Last year I learned my (previous) employer would stop my student loans payment support benefit.
I cried. Student debt is slowly replacing my dreams and future plans with shadows of depressions. When my employer cut its support, my future demanded I figure out my options.
I gathered myself, picked up the phone and called my loan provider. Four seconds into the call, the tears started flowing. Surprisingly the kind gentleman Matt* was unfazed by my hysterical sobbing. After we figured out a plan and I thanked him profusely, I realized I probably wasn’t the first sobbing loan borrower he’s ever spoken to–possibly not even his first that day.
I also know my experience with a loan servicer is not typical. Often, people are placed in an endless runaround, never able to find the help they need.
Student debt is crushing, demoralizing, stressful. I think about my loans when I:
Purchase Christmas presents for my niece and nephews
Change the oil in my car
For borrowers across Virginia, deciding between paying student loans and buying groceries for your family shouldn’t be a decision you have to make. Higher education is part of the path to the American Dream for many in this country. Virginians who work hard, follow the rules, and pursue their studies should not be crippled with unmanageable student loans.
Education should empower and provide our students with the tools to achieve their goals. However, more than one million Virginians are saddled with student debt.
Maybe you’ve recently returned to your hometown after finishing school, and want to open a business in your community. With a stack of bills on your table and your student debt slowly accumulating interest, it’s hard to imagine a financial situation where you can contribute to your community. A financial straightjacket confines Virginians who have an undergraduate degree with an average $25,780 in student loan debt and very little recourse. These are not the dreams and goals we set out to achieve.
Kicking Student Debt in the Ass
Here are three things elected officials in Virginia propose this General Assembly session to help students and their families manage student debt.
Refinance. If you’re like me, you had to ask your mom what refinancing means. Delegates Marcus Simon and Marcia Price and Senator Janet Howell propose measures that will allow you to restructure your student loan at the lowest possible interest rate–just like you can with a mortgage.
Protect! Governor McAuliffe has proposed a Borrower’s Bill of Rights, giving consumer protections to student loan borrowers and requiring loan providers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Financial Institutions. You may think it’s common sense that your servicer provide you with your loan balance when you ask or not recklessly misapply your payment. It is common sense but for many it’s not happening. Now, it could be the law..
Write a road map. Governor McAulliffe’s plan will also establish a Student Loan Ombudsman for borrowers to access all the unbiased information they need from a single place.
The majority of Virginians**–more than 68%–support the proposed plans.
The stress of paying for groceries, starting a business or buying a house will be eased without the burden of student loans. The plan would let me refinance my loans– and help me plan for the future without a stack of uncontrolled debt. Student loan providers–like Matt–could experience a role reversal going from unfazed to surprised at the lower number of sobbing borrowers (namely, me) looking for answers.
Putting student loan debt holders first puts Virginians first. When we work together to create a plan to #EndStudentDebt instead of crushing Virginians who are pursuing success, we put our state in the best position to flourish.
Has student debt impacted your life? Like to write? We are currently seeking submissions for our story contest to #EndStudentDebt. The winner’s story will be featured on our website and social channels and receive a $50.00 gift card to Amazon. Imagine and create a story telling us how lifting the burden of student debt will change your life.
*not real name
**in a January 2016 poll of 704 registered Virginia voters by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Progress Virginia Education Fund