I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I was 23 years old. I’m still paying for it. In fact, I’ll be paying for it until I am 60.
I got a private student loan through SallieMae to finance my education.
I have $100,000 in student loan debt for my Bachelors of Music from Berklee. It’s like a dying pet that we drag around everywhere with us. We lovingly refer to it as The Hundred-Thousand-Dollar BM.
Now, going to an expensive college was my choice. Financing it with student loans was also my choice, although in this case, my choices were limited. A lot of things played into it: the desire to please my family and not seem like a total fuck-up folksinger topped the list.
Anyway, it didn’t seem so bad. The loan had a fixed rate of 4%. It said right there on the front page, which, being well-trained by my parents, I read carefully. There were 80 other pages, but I was 23 and embarrassed to take up too much of the Financial Aid Officer’s time, so I didn’t read those. Besides, the writing was really, really tiny. I’m a fast reader, but I would’ve been there a week going through all that.
Imagine my surprise when, six months after graduation, standing in the kitchen holding my five-month-old daughter, I open my first bill from SallieMae and see VARIABLE INTEREST RATE in big (no, not really) letters.
I figured, I’m a grownup now, a parent, I’ll call and straighten this out.
After waiting on hold for almost an hour (the going rate for my interactions with SallieMae) I talked to a representative who informed me that the fixed rate of 4% was a promotion. It was only good while I was enrolled. As soon as I graduated, the rate became variable. WHAT?! A promotion? Like from the cable company? But this was a student loan, people!
I kept my cool. I latched my baby onto the other breast and asked, “What is the cap on the interest rate?”
“The cap?” she asked, “There is no cap.”
This is when I first suspected that I might be in trouble. Ever the optimist (um…) I dismissed the thought. After all, this was a student loan, a loan given to STUDENTS, who are by definition, still learning about how the world works. These loans are designed to give kids a shot at the American Dream, a dream which has become increasingly impossible without a college education. A college education which has become increasingly impossible without student loans. No one would try to trick a kid. That would just be WRONG. That would be predatory.
She seemed pretty sure of herself, and since my arms were aching from trying to nurse a 15 pound baby while talking on the phone, I moved on to the next step: Forbearance.
In essence, what I said was, I’m not working right now, unless you consider being a one woman Dairy Queen a job. I need six months to get my shit together and then I’ll pay you. Since this was part of my contract, she agreed, charged me $250 for the privilege (added on to the principal, of course, along with capitalized interest on the 6 months), and we were done.
So I thought.