I Went to College and All I Got Was This $200,000 Bill

H8 Debt license plate
(Article today by Kelli Space – of Gawker fame)

I thought I knew stress back in high school, when my concerns revolved around spats with friends, looking like a TOTAL Loser for shopping at certain stores, and not being allowed to drive Mom’s minivan when I’d already promised everyone I’d get us all to the movies.

I even thought I knew stress during college at Northeastern University when term papers, research, and various other assignments took over most of my time. Confrontations multiplied with the growing number of people I encountered, combined with the familiar existential question, “What do I want to DO with my life?”

Turns out stress and I wouldn’t be formally introduced until 2009.

From the moment I signed my first binding agreement with loan monster Sallie Mae, I’d kept a tally of the ever-increasing number I was borrowing in the back of my mind. Some days it would freak me out, but most of the time I figured I would get a firm grasp on the situation when the time was right — whatever that means. Again, I had other things to be concerned about – like, my roommate leaving her bowl of last night’s macaroni and cheese on the counter! Bigger problems, you know? By the time I graduated in 2009, the number tying me to Sallie Mae for the next 30 years was $200,000.

Some days I couldn’t sleep, I cried, I looked for reassurance, I sought advice – I always came up empty, as no one really knew what to say. I don’t blame them; how do you tell someone they’ve already made severely poor choices, by the age of 23? The total amount of $200,000 was jaw-dropping and it still amazes me that it didn’t stun me the way it stunned everyone else.

The Game Plan

I created a website after about a year of moaning and racking my brain for a solution. This website cut right to the chase: I was asking someone, anyone, to donate to my student loan debt. My expectations were low, but I figured if Karyn Bosnak could create savekaryn.com and crawl her way out of $20K in credit card debt, I could do the same. After all, wasn’t an education a noble thing on which to spend your (borrowed) money?! It turns out, “noble” or not, debt is debt.

My best friend and I were thinking of posting fliers around town, in train stations, and at Starbucks to advertise my new no-budget site, aptly called twohundredthou.com. The site explained, in pretty basic terms, who I was, how I got into such a pickle, and included a few predetermined FAQs. However, thinking the fliers route just wouldn’t cut it, I decided to e-mail NY-based blog Gawker, who wrote an article about the site instead.

Yes, I WAS ON MY FAVORITE NEWS SITE. MADNESS! (It then hit The Huffington Post)

My Life Now

I can truthfully say that since that day my life has changed, 100%, 180°. Not only have I received a total of $10,630 in small donations from people all around the world, but I’ve received encouragement, support, and advice, as well. I’ve become hugely interested in personal finance, more specifically, paying off my debt: I had a few smaller loans with CitiBank, and have paid them off entirely. The feeling that accompanies making a final payment on a debt is like no other. It’s addicting, really, and I’ve since taken on a bajillion more projects, hours at work, etc., just to keep making those payments and seeing those numbers dwindle. Did I mention strangers gave me $10,630? Because I’m still in awe.

I’ve also largely changed my day-to-day habits.  Well, first and foremost, I read Budgets are Sexy (Yay!!) as soon as I wake up each morning ;). I bring my lunch to work and, if I happen to forget, I’ll buy a bagel for $2 or soup from Duane Reade. I still live with my parents, so that completely takes the expense of rent off the table (although I do help them out from time to time). I’ve altered my commute so that my monthly train passes total only $100! I pay less on my commute per month than people living in NYC pay for their subway pass. That makes me feel like I’m cheating the system a little bit, but it feels good! I sell random stuff on eBay as much as I can, and it’s been working so far. I’ve been working 60+ hours per week, due to an additional 20 hours of overtime as my employers are wonderful people willing to help out. In any case, I work a lot. I love working a lot. I want more work!

Still Stressed, But Productive

Of course, I’m still stressed out on a daily basis, as well. Having numbers so large staring you in the face each day does not make for an easy routine. On my commute, I’m writing, be it e-mails, blog posts, tweets, or ideas. Throughout my work day, I’m rushing to get my work done so I can sneak a peek at a new personal finance post, hoping to find something that might help me or change my perspective. At home I’m busy wishing I was living on my own, as much as I do appreciate my parents for letting me in and helping me cut my costs. It’s never easy to move back home, as I’m sure many of you know, or can imagine.

Looking back, I always wonder what was going through my mind throughout college, as I was just chugging along and accumulating all that debt. Sure I thought about it; sometimes I cried and phoned home for something to assuage my anxiety, but still I stayed at Northeastern. I know the fact that I was the first to attend college in my family played a role, as did the idea that the best school that offered you admission was the one you would attend, no questions asked. These were obviously misconceptions that I had to learn the hard way, as clearly no one else was going to correct me along the way.

At any rate, that’s all in the past now. Moving forward, I’m trying to make the best possible decisions, financial and otherwise. I want to help others do the same! Thinking about the day that I make my very last student loan payment motivates me to want to do better, want to understand my choices, and want to be a more responsible adult. If twohundredthou and its ‘supporters’ have taught me anything, it’s that I can make it happen, and the more I work, the harder I work, the faster it will come.

Article by Kelli Space – A 2009 graduate of Northeastern University, with $200,000 in student loan debt. Kelli created a website soliciting donations to her student loan debt, and has since become a student loan advocate.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m actually a *huge* fan of going to college, debt or not, but it still sucks seeing people struggle like this :( $200,000 is just insane, I appreciate you sharing your story with us, Kelli!

(Photo by Memory_Freak. Recognize that car? ;))

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  1. MK September 2, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    I kind of have a problem with this. As an adult, when you sign a loan agreement you are agreeing to pay it back and there is (or there should be) full knowledge of what you are getting yourself into. She knew going to Northwestern wasn’t going to be cheap and yet she chose to go there. Why was she surprised that she had that much debt getting out? How dare she ask anyone to help her pay back her debt?

