A Reader Runs In Place

I recently received the following email from a reader, who I will call Annie:

I’ve been reading your site for a while now, and while I do enjoy much of your advice, I must admit there is one thing that really frustrates me. You talk a lot about saving and investing, but what if you’re living paycheck to paycheck? What if you have just gotten out of college, have over 100k in student loan debt, dislike your current job, work long hours, but make only enough money to cover rent? Are there ways to get out of a job you hate and even a career you regret majoring in when you’re smothered in debt? Is it safe to do? If you could maybe write something on handling student debt I would appreciate it. I’ve always been a saver, and it frustrates me to no end that I have to choose between saving 5 dollars in the bank or buying food for the day.

So, how can we come up with a plan to help Annie out? First of all, let’s make a list of the problems:

Significant debt Annie has more than $100,000 in student loan debt, a pretty significant amount.

A low level of income From this email, it seems as though Annie is only making enough to cover rent, her utilities, and her student debt payments.

Career dissatisfaction She also seems very unhappy with her career to this point, particularly in the sense that the hours are longer than she is comfortable with.

However, Annie has some major advantages, too:

Youth She’s pretty freshly out of school, which would generally indicate youth.

No dependents She’s apparently not married, and also apparently has no children.

Some degree of intelligence She managed to complete some level of college, which is better than the majority of Americans.

What follows is my personal advice to Annie. I am not a professional planner in any way; these are merely personal suggestions on what I would do in Annie’s shoes.

First of all, I would get out of the job. If a job is bad enough to make you question every choice you have made since leaving high school, then there’s a problem. Start searching for anything besides this job, even if it’s not in your field. If the pay is truly low as you describe, there may even be jobs like working at Home Depot that are appropriate (Home Depot pays well – I have family members that work there that make surprisingly good incomes).

Why quit the job before anything else if the finances are in dire straits? The job is pretty clearly creating some significant stress and a rather negative mindset about the world for Annie. If a job is such that it is making your whole world view negative, it’s probably also causing you to miss out on a lot of other opportunities that might be going on in your life.

Second, spend some time figuring out what you really want to do. It may be that the job has just poisoned your taste for what you majored in, or it may be that your life has a different calling. You need some time away from the situation to figure that out, which is another advantage of getting a job in a completely different career path. It may also be worth your while to move to another part of the country, to a place where the cost of living is lower than where you’re at right now.

Third, learn to live frugally. Many people who are stuck in a routine of working long hours for low pay often don’t eat well or prepare their own food. Give it a try. Also, look at the things in your life that are monthly, regular bills and ask yourself which ones you could remove. Are you paying for cable? Toss that out for a while and enjoy some books instead. Do you have an expensive cell phone plan? Get the cheapest plan you can – or ditch the cell phone entirely. Do you have subscriptions to other entertainment services, like Netflix, etc. Cancel ‘em. Sell stuff you have that you don’t need, especially anything that has sat unused for a few months.

Fourth, look for community support. I’m not talking about food stamps. Look for community organizations, even churches, that offer things that might be useful to you. Maybe a community group has a freewill supper on Wednesday evenings – stop by there, enjoy a meal on the cheap, and meet some people. Perhaps you can pay a visit to a pastor in the area who might have ideas of things you can do.

Finally, know your debts. Find out if your current student loan debts have any extra benefits if you pay a certain number of payments on time, or if you direct deposit your payments. Also, look into consolidating your loans, especially if you can find ones that make you eligible for such benefits. With $100K in student loan debt, even shaving off a quarter of a percent can make a big difference in the monthly payments. If you have no idea where to start, contact the financial aid office at the college you attended and ask for help.

Good luck, Annie.

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  1. lori says:

    Advice to Annie – Student loans are the one of the most flexibile loans that I know of. Deferment, forbearance, consolidation, etc., are all options for most student loans. I would investigate all options before despairing over these loans. Secondly, you need to get out of the job you are in right now. Nothing stifles creativity and the joy of life worse than showing up for a job that you hate day in and day out. Find a job that offers low to no stress. I left a decent paying job that I absolutely hated and worked two jobs that were easy. Between the two jobs, I made enough money, and more suprisingly, had more free time to enjoy life. I spent far less working the two part time jobs than I did working my “corporate job” – lower food costs and no need to buy a separate professional wardobe. Hang in there! It may seem like you are “stuck”, but you will find a way to get to a better place.

