Almost 3 Decades With Student Loan Nightmare

United States North America Higher Education News by Erudera News Apr 30, 2024

student loans

Editor’s note: Christina Winton, a full-time public servant in the state of Arizona, shares her student loan story as part of Erudera’s “Degrees of Debt” series. The series delve into how student loan borrowers ended up in debt, efforts to overcome the struggle, triumphs, and more.

“There has never been a day in my adult life that I haven’t had student loans,” says Christina Winton, a full-time public servant in Arizona.

Everything starts in 1998, in sunny Arizona. The postman brings an acceptance letter that reads: full-ride scholarship to Southern Utah University for the theater program, one of the top five institutions in the nation known for their Shakespeare festivals.

26 years ago, Christina Winton, 47, the first in her family to attend a university, was also admitted to Bear University and the University of Berkeley in California.

Neither these two nor the humanities degree at the University of New York, which was too appealing to her at the time, didn't change her mind due to the high cost.

She chose to continue her education at Southern Utah University as the most affordable option. The four-year scholarship helped her decide.

Happy, ambitious, making new friends, Christina quickly became a sophomore, successfully graduating to that second year.

Sadly, things took a different turn after the first year of studies. "The theater department will not renew your scholarship," a middle-aged woman, whom Christina described as stressed to share this news with a student, had told her. These words have stuck with her even two decades later.

"I had just been called to the financial aid office to be given the bad news (on campus) that the theater department would not renew my scholarship even though I earned it all four years because they needed that money to attract new first-year students. I was now a sophomore, successfully graduated to that second year," she says.

This situation led to a tough choice: to drop out or take out a student loan and earn that degree. Failure was not an option for her. So, she ended up taking out her first student loan.

Christina borrowed a total $10,000. If only she could know back then that her degree would become a source of stress for the rest of her life.

“At the time, I was 18, and I thought I was being pretty responsible, choosing not to take loans or use my credit cards unless I absolutely needed to do so, and that’s where I still ended up. I was never informed that student loans did not have the same borrower rights and protections other loans had.”

First Loan All Paid Off, But Not the Second One

After graduating from Southern Utah University, Christina luckily managed to pay off her undergraduate $10,000 student loan. However, after completing her bachelor’s degree, she had to borrow another $29,000 for a master’s degree.

“I started the program with an employer that was supposed to pay tuition reimbursement, but I was laid off soon after I started the program. I was forced to take a student loan to afford to school, and now I needed the degree to improve my chances of employment. I continued attending school full time, and worked two or three jobs,” she says.

Almost 30 years later, this debt continues to be a nightmare for her. Although she makes payments regularly and has paid almost the entire amount, Christina still owes as much as she borrowed.

She claims that her loan balances have increased, regardless of how much she has paid or how long she has made those payments, due to negative amortization (daily interest accrual on top of the interest).

“I also found out that all constitutional rights to uniform bankruptcy rights and borrower protections were removed from all student loans, and it meant I had no recourse when discrepancies happened on my account.”

Christina is an active, full-time public servant. She has served in her current role for a decade and has previously worked for other qualifying employers in the public sector, adding to her 20 years of public service.

She managed to apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), although she was repeatedly told she wouldn't qualify for it.

Then, after applying for a temporary waiver for the PSLF offered by the Biden administration, she found something alarming. The Department of Education and her lenders had lost all of her payment history except for ten student loan payments.

Worries persisted even after finding all the records, because her full balance had not changed despite showing proof of her payments.

“Many payments counted as qualifying but were not enough to gain full forgiveness; even with other work, I might be able to qualify. I finally received PSLF forgiveness officially in December 2023, after numerous calls and the documentation that the lender and Department of Education required,” she said.

More Consequences Beyond Just Financial Ones

As a solo parent and the only child caring for aging parents, Christina has sometimes worked more than three jobs to provide for them. She is the parent of an 18-year-old and an 12-year-old.

As she notes, neither of them will be able to attend school because with her income, which almost all goes to bills, the children will hardly be able to get an education. All these challenges have taken a toll on her mental health.

“I have been unable to save up for retirement or take vacations. No financial support or savings due to these loans being a part of my entire adult life.”

Over the past five years, Christina has been one of the main advocates for restoring uniform bankruptcy protections to all student loans.

“Since I now know all student loans were uniquely stripped of their constitutional rights, this had allowed lenders, the Department of Education, and banks to take advantage of borrowers, lie, and worse. My interest rate was supposed to be very low, but I still owe what I borrowed. The math never makes sense.”

She calls for the entire student loan lending system to be shut down, describing it as “irreparably broken.”

According to recent media reports, some PSLF recipients had received emails that their student loans were not forgiven and that they had previously been mistakenly contacted about student loan forgiveness. As a result, these borrowers have been forced to return to repayment.

Christina remains concerned about this, saying she keeps thinking it could also happen to her despite doing everything right and following the PSLF program. However, she has made up her mind not to pay a dollar anymore.

Christina Winton is just one of nearly 43 million Americans who collectively owe more than $1.7 trillion in student debt. The average amount of federal student loan debt stands at $37,088, while the overall average balance, climbs at $39,981.

Read Also:

>> Laura’s 13-Year Battle with Student Loan Debt

>> Successful Audiobook Narrator Owes $60K in Student Loans: I’ve Been a Victim for 10 Years of Adulthood

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