  2. tom September 2, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    What is your major and are you in an industry where you will ultimately have the earning power to pay these off, e.g. engineering, banking, law, medicine?

  3. Kyle September 2, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    @MK you really think at 18 years old she had a huge knowledge of what she was getting herself into? We aren’t taught these things in high school anymore. She probably figured “Hey ill make money when I get out of college and be able to pay it off without a problem” I would know because i’m in the same boat. I boast around 90k in student loan debt. Also, she’s not saying “GIVE ME MONEY” she’s just asking for a little help. You don’t have to help her.

    When we went into college we didn’t expect the economy to burn out and jobs to become scarce. It sucks but we make due. I’m lucky enough to have a decent job and i’ll hopefully have room to improve on it. We learn from our mistakes and I don’t see a problem in asking someone for help every now in then. Unfortunately the cost of college is outrageous and a lot of kids will only have an increase in debt as it progresses. I’m 25 and luckily i don’t really mind living at home with my parents (most of the time). They know the boat i’m in and understand I have debt to pay down that i’m gradually working on.

    I think it was a great idea you’ve asked for help and you’re not ashamed to do it. I’ve considered doing the same thing. Keep at it Kelli. You’re definitely not alone in this :)

  4. Andrea @SoOverDebt September 2, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    I don’t think any 18 year-old has a real concept of what college costs. And it’s not like you sign a paper that says “I understand I’ll owe $200k when I get finished.” It’s $5k here, $7k there, and you don’t really think about how much the total will be because you’re a still a kid. I don’t care if 18 year olds are considered adults; they are still kids.

    I was shocked when I got out of school (for social work, of all things) and owed $53k in student loans. I knew I had to repay my loans, but I just didn’t realize how fast it was adding up. And really, even if I had, I had never dealt with a sum of money that large before. I didn’t know how an annual salary would translate after taxes and benefits. If someone had showed me how much money I would bring home each month minus my student loan payment, maybe I would have understood.

    Even so, what was I going to do – drop out of school? Of course I was going to finish no matter what it cost, because I grew up being told that going to college was the #1 most important thing I had to do. And everyone had loans. Sounds stupid but it’s the truth. I thought that was the way college worked. Most 18 year olds don’t realize there are other options.

  5. Wojo September 2, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    It’s comforting to write off these monster debts to 18-yr-old ignorance, but that only means we need to do more to combat this ignorance. Education is one thing; I think parents also need to be much more involved; finally, the financial aid office of every college needs to be MUCH more proactive in explaining the ultimate effects of loans.

  6. Andrea @SoOverDebt September 2, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    @Wojo I completely agree. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the financial aid departments get some kind of kickback for writing a certain number of loans. I wasn’t presented with any alternatives; it was more like “Okay, you need to sign these forms and don’t forget the deadline for next semester is [date] – don’t want to miss out on more loan money!”

  7. LG September 2, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    I think it’s unfair to assume that an 18 year old is still a kid and can’t understand what they’re getting into – every person is different, and maybe she was mature enough to make this decision, maybe not. But, there are some pretty mature 18 year olds out there, and if you can choose this debt, you have to grow up when it’s time to pay it back. I don’t feel bad for anyone in student loan debt, I waited to go to college until I could afford it without debt(that magic number was 24 years old, I’m going to a community college now so I won’t have debt). I’ve never had debt, life doesn’t need to have debt in it.

  8. Matt September 2, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    I was 18 and I knew better. I worked and went to Junior College for two years because it was cheaper. I got some loans to help out once I moved to my 4 year college and I paid on them as much as possible while in school and had them taken care of within 2 years of graduation.

    Going to an expensive school is fine if you can afford it. I love hiring private school grads to work for me because I know they won’t be going anywhere because they NEED this job to keep up with their student loan payments.

    If 18 year olds are responsible enough to decide to die for this country then surely they have the capacity realize that borrowing $200k while not having an income is royally asinine.

  9. Chris C September 2, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    I commend each any everyone of you who had the foresight/proper education/good fortune to not have to be in Kelly’s shoes. However those of you who have not walked in these shoes have little to no right to comment on what should or should not have been done. I suggest those who are speaking out of blind assumptions learn the phrase “empathize, don’t sympathize.”

    I am in a very similar boat as Kelly with student loans, reckless youth, and misguided choices; I do not write these off as childhood ignorance but instead learn from this and have made great strides in resolving my debt. Kelly has done this as well (from reading her blog) by working 60+ hours a week, asking for assistance (closed mouths don’t get fed), and living at home.

    Both Kelly, myself, and countless college students are living the consequence of a flawed system. There is no proper education of the end-result of signing all of these $5k loan docs. Education costs have risen FASTER THAN ANY OTHER INDUSTRY in the past decades. And the burden of this is thrown onto an 18 year-old who has little to no real world experience. This is compounded when there is nothing physically, tangible received for signing the 10-20 promissory notes. I cannot live in my brain; it does not drive me to work, etc.

    Kelly, I commend your efforts and can sympathize with your student loan pain. I wish you the best of luck and as soon as I get home will be donating a little something just because I believe in what you are doing/asking for.

  10. Melissa September 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Maybe this will be an unpopular opinion, but spending $200K on an undergraduate degree (whether you pay for it yourself or with loans) is absolutely criminal. How can schools get away with charging this? How can banks feel good about setting young people up with that much debt? How can anyone afford that? And what do you, legitimately, get for it? If it costs $200K to get a decent education, isn’t that just perpetuating the erosion of the middle-class? Rich people get the best, and poor people either do without, or take out massive, massive loans, and end up worse off financially than if they’d never gone.

