I did everything right. So why am I in debt? | Nikko Mitrano Schaff

This is not a woe is me story. It is a testament to how people in my generation can make the right decisions and still be taken advantage of

Debt: $17,000

Source: College

Estimated years until debt free: Five

Im doing debt right, so why do I feel like a failure?

Like most high school seniors applying for college, I didnt know what I wanted out of life at the time, but I was sure of what I wanted out of higher education: an experience that would prepare me for the 21st century.

I enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology with a major in computer science and a double minor in entrepreneurship and Mandarin Chinese. I figured that whether software or China takes over the world, Id find a way to make money. In my sophomore year I started a business with my buddies and we even got seed funding from the college to develop it over the summer. It didnt work out, but the experience landed me an amazing internship with Apple.

The gold rush mentality of Silicon Valley didnt quite win me over so I set my sights on something closer to home. After graduation, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a web developer at Cornell University, which was also my parents employer for most of my childhood.

My father worked at Cornell for decades, so his employment benefits included covering one-third of undergraduate tuition for my brother and me. Add in my generous merit scholarships and my parents equally generous college savings and Im home free, right? Hardly: I graduated with $21,000 in debt.

Fast forward a couple years and Im doing everything right. I have two employer-matched retirement accounts and a Roth IRA; I routinely clear the balance on the credit card Ive held since I was 18, so my credit score is through the roof. But I still have to pay $300 in student loans every month.

Every time I pay my student loans, I am that much further away from a down payment on a house. Mortgage interest is tax-deductible; rent is not. The longer I wait to get a mortgage, the more expensive it will become, and the more I will have to make up the difference in the future with more debt. If the costs of property and higher education continue to increase at this rate, whatever college savings I can accumulate for my future children will hardly matter by then: they will likely be paying student loans for the rest of their lives.

This is not a woe is me story. Instead, it is quite the opposite: this is a testament to how people in my generation can make the right decisions with their education, employment, and finances and still be taken advantage of in ways which will have ripple effects throughout their entire lives.

Instead of trying to take on the system as a whole, I simply want to focus on one, inequitable business practice: federal student loans should not be collected by private corporations.

The US Department of Education which has financed 100% of my student debt does not need to make a profit on my degree. In many ways, the profit to society has been made many times over: I have a stable job, I do not require government assistance to make ends meet, I have a retirement plan which lessens the future burden on social security and I pay plenty in taxes.

But my student loan provider even as a non-profit corporation does need to make money on my student loans to exist. Someone had to be paid to make all of those FAQ page animations of a wizard waving a magic wand at piles of money. Someone had to be paid although I would assume not very much to create their glitzy repayment planner chart, which is useless unless you never plan on paying more than the minimum. Of course, someone ought to provide this information, so why not the Department of Education?

I am a web developer. In less than a day I could create a website that lets you sign up for automatic, recurring bank withdrawals. Hook it up with the Stafford loan database and the government will have everything it needs to get its money back from me. If anyone at the Department of Education is reading this, contact me! Ill make this site for you Ill even do it for free just promise you can give me a more reasonable interest rate than 6.55%.

I dont think Im asking for much. I dont need the newest gadgets. I dont need to visit every continent. I just dont want to have to choose between having children and having a home for them.

I did all the right things, so why does this feel wrong?

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