$200k of Debt at Age 23 – Kelli Space Talks with OOTS News about the Two Hundred Thou Project

by Arin Greenwood on November 26, 2010

photo by Andrew Magill/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Kelli Space is a recent graduate of Northeastern University who has almost $200,000 worth of student debt. Space, like so many recent grads, is living with her parents in New Jersey – and with $1600 monthly loan payments due for the next twenty years, she expects to be living with them for a long time to come.

Space put up a website – TwoHundredThou.com – to detail her debt. On the site, she asks for donations – and for this she’s been lambasted on the Internet.

OOTS News caught up with Space just before Thanksgiving, to ask about the debt, the website and how people have reacted to it, and what she’d do differently, to do it all over again.

OOTS News:  Tell me about your website – what is two hundred thou?

twohundredthou: twohundredthou was an effort to provide a venue for me to admit a large mistake I’d made, but also showcase that student loan debt is an issue on the whole. MANY people are in my position and starting the conversation around the country has been a fantastic positive of the website.

OOTS News: Is the mistake going to college? What do you think the actual mistake was?

twohundredthou: I think the mistakes piled on top of each other. The first mistake was not exploring all possible options. The second mistake was not understanding finance (best practices anyway). The third was signing on the dotted line! The next was staying at Northeastern even after I realized the gravity of the situation. Do I regret my education? Absolutely not. Do I think it was worth it? No – not because it was a poor education, but because no education is worth borrowing that amount of money without guaranteeing the salary to pay the loans back afterward.

OOTS News: To do things over again, what would you do differently?

twohundredthou: I would have gone to a community college and then applied to larger universities a year or two later. I would have been secure on a major before I chose to borrow such an exorbitant amount of money. The regrets are plenty, and I’m still working on that time machine.

OOTS News: What does your family think of all of this – of the debt, of the college degree, and now of the two hundred thou movement, which is getting tons of attention!

twohundredthou: My family of course supports me in everything I choose to do. My parents find the debt to be extremely unfortunate – they thought they’d be able to assist me in paying it all back but several years ago my father injured himself and has been unable to work since. Of course I’m EXTREMELY fortunate to have such a supportive, caring family who is able to provide for me shelter/food/etc., it’s still unfortunate all around and they hate that they can’t help me out.

They, along with me(!), are not too keen on the influx of attention but they like that I’ve shown initiative and we’re all sort of sticking it out together.

OOTS News: It’s nice that your family is so supportive. I hope that makes it a little easier. Where are you living now – and are you working?

twohundredthou: I’m living at home with my parents now – I live in NJ with my family. I have been since I graduated, and I’m grateful I’m able to! And yes I’m working full-time at an Internet company in NYC.

OOTS News: Did I read that you are the first member of your family to go to college? If so, do you think that the problems with paying for school – or the lack of information about how student loans will affect a person’s future – are especially serious when it comes to first generation college students?

twohundredthou: I definitely agree with that. It’s difficult, because throughout high school I wasn’t marching around, declaring that I was the first person to hope to go to college. No one does that. So the people who need the education in terms of – what college does for you, how you should be managing your finances, expected salaries after graduation, etc. – don’t necessarily receive the information they should. That’s no fault of my teachers, or guidance counselors – how were they to know? But, that being said, it is a problem that it’s not being discussed in the way that it should be, truly.

OOTS News: So on the website, you’re soliciting funds to help pay down your school debt – is that serious, or are you doing that more tongue in cheekly?

twohundredthou: Definitely more tongue in cheek, which I’m not sure was executed properly as people didn’t entirely get that. And, to be fair, I HAVE received money. However it’s, in a way, showcasing the last ditch efforts of people in my position to be able to pay off these loans and live the ‘dream’ that they so wanted upon graduating with a college degree.

OOTS News: How much have people sent, if you don’t mind my asking?

twohundredthou: The amount totals just under $2000. Which is amazing! There are so many people out there reaching out to a stranger – it’s touching.

OOTS News: That really is remarkable – in this economy, you’d think people would have become too jaded, or too consumed by their own financial troubles, to be so concerned about a new graduate. They must see themselves in your situation.

twohundredthou: I’ve received a lot of e-mails from people who are, or have been, in this position. And I like to think I represent them. This is bigger than me and my absurd amount of debt – this is about everyone’s debt to get an education. I think it’s a counterproductive way for a system to work and I want to highlight that. I hope I have.

OOTS News: Do you think this will translate into a new career for you – as a financial educator, or an educational reformer?

twohundredthou: That would be amazing, as clearly it’s something I’m passionate about. I have no expectations but again, I would really like that.

OOTS News: So let’s just talk nuts and bolts for a moment: how much student debt are you in, and what is your loan repayment schedule?

twohundredthou: To speak vaguely, since the exact amounts are in my Sallie Mae account – I am in $189k of debt through private student loans. Roughly $12k more in federal loans. I am obviously far more concerned about my debt through/with Sallie Mae as the interest rates are varying and my payments are high – currently I’m at $893 per month and next November my payments will essentially double to over $1600 per month.

OOTS News: Goodness. How do you think these payments will affect your life?

twohundredthou: Well, I don’t see myself moving out of my parents’ house anytime soon! Obviously at 23, it’s normal and I’m comfortable with it – but in 10 years? What will my salary be? Will I be able to live independently or will I still be at home? Clearly these questions are bugging me – but I realize that being able to live at home at all is great. My parents are wonderful, giving, generous. The larger concerns I have are: is this what we are promoting, as a society? If not, where did I, and many others, go wrong?

OOTS News: Do you have any sense how many others are in your situation?

twohundredthou: Percentage-wise or exact amounts, no I don’t. But I think “my situation” is an umbrella that ANYONE with college debt should come under.

OOTS News: Thanks so much for doing this interview – I know it can’t be easy being this open about your finances

twohundredthou: It is difficult, you’re absolutely right.

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  • Tess

    http://www.edulender.com/college-tuition-fundraising/anewteachersdebt/nnI was inspired by her story to start my own fundraising site. I am 48k in federal student loan debt and I have a BS in elementary education. I knew teachers didnt get paid well and i was prepared to be in debt to a certain degree…I thought I would have a job after 4 years of college. However the economy has crashed and teachers are being laid off left and right in North Carolina. I work at a preschool working on an hourly based pay with no benefits. I can barley make the $800 a month payments and still stay afloat! Like Kelli, I live at home, and see no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the idea of getting my own place or a job in a public school! I’m stuck and lost, and need help! What else are young graduate like us supposed to do besides ask for help from everyone?!nnhttp://www.edulender.com/college-tuition-fundraising/anewteachersdebt/

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