    Here in Ontario, there are no such things are private universities, so all schools have the same tuition, regardless in how they rank in prestige. It’s about $6,000 a year. Student loans cap out at about $8,000 a year, and anything beyond that will be considered grant money (i.e., you might get $13,000 in loans for one school year, but you’ll only have to pay back $8,000), to try to cut back on the number of students graduating with massive debtloads, and thus taking even longer to enter the real world and start contributing to society and the economy. In theory, unless you go crazy with bank loans, the most debt any Ontario undergrad should finish with is around $30,000.

    I really feel for Kelli. I know a lot of my friends graduated with a bill of more like $20,000 and it smacked them right in the face. They had no idea going in what that kind of debt would be like. Yes, they understood that $20,000 was a lot of money, but I don’t think any of them understood what it would actually mean to pay it back, how much of their income would go to it, how they wouldn’t be making the big bucks like they’d thought. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to owe $200,000. Best of luck to you, Kelli.

  11. Valerie September 2, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    Coincidentally, I’m a current student at NU. My parents are helping me pay a bit, and every semester I chip in about $1000 (goodbye co-op earnings!), but combined with my merit scholarships, that really only covers about 25% of my total bill each semester, the rest covered by loans.
    I know I could be paying less if I went to a state school, found a cheaper apartment, and took my budget a bit more seriously. I know that most of this debt is avoidable, and consider myself a financially knowledgeable person. However, I don’t regret (and maybe this opinion will change when I graduate in 2013) my decision to attend a private university like Northeastern. College is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn’t trade in my time going to classes, studying abroad, and meeting new people each day simply because of the impending debt. To me, it’s worth it.
    To everyone saying “I knew better,” please don’t discount Kelli’s financial knowledge and responsibility. How YOU spend and value your money is YOUR business. You don’t know Kelli’s financial background and she’s not asking for advice here. To many of us, the education is invaluable and worth whatever expense necessary.

  12. Kelli September 2, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Thanks for your comments!

    Again it’s not that I didn’t recognize that $200,000 was a lot of money – I in fact knew it was. But I was clueless when it came to what kind of repayment plan I would have 4 years down the line. I thought I was doing the right thing – getting an education. Not shopping for expensive clothes. To me, it made sense; to others, not so much, and I applaud their decisions!

    I also obviously had the *capacity* to understand the situation I was getting myself into — I just didn’t *actually* understand it. Many people do, many people don’t. I think it’s just one of those facts of life.

    I’m making my payments, I’m really hoping and working toward financial education in high school (there is… well, none!) and trying to steer students clear of the “but I HAVE to go to xyz-expensive-college because it’s a ‘good’ school” etc. Just trying to spin the situation into a positive.

    Thanks again!

  13. Kelli September 2, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    PS – I’m *also* a big fan of going to college & furthering your education!! Beyond being a fan, I think (as corny as it sounds) learning shouldn’t ever actually stop. That being said, it’s surrounding education — namely, cost — that I would love for students to be much more aware of!

  14. Stephanie September 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    I definitely agree with everyone who said that 18-year-olds do have the *ability* to be able to understand the implications of student loan debt. But unfortunately that’s pretty much dependent on whether they have a parent or other adult figure in their lives to teach them the basics of personal finance in the first place.

    When I was a junior in high school my parents explained to me that while I had 20k in savings bonds and they would be able to help me out a little bit with tuition, the bulk of my college expenses would fall on me, and I’d be responsible for taking out and paying back any loans. I made my decision with that in mind, and chose a school that offered me a full scholarship for tuition and housing. My parents we able to afford to cover my books and meal plan, so not only did I finish my undergrad degrees (yeah, I got a lit degree in addition to business, just for fun!) debt-free, I didn’t even have to dip into my savings bonds.

    All I have now is 11k in debt from grad school. I was prepared to pay more for grad school, but I lucked out since one of the top library and info science programs in the country was a public university in my own state! But anyway, the point is, I was perfectly capable of making smart decisions about education costs as a teenager, but only because my parents made sure I knew what I was getting myself into.

  15. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager September 2, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    Love that you took control of your situation rather than let $200,000 of debt paralyze you! Way to go! Hope we get an update from you in the future!

  16. diane September 2, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    I love this topic…as lots of my friends went to college and still have huge debts. I am in my late 30’s and not sure how they juggle the college debt while raising families. My question is college the best way in these financial times…i have a few friends with multiple degrees with 150-200K in debt, who are out of work or working low paying jobs. I have no college debt, but i never finished my degree. I hope to take a few classes at a time and pay as i go to get my degree.

  17. Jennifer G. September 2, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    This is going to sound harsh…and I really do wish you all the best in getting it paid off, since I know you can’t go back and undo what’s been done.

    $200,000 debt is ridiculous no matter what school you went to or what job your degree helped you get.

    Also, I think your idea for getting some financial education into high schools is a great idea. Maybe it would prevent a few students from getting in such deep debt.

  18. Katie September 2, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    I can’t believe people have the audacity to ask other people to help them pay for their mistakes. I can’t believe people will actually donate money to an individual who made poor decisions. At least the “sugar daddies” get something in return. Believe me, if I had $10 to spare, I would much rather donate it to an actual charity that deserves the money because they are doing good in the world. She doesn’t even say what her degree is in, so I’m going to assume she’s not a doctor giving out care to disadvantaged people. Is this really okay? Should I send J. Money a link to my new website asking people to help me through school? I’m doing it for a lot less than two hundred grand, too.

  19. 20 and Engaged September 2, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    There’s millions of students either currently in Kelli’s shoes or going to be soon. It’s a combination of things. A lot of high school’s don’t teach financial lessons like debt and budgeting. Students get pressured into going to a private college “to get the college experience” for a hefty price tag. Personally, I chose a 4 year state school, where I got a grant and scholarships to cover my expenses, and even still, tuition went up. I’m not blaming anyone for getting a loan; I just think it’s awful that school costs so much in the first place, regardless of if you have the money or not. Essentially, you’re getting the same education as public schools, with a few more resources.

