Student Loan Debt: Paying it Back

For those graduating, the celebration is well-deserved. But with the celebration comes the daunting task of paying the price tag associated with a college education.

Picture provided by Texas Tech.

Student loan debt is one of the biggest issues facing our country today and according to Student Loan Hero, total student loan debt now outpaces total credit card debt in the United States. Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt and this debt spans 44 million borrowers.

Student Loan Hero’s website also states the average college graduate in 2016 graduated with $37,172 of student loan debt.

Many students need loans in order to attend college and for some, it is a fair price to pay for what they receive in return.

Derrick Holland, a doctorate student at Texas Tech University with around $100,000 of student loan debt, said he did not have financial support from any family when he started going to college. So, he said the only way he could afford to do it was through grants and student loans.

He said he went to Texas State University for his bachelor’s degree and through that time he probably took out about $60,000 of loans for living, books, tuition and other expenses. Holland said he was also working 40 hours a week waiting tables.

After he got his bachelor’s degree, he said he decided to move on to getting his master’s degree from Texas State, but unlike a lot of universities, Texas State does not offer tuition waivers for graduate students working for the school. So, having capped out on grants, he also had to take out loans for that degree. Holland said this ended up being about $20,000 more in student loans just for tuition.

Holland said he was being paid about $1,000 a month by the school, which did not cover his living expenses, so he pulled out loans for that as well.

Fortunately, Texas Tech University waives tuition for graduate students so he said his Ph.D. is not going to cost him any more in debt, other than some loans he took for moving expenses.

While the amount of debt may seem daunting, Holland is not worried about paying them back.

“It doesn’t stress me out at all,” Holland said. “I don’t even think about it because in my opinion, I should be able to get this degree for free. I feel like I didn’t have the financial means to get it, however I did what I had to do to get the degrees which meant taking out a lot of student loans. It doesn’t make me sleep less at night whatsoever, I know I’ll have a good job to pay for it.”

Priscilla Ortiz, a medical school student at Texas Tech University, said she was lucky enough to get through her undergraduate degree without accruing any student loan debt, but medical school is a whole other animal.

She said she heard medical school does not offer much in the way of scholarships, so student loans are just about the only way to get it done. She said she also spoke with medical school students before starting about how plausible it is to work while going to school and their answer was: it is not.

Photo Credit: Priscilla Ortiz

Ortiz said when you go through this process, you have to get loans for any and every expense life has to offer because you do not have any income whatsoever.

“Pulling out loans, this was the first time I did,” Ortiz said. “So that experience was new for me. It probably wasn’t for a lot of other people, but it was new for me and scary to me in that aspect.”

She said she has just had to come to terms with the fact she will be pulling out loans for the next three years. She said when it is all said and done, she will be over the $100,000 mark in in student loan debt.

“We are pulling out a lot of money to go to medical school,” Ortiz said. “But, the idea is that once you get through and once you become a doctor, once you’re done with residency, any doctor is going to be making at least six-figures and you’ll be able to pay it back eventually.”

She said that is something she is thankful for when she thinks about all of the debt she is going into for this opportunity, but right now, she is concentrated on school.

For students facing this challenge, Texas Tech University offers guidance for getting this student loan trouble off of their backs.

Joshua Hernandez, unit coordinator for student financial aid and scholarships at Texas Tech, said he is there to help students tackle this problem as they transition into the work force. He said they are willing to help the students with whatever they need as far as repayment and they can reach out to them even after they graduate.

Joshua Hernandez

“We start to reach out to the student their senior year,” Hernandez said. “And let them know where they can find their servicer, where they can look at payment plans, where they can look up account balances and all, so we try to share as much information as possible.”

He said the department can pretty much do everything for the student to do with paying back their student loans except place the actual payment. The biggest problem he sees with students about to make payments is the fact that they do not know who they are paying back in the first place. He said that is where his office comes in.

For the most part, he said students generally know where they are with their student loans, but sometimes they are not sure how they are going to pay them back, especially if they do not have a job yet. In that case, he said he makes sure they know about payment plans that are available which can make payments smaller or delay payments while staying in good standing with lenders.

Any student or graduate worrying about student loan repayment is free to reach out to the office.

“If they need conference calls, we can set up conference calls, if they want to go over their personal accounts, we can go over their personal accounts. We can go over repayment plans, loan forgiveness, loan consolidation,” Hernandez said. “Practically, any question the students have, we would be here to help the student.”

About Joseph Marcades

Investigative Reporter - Media and Communications Undergraduate Student, Class of 2017, working on a degree in journalism. He loves his wife, football, golf, film, Texas, and good stories.

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