Large Student Loan Resulting from Interest, Fees, and Penalties

Alan Collinge at Student Loan Justice Org. is showcasing on Facebook various people who still have student loans even after the small loan relief. With these student loan holders, the ten or twenty thousand will go to fees, interest, and penalties as they exist or as rolled into loans. Very little (if it does) will touch the loan origination amount. The funds become gifts to the loan industry which originated the loan or the present holder of these loans. Not much relief for the person holding the loan. In many cases, they will not be able to make the sizeable payments either.

Name: J

State: Kentucky

First generation (and woman) in family to graduate high school and attend college. Started college at age 38 after raising daughter. I had worked at Savannah River Site as a secretary but they had a massive layoff and both my husband and I lost our jobs. Thinking I could increase my income, I borrowed for undergraduate at University of South Carolina Aiken 1996-1998. Received award for Student of the Year in Visual Arts 1998. GPA was 4.0 at that time.

Left school for financial reasons in 1999 to work full time in Augusta, Georgia salary $20,000 as beginning graphic artist.

Found higher paying job as graphic artist at $24,000 in North Carolina so I moved there in January 2000. Worked my way up to $30,000 salary at that job. I thought getting my Bachelor of Science Degree in Visual Arts would increase my salary. I borrowed to attend Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina 2005 – 2007. I worked full time while attending college full time some semesters, part time other semesters. Money was getting tight and I couldn’t attend the required day time classes in the final semester and keep my job too. That last semester taught how to get ready for a gallery show and I really wish I could have attended and learned those things. I had to leave school with six classes still needed to get my degree. I was 50 years old by then.

I was offered a job in Florida as a graphic artist at $40,000 and had a friend there so I moved. I worked for two years for the City of Jacksonville. I didn’t know I could have applied for loan forgiveness for Public Service but guess it’s too late now.

Meanwhile my mother was getting older and needed me back home in Kentucky. So I moved back there in 2008.

I found a job as a senior graphic artist at $45,000 and worked there four years, working my way up to $48,500. During this time, I made my student loan payments faithfully. Then the recession hit about that time and I was laid off. I learned they hired someone else fresh out of school for half what I was making. Unemployed for almost a year, I was unable to make full student loan payments. I did make use of this time to paint an oil portrait of my daughter as a toddler and it is one of my most cherished paintings.

I wanted to pay $100 per month during this time out of my unemployment. Instead, Sallie Mae put me in forbearance for I’m not sure how many years. Each time the interest was capitalized and added to the total amount due.

I finally found another graphic artist job starting pay $38,000. I gratefully took it even though it was $10,000 less than I had made before. Graphic artist jobs were scarce at the time.

Still unable to pay student loans and rent at the same time, I went into forbearance again. Navient had taken over my loans and was threatening to garnish my check so I took forbearance when I could. I worked my way up and eventually I was able to make student loan payments up until March 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit. My daughter lost her job in Louisiana and came to live with me in Kentucky for two years. She is also an artist, has student loans comparable to mine and doesn’t make much income here. Increased expenses and inflation forced me to stop making student loan payments.

We live in an older run-down farmhouse in a rural area. No money for needed repairs to keep the mice and the occasional snakes out. I am now 65 years old and my Sarcoidosis of the lungs is spreading to other organs. It hurts to go to work and be a graphic artist using my hands and sitting in the same position all day. I wish I could retire but I just can’t afford it. It has taken me ten years in Kentucky to get back to making $48,000. This is the highest salary I have ever had. I had thought the college would help me get to $65,000 but it did not happen for me. I have no savings or retirement to fall back on. I don’t know how I will make student loan payments when the pause expires in 2023.

I have paid about $36,000 on my student loans through the years plus they have taken my tax refund for the last ten years (about $20,000) so I have given the Department of Education about $56,000 on my original $17,440 loan. Ascendium has now taken over my loans from Nelnet. I still owe $60,000. If I receive $20,000 in Biden’s forgiveness program (I received $3,000 in Pell grants), I am still left with a $40,000 balance. I believe I consolidated some loans and they are listed as FFELP so I’m not even certain they are eligible for forgiveness.

My original disbursements were $17,440.45. Having given them $56,000 and still owing $60,000 on a $17,440 loan should be illegal. I have lived and worked in five of the Southern states with the worst student loan debt: South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Kentucky.

One person’s detailed history of Paying off a Student Loan (

A Student Loan Story as Told by Kate (

Older People now Outnumber Younger People With Student Loan Debt* (

Teacher with $300M of Student Loan Debt Says $10,000 is a Drop in the Bucket (

Student Loan Justice Org,” Alan Collinge