  20. C September 2, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    Yeah, I have been reading Kelli’s page for some time. I have no respect for what she’s doing. The amount of money she’s collected so far will barely cover her interest. My advice would be to stop giving her money; there are far worthier causes out there. I have student loan debt myself, about a fifth of hers, but I won’t resort to e-begging to get me out of the hole.

    Someone actually gave her $1000, which I find repulsive. What a waste of money, when there are starving children that need and deserve that money far more.

    I have little doubt that she will be paying that off for the rest of her life.

  21. Serena September 2, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    This sort of pisses me off, too. No one told her to go to an expensive school that she couldn’t afford. Where were her parents in this decision? Knowing that her parents couldn’t be there to help her pay for it (well, maybe that provided SOME support, but it obviously wasn’t enough), her parents should have at least stepped up to provide some guidance about what a decision like going to NW would have meant. I find it disturbing, as well, to ask for donations to help pay off her loans. She got herself in to this, and now she must get herself out of it. Creative idea, but it feels like it’s taking advantage of strangers.

  22. tom September 2, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    What blows my mind, Kelli, is that you actually knew what you were doing, and chose to continue. You said you would call home and cry about it. So at that point, you realized there was a problem, but chose to ignore it.

    I truly hope you have a high paying job and can sustain payments for the next 10-25 years. If people want to contribute to your debt, that’s their decision, but there are thousands of charities that are far more deserving.

  23. Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple September 3, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    So, I have some sympathy with her here. She was 18 years old. I know “she should have known” – sure, she should have.

    But she was 18. And when I was 18, maybe I should have known better too. And I probably did know a little better. I was also the first person in my family to go to college. That makes a big difference. There were no family members to mentor me, teach me about finance when it comes to college, make recommendations on where to go and how to pay. Nobody in my family had experience with that. And I chose to go to the best school that I could get in to (and my mom could drive to), which happened to be a private school (Carnegie Mellon).

    Here’s where we differ: I could have easily ended up in $50k+ of debt after my education (which was a lot in the early 90’s). Instead, I could SEE the stress on my mom’s face, and I joined ROTC. So I ended up borrowing money for room and board only, $11k.

    Now, of course, I can “pay it forward” to my son and nephews and nieces. Now I KNOW college and how to navigate it. Before starting:
    where is it
    what will you major in
    what is the student body like
    how big is it
    how much does it cost
    what type of job will you get with that degree
    what will the job pay
    how long will it take you to pay it off
    should you get a job while in school
    should you take longer to finish school
    should you go to a community college or trade school instead

    The spouse and I both went to private schools on the government dime. We are unique in that respect. I hope to help kids (mine and others) really make smart choices about college.

    I just hired a guy (to start working in a week) who has been out of college for a year. He’s desparate to take any job to start paying off his loans. He’s taking a job as a technician, and he has a degree in engineering. If he’d gone to a private school, he’d be in big trouble.

    My nephew just started school to be an auto-mechanic, on full scholarship, rather than go to a traditional college. There are so many options out there. I think that kids who are the first generation to go to college are particularly vulnerable to borrowing too much money.

  24. kyleinaz September 3, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    For all of the people who say that 18 is not old enough to know how expensive it will end up being. Take a look at the Northwestern financial aid website, the first link on the left is tuition, fees and expenses. They clearly let you know the cost of attending this is not difficult to find at all. Literally every college website has a calculation like that.

    I do agree we need better financial education in high school. However, there is an alternative, it is called teaching yourself about important things by researching them on your own time. Finance is not a difficult subject at all, the main principles are extraordinarily easy and basic to grasp. There is no handbook for life, you need to educate yourself on the important matters.

    This is like someone choosing a home in a swanky neighborhood, not doing any due diligence and then starting a website asking the internet to help pay their mortgage. As others have stated there is much better use of the money being donated for.

    As my grandpa would say you have champagne taste on a beer budget. This is the most 1st world of 1st world problems, I went to an expensive college and they expect me to pay the loans back. You are an adult and made the decision to matriculate at Northwestern, I am an adult and I chose to matriculate at a state school, my student loans are1/10 of yours.

    If you wanted to have everything paid back in ten years you could use the public service loan forgiveness program. You work for ten years and everything is gone.

    For all the people saying tuition is rising like crazy. It may be, but scholarships, financial aid, jobs and value colleges are all over the place. Do some research. Everyone says college is a once in a lifetime experience, so maybe look at some colleges that may be just as good if not better than the pricey one.

  25. kyleinaz September 3, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Also, the title of this article is insulting. You are complaining about getting a degree from a top tier university. Maybe call this, Breaking News: According to the Northwestern financial aid website the cost of attending in the 2011-2012 academic year is $58,429, if i multiply that by 4 it is $233,716 maybe I should think twice about this, no I can ask random people to pay for this under the guise of being 18, because I am still not an adult even though 18 year olds can join the military and get shot at.

  26. kyleinaz September 3, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    Apparently I cannot read and replaced western with eastern. Still all else is true, the cost of attending is on the NU website.

