• Ashley Strahm, 30, is a content strategist, activist and writer in Durham, North Carolina.
  • She went to college when she was 16 and took out $ 60,000 in student loans upon graduation, which climbed to over $ 82,000 on interest rates.
  • Even after refinancing her loans, she still owes $ 44,000, and it’s often “the first thing I think of when I wake up,” Strahm says.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

I knew what I was getting myself into.

I am a first generation university graduate born to two amazing parents from South America. I prepared to graduate from a private, girls-only high school, at 16, got a partial scholarship to a private university, and started taking out $ 15,000 a year in Federal Stafford and more parent loans to cover the rest. (Fun fact: no one, not even the government, is willing to lend to a kid in college who isn’t even 18 yet. That meant my parents had to put their credit on the line to help me out. fund my education. I know that’s not unusual, but it would have been nice to at least have the option to shoulder the burden myself from the start.)

Read more: This couple repaid $ 114,000 in debt and then saved $ 431,000 with these 4 secondary activities. Here’s how much money they made on each gig and their advice to others.

So let’s recap. It’s 2008, I realize the US economy is on fire, but I got a scholarship big enough to go to college – something no one in my immediate family has done before. I walked in with my eyes wide open, researching interest rates, refusing private loans, refusing to allow my dad to dip into his 401k to fund my business, and finding a job on campus to subsidize costs while I was at school. (I was obviously not aware of what we should all know by now – women, and black women in particular, are disproportionately trapped in student debt.)

“You could have done more! Say people who refuse to sympathize with us (greedy / lazy / opportunistic / carefree ?!) Millennials. “You have chosen to play rugby and frivolously spend on crampons, gas and stitches for your gaping wounds needlessly bought!” You could have sold a kidney, donated plasma, or went to community college! How dare you even start complaining about a college experience you knew would cost so much ?! “

Stop there, all of you. I knew. I was ready.

I was awake at 20 in the spring of my senior year with unwavering determination. I was going to get a great job in journalism / communications / marketing and don’t even wait the six month deferral period to allow the interest on my loan to be capitalized. I viewed my loan balance as another thiccc rugby woman I had to submit to (and had had a lot of practice). I was not afraid. I had incurred significant costs to fund an education that I both wanted and enjoyed receiving… and was ready to pay when my bill came due. I understood that every promissory note was another proverbial nail in my coffin.

This do the people who vehemently and stubbornly refuse to sympathize with young student borrowers? never understand.

Many of us operate as if no one will save us, forgive our debt, and pretend our responsibility is over. There are millions of us who lose sleep every night for years, plugging formulas into Excel spreadsheets and debt repayment calculators, budgeting for jobs they apply for just months after signing up for. school. There are countless tears, anguish, and plans that result from this burden that we know we are responsible for.

Before I was 21, I had already accepted that the rest of the decade would be spent serving the investment I made when I was still too young to vote.

So I got down to it. I’m 30 now, and I have never missed a student loan payment. Monthly bills have fluctuated between $ 462 and $ 2,695 per month, but I have never. lack. just one.

What started out as an initial balance of almost $ 60,000 when I graduated in 2012 climbed to over $ 82,000 in 2018.

Yes, you read that right.

A 21-year-old who never missed a monthly student loan payment of $ 450 or more funded by the United States government given his balance increase over $ 20,000 over a six-year period.

You could say I should have paid more than the minimum, how I should have worked for six years to get a double paying job so that I could breach the capital. That I should have asked my parents or family for help, that I should have had a little crush, that I should have lived in misery and cut my already meager meal plans to pay more, always more.

And I’m gonna call bullshit on it.

I made my debt a top priority. But when the minimum payment on my federal loan at 8.5% interest rate is nearly $ 500, I will not accept that the problem concerns me. A graduate child who earns $ 50,000 a year three years after school should be able to at least reduce his debt burden. Instead of seeing my diligence rewarded, I saw my balance increase.

It is overwhelming. It is enough to make you wonder if you are crazy; whether you have read your billing statements correctly; if the loan officers you call quarterly are lying to you; if you are the reason your efforts fail.

But I’m still there, all of you. I refinanced my loans at an interest rate of 5.25% because my credit is over 815 at this point (yes, I’m proud). I got married – which, aside from being the best decision I’ve ever made for my heart, also helps because (and I’m just going say it) after paying his student debt, we pay all of her monthly salary to mine. All. latest. hundred.

We choose not to have children in part because we are already paying the equivalent of Montessori tuition fees for a non-existent five-year-old.

Listen to this: People have all kinds of feelings about a possible federal student loan forgiveness. I gave up any possibility of this when I refinanced my loans with a private company three years ago, and would do it again in a heartbeat. I pray every night for the millions of people who still keep paying the government to get their loans canceled. They deserve it. They are still sprinting up a dangerous mountain with no end in sight, paying incredible interest while suffocating under the weight of other basic financial responsibilities.

I wanted to get out of this hell so badly that I gave up any hope of a government bailout. If I still had federal loans, I would still be in place. i will support nobody who’s still trapped in this federal student debt purgatory and having their loans canceled, because I know that pain. I feel this conflict. When they are free, we will all be free. Their salvation could not deprive me of the gentle reprieve of my efforts for all these years.

My husband and I are now paying twice the amount of our mortgage on my student loans each month. From fall 2018 until now, my balance has gone from over $ 82,000 to $ 44,000. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing we talk to most nights before going to bed.

Sometimes people ask me if I’m ever thinking about graduate school and it makes me want to throw up. Even though the pursuit of knowledge appeals to me, the dark nightmare of its cost prevents me from ever considering it.