And so, my principal grew. That forced my minimum monthly payment higher. Sometimes I’d attempt to pay for a few months, then get snowed under and go back into forbearance. Jobs with higher salaries at my level didn’t materialize, so I got thrifty: I borrowed rather than bought a laptop and recording equipment. I opted for free furniture and didn’t buy a car. I picked up additional reporting gigs for extra cash.
Many nights, the growing debt paced the edges of my consciousness, keeping me awake. At the same time, I knew all the career success I’ve ever had has been a direct result of my education and the loans that enabled it.
I continued to pay what loans I could, and for the rest, forbearance. Today, 14 years after my last day of school, I’ve paid $60,000 toward $78,000 of loans. Somehow, I am now $100,000 in debt.
And yet I am ineligible for the CARES Act.
It turns out in 2010, in the wake of the housing crisis and recession, Congress decided private banks should no longer be in the federal student loan business and ended FFEL.
From that point on, federal student loans were to be held only by the federal government, and private student loans would continue to be held by private banks, for all new loan applicants. But for those — like me — who still held those FFEL loans which are held by private lenders but backed by the Department of Education, the federal government decided to buy some of these loans from the commercial lenders. But they didn’t buy them all.
I like to call them Goldilocks loans — not quite federal, not quite private, not quite right.
Some six million Goldilocks loan holders like me exist in a sort of limbo. Our loans are still listed as federal, so Congress sets the interest rates and we can’t negotiate. But because they are held privately, we don’t qualify for federal relief, like the CARES Act.
I have watched friends buy cars, houses, stocks. Meanwhile every decision I make — what job to take, what raise to negotiate, what gifts to buy, what apartment to rent, when to tell whomever I’m dating about my debt, whether or not I can ever buy a piece of property, even if I should buy a new chair — is limited by this debt.