  27. J. Money September 3, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Wowwwwww, it’s getting spicy up in here! I love it :) Lots of opinions floating around, that’s what I call a discussion! Good job Kellie – this was a REALLY fascinating read for me, personally. Appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us, and wishing the best for you! It can’t be easy paying it all down while wading through the hate ;)

    @Kyle – Nicely said :)
    @Andrea @SoOverDebt – Agreed!! And honestly, I STILL think graduating college is the #1 thing a young adult should do – regardless of cost. Though trying to keep it down is obviously good ;)
    @LG – I don’t feel bad for those w/ college debt either, but I do think it sucks. On the other hand, I’d still take the degree anytime – with or without debt.
    @Chris C – Thanks so much for popping by :) I’m sure Kellie appreciates it too!
    @Melissa – Wow, really? $30k max for all 4 years of college? That’s incredible! Man… I had no idea.
    @Valerie – YES! AGREED! College is way more than just a diploma and years of studying – it’s an EXPERIENCE and you learn and grow a lot from it, esp at that age. I strongly agree that college is totally worth it, no matter what the cost. Though, again, you can certainly find cheaper schools or get grants etc/etc. But college in itself is key.
    @Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager – YES!!! Kellie is *doing* something about it now and sharing her story so it hopefully helps others understand more what they can be getting into too – or at least keep it in their head while they’re going through the process and what not. Most people just sit back and sulk (or file for bankruptcy cuz they don’t want to accept it), and she’s putting it out there and working on a game plan. I think that’s awesome. And if people want to help her (or not), that’s totally cool cuz we all got lovers and we all got haters ;)
    @diane – I, personally, think college is worth it whether you get a killer job or a crap job after, but that’s me. I value *experience* pretty high over other things, but I know others are starting to doubt it’s worth it… all I know is that I’ll be certainly trying to get my future kids to go ;)
    @Katie, C – We all have our opinions here, which is great – it’s why I love blogs! – but wow. It’s a good thing we’re all free to make our own choices here, because I’d be PISSED if someone told me how to spend (or not spend) my money. I’m sure people would be repulsed at how each of us spend our money in some fashion or another too.
    @Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple – Great list! I like that :) Appreciate you sharing some tips that can help others in the same situation.
    @kyleinaz – I wrote the title for her, actually – so that one’s geared toward me. Though I thought it summed it up well ;)

  28. Kevin@OutOfYourRut September 3, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Kelli, your story and those by others on the size of the student loan debt you’ve taken to get a degree point to the fact that going to college is no longer a risk free proposition. A six figure debt is akin to an unsecured mortgage! That’s plenty of risk right there.

    Do you ever regret the amount you spent on your education, or do you feel that it was worth the money?

  29. C September 3, 2011 at 8:41 PM

    Kelli owes the majority of her debt in sallie mae private loans, so most of her debt will not qualify for teaching programs or any of the protections offered by federal loans. Too bad.

    I would advise anyone very strongly against taking out private loans. As much as I hate my debt, I am so grateful that it’s all federal loans.

  30. Jen @ Master the Art of Saving September 3, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    When I was 18, I too made a lot of financial mistakes—none that cost me 200k though. I can’t imagine having that much debt hanging over your head. While I do think it’s important to be held responsible for our financial mistakes (in some way or another), its 200 grand. That’s like a mortgage. It sounds like she’s working her a$$ off and trying to pay it down, so what’s wrong with asking for a little help? Nobody has to donate, but if they do, it can help relieve some of that monstrous burden.

    If one person can royally screw up, learn from their mistakes and then go on to help lots of other people from making the same ones—what’s the problem? Just my opinion though.

  31. kyleinaz September 4, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    @jen the point is that the cost of attending college was easily available, most people are acting like there is no way to find out the cost of attending college when it is easy to do so.

    it is also like a mortgage in that instead of buying a house in her price range she chose to go outside of her price rage and now would like some help.

    one other thing to consider is the fact that it is important to find an estimate of potential salaries for your profession, which should also be available online.

    @jen adaptu and jmoney she is asking strangers to pay for her education. on the dave ramsey show there are lots of people who pay down a ton of debt all by themselves and don’t ask random people to pay it for them.

    my generation definitely likes to complain about our student loan debt, but we made the decision to take it on. all i am saying is that research is important BEFORE you make any huge decision. If Kelli is smart enough to go to Northeastern I am sure several schools would have loved to give her some scholarships. I am also reminded of Ramit from I Will Teach You To Be Rich applying to hundreds of scholarships.

  32. J. Money September 4, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    True that – lots of ways to research before hand for sure. I, personally, don’t see a problem getting creative with ways to pay it off (ie. setting up sites to ask for donations, selling junk in your house, etc etc), but obviously I’m skewed being an online guy ;) If there’s a faster (and legal) way of paying down your debt, I’m all for it. No one’s forcing anyone to release themselves of money.

  33. In debt September 4, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    It is disgusting to see someone set up a website and ask for people to pay for their debts. I’m even more disgusted that this website is helping her promote it. Shame on both of you.

  34. In debt September 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    I have a $200,000 mortgage, would you donate to help pay it off. I didn’t think so.

  35. J. Money September 4, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    I wouldn’t, cuz I don’t help those who shame others, but I bet some people would if you made it intriguing and they related to you. I’d much rather see someone asking for help w/ their debt, than watch them file bankruptcy cuz they didn’t feel like trying. Not that it’s the case here, or that it’s possible to wipe away debt from education?, but that’s how I personally feel about it all. And luckily we’re all allowed our opinions.

  36. Financial Samurai September 4, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    Congrats on getting $10,000 from strangers! Pretty sweet!

    I might have missed it, but what is your occupation now? Can you ask your parents to pay your debt for you?


  37. Brian September 4, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    Right on J Money! And like the website says ‘Budgets are Sexy!’ She’s not only trying to chronicle her journey to pay off her ridiculous student loans, but she’s also trying to have a little bit of enjoyment out of life. Go over to her blog and see how she writes about her personal experience and what tactics and techniques for budgeting and paying for her debt is actually working. I find it a good opportunity to learn from someone’s mistakes. Will I ever have 200K in student loans? No, absolutely not, but I am going to buy a house someday and as far as the debt amount, I can easily imagine myself in her shoes, though I’m going to save up for a while before buying. I don’t necessarily agree that anyone else should be paying her loans, but no one is being forced to pay anything. These people are simply inspired by her having the guts to come out and say she took on more than she can chew and needs help. Good Luck to you Kelli!

