More than $275,000 in student loan debt has been looming over Salem Black’s career as a social worker.
Black, who has two master’s degrees, worked with children on welfare and people in prison earlier in his career and recently opened his own private practice. He feels like he just found stable footing after years of working multiple jobs, but is rethinking whether he can afford to live and work in Newton when student loan payments restart next month.
“I am already nervous. I think what my life looks like today is going to have to be dramatically different,” he said.
Black is one of millions of Americans bracing for student loan payments to restart on Oct. 1 after a 3½-year pause that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resumption comes after the Supreme Court this summer struck down the Biden administration’s student-loan forgiveness program, which would have canceled about $400 billion in loans. Black does not yet know how much his monthly payments will be, but expects them to range from $800 to $1,700 per month.
Borrowers are feeling “anxious, overwhelmed, and concerned as they think about readjusting their budgets as payments resume,” said Amanda Hahnel, vice president and head of student debt retirement at Fidelity Investments. About 60 percent of federal student loan borrowers took advantage of the student loan payment pause, Hahnel added.
“People have bought homes, started families, changed jobs” over the last three years, Hahnel said, “and for the younger student loan borrowers — some have never even made a student loan debt payment before.”
She added that it’s not a surprise “that two in three recent college graduates taking advantage of the pause have no idea how they are going to start repaying their student loans once the emergency pause is lifted.”
Many borrowers have pushed student loan debt to the back of their minds in recent years, said Jack Wallace, a financial adviser at Yrefy, a private student loan company, and now people are scrambling to figure out how much they owe and how to pay.
“A lot of borrowers are putting their heads in the sand — they’re waiting until the bill shows up,” Wallace said. “You’re talking about 36 million [borrowers]. This is really going to test the Department of Education and the servicers.”
Following the Supreme Court decision, President Biden introduced a new income-driven repayment plan called SAVE, which is expected to forgive $39 billion in student loan debt. Total US student debt is $1.77 trillion, more than Americans’ credit card or auto debt.
Still, experts said that borrowers want more assistance. A survey from Study.com found that about 40 percent of college graduates feel that the resumption of student loan payments is causing anxiety. Interest started to accrue on Sept. 1.
Amanda Shepherd, a social media marketer in Las Vegas, said she believes she was sold a false narrative when she took out loans to fund her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Shepherd also took out loans to pay for a master’s degree to become a teacher, but realized after a year as a permanent substitute that it was not the right career path.
She borrowed about $50,000 to fund the two degrees. Today she owes about $60,000, despite repaying $15,000 since she graduated.
“I took my loan out around the ripe old age of 18 years old, thinking if I go to school, I do my four years, I get my degree, I will be able to get a good-paying job, work my way up — all that stuff that we were told as kids,” Shepherd said. “It just wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Now you have an entire generation who has no idea what they’re going to do about this debt.”
She added that “it was a blessing to forget about it for three years. Now it’s back with a vengeance.”
Shepherd expects her payments to be between $300 and $400 a month under Biden’s SAVE program. The added expense will take away from her travel budget, and goal of saving for a down payment on a home.
“I wish I could go back to 18 years old and understand what it meant to take out this loan,” Shepherd said. “We were thrown into a system that was broken.”
Black, in Newton, grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania where he learned that “if you want a good job, you need to go to college.” A good salary would make it easier to pay back loans.
He said his parents declared bankruptcy just before he started college, so he had no family assistance to cover his education costs. Black worked multiple jobs while pursuing his undergraduate degree in anthropology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He then realized most of the careers he was interested in required a master’s degree.
Black borrowed about $250,000 and now owes about $279,000 because of interest. He said he doesn’t think it’s fair when people say borrowers shouldn’t have taken on so much student loan debt if they didn’t want to pay it back. There should be more education in high schools to help students decide about their career paths, he said.
“Had I had the information,” Black said, “I certainly would have made a lot of different choices.”