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The Lingering Effects of Student Loans on Women

You might remember my colleague (who is also my bar exam coach and business coach) discussing her struggles with student debt. We got an inside look into life after law school – the pile of debt that comes knocking on our door every month just like the Red Queen.  But unlike the Red Queen, which stops visiting after menopause, student debt can haunt us for years to come…even into retirement.  Why are we women so inundated with this form of debt?

Because women are still struggling economically. It is a known fact that economics works against women in almost every country- including the all-powerful United States of America.  We do not receive equal pay, we have to take maternity leave, we are caregivers, we do not invest as our male counterparts do, and we live longer than men, which means we also have to plan better for our retirement.  We also have the most purchase power.[1]  Women, yes WOMEN, are the driving force behind economics making a significant number of purchases every year.  Watch television commercials on any channel at any time.  Who are products mostly geared towards?  Women – primarily beauty and clothes.  This is where most of our money goes.

But what is really taking its toll is that we also receive the most advanced degrees (Masters, PhD’s, and JD’s).  Women hold over two thirds of the nations student debt.  The total is almost $1.5 trillion.[2]  Due to this some women are putting off raising families and having children.  Have you heard that the number of births in the US is in decline?[3] This is one possible reason why.  Women are busy paying off big student loans and finding it impossible to afford the expenses of having a child.  The average cost of raising a child is on average $233,610.[4]  One colleague of mine and interviewee for Bustle, stated that student debt is the reason why she is holding back from having another child.[5]  Further, the American Association of University Women estimates that women with Bachelor degrees make 26% less than their male counterparts.[6]  This compounds the struggle to find a balance between saving, having a family and putting all of our money towards our student debt.  We are also not purchasing homes.  Some monthly payments are equal to a monthly mortgage.  Instead of building equity we are sinking it into a money pit.  So long to the American Dream.

What can we do to stop this madness?  As Kerriann previously mentioned, try and increase your income.  Whether it be through asking for a raise (have COURAGE ladies), or picking up a side hustle.  Consider investing.  Apps such as Robinhood, Stash make it easy for the average Joe to get involved with starting investments as low as $5.  ElleInvest is an investment platform specifically designed with the female investor in mind.   And of course – try to cut back on you expenses!  Do you really need that Starbucks frappacino?

I myself have a mountain of debt with student loans and credit card debt (silly young me).  However, I have refused to let it define me or take over my life. With the help of a financial trainer from the Financial Gym (Jacqueline is my trainer if you want to check it out!), I have discovered ways to save money, get in control of my debt, and treat myself every so often.  That has meant sticking to a budget and tightening the purse strings.  It has not been easy, but I keep the end game in mind – debt free living and having money to obtain my goals.  Because of this, I am on my way to getting rid of credit card debt by the end of the year.  As for my student loans, I am certified with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This is the program initiated by the federal government that allegedly forgives student loans after 10 years of making minimum payments for those in public service.  I am on track with six months in…nine years and six months left!  I just hope Betsy Devoss does not do anything crazy like renege on a contract.

A few tips if you are feeling overwhelmed and want to start gaining control of your finances:

1) Write out your monthly income (after taxes).

2) Deduct your main expenses (utilities, rent, transportation, etc.). What is left?  Whatever is left should go towards your savings (What do you want to save up for?)

3) I suggest after you find out what is left after primary expenses, set up a savings account for your emergency fund. Studies have shown that not too many United States citizens can afford a $400 emergency.  If possible, open up an additional savings account either with your current bank or with an online high yield savings account – for example Marcus by Goldman Sachs (2.25% APY).  I like the idea of having a separate account.  That way I forget that it is there and am less tempted to touch it.

4) Use the next 3 months to try and save at least $500-$1000.  Yes, this will be difficult, but it is possible! Take at least $200 a month and put it away in your new savings account.  Trust me, it will be worth it when a surprise expense pops up.

When you have that emergency fund safely tucked away, if you have any credit card debt, tackle it! You can do this is one of three ways:

1) Patience is Virtue method –(I named it this) keep making minimal payments on your debt so you have money to save.
2) Snowball method – pay the smallest debt first and then use that towards other payments thus creating a snowball.  Pay down those debts faster!
3) Debt avalanche – paying the highest interest debt first and going full throttle on the rest.

If most of your debt is just student loans, try to renegotiate your monthly payment.  My experience has shown me that if you are genuine with your request, lenders are willing to change your monthly payment.  You might also want to return to Step 1 and see if there is any leftover cash to throw at your debt.  If you have a student loan from the Department of Education, review the DOE website, www.studentloans.gov, for the various payment plans available to you. For those in public service, consider the PSLF.  Remember to complete all of the forms correctly when applying and making sure you re-certify every year. 

Overall, have confidence in yourself.  As the New York State Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul said, “…it’s women’s own lack of confidence. You can break that down. That is in your own head. You can change your mindset about what you can do running for office.”  While some of you may not plan to run for office, the message is clear.  You can get handle your student debt if you believe in yourself and take all of the needed actions to wipe it out!

[1]https://www.aawd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/180622_AAWD_MerrillLynch_Financial-Challenges.pdf

[2]“Why Aren’t More Women Having Kids?”https://www.bustle.com/p/why-arent-more-women-having-kids-ask-us-about-our-student-loans-15837101?fbclid=IwAR11ahLuM62UoPEaDrkWvDiiZb_6MW8S-niSHOX7y1lO0osvyyqpHSCJ6XM(retrieved April 10, 2019)

[3]“U.S Birth fertility rate is below level to replace population, study says,”https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/10/health/us-fertility-rate-replacement-cdc-study/index.html(Retrieved April 10, 2019)

[4]“The cost of raising a child in America has soared – it’s price tag fit for a prince,” https://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-5-charts-show-how-expensive-it-is-to-raise-children-today-2018-03-29(retrieved April 9, 2019)

[5]See Id. “Why Aren’t Women Having Kids.”

[6]“Why Women Hold the Majority of Student Debt in America,”http://fortune.com/2018/06/05/women-student-loan-debt/(retrieved April 9, 2019).

This post was brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists.

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