  38. Melissa September 4, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    J. Money: Yes! I actually don’t know how anyone could possibly finish with more than $30k (ish) worth of debt from an undergraduate degree unless they were really stupid with money. Not like, went to an expensive school stupid, but like, spent all my loan money on beer so I got more loans stupid. The average student debt load is less than that, though — maybe around $20,000. And as far as Ontario is concerned, that puts it in a student debt CRISIS, because that’s considered too much debt for a 22-year-old to be saddled with!

    But we all make choices, and we shouldn’t be shamed for the consequences of choices we weren’t really aware of when we made those choices, so I have a hard time faulting Kelli and people like her for the situation she’s in.

    Just one point, though. A lot of people made the comparison that it’s basically like asking for someone to pay off your mortgage. This is an unfair comparison, because no bank would ever, EVER give someone without a job a $200,000 mortgage. There’s no venture in the world that you convince a bank to give an unemployed, unqualified person a massive, massive loan—except when it comes to getting an education. I feel like a lot of the blame should be put on the banks and the schools here, for putting kids in these positions, when the kids themselves were just doing what everyone in the free world told them to do—to get an education, and to get the best damn education you can

    I mean, honestly, when Kelli was signing those loan papers, did anyone, anywhere tell her that maybe it wasn’t a very good idea? Or did they just tell her that getting that education was important, and the rest she’d deal with later?

  39. Jaime September 5, 2011 at 12:07 AM

    Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
    -Mark Twain

    When I was 18 I decided not to get loans. Neither did my bf. I don’t agree with how much debt the writer took on. This is like the people who took on mortgages they couldn’t afford and had their houses foreclosed on. They were foolish for not doing their homework, but the banks were also greedy in deceiving them that they could afford them.

    The problem is that people continue to take out loans and run through their savings for expensive college degrees. If people did other things such as go to community college, an affordable trade school, started their own businesses, went to work, did anything but immediately go to college at 18 and take out expensive loans then colleges would be forced to drive down their prices.

    This is a problem at every college even state and private colleges. I also have a problem with the societal message that everyone needs to go to college and that there is something wrong with studying a trade and getting a 4 year degree. No offense to the girl but debt isn’t worth a 4 year college degree.

    Personally I’ve decided to do things differently. I’m getting my 2 year degree in general studies, I’m 3 credits away from getting that degree, then I’m getting my 2 year in accounting. My goal is to work as an accounting assistant, since in a lot of cities across the U.S. accountants require people to help them with their work.

    A lot of those acct. assistant positions require a 2 year degree in accounting. If I ever decide to get a bachelor’s degree, I’m going to find a company that will pay for the bachelor’s. I refuse to pay for college with my own money. The cost of college even state college is disgustingly inflated. I refuse to pay into such a system with my own money.

  40. Jaime September 5, 2011 at 12:09 AM

    I meant I refuse to pay for a bachelor’s with my own money. I’m paying for my 2 year degrees with my own money.

  41. Kelli September 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    @kyleinaz – The costs are absolutely available to read on the website. Again, I knew how much debt I was accruing – I think I’ve openly stated, both above and in the past, that the issue I had was that these costs didn’t register with me. I didn’t think I was doing the wrong thing – Sallie Mae was giving me money without any questions, guidance counselors told me to look to Sallie Mae to fund college, etc. I’m admitting I did it knowingly. I thought I would have an easier time with repayment or that other things would have worked in my favor, since it was college, and not a shopping spree or something frivolous. I was obviously wrong.
    I don’t agree that my debt is like a mortgage, because in order to be approved for a mortgage you need to have a job and stable income. Not the case with student loans.
    Lastly – I *am* paying my loans off myself. I’m not relying on donations alone, I am making it happen by working hard and throwing most of each paycheck toward my debt. I’d be silly not to.

    @Kevin@OutOfYourRut – Hi Kevin! I don’t regret the education itself at all, I regret borrowing all of that money, as (in hindsight of course) I see all the other options I did have, but was blind to.

    @Financial Samurai – Thanks, Sam!! I am an Office Manager in NYC. Pays the bills ;)

    @Jen @ Master the Art of Saving
    Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple
    @Andrea @SoOverDebt
    — thank you all for sharing!! I’m glad you understand that I’m not alone in my situation, and that lack of financial literacy among my/our generation IS a growing problem, even more so since tuition is rising exponentially and students are still borrowing like crazy to pay for their education. Of course, if there’s anything worth borrowing for, it WOULD be your education & investing in your future in such a way — however, we are sending the messages that A) you are alone in these choices and no one will guide you through them if you make any (huge or small) mistakes along the way… in fact many authoritative figures push TOWARD loans; and B) graduates aren’t as valued as we make them out to be, as they are indebted for so many years after college. I hope to change all of this at some stage by helping students make more informed decisions at the onset.

