WJON In Depth – Degrees of Debt: Surviving Student Loans [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD -- They say college is a time to discover who you are, gain a better understanding of the world and set your path for a fulfilling life. But for most students, it's also a time to accumulate a massive amount of debt.
There are over 40 million people with student loan debt in America, making for a total of a reported $1.3 trillion dollars of debt nationally. And it's rising at a rate of over $2,700 per second.
Minnesota currently ranks fifth-worst in the nation in student loan debt, with the average student leaving college nearly $31,000 in debt.
"It's a painful thing but if you're going to [college] -- unless you have a parent who owns an oil company -- you have to get student loans," says Matt Fallon, who has been paying back his student loans for six years as he is raising a family.
Fallon says his payments are over $400 per month, and the high interest rates have him fighting a "losing battle."
"If you're only making the minimum payment, 90 percent of it is going to the interest -- you're making a $10 payment to the actual loan," Fallon says. "You're never going to get done."
"It's going to be 17 years before [I'm done], I'm going to be almost 50 years old -- just in time to send my first kid to college and rack up even more student loans."
So how has it gotten so bad, especially in Minnesota? Mike Uran, Financial Aid Director for St. Cloud State University, says it's due to numerous factors -- including high participation statewide and more technology expenses over the years.
"Certainly, student debt is an important topic and it has been ever since I've been here," Uran says. "The mistake most students typically make is they see the bill, they [decide] they can't pay it and they ignore it."
As bad as it seems, there is hope that help is on the way as Uran says student loan providers have been offering more workable repayment plans.
"There was a day when it wasn't to the benefit of the servicer to have the students repay their loans, but that's really changed in the federal direct loan program that we now operate under," Uran says. " There's a lot more motivation for them to work with students and make sure they come to an arrangement that's good for the student so they can repay their loan."
Along with the more manageable repayment plans, lawmakers are busy in Washington D.C. to resolve the issue.
"It's really got me interested because I saw what it meant to our economy," says Sen. Amy Klobuchar. "If we don't have students getting their degrees or they're loaded down with debt then they don't buy a car, they don't buy a house, they're even sometimes afraid to get married because the debt is stopping them from doing it."
The In the Red Act was introduced in March and Klobuchar says it will work to reduce the burden of student loans by offering students a chance to refinance at a lower interest rate and to make college more affordable by adjusting Pell Grants for inflation.
Klobuchar says funding would come from what's called the "Buffett Rule" -- named after multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, it calls for the very wealthy to pay the same tax rates as people with lower-paying jobs.
"That actually brings in $37 billion over 10 years ($370 billion total) and that's how we would suggest paying for this because it is a way to not add to the debt."
Along with the efforts in the Capitol, Uran says individual students must take it upon themselves and be proactive to address the issue of loan debt.
"The problem [exists] with students who are in school but then don't graduate, have loans and have trouble repaying them," Uran says. "So the real key is to be successful in school -- if you can graduate with that degree, chances are good you're going to be able to repay that student loan you took out to invest in yourself."