photo by AMagill/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license
Kelli Space, a 2009 graduate of Northeastern University, had almost $200,000 worth of student debt when OOTS first spoke with her, in November, 2010.
At the time, Space had put up a website – TwoHundredThou.com – to detail her debt. On the site, she asked for donations. She got some donations, some media attention – and quite a lot of criticism, as well.
OOTS News caught up with Space at the end of July, to find out how things have changed for Space since she went public, asking for financial help.
OOTS: So let me ask you the most pressing question first: what’s the debt down to now?
twohundredthou: Combining federal loans and private loans, it’s still around $185,000. However, since I’ve consolidated my federal loans, I pay a low monthly payment of $150; so I’m solely focused on my private loans these days.
me: How long are you now expecting to take to pay the loans off in total?
twohundredthou: With the amount I’m working and putting toward my loans, I have a lofty goal of 10 years. Fingers crossed.
OOTS: That’s not bad at all! What are you doing for work/money these days?
twohundredthou: I still have the same job I’ve had for 2 years – I’m an office manager/assistant in NYC. I’ve worked 20 hours/week in overtime since December, and I still babysit a good amount on the side! Thinking about picking up an additional serving job 1 or 2 evenings per week, as well, this summer.
OOTS: You were pretty critical of an educational system that could get someone so easily into your position, loans-wise. What are your thoughts now about that?
twohundredthou: I think my criticisms are of an educational system that doesn’t teach you about the repercussions of poor financial decisions as early as 18. I also think the fact that those who can afford the “good” schools can go to them, and those who can’t afford them, shouldn’t go to them. I don’t think we should hold “good” schools in such high regard if we’re not going to allow certain people to attend. But I don’t mean to get political, just my observations!
OOTS: Has it been a tough year? You became the focus of a lot of attention for a while.
twohundredthou: It was certainly tough for a while, emotionally, as all I could focus on was the negativity. After a while I sort of taught myself to figure out what I believed in, and to not let comments or critics get in the way of that. I’m feeling much better nowadays, but it’s been an interesting lesson.
OOTS: Have you learned any good financial lessons in the last year?
twohundredthou: Tons! I’m not sure there are many people who actually value a dollar more than I do now. It was sort of a rude awakening, but my spending has plummeted and I’ve learned how to make do while putting way more than half of all income toward my debts. It’s a great feeling to watch the numbers go down, too. I’ve also been sure to surround myself with encouragement: personal finance blogs, as well as their twitters; I’ve signed up for personal finance bootcamps on LearnVest; I’ll stop at nothing to get as much advice and as many pointers as possible.
I’ll admit I’ve become borderline obsessed with my debt, but I have many connections in terms of people who are looking to change legislation of student loans, and I have every hope to impart as much wisdom as possible onto upcoming college students so that they DON’T wind up in my predicament.
OOTS: You were starting to work with a financial services company on this issue, if I’m remembering right. Is that still going on?
twohundredthou: I am still a part of the EduLender team – what they do is sort of 3-fold: they help students exhaust all college financing options before resorting to loans; they help students find the best possible loans regarding terms & repayment; and they allowe students and graduates to create fundraising pages, much like mine, to help fund a semester, a college career, or student loan payments.
OOTS: Are you still living with your parents?
twohundredthou: I am, for the forseeable future!
OOTS: How much have people donated to you through your website at this point? Last we spoke it was about $2k.
twohundredthou: I’ve received a total of $10,485 as of today. I’m still in awe.
OOTS: Wow – that’s a lot of money. Who’s it come from?
twohundredthou: I have no idea! The nicest people in the world. People who have faith in the success of others. It’s just been a life-changing experience.
OOTS: No one’s gotten in touch with you to tell you about themselves and why they’re giving you money?
twohundredthou: All the money has come from strangers. There have been people who say they’ve donated because they didn’t have to pay for college, and they sympathize. There have been some people who don’t think college should cost so much. Most everyone is just sort of stunned by the overwhelming number.
OOTS: How many people have donated?
twohundredthou: 989. Not that I’m counting.
OOTS:Do you get the sense, now that you’ve been living with this for a while, that your situation is unusual? (Outside of the media attention, of course.) Are your friends living with their parents?
twohundredthou: My situation is unusual just because the number is so high – but it’s not unusual to be in student loan debt. And, in fact, I’ve heard from several people who are in more student loan debt than I am. Pretty crazy to think about. In terms of my friends, my debt is by the far the worst. But I am not the only one living with my parents – which does make me feel a bit better
OOTS: It sounds like you’ve gotten yourself into a pretty sustainable position – reasonable monthly payments, a nice salary, good parents to live with. Do you feel like you’re getting to live a normal life now, even with the debt?
twohundredthou: My monthly payments are still anything but reasonable – my federal loan payments might be $150 but my private loan payments are well over $1000. And my salary is sort of nice, but I do work my ass off for it! I won’t feel like I’m getting to live a ‘normal’ life until I can stop thinking about my debt for more than 30 minutes. For now, I’m just scrambling, and trying to pay it down as quickly/much as possible. Not quite normal! I am very lucky to have an amazing support system, though, and they help me to calm down much of the time.
OOTS: Oh, I see – so the loans total about $1150 per month now, not $150 per month
twohundredthou: Yep, roughly.
OOTS: That is a big difference. How much of your salary does that take up, if you don’t mind my asking?
twohundredthou: Well I pay much more than the minimum payment, since I’m fortunate enough to be living at home. So I throw at least 70% of my monthly paycheck toward my debt, over the required ~$1300 (temporarily reduced due to temporary interest rate reduction program w/ Sallie Mae).
OOTS: I have to ask: What do you do with the rest? Are there things you treat yourself to every month? Are you saving for a trip? Are you just saving?
twohundredthou: I eat food, I buy monthly passes for my commute to work, I take the train to my boyfriend’s house sometimes, occasionally have to help my parents with various costs, and some does go toward ‘savings’ but that’s primarily for loan repayment anyway. But this savings account is good in that I will one day be able to use it as an emergency fund, once it’s big enough, but also be able to use it as a sum of money that will go toward loan repayment.
OOTS: Do you expect things to change at all during the ten years you expect to be paying the loans? Or do you think this is what you can expect for ten years, and then after that you move on and do something else?
twohundredthou: I’m sure this is what I can expect for the next 10 years. Although, once it’s down to ~$60K, and is much more realistically manageable, I’m sure my life will change at that stage. Maybe I’ll be able to move out, or contribute more to savings, etc. There will be more options at that point, but until then, there isn’t much.
OOTS: So when we check back in a year from now, what are you hoping will have happened over the year?
twohundredthou: Well I’ll always be hoping that something magical will have happened – maybe winning the lottery? – but I know that in the next 12 months I’ll be resorting to good old fashioned work, and lots of it. Hopefully in a year I will have somehow surpassed my 1-year goal (1/10th of the rest of my debt) by working as much as humanly possible to get ahead.