  2. Michelle says:

    You’re right about the difference between the job and the career field. I abandoned my career for a couple of years because of hatred for a particular job. I came back to it 12 years ago, and though I’ve had other jobs that weren’t great, it’s working out okay overall. It’s mostly just a matter of being *really* picky about who you work for — not that everyone has the latitude to do so.

    I’d also suggest moving in with parents or friends or getting a roommate, if any of those are feasible. It’s worth the hit to your pride if you can get out of the debt hole.

  3. Carl says:

    Dear ‘Annie’,
    What is your degree in / what type of job are you looking for? Please forward along this information as it sounds like this is the number one concern. Yes 100k in student loans is a pain and a giant boulder on top of your head (my g/f went to a private school…i know about big student loans), but I agree with Trent and the other posters that you need to get a new job NOW. From my personal experience, a bad job makes the rest of your life suck suck suck. Which my g/f noticed before I did, as I was always grumpy coming home from work. If you pass along your career/job info I would love to help you with a job search.

  4. "Annie" says:

    Hi guys, it’s “Annie”. I appreciate the advice, although I already do much of it (don’t have cable, cell phone, etc. bills, federal loans are consolidated, live with a roommate who pays more than his share, use direct online billing, etc.) The unfortunate thing on top of my loans (which I’m so worried about because they start repayment next month and I’m struggling to pay bills as it is) is that I have a medical condition which requires good health care and I absolutely must have insurance to pay for some of the costs. While I’m not particularly happy at my job, it pays more than a retail position, I don’t know what else I’d rather do, and at least for the time being I have reasonable benefits.
    I work in biotechnology research, which is where I got my degree. This is my 4th job in the field and that’s essentially why I’ve decided that the career is probably not a good choice for me. 4 strikes you’re out, right?

  5. PJA says:

    Can you find a job that pays more? Even if it’s in the same field? I did that when I was in a tough job and the new job payed more – and was easier.

  6. DaveR says:

    Please don’t take this as a flame, but you could save money by canceling your internet subscription.

  7. Josh says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! $100,000 degree and you can’t get a decent job? Sounds like higher education is a not a good investment anymore. Maybe that’s a topic for a future post?

  8. Chris says:

    Josh, that’s a quick assumption. My whole college tuition works out to less than 6 months of my current salary. I was lucky enough to have parents that paid for it, but even if I had loans, they would not be outrageously big. College is a great idea, unless you drop $100,000 being a preschool teacher or a painter. There are certain jobs that just can never repay the private college costs.

  9. Sarah says:

    I strongly suspect that Annie is living in New York City or a similar high-cost urban area for the opportunities. In which case, since moving isn’t necessarily an option unless she wants to give up on certain careers completely, I strongly recommend (a) considering moving to an outer borough or equivalent or (b) getting one or more roommates. Rents in these areas are outrageous, and accepting the suffering of sharing a space is often the only way to whittle them down. Similarly, consider the options re: student loans mentioned above. Check for any incentive programs your lender may have for reducing your interest rate. Consolidate (but only after checking carefully to make sure it would actually improve your situation). Explore the possibility of income-sensitive repayment plans.

    Finally, if none of these things help, moonlighting may be the only option. It sucks, but not as much as acute poverty, and if Annie’s job is one of the high-prestige, low-pay types I suspect it is, then most people understand that you may have to resort to other methods to pay the bills.

  10. PF says:

    This whole post brings up the “value” of a private education. I think that there are probably some good articles about this in Kipinger’s and other financial media.

    For Annie. Question everything. Are you paying too much for insurance? Get new quotes. Are you paying a high interest credit card…get a 0% for a while. Are you really living as cheap as you can? With that much in loans, you might need to take it a notch higher. Have you ever read the Tightwad Gazette. If not, get it. It introduces the reader to a lot of interesting ideas and frugal philosophies. There are some that are just too “out there” and some you will probably embrace. Join a frugal living message board/online community. I wish you luck. Something really does need to give, and frankly, it’s your job. have you read “Your money or your life” I really think you should.

