  What do YOU want? Is the value of your desires supercede the intensity the debt ask of you?  Then do that.  Just don’t do it based on outside expectations.  Your name will be the one on those debt papers, not them.  At the end of the day you will deal with the implications of your choices the most.