- High interest rates on student loans are keeping borrowers from paying off their initial debt loads.
- Insider spoke to two borrowers who are dealing with “crippling” student debt, largely due to interest.
- They both paid off nearly their full original debt amounts, but still owe thousands of dollars more.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Alexandria Mavin heard from her high-school teachers that there was a path to the American Dream. If she went to college, graduated, and got an office job, she would get there. She graduated with $US1 ($AU1).7 ($AU2),000 ($AU163,902) in student debt as a down payment for that dream.
Now 32 years old and a property manager, she’s paid back $US70,000 ($AU98,061) of it, but she still owes $US98,000 ($AU137,286) from her undergraduate education, and she says she “absolutely” regrets seeking an education.
“I’ve paid back almost all of my loans, but I still owe the full amount,” Mavin told Insider. “It’s a never-ending cycle.”
Mavin is talking about interest. It’s why many borrowers have trouble staying on top of payments or eliminating their debt. The $US1 ($AU1).7 ($AU2) trillion student debt crisis is largely due to interest that grows each year, so even borrowers who consistently repay their debt face high interest rates that keep their debt equal to what they initially borrowed – or higher.
After President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Higher Education Act of 1965, banks began raising interest rates on student loans, and the system came to profit lenders at the expense of pushing more and more borrowers further into debt and default, Insider reported. It’s created a prison many borrowers feel they will never escape.
Mavin’s student loans are owned by four servicers, and only one of them – FedLoan Servicing – was included in the federal pause on student-loan payments and interest during the pandemic. But even so, Mavin said being free from interest on even just one of her loans saved her $US377 ($AU528) a month, which she put toward savings and helped her pay off, in full, her hospital bills from giving birth during the pandemic.
“It just shows how without student loans, I can afford life,” Mavin said.
‘I’m financially paralyzed by crippling debt’
Daniel Tapia, 41, graduated a decade ago with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene – the first in his family to do so. Since then, he told Insider, he’s been driving used cars, living in “crappy” apartments, and moved back in with his mom thanks to the growing student debt he’s been trying to pay off for 10 years.
“I’m financially paralyzed by crippling debt and I can’t get ahead in life,” Tapia said. “Murdered by the student-loan industry.”
To afford his bachelor’s degree, Tapia borrowed $US60,000 ($AU84,053) in private student loans with a 9% interest rate, and his student-debt load currently stands at just under $US86,000 ($AU120,475), including $US22,000 ($AU30,819) owned by the government, even after making a decade’s worth of monthly payments.
“What I don’t get is if I took out a certain amount, and I paid that amount already, and I still owe more than I originally owed, it’s just nuts,” Tapia said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that this total amount is not going down. It’s not going away.”
Insider recently reported that even though federal student-loan payments have been on pause during the pandemic, many borrowers who made at least one payment during the pause were “underwater,” meaning they were not even $US1 ($AU1) less in debt than their original balances, keeping some in an endless cycle of repayment.
For many, student-debt cancellation is the only way out
Although President Joe Biden campaigned on canceling $US10,000 ($AU14,009) in student debt per borrower, Mavin said that wouldn’t even be “a drop in the bucket.” She said the alternate plan from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to cancel $US50,000 ($AU70,044) per borrower would help “tremendously.”
Some colleges have been using stimulus funds from Biden’s American Rescue Plan to cancel institutional debt, or debt owed by students to schools, and Biden has even canceled student debt for certain groups of borrowers, but widescale student debt forgiveness has yet to occur.
Biden has asked the Education and Justice Departments to review his executive authority to cancel $US50,000 ($AU70,044), but months have passed and there is still no word on where those reviews stand.
“I have gotten screwed with interest so hard that I’ve paid the majority of my loan back, but yet, the banks are the ones profiting, not me,” Mavin said. “I fear it’s a never-ending cycle where I can’t give my daughter the life I want to give her and I can’t give myself the life I want to give myself.”