  11. Ashley says:

    Annie,
    Contact your loan lender/consolidation company. Most lenders allow economic hardship as a reason to further defer your loan payments.

  12. Kevin says:

    The details are too vague to give any solid, life changing advice. I was going to mention picking up a roommate, but she mentioned that in a comment.

    Pick up a second job if you can, do freelance work (elance, guru.com, etc.), thought of Starbucks? They offer benefits to their employees that work more than 20 hours/week. Not a bad deal.

  13. Laura S says:

    Annie, please take this as constructive criticism – I mean this very genuinely and am not trying to be mean. But it sounds as though you have made up your mind that you’re in a horrible situation and there’s no way out. You’ve made excuses why none of the ideas here will work for you, and if you’re determined that nothing will work to get you out of the hole you’re in, then you’re right. If, however, you decide that there is a solution, then you’re also right. So first of all, I would advise you to change your outlook!

    Second, if you’re not sure what type of work you want to do instead, then that should probably be your next priority. After all, it’s impossible to find the job you want if you don’t know what that is – you need a vision. Start by looking at your transferable skills from the industry you’re currently in, since I’m sure you’re not keen on going back to school right now and all the costs associated with that option.

    If you need the medical insurance from a job, I would suggest doing a stealth job search WHILE employed and don’t quit until you have another job offer that you’ve accepted. Don’t take a new job unless it pays more than your current one. (This should be possible – you now have experience that you didn’t have before, so you should be worth more than you used to be.) Maybe do a bit of research on salary negotiation tactics so that you can get the best possible offer from the next company you work for.

    Those are my suggestions, and I really do hope they help. I only mean the “change your attitude” suggestion to help, because I know how awful it can feel to think you have no hope and I would not wish that on anyone. There is always hope and there are always options if you look for them.

  14. db says:

    Contact your student loan company. With a value of over $100K, you should be able to extend your payments over a 25 year time frame.

    I can’t believe I’m giving this advice!!! NO, I don’t want you paying your student loans for 25+ years!!! What I want you to do is get some traction in your life. Extent the payment period, and hopefully get a lower, more affordable payment for now. Then set a goal that say in 5 years, you’ll be in a position to pay extra on the student loans.

    DB

  15. Jezebella says:

    I consolidated my $100k+ student loans with the feds (Direct Loan Servicing) and am on the Income Contingent Repayment program (ICR). My monthly payment is adjusted each year according to my reported income. It’s likely your payment will not contribute much (if any) to your principal, but DIG THIS: if you make the payments for twenty years, they forgive whatever is left over of your principal. Assuming, of course, the Republicans don’t change the rules on me sometime in the next 18 years. It’s worth looking into for anyone whose student loans far outstrip their income.

    For those of you questioning the value of higher education: I do believe getting a PhD was worth every cent, and all the blood, sweat, and tears, because I have a job I love. It doesn’t pay well, but life is too short to spend 40+ hours a week doing something I hate just because it’s lucrative.

  16. kellie says:

    Annie what area of the country do you live in? Would you be willing to move? What part of your job do you not like? The actual work, the people, the company, the hours? All of it?

  17. ck_dex says:

    Annie,
    In your shoes I would make an appointment with a few executive recruiters who specialize in the life sciences field. With at least a master’s degree (which I have to assume at that debt level) you could work in public relations (crisis management etc) or tech transfer and IP at a law firm or big academic institution; and with even just a bachelor’s there is biotech sales and client services, and HR/recruiting. At the very least, go back to your university’s recruiting office and get some advice on alternate career paths.

    Contrary to some of the opinions above, I would really try not to leave the job until you find another. If you think it’s hard to make a living now, taking a lower paying job or going on unemployment can be worse.

  18. jake says:

    It’s hard to give specific advise when you do not know all the information, so all I can give are generic answers.

    First, your degree in biotechnology is a hot field, especially in California. Calirornia Universities have recieved huge, I am talking about multimillion dollar grants for biotechnology. Many big cities in California also are hot spots for biotech as it is the big thing going on over here. This brings me to my point are you willing to move locations? Are you looking for outside your area? If you’re living in rural Montana with a biotech degree it will be difficult because demand isnt there for those type of jobs. I urge you to look around the country. I have a friend who is a pharm tech and she’s making $20+ an hour. Research areas where biotech is in demand.