    Thanks again!! :)

  42. Kelli September 5, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    @Valerie – thanks to you as well :)

  43. Natalie @ Mango September 7, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    I understand that it is easy to place judgement on someone like Kelli, and a lot of you guys are. “She should have understood…” “How dare she ask someone to help her pay this off…” But the truth is, they aren’t just saying, flat out “You will owe $200,000 by the time you’re done here.” If they did, I’m sure Kelli would have rethought her decision (I hope.) There are just smaller fees, hidden away in the jargon, and those smaller fees, obviously, add up. The important thing is, she’s making a dent in it now, and if she had to ask for help to get started, I think that’s fine. It isn’t like she’s forcing people to give her money! At Mango Money we have a great series on getting out of debt and gaining wealth. Kelli, if you’re reading this, you might want to check it out :o) http://www.mangomoney.com/blog/money/stop-living-paycheck-to-paycheck-a-practical-guide-to-shedding-debt-and-building-wealth-part-three

  44. Kevin@OutOfYourRut September 7, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    Natalie–I couldn’t agree more! Anyone can judge Kelli in a negative way, but we have to ask where the adults were when this 18-22 year old was wracking up so much debt. Did the school tell her to keep a lid on it? Did the lender? This isn’t just a “Kelli problem”. For the most part, our society thinks that any amount of money borrowed for a college education is supreme “good debt”. But they thought, said and encouraged the same behavior with mortgages prior to the meltdown.

    How many other students are in Kelli’s shoes? Probably more than we think. She had the courage to chronicle her situation on the web–most in the same place are afraid to come forward for fear of enduring the wrath of the shoulda-coulda-woulda crowd who were no where to be found when she was taking on the loans.

    I think that one of the most important take aways on Kelli’s story is that we need to seriously evaluate our assumptions about good debt. In the end it all has to be paid back whether it’s good or bad.

  45. Wojo September 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    @Natalie — Stafford fees are about 4%, which would mean $8K in Kelli’s case. I think you and many others are missing this big picture–$192,000 of it–trying to come up with various rational explanations of how you accumulate this kind of debt.

    However, perhaps this is because many of us are scared to face the fact that we would have made the same decisions as Kelli, given the same kinds of circumstances? Just a thought…

  46. J. Money September 7, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    (I could have VERY easily made the same decision… I came close to accepting a $30k/year tuition school (which was way back 15 years ago too!), and would have had to finance it all myself. Or my parents gave me the option of helping me out if I picked the in-state school instead ;) you can guess which I picked, but I DID come close to going the expensive route! All I cared at that point was having fun and meeting lots of people. The school was important too, of course, but money was the last thing from my mind)

  47. Kevin@OutOfYourRut September 7, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    Wojo–I think there’s a large dose of human nature playing out as well. When we’re sitting in the judge’s seat we demand justice; when we’re the one being judged we plead for mercy. We should all try to have greater compassion for the person in the second situation. We’ve all been there, or we will be some day. I haven’t met anyone who’s done EVERYTHING right in their lives.

  48. J. Money September 7, 2011 at 12:12 PM


  49. Elle @ Odd Cents September 7, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    I think it’s scary. You go in to college thinking that it’s a great way to better yourself, but when you’re through (provided you had to get a loan), you’re in debt up to your ears. I agree with Natalie. The little fees here and there really do add up. I’m from Barbados, and I think our systems are different. The commercial banks here give student loans, but you have to start paying back as soon as you get that loan. They usually require a co-signee, who will cover those payments whilst you are studying. Can a student sign up for a student loan jut like that?

  50. Tony in Iowa September 7, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    I’ve been following her case since Gawker first came out with it and I think a few more details need to be offered that were not in this particular article:

    Her major was sociology and if the debt was not there she would be working helping other people as a social worker. So she’s not exactly a doctor handing out medicines but she went into that major because she wanted to help people. The school didn’t advise her on how low the salaries of people with her major are compared to the cost of the school.

    She’s the first person in her family to go to college, so her parents simply didn’t have the experience and education to really make it clear that $200,000 in student loans would be the final price tag, or that that would translate into $2,300 per month in payments, much less the fact that a sociology major makes $30,000 average per year and only takes home about $2,000 per month after taxes meaning that from the get go she had no chance of being able to pay her student loans. This are numbers I understand as an MBA, but no 18 year old will understand this without guidance from parents/schools/etc.

    Finally a big point: She didn’t go to NORTHWESTERN, she went to NORTHEASTERN. That makes a big difference. A Northwestern grad would probably be making significantly more money, but again it depends on major. Expensive schools should be legally required to warn graduates with solid examples of the cost vs probably salary of a low paying major.

    Finally, she’s NOT asking the general public to pay off her student loans while she sits back and watches. She’s asking for help staying afloat while she works her butt off 60+ hours a week in order to survive. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you are down, especially when your long term goal is to work helping others for little money…

    Kelli: Keep going strong. Much respect for your hard work and your creativity trying to get out from under this mess. Keep going!

    Kelli: Much respect.

  51. kyleinaz September 8, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    @TonyinIowa I got thrown off by the first comment saying that it was Northwestern, as soon as I realized I wrote the wrong school I corrected it myself. Also, probably call it a midwest bias of being used to talking about Northwestern.

    @kelli my point with the mortgage was not so much the selection process, but more the fact that you can shop around for a bargain and go to a neighborhood in your price range, meaning you have control over how much you have to borrow. I completely understand that you probably did not see the economic collapse coming, very few people did. We graduated at about the same time, I remember reading articles about how fast incomes, etc were growing. Also I am not saying you aren’t working hard or are not using your own money. You are working 60 hours a week and apparently throwing a lot of money at the student loan debt. I agree that there are definitely aspects of the system that are broken, but if you do dig around and research you can still find some good bargains for colleges.

    For some possible ways to prevent this from happening would be for high schools to do a lot better job on going over financial aid, i.e. breaking down a loan amortization schedule vs. the expected salaries for certain professions, or extra assistance to the first college generation students.

    however, the onus of the responsibility should fall on the individual to do right by themselves and get educated. for example, upon reading the same articles others on this blog have read I noticed that college tuition is increasing by enormous amounts. I did some basic present value calculations and concluded it would be wise to set up a 529 plan in my name for my future children, I am not engaged nor expecting to have children for at least 3 years, which means the money I put in has quite a while to compound and grow. Most of my coworkers and friends have scoffed at the notion, but I am saving now to have to save less later.

