First things first: Student loan debt is a double-edged sword. As of 2018, roughly 70 percent of incoming college freshmen take out loans. Yet it's no secret that the rising cost of tuition, coupled with growing interest rates, are making it increasingly harder for degree-seeking individuals to pay off their dues—not to mention the uncertain job market caused by COVID-19. And with well-documented (and self-evident) effects on the emotional and physical health of borrowers, it’s an undeniable reality that most students must face: Debt causes stress, yet for many, loans are the only available path toward obtaining a degree or learning a trade.
Dealing With Debt Stress
Strategies for dealing with debt
Start your journey small.
Call your bank or loan servicer to find out exactly how much you owe. This might be a scary step to take, but it will help you realize that your debt is not infinite and put things into perspective.
Boldly look your debt in the face.
Many people with debt avoid looking at their remaining loans or interest rates, a shame-based behavior that tends to create more anxiety about the unknown.
Realize that you’ve made an investment for your future.
You made a pivotal life decision to come to college, and you should be proud to own what follows—even if it means spending some time with debt.
Ta’Mara: “The whole point of stressing out financially for education is hopefully, in ten or fifteen years when you look back and you struggled, you look at your bank account and you look at your job and you’re like, ‘I did that.’”
Try an abundance mindset.
If you get into the habit of operating under the assumption that you don’t have enough, you will spend your life always yearning for more. Instead, try shifting your focus to the abundances of your school, job, and future. This can widen your perspective and make it easier to get through your days. Take advantage of all the resources your school has to offer, interview for an ambitious position even if you don’t meet all the requirements, and focus your energy on engaging with the rich experiences that your debt has afforded you.
Don’t wait to enjoy your life.
While you should take steps to budget and manage your finances responsibly, understand that this is going to be part of your life for a while, and that’s okay. You’re allowed to live a full life while working towards being debt-free.
While others might not be actively talking about it, it is quite likely that most of the people you encounter are dealing with similar financial stress that you’re going through.
“I just moved into an apartment, so I’m paying rent every month. If I don’t make a certain amount of hours every two weeks I’m not gonna be able to make rent. So then if something random comes up, like an unexpected expense, I’ll sometimes have to pick between picking up a shift or going to a class.”
“As a Muslim, I’m not allowed to take certain loans if they have interest, and that played a role in what college I chose to go to in the first place.”
“In undergrad I worked 55 hours a week to put myself through school; I work 30 hours now. But don’t let those fears and short-term insights prevent you from doing what you want to do… Short term vision will destroy your dreams. You have to think of the end game.”
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It’s okay to be upset
At some point when you begin to understand your debt situation, you may feel a budding sense of anger. Or perhaps you oscillate between sadness and frustration; you may be shocked by the injustice of the government, lenders, and institutions that seem to penalize you for aspiring towards a better future. Know that your anger is valid. The student debt crisis in America is unacceptable. Turn your anger into something productive and call your elected officials, vote in every election (not just the big ones), and start conversations in your community to mobilize your network.
Learn more about the Student Corner. The Student Corner provides resources specific to college students and their wellbeing, especially around issues like stress, mental health, addiction, financial obstacles, and other barriers that prevent them from thriving at university and in life.