    Remember if you depend on health insurance look into COBRA which allows you to keep your old health care after being unemployed, but you pay full price, I think. This should allow you to have time to look for another job.

    Dont be afraid of your student loans, from what’ive heard from friends who have more than 150K in loans they said the system is very lenient the government gives you big breaks just because it’s an educational loan. Did I mention interest is tax deductible?

  19. plonkee says:

    Would it be worth looking at jobs in the city / state / federal government or at a college or university – I bet they have good benefits, and you might be able to make more money. Some retail work pays more than you might think, and everywhere I’ve ever been people are always looking for bus drivers. It might not be what you really want to do, but it might give you the opportunity to really think about what that is.

  20. rob in Madrid says:

    My comment would be that change comes gradually. You didn’t get in to debt overnight and you won’t get out of debt overnight either. Make a decision that you are going to get out of that rat race and start working towards it. Realize it will take time to make the changes happen and often you will take 1 step backwards for every 2 forwards. Also you are young and have your whole life ahead of you. Many people don’t start changing until they are in there 40s’s up to eye balls in debt and stuck in a job they hate. I just turned 47 and look back on almost 25 years of bad financial decisions. It’s frustrating but I realize I can’t change the past I can only focus on the future. I’ve taken alot of his ideas for use in my own life.

    good luck

    Rob in Madrid

  21. "Annie" says:

    Thanks for the advice everyone. (This is “Annie”) I am indeed trying to keep a positive outlook and such. I live in the Northeast, and it’s the hottest place in the country for biotech work. I only have an undergrad degree, which means that base pay is in the low 30k a year no matter where I work, unless I get more schooling. Since I am not happy with my career I don’t want to pursue a higher degree at the cost it would bring me. I don’t pay for pretty much any luxury utilities (cell phone, credit cards, internet, cable, etc.) so while all those suggestions are valid they do not apply. I have decided to quietly send out resumes and questions to related fields (such as veterinary and pharmacy tech) for the time being and I’ll see if any offers I get are good enough to consider. For now I think it’s the best plan. I spoke with a consolidation expert who agreed that my federal loans were well consolidated but that the student loans would actually increase in interest rates if I consolidated (and since they’re already at 13.5% to begin with) this would be a bad choice.
    Well, I’m young, I’ve got choices if I decide where to pursue my masters, I live with a roommate who is willing to help support me when I’m financially struggling, so I guess the bright side is that I’ll just have to make the best of what comes my way.
    At least it’s almost summer again!

  22. paula says:

    Federal student loan rates at 13.5%!?

    That’s outrageous!! I know they’ve gone up recently, but we have loans from 2004 that are under 5%. What’s going on?

  23. GHoosdum says:

    “Annie” – I am completely shocked that the student loan rates are at 13.5% and cannot be decreased. Even my credit card has a lower interest rate than that. You ought to be able to consolidate student loans at around 5% to 7% these days depending upon whether they are Federal or private loans.

    It is difficult to make any more recommendations without specifics, but I will also recommend moving. Heck, even Trent’s Home Depot recommendation is great. I live in the midwest, and Home Depot employees make annual salaries in the 30’s around here, and cost of living is much much lower than in the Northeast!

  24. Jezebella says:

    Yes, one “ought” to be able to reconsolidate at the current interest rate, but it’s impossible under current regulations.

    The borrower is stuck with the original interest rate, NO MATTER WHAT current borrowers are getting. It’s effin outrageous and I have had many frustrating phone calls with student loan companies on this very score. So far, no joy.

  25. Mardee says:

    I would definitely get a second opinion about the consolidation. However, I am assuming that some of your student loan debt came from private loans, which have higher interest rates than the federal subsidized loans. If they’re all federal loans, head for another consolidation expert because it sounds like you’re getting bad advice.

    Also, I would look for a second part-time job. When I was younger and not making much money, I always worked 2 jobs. I had my regular 8-5 job, and then worked other jobs (waiting tables or freelance design) on the weekends and evenings (probably around 10-15 hours a week). Sure, it cut into my social life, but it certainly freed me up financially and allowed me to save some money. Waiting tables is the most lucrative and has the most flexible schedule.