  52. Kelli September 8, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    @Tony in Iowa – Hi Tony! Thanks so much for your message. I will say, with the amount I’m working, I am able to make my payments plus some; and my payments don’t total $2300 (don’t want anyone to get an inflated idea of the scenario). Either way, it’s still well over $1000 per month and, now that I’m on a temporary interest rate reduction program, all of my loans are now *variable*, so after this program… who knows what the rates will skyrocket to, and who knows how much that will increase my monthly payment.
    Thanks again!!

    @kyleinaz Agreed on all counts. I guess, basically, I’m saying that I messed up. I don’t place blame, I’m just trying to fix it. On my own, I already look back and see the other choices I could/should have made.
    Now I’m just hoping the amount of money borrowed for college plateaus and stops growing so exponentially. It is evident that at this rate students are still borrowing like crazy when, in your words, “you can still find some good bargains for colleges” — I want them to know that’s true!! I want to force them to look 4 years into their future and see that paying these loans back will not be easy, no matter what they think/are told.
    Maybe you’ve made great decisions until this point — congrats, if so, on such great foresight — but I look back on being 18 and remember how clueless I was in so many ways. I think many can agree.
    It’s not easy to admit being stupid at 18 when you graduated in the top-ish of your class and went to COLLEGE which is supposed to signify intelligence.
    We all know now that it’s not necessarily the case.

    @Natalie @ Mango – thanks for sharing Mango Money! I tweeted about it yesterday – what a great site!! So informative, and it looks awesome.

    @Elle @ Odd Cents – Hi Elle! Thanks for sharing. I only needed a cosigner for 2 of my 11 private loans. The rest I was able to take out as much as I wanted, alone. Of course I only took out as much as needed (tuition + fees + housing/meal plan + books) but still a scary thought that a student is able to borrow virtually as much as they’d like after they had a cosigner 1 time… at least was the case with me.

    Thanks again!

  53. kyleinaz September 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    @kelli I can’t take all the credit, my mother helped me by forcing me to save half of all my paychecks while I worked in high school, if only I could save like that now :). Also, I wasn’t the first to go to college, so I do understand your points. I definitely agree with your point about it not being easy to admit your are stupid. Although I think it is more ignorance of not knowing rather than general stupidity. I think even worse than the ignorance around the true cost of college is the ignorance around the true cost of retirement.

    I think finance remains a huge mystery to people for many reasons. Some people find it too difficult, the media definitely promotes living a glamorous lifestyle in the moment and constantly manipulates us into thinking that we need to spend and keep up with the joneses. Also, human beings instincts are not great for finance, it is tough for us to watch the wild gyrations of the market and ignore it to look 40 years down the road. In relation to my last point, for many reasons we suffer from myopia for example; the experiment where the subjects will choose one candy today vs. two tomorrow, but if you present it saying that you can have one candy in 100 days or two in 101 days the subject will choose to wait one more day. However on day number 100 they choose to have the candy today. We have become an instant gratification society.

    Kelli you are not passing the blame and that is admirable and you are working hard, I hope your story goes out to those who need to hear it.

  54. Elle @ Odd Cents September 10, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    @Kelli… That’s unbelievable. I’m shocked that you had eleven loans and you were a student!!! Here in Barbados, they need to have hard evidence that you can make payments to your loans. I’m glad that you had enough courage to speak out about your situation. Goodness knows how many other people are in your position.

  55. J. Money September 10, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    Great updates Tony in Iowa – thanks for passing those along :)

  56. South County Girl September 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    This is what I love to read about. People learning from mistakes and actually doing something about them… Thanks for passing this along.

  57. Melissa September 22, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    I’m somewhat torn on this issue. First, I go to a very expensive private school (Hoya Saxa Georgetown University!) and do have student debt. However, I am paying for 3/4 years of it myself. (My parents said that they would pay for the first year of each of their children’s education, and they paid most of my sister and brother’s, which left really none for me.) However, I did the hard math and sat myself down and realized what I was getting myself into. I got a free ride to a state school, but picked GU because of the utility of where it was (DC for a language/international relations major is pretty much priceless), the level of education I’d get, and of course, those words on my resume. I understand the want for a private school, so I can side with Kelli on that, but asking people for handouts…

    That said, the numbers are terrifying, but you chip away at them. I work 18+ hours a week at my student work-study job, in addition to summers waitressing/bussing/tutoring, Also, GU has decent scholarships and financial aid in the form of Federal loans (better than Sallie Mae, which I only have 1 from, in my parents’ names.)

    Basically, 200k seems incredibly absurd for undergrad, but she just has to live the minimal life while she can. I’m certainly not going to ask for handouts to help pay my debt but if she feels it necessary, then she can. I won’t be donating but I won’t stop others from doing it.

  58. Briana November 17, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    I find it extremely ignorant and offensive that people so greatly generalized based on age. There are many good, well-informed reasons for taking out a 200,000 dollar debt. It’s called taking a risk. The ability to take an intelligent risk is the only way to get ahead in the world. People who are going to sit back and settle for the safe option are the ones who are mooching off of all of the middle-class jobs, assuming that just because they got an average degree at an average college, that should mean they make an average living. That’s not the way things work any more. If you see a rare or special opportunity for yourself at a college that happens to be 200,000 dollars, evading the situation to settle for less isn’t going to get you any more of what you want in life. I’m not saying the dept is necessary for everyone, but some people want and need to take that risk, and are aware of the consequences.

  59. Briana November 17, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    The real problem is when students don’t investigate the future consequences of that debt, or take into account the possible lack of job openings. Or when they take out the loan and forget their obligation to do as well as they possibly can and engage in every opportunity they can possibly find. A lot of people limit themselves to their options and then blame the economy.