The personal impact of student loan forgiveness


Start a Business, Buy a Home, Start a Family — WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi spoke with three millennials about what federal debt cancellation will mean for their lives.

Heidi Jablonski is a 30-year-old theater artist and parent who lives in Harrisonburg. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a liberal arts degree. Her husband, Caleb, is a middle school math teacher.

Heidi Jablonski is a theater artist and parent.

HEIDI JABLONSKI: If all goes well, I should be approved for all federal loans to be forgiven, which is quite difficult to understand at this point. …I mean, we really didn’t expect to pay off our student loans until we were in our 40s.

In total, the couple had about $80,000 in student debt — Caleb in private loans and Heidi a mix of private and federal loans. Monthly payments have been a major financial stressor as they raise their two young children. The pause in federal student loan repayments during the pandemic has been a big help.

JABLONSKI: We were able to have a bit of wiggle room in our budget in a way that we weren’t really used to. …one example that comes to mind is that we decided to buy a little whale-shaped bath toy organizer instead of just keeping baby bath toys in a pile on the floor. It was $15, but it was the kind of thing that, it wasn’t a necessity, and we didn’t need it, but it was a nice thing to have.

Because she received Pell Grants, Jablonski should be eligible for the full $20,000 pardon. What impact would that have on their budget? More confidence in mortgage payments and possibly buying a new used car.

Curtis Handy is a 28-year-old man from Waynesboro who also received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University. He is currently completing a Masters in Occupational Therapy at Radford Carilion University and has a part-time job working with older teenagers in the foster care system. His wife, Jemma, works in human resources.

Handy hopes the graduate degree will increase his earning potential.

Curtis Handy is a graduate student at Radford Carilion University.

CURTIS HANDY: You know, a big reason I went back to grad school was because of the amount of debt I had. It was just hard to manage the debt.

While only a quarter of borrowers owes the government more than $40,000 in student loans, Handy falls into that category. He took out a mix of federal and private loans to earn his undergraduate degree, which totaled nearly $100,000. For higher education, it will add about 70 more federal loans. He expects 20 to be forgiven.

HANDY: So that will definitely take a little bit out of it, at least. I mean, again, I wasn’t expecting anything. So I’m happy to release something. …I mean, really, I think it’s going to help me be able to afford a house with Jemma someday.

They plan to live with their family once he graduates to save money and pay off his debts. He hopes that after working in occupational therapy for five to ten years, he might be able to open his own practice.

Alexandra Schmidt is a 27-year-old soil scientist based in Harrisonburg with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania.

ALEXANDRA SCHMIDT: I didn’t go to my dream school, which – I’m from the Philadelphia area – was Drexel.

She was accepted into Drexel’s honors program and offered a $20,000 scholarship – but it still would have cost her tens of thousands a year to attend. Going to the Delaware Valley, she ended up taking out about $28,000, all in federal loans. Schmidt went on to earn a master’s degree in environmental crop and soil science from Virginia Tech, which she paid for by working as a research and teaching assistant. Her family encouraged and supported her, but were unable to help pay for her education.

Alexandra Schmidt is a soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

SCHMIDT: You know, being a single mom hasn’t been easy. I lost my dad – they were separated, but I lost my dad in my sophomore year of college, and my mom’s ability to really encourage us to follow our dreams – you know, she has a GED. She didn’t go to college. My sister and I are kind of the first people to get degrees in the family.

Many government employees benefit from the Cancellation of civil service loans program, which clears your remaining student loans after making 120 monthly payments. But because Schmidt borrowed less than $30,000, she had to pay hers back in that exact amount of time. So, she made the payments, continuing even after the repayment break came into effect. She now owes $20,500 – which means she’s about to have student debt –free.

SCHMIDT: I can start to seriously consider buying a house…starting a family, all those wonderful things that, until now, didn’t really seem to be on the table.

She is also excited to invest in the new LLC she founded last month. She is considering a pick-your-own fruit and vegetable operation with educational programs.

SCHMIDT: This generation is just as capable as previous generations of being creative and innovative. They can start their own businesses, organizations that serve the community in their own way, according to their skills. So what makes me more excited than starting my own business is knowing that others will also be able to feel the relief and be able to pursue their own dreams, without fear of being in a position where they cannot repay their loans.

According to Federal Student Aid websiteApplication for loan forgiveness will be available in early October, although millions of borrowers may qualify for relief automatically, if the Ministry of Education already has data on their income.


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