  26. GHoosdum says:

    The borrower is only stuck with the original interest rate if all of the student loans came from the same company. I think it’s called the “original lender” rule, or at least that’s how I’ve seen it referred. There’s an obscure way of skirting this.

    However, if the loans originated from more than a single company, you can consolidate with another company at current rates. That is how I was able to consolidate my student loans, which were originally at the 6-8% range, with another company about three years ago, and I’m paying 2.75% in interest currently.

  27. EA says:

    Annie, I think the idea of a stealth job search is a good one. When I graduated in ’98 with a BS in biochem, I started at a big Pharma company in the northeast in the low 40s. So I think there’s probably something out there for you that pays more than the low 30s. And big pharma (even if you think they’re evil) does have good health coverage.

    I left the field after a few years for various reasons, but a soul-crushing job paying in the low 40s is better than a soul-crushing job in the low 30s. Also if you have weekends free, try picking up a second job at Borders. The pay isn’t great but they are very good about working around your schedule and giving you fixed hours (e.g. the same shift on the same day each week) so you can plan ahead. Even one shift a week would give you some cash to start an emergency fund.

  28. Jen says:

    Annie,
    I have been working in a university for a few years, in the tuition billing/loan department. While this is not a long term solution, you can put off your loan payments for 6 months to a year or more by filing for a ecomonic hardship deferment. Most lenders will have forms for this available online, you will need to complete forms to prove that you cannot make your loan payments on your current income and provide proof of this.
    Contrary to popular belief, your loan companies do not want you to default on your loans. Once you complete this form and establish that you cannot afford to make the payments, you will not have to make payments. At least for a while. This should give you the time you need to find a higher paying new job.
    Also, consider getting a teaching certificate. Perkins loans can be forgiven if you teach for a certain number of years. It might even pay better :)

  29. eR0CK says:

    Don’t have time to read everything, but STAY at your current job until you find SOMETHING else first!

    No need to be without pay and benefits during the job search, just stay on until you’ve found an alternative.

  30. "Annie" says:

    I would pick up a second job except I’m usually stuck at my current job for 55 hours a week, plus the hour commute… plus I’m dealing with medical issues that require rest and down time. So, mostly I’m just looking elsewhere for a primary job. I’ll get by.

  31. Sharon says:

    Teaching as an option…

    I have info on NJ (I don’t know what part of the the Northeast you are in…I know that NY is also in desperate for teachers.

    First fact. NJ will give you their right AND left arms for you to teach. NO you dont’ have to have had education classes to start teaching. In NJ there is a program called “alternate or provisional route”. It is a little expensive.. You must pay for your own fingerprinting, background check and testing as well as the application fee (for the certification) itself.

    There is a content area test which you may want to do a little review for and perhaps read a book on teaching science if that is what is covered in the test.

    Here is the website for information on the test and requirements for getting your certificate of elgibility.

    http://www.state.nj.us/education/educators/license/provprogram.htm

    http://www.state.nj.us/education/educators/license/1112.htm

    Starting salary for provisional teachers were in the low 40’s in Newark, NJ as of a few years ago.

    Be forewarned there will be a few classes to TAKE during the year as well.

    Some of your student loans can be forgiven if you qualify:

    http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/teachercancel.jsp?tab=repaying

    Also something to look at is that HUD has a special “good neighbor” program for teachers, etc which gives you a 50% discount on a HUD home if you live there for three years….

    http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/reo/goodn/gnndabot.cfm

    So after five years, you could have some of your loans forgiven, a higher salary, a permanent teaching license, and a house with a BIG chunk of equity. You have to love the idea of teaching and be willing to put in some time and money in the first year, but it might work out very nicely. (Ask me in a year after I work this program myself, if it is as good as it seems… ;) )

    If you have more questions, I give Trent permission to give you my email address…

    Sharon

  32. laura k says:

    Another idea is to move into the city with a bunch of roommates (to keep the cost of rent down) and get rid of your car, if you can. Many, if not most, companies in Boston (I’m assuming that’s where you live) offer great subsidies on public transportation passes.

