Students of color express why they took out student loans, and how it’s impacting them now and in the future
Anxiety is one of the many nouns that come to mind for those who took out student loans to be able to afford college. According to the education data initiative, 43.4 million borrowers have federal student loan debt.
Those who have taken out loans face extreme anxiety and stress when thinking about paying them back. During the beginning of the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and were unable to keep up with their loan repayments. Because of this, the federal student loan payment moratorium began in March 2020 after Congress passed the cares act. The moratorium also kept interest rates at 0.
On April 5, 2022, President Biden extended the moratorium until August 2022, which has caused relief to those who have since graduated and started paying back their loans but it also has caused stress to those who are currently enrolled in school and have to pay their loans back.
Mazel Genfi, 25, who is a content insight analyst at A&E networks, borrowed $25,000 in student loans for her undergraduate degree from Quinnipiac University, where she majored in communications. After graduating in 2018, the thought of having to pay back her loans worried her because she comes from a low-socioeconomic background and knew she wouldn’t be getting any help to pay off her loans.
“I was making less than $30,000 a year, so I was barely making ends meet on my own, and then on top of that I had to pay student loans every month,” Genfi said about her first job in 2018. “Now that my income has grown over time, I still kind of worry about when student loan repayments do continue, and how it will look day to day.”
Genfi is not the only college graduate who stresses about her student loans. Daniella Vasquez, a 23-year-old graduate student, has to pay back more than $200,000 in private and federal student loans once she completes her graduate program at NYU.
She says attending NYU was a risk and reward because of the program she’s in but also the cost to attend NYU is high and she didn’t receive a lot of financial aid from NYU. In fact, everyone around her was unenthusiastic about her going to grad school because of the costly tuition.
NYU only gave Vasquez $10,000 in scholarship aid which amounts to $5,000 per year and $2,500 a semester. This is what she received while pursuing her undergraduate degree at Syracuse and was shocked she’d been given the same amount of money.
Vasquez took out $80,000 in federal student loans to cover tuition and living expenses for graduate school. She recently got her dream internship at the United Nations but she’s stressed out when she thinks about the summer and the upcoming fall semester because her internship is unpaid.
And although she is a TA for NYU’s School of Engineering, she would have to file a petition at the UN to be able to continue teaching while interning full-time. The thought of not having an income the semester before she graduates is mortifying, she said.
Since Vasquez is still in school, the pause on loans doesn’t directly affect her but sarcastically she said, she appreciates the thought that President Biden thinks this pause will alleviate anxiety in students when it comes to loans.
“The reason it (anxiety) exists is because you’re nervous about the future or the past,” Vasquez said. “Anxiety doesn’t exist in the present. That’s an oxymoron, and it’s also making anxiety worse. I don’t understand.” She said
According to Pewtrust, given the large share of students struggling to pay their loans even before COVID-19 struck, changes in student loan levels as a result of the pandemic could have implications for borrowers’ future financial wellbeing.
Another graduate student, Aiyanna Cord, who attends NYU’s Global Affairs program with a concentration in Human rights and international law, is constantly worried about what will happen if she can’t pay her student loans back after she graduates.
“I have to pay all my bills early, I can’t be late on anything,” Cord said. “I can’t have any bad ticks on my credit, or else the government will come for me. I don’t want someone to ever be able to come and take something away from me because I didn’t pay my student loans. That’s a genuine fear for me one day,” she said.
After graduation, Cord will have to pay back $90,000 in federal student loans. That money she owes in loans will be a key determinant of the types of jobs she applies for.
“’I’m definitely going to ask for a whole lot of money and still eat ramen noodles in order to make sure that I’m able to put a dent in student loans,” she said.
Cord’s dream is to be a Human rights lawyer at a non-profit, however, she knows after she attends law school she won’t be able to start off practicing that kind of law because of the amount of debt she will be in. Cord said she will most likely have to start off in corporate law.
Others say that since graduating from their undergrad universities, not having to pay back their loans has allowed them to build their savings and more.
Morgan State University alum, Wesley Marsh, 24, took out $35,000 in student loans. But since the loan repayment moratorium went into effect, he doesn’t have to worry about the burden of paying them back right now.
“Instead of having to pay hundreds of dollars to put towards the loan, that’s money I could either put towards savings or maybe to myself or another bill,” Marsh said.
Genfi has also been able to achieve financial goals like moving out of her family home and getting her own apartment in Brooklyn.
Even though the loan repayment moratorium has been helpful for some in the sense that they have more financial freedom, the Black-White wage gap is getting worse, especially while Black communities’ indebtedness is increasing according to Brookings.edu.
Adam Looney, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and executive director at Marriner S. Eccles Institute at the University of Utah, said the loan repayment moratorium is making the wealth gap worse.
“The people who are benefiting from the pause are higher-income borrowers who would have been paying their loans,” Looney said. “The key takeaway from the federal student loan payment moratorium is it works in the favor of borrowers who have the income to pay off their loans.”