Meet a married couple with $130,000 in student debt after paying off $140,000 – but they started with just $54,000. ‘The loans have always stayed one step ahead of us.’

College students graduation
  • Ron and Marcia Rizzardi started out with a combined $US54,000 ($AU72,801) in debt from their own educations.
  • Over the past 25 years, they’ve made $US140,000 ($AU188,744) in payments, but today they owe $US130,000 ($AU175,262).
  • It comes down to the high interest rates that prevent people from making even a dent in their principal balance.

After Ron and Marcia Rizzardi got married in 1992, they thought consolidating their student loans was the best financial option for them.

But now, thanks to sky-high interest rates, the Arkansas-based couple owes $US130,000 ($AU175,262) in student debt even though they’ve made $US140,000 ($AU188,744) in payments over the past 25 years. They’ve paid off their original loan amount of $US54,000 ($AU72,801) nearly three times over.

“The loans have always stayed one step ahead of us,” Marcia told Insider. “It has affected every aspect of our lives.”

‘We have paid back the original loan and much more’

After leaving the US Air Force in the early 1990s, Ron, now an engineer, went to school to obtain a degree in aviation. To supplement his part-time work as a certified flight instructor, Marcia took out student loans to obtain a master’s degree in education – she’s still employed in the field. But a few years later, after their two daughters were born, Ron experienced two layoffs and Marcia suffered an injury that put her out of work, causing them to defer their student-loan payments.

But deferring those payments didn’t quite give them the relief they hoped for because interest continued to accumulate in the meantime. That’s what has “always kept them out of reach” of even making a dent in their principal balance, Ron said.

Their debt load also held them back from saving up for their daughters’ education, requiring the couple to take out parent PLUS loans – the most expensive type of loan, which covers the cost of attendance at a college and is not based on income. Those loans have added another $US100,000 ($AU134,817) to their overall debt load. Their daughters also took out student loans themselves while getting their degrees at state universities.

Now, Ron doesn’t see himself retiring until he’s at least 75 years old, and once the pandemic freeze on student-loan payments lift in February, the couple is looking at $US1 ($AU1),600 ($AU2,157) monthly payments for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not like we haven’t paid back the money,” Marcia said. “We have paid back the money. We have paid back the original loan and much more.”

‘I fully expect this debt will follow me to my grave’

Both Ron and Marcia enjoy the jobs they have, which can be credited to the degrees they paid for. But they say the high interest rates on their debt eat away at that joy every day.

“We’re literally paying for the privilege of these jobs every month,” Marcia said.

Interest rates on federal student loans increased in July, with a 3.73% rate for undergraduate loans, a 5.28% rate for graduate loans, and a 6.28% rate for PLUS loans. Insider previously reported that the majority of borrowers who’ve made at least one payment during the pandemic pause didn’t reduce their underlying debt-loads by even $US1 ($AU1) – they were just reducing interest.

Other borrowers who took out PLUS loans to ensure their kids could receive an education have told Insider they’re looking at student-debt payments for the rest of their lives, thanks to the high interest rates.

“I’m looking at paying $US3,000 ($AU4,045) a month for the better part of the rest of my life,” Reid Clark, who took out $US550,000 ($AU741,495) to send his five kids to school, previously told Insider. He estimates he’ll have to keep making those payments for at least three more decades.

Ron and Marcia say they live on a “shoestring budget” to keep up with their student debt payments, after living paycheck to paycheck while raising their daughters. But they made it clear they are not looking for any type of handout. They just want their loan to be considered repaid – because it has been.

“I fully expect this debt will follow me to the grave,” Ron said. “My only comfort is that it will go away when I die.”

Do you have a story to share about student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at [email protected]