    A couple people mentioned working at a university. Although the pay will probably be lower than in industry, there are other advantages: making connections with top-notch investigators who “know people” and can help you take the next step, taking classes on the cheap (which will allow you to explore other areas) — a class at the Harvard Extension School costs $40 for an employee, many are taught by regular Harvard faculty, and some of the programs/degrees are completely online (and they have a Master of Liberal Arts in Biotechnology, if you change your mind). If you are not in a postdoc position, the hours in academia are generally (in my experience) reasonable, and I find it really nice to work with people whose primary concern is helping others (I work at a cancer center) rather than the bottom line.

  33. Daron says:

    I know that Trent poo-poo’d the idea, put food stamps are a valid option. We all pay taxes to support the system, and there are times when we need to take out of this system.

    These are not a hand-out, but a hand-up, and even a few dollars saved this way is a few more towards living and breathing better.

    Also, the social service office will have other contacts for places to get possible help with rent, food pantries, and places to get help with budgeting and clothes.

    Another option is to get a second job where they deal with food. Restaurants and grocery stores are good, and you should be able to find food. I got thru college making pizzas and doing deli. I at least had a chance at the mistakes.

  34. Annie –

    I’m in a similar position – at a job I can’t stand and killing my soul/creativity. But like erock said – don’t leave until you’ve found something else. As long as your job is paying you SOMETHING, it’s better than being at home looking for a job. don’t leave unless you have something already lined up. my coworker who i confided in at work said the same thing, be patient and keep looking. at least you’re in the biotech field. i’m a liberal arts grad.

    I live on the low 30s in SF with roommates in a not so great apartment but I’m used to it. consolidate loans at a lower rate and try shifting some into the 0% APR cards also. hit up events with free food that’ll save you some money from buying food or eating out cheap. i’ve stumbled on events just randomly or on craigslist that were pretty substantial. some people i talked to starting out making the low 30s ate pasta every day for a year until they made more money …

  35. ck_dex says:

    Hi Annie,
    Laura K’s advice about working for an academic medical center/research institute is a good one, and with your degree (yes, even BS) and work experience you could make in the low 50s at BU, Tufts or Harvard, plus get your masters or PhD for nearly free (the classes count as income so you have to pay taxes on them unfortunately). This is what I did at BU. Same thing goes if you are near Providence, Philly or NY. Good luck!

  36. laura k says:

    I’m not sure how tuition remission works, but if you take classes and are _reimbursed_ for them, I believe that you can receive up to $5250 tax free. My reimbursements (never beyond the above limit) have never shown up as income on my W-2, but my company is also careful to include a caveat in its policy that the money may be taxable.

    And if you’re enrolled in another program at least half time, can’t you defer your existing payments? I am not sure whether this applies to certificate programs, but that might be an option.

    Rutgers, too, if you’re in NJ. Maybe go work as an administrator for a while until you get all your thoughts together, then transfer to another department.

  37. kellie says:

    Annie,

    I am a pharmacy tech, nationally certified as most employers require. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the work, etc.

  38. Hartnett says:

    I’m a parent of a college student. We (husband & I) worked out an arrangement with our son to live at home for a couple of years after college graduation. Part of that arrangement was his being frugal and responsible with his income; maxing out 401K, paying off debt and paying cash for a car. So I would suggest mooching off your parents while you get some financial stability and career direction. Of course this all assumes that is possible. From our experience if you get your career direction figured out the other usually follows. Good Luck!

  39. don says:

    I’m really sorry to be the one to say this, but I would not catagorize someone who took on 100k of debt as “always been a saver”. Many people would say that it is a good investment. In your case, it does not look like it turned out that way. There are lots of good ideas in the other posts, and I won’t repeat them. I only suggest that you take a good hard look at how you got into debt in the first place. Again, I am sorry. This is not meant to be a flame, but a wakeup call.

  40. Kevin says:

    I would recommend more schooling, whether in your current field or one which vastly differs from your current field.

    I say this because I agree with Don, not that it was a bad investment because you do not like your current. Rather, it appears from your note that you somehow failed to learn basic grammar. If you have “just gotten out of college” maybe you need to return and take a refresher course.

