I Took $20,000 in Student Loans and Now Owe $50,000

  • Kristin McGuire, 40, is the executive director of a nonprofit organization called the Young Invincibles.
  • McGuire took out $20,000 in student loans 22 years ago. She now owes $50,000.
  • This is her story, as told to writer Fortesa Latifi.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Kristin McGuire, 40, the executive director of a nonprofit organization called the Young Invincibles. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was 18 years old, I took out a loan for $20,000 to help pay for my college education. It’s been 22 years, and I now owe $50,000.

I went to California State Dominguez Hills and got a degree in public administration. When student loan payments were paused because of the pandemic in March 2020, I was so relieved. Instead of putting $400 toward my student loans every month, I was able to allot that money elsewhere, like toward my mortgage. Without worrying about student loans for the last two years, I’ve paid down more of my mortgage and other bills, which resulted in my

credit score

increasing. I even refinanced my house with a lower interest rate. 

When I started college, I was a low-income, first-generation student

My family made a plan: My mom, my brothers, and I agreed that we would each only take $20,000 worth of loans for our college educations, because we figured we would be able to pay that amount back. 

Kristin McGuire, who has long braided black hair and a T-shirt that says

Kristin McGuire.

Courtesy of Kristin McGuire

We stayed within our familial guidelines and borrowed $20,000, but more than 20 years later, I’m still repaying my loans after graduating. My mom went back to school as well, entering college at the same time as my brothers and I. We made it a priority to repay her student loans as a family, so hers are paid in full. One of my brothers and I are still in repayment. 

As a Black woman saddled by student loans decades after graduation, I’m not an outlier: the student debt crisis impacts Black women more than any other group nationally. That’s why I want people to know my story — because it isn’t unique. 

I don’t mind paying back, but the system is broken when I owe more than double what I originally borrowed

Everyone I went to college with has student loan debt. Right now, after two years of loan repayments being paused because of the pandemic, it’s unclear when the bill will come due again. That uncertainty isn’t viable for people like me, who are trying to figure out how to balance their budgets. 

I feel a great responsibility and duty to amplify the student debt crisis, especially with how it affects Black women. Not only are we impacted the most by the debt crisis, but we’re also paid far less than other demographics.

We’re doing everything society tells us to do. We’re trying to attain the American dream by doing well in high school, going to college, and earning a degree. But then we enter the workforce, hit the

glass ceiling

quickly, and are burdened by insurmountable student debt.

In my group of friends, people are worried about whether or not they’ll be able to pay their bills when student loan repayments restart. There’s this sense of a financial cliff, where repayment can be the thing to push people off. 

The student loan crisis contributes to the mental health crisis

America loves to talk about mental health like it’s something we care about, but there’s not really an understanding that of how student loans impact us. When we’re overburdened by student loans, we can’t attend to our mental health.

In my work with the Young Invincibles, a nonprofit organization focused on amplifying the voice of young people in the political process, I try to make sure people understand the generational impact that student debt has on a lot of families. A lot of millennial borrowers are still paying back their loans, but they now have children of their own going to college. 

If we can’t address the issue of student loan debt with one generation, it’s going to roll onto the next

I’m trying to make sure my daughter doesn’t have student debt, because me and my husband already do. What happens when people who still have student debt have kids, and it’s their turn to go to college? 

Although President Biden ran on a campaign promise of canceling $10,000 worth of loans for each borrower, that promise has yet to be fulfilled. I am still hopeful there will be cancellation.

If not, people like me will just go back to the old norm — owing far more than we borrowed.

Show some Love^^