Editor's note: As graduating seniors say goodbye to college, many are also saying hello to student loan payments. Seven out of 10 Minnesota college students graduate with loans, according to the Institute for College Access & Success . In this next installment of MPR's Young Reporters Series, Mackenzie Martin explores how some students are dealing with their student loan debt.
Seven out of 10 college students graduate with loans. The average student loan debt is about $32,000. Most graduates repay their loans, but a report by the U.S. Department of Education says nearly 16,000 Minnesotans had defaulted on their student loans in 2012.
When students have trouble repaying, there are options, but they don't always take advantage of them. That's possibly because they don't know what those options are since they've likely never read the terms of their repayment plans. A study by the student loan marketplace LendEDU found 94 percent don't know the terms of repayment for their loans.
Not knowing the terms can cost borrowers even more. Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which offers counseling to people with student loans, says counselors have seen borrowers coming into their offices after paying $600, for example, to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan for their federal student loan, which is something they can do for free and on their own. But they didn't know.
But Cate Rysavy, who oversees a relatively new student loan counseling program at LSS, says she believes most of the people who defaulted on the loan could have been helped if they would have taken advantage of some of these federal student loan repayment options.
Graduates with federal loans can get a new repayment plan or refinance their loans. Or they can reduce or even delay their payments through forbearance or deferment.
Last fall LSS started a counseling program for Minnesota students. The hope is that counseling will decrease the number of people defaulting on their loans. So far, 460 students have taken advantage of the service.
Others are taking different approaches.
Lindsay Preuss, 23, owes $55,000 in student loan debt after earning her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison last year. Since then she's applied for dozens of jobs but only got a temporary job at a nonprofit. When that job ended in January, she moved back home with her parents in Lino Lakes. Now she's working part-time as a waitress and trying to repay her student loans and she's frustrated.
"I'm paying for an education that I don't feel like I'm using. That's a frustration I have all the time where I'm just sitting there thinking, here's my diploma, can I return it and get my money back? Because I'm not using it," she said.
Preuss majored in what she loved: political science and Spanish. But looking back, she wishes she'd been more practical.
"I would've gone into business school or maybe like engineering or done something specific if I would have realized how hard it was going to be to get a decent job to be able to pay for things," she said.
Twenty-five-year old Keegan La Shiava graduated from Lake Forest College in Illinois with $25,000 in student loans. She didn't know how she was going to pay it back until she found out about the service program AmeriCorps.
After she graduated in 2013, she moved to Minneapolis to take an AmeriCorps job because it offered benefits for student loan borrowers. The program defers her loans while she's working and gives her an education award of up to $6,000 a year for the first two years.
"What initially got me in the door was the ed(ucation) award and knowing that my loans would be deferred for the year of service and I wouldn't have to worry about immediately starting to pay those back," she said.
La Shiava plans to use her education award to pay for grad school. As for her undergraduate loans, she's paying them off with time instead of money. If La Shiava works for certain nonprofit or government organizations and makes regular payments for 10 years, she'll qualify for a federal program that will forgive them.
"I'm actually on an income-based repayment plan currently and because I make such little money with AmeriCorps, I pay technically $0 a month and after 10 years they will be paid off.
Most students don't worry about repaying their loans until after they graduate. But at least one student is trying to tackle them while she's still in school. Mica Standing Soldier, 21, is a junior at the University of Minnesota. She's on a student payment plan that requires her to pay $200 a month while she's still in school in order to have a lower interest rate when she graduates, at which point she'll owe about $35,000.
She says it's smart, but she still worries. "I mean I've never had more anxiety than I do in college. I thought high school and searching for a college would be a lot of pressure," she said. "More so the idea of having to go off in the world and be an adult and have this debt on my shoulder it's just next level anxiety."