  41. Kristina says:

    Annie,
    This is just a guess, but your student loans make me guess that your spending habits are more out of control than you realize. At most reputable 4-year colleges, financial aid offices expect students to take out the maximum allowed of Federal loans (leaving a student $20,000-$25,000) in debt, and the rest is covered by grants. If the school falls a bit short on grants, it’s easy to work part-time during college to earn around $1000 per month to remain out of debt. Your loans sound like private loans (given their high interest rate – federal loans have much lower rates and better terms). That’s a possible indication that you chose to spend way more money at college than necessary to get in, get your degree, live frugally, and get out.

    Also, I highly suggest you get a second job for as long as you can tolerate it just to feel like you are getting some “traction” with the debts. I know this will suck, but it’s worth having the financial stress out of your life. Start a house cleaning business on weekends or figure out what other valuable services you have to sell hourly (computer consulting, childcare, etc). Or, get an evening job like working at UPS (pays well) or delivering pizza (good tips).

    And you are right…do not run back to school and get more debt unless you know exactly why you are doing it!

  42. Anna says:

    I’m coming into this discussion late (I found it when Trent linked it on a morning roundup), but I have a couple of comments for Annie.

    I have about 80k in student loan debt and I don’t make a ton in my field (though fortunately I love it), so I can understand your situation. One thing I would highly suggest is to contact the lender for your private student loans and see if you can add a cosigner. I just did this and it brought the interest rate down from 14.75% to 8.75%, which also brought down the monthly payments. If you can get your parents or another friend or reletive with excellent credit to cosign for you, it could make a huge difference in your situation.

    It’s been a while since the last post here, so I’d love to hear any updates. How’s the job hunt going? Do you feel better about your situation? I hope that things are looking up. :)

  43. Julie says:

    I wanted to point out that the student loan interest deduction is pretty limited ($2,500 a year, I think).

    I have a masters that cost me nearly 75K, and if it weren’t for my husband, I would not be able to make the payments, so I certainly feel for you, Annie. (Being a musician is not the most financially lucrative profession.)I looked into different repayment options before I got married and I would agree that the ICR plan for loan repayment might be a really good option, although my husband makes too much money for us to take advantage of it.

    Good luck!

  44. Greg says:

    This is a fascinating discussion. I too would like to hear how the summer worked out for you, Annie.

    I have a couple tips I’d like to pass along, that may not help your financial situation, but will give you some more breathing room.

    1. Commute. With a salary like yours, I’m guessing you take the train to work. And being in biotech, I’m guessing NJ? There has to be someone offering a room closer to work. Check listings and put up notices in the local town. Even moving to a smaller place will help being frugal, it makes you decide much more carefully about what clothes/ toys/ furniture to keep (and sell the rest on ebay!) and will help you inherently manage future purchases better.

    A side effect of a shorter commute is much more time, even 1/2 hour a day makes a HUGE difference. Getting home and having an extra half hour completely changes bad after-work habits, as it did mine.

    2. 55 hr workweek. Getting fired is a lot harder than many think. If you start working 40hr workweeks, what are they going to do to you? Start getting to work and leaving at the times you signed on for. If you like to 55hr workweek, do a little math and demand at least a 25% raise from your boss if he demands that time. What’s he going to do—fire you for refusing to work the extra time? I highly doubt the company lawyers would even float that idea.

  45. laurel says:

    55 hour workweek at your low salary?! Honey, you need a new job, and fast. You obviously have no time to work a second job, so quit this one, get a new full-time (only 40 hr workweeks!) job with benefits, and then get a part-time job, hopefully in an entirely unrelated field, that’s easy on your health and peace of mind.

    A career-jump is unwise until your student loans are paid down a bit. Stick with the same industry for your full-time job, but if you have to move in with relatives etc. and cut your expenses to the bone to do it, well then, just DO IT. I would also recommend getting some counseling; the tone of your posts and your situation make me believe that you’re depressed and in a state of “learned helplessness” due to health issues, too-big debt load, outrageous work schedule, dissatisfaction with your employment, low pay, etc. Your problems go deeper than just large student loans. A good counselor can coach you into making appropriate and healthy changes so that you can learn to enjoy the life you’ve got. Best wishes!

  46. pam munro says:

    Try the Thriftyfun.com website – they have lots of creative ways to SAVE on everything. And look at my blog while you are there – I am a queen of pennypinching!

    `

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