Is There Anyone on Earth With As Much Debt As Me?

by M.L.

Thanks to my grandparents, I finished undergrad with zero debt. But then I went to grad school and got two degrees. One is a law degree (quite useful), the other is basically a conversation piece. (My boss: “Did you actually earn that degree, or did you buy the diploma on eBay?”) For these, I have just over $239,000 in student loan debt, down from the approximately $253,000 I started with.

I have a lot of feelings about my debt. Mostly I am ashamed that I complain about it. Because as huge as it is, my personal privilege is correspondingly huge. I didn’t waste my money. I bought myself a present and now I am paying for it by leveraging the present — I have a job! And my job is REALLY GOOD. My job makes even my ludicrous debt totally manageable with money to spare to live comfortably. So I am ashamed that I feel the burden at all when compared to what so most people face, I live in the penthouse at Number One Easy Street. And yet I still bitch and moan.

I really thought I knew what I was getting into, though I completely did not at all. Somehow I thought my payments would be around $1800 a month in a 10-year repayment plan, which seemed tough but not impossible. I was wrong about that: Ten-year repayment requires just over $3,000 per month. But even then I really didn’t think about it too much, at first. When I started law school in 2006, my plan was to do public interest work. I knew there were a lot of programs that helped public interest lawyers pay off their school loans, so I figured that’s how I’d make it work.

Then 2008 blah blah blah, the public interest market for law jobs became nonexistent unless you went or Harvard or could do it for free or you wanted to move to Kentucky. I did not want to move to Kentucky. So I went to a firm. And here I am.

It’s hard to decide how much to structure my life around getting rid of my debt. When I finished law school, I had every intention of staying in my super cheap student’s apartment and continuing to drive my beat up old car, complete with its leaky, broken sunroof and unpredictable starting. I planned on putting as much money towards my debt as possible.

But bedbugs (eeeegh, so horrible, and SO EXPENSIVE) took me out of the apartment. Peer pressure got me into a new car. A bad investment chipped away a bit here; a shopping binge for (totally necessary!) work clothes chipped away a bit there. I got slightly fancier cable, because all I want to watch are the movie channels anyway. I bought a flatscreen TV.

And suddenly I find myself locked into my life. Suddenly I could not afford to make much less than I do now, despite being a single person whose only dependent is a very fat and insistent cat. I have obligations. The absolute minimum payment I can get away with paying per month on the loan is $2,300 per month. And that’s for the next 30 years. I’m currently paying $2,500.

I guess this is what they mean when they talk about golden handcuffs. Or is this completely NOT A BIG DEAL and I should stop complaining? I do not know.

I should probably just be insanely grateful that I have the resources to deal with this (I am); live as austerely as possible (I don’t); and throw every penny I have into getting this monkey off my back until it’s gone (I am not doing that).

And this is where my thoughts trail off into swirls of self-recriminations, justifications, and a very strong desire for a very large drink. There’s something I’ve wondered wondered about for some time: Is there anyone else on earth with as much student loan debt as me? Put another way, how many actual total idiots does this world contain?

I’m just curious.

M.L. is a lawyer.

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