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5 Stages of Student Loan Grief

Bonnie Stefanick
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For those of us who signed ourselves up for thousands of dollars of loans before we were even “financial grownups” (your humble author was better classified as a “financial toddler” at the time), we wrangled the student loan repayment demons for years, and sometimes even decades.

We came out on the other side of this thing and we bring you the stages of student grief from people who lived it.

Stage 1: Realization

Photo by Element5 on Unsplash.

You’re a few months out from graduation. You may be in the midst of reveling in your student loan grace period. You may have started your first big job right after college.

Then.

Then you get a letter in the mail. It’s from Sallie Mae. Good Ol’ Sallie Mae, who you haven’t thought about since you signed a bunch of stuff at the financial aid office forever ago.

It’s a notification that you owe $5,000… maybe $10,000, even. It says your repayment is $90 per month, starting next month.

“Ok,” you say to yourself. “This is doable.”

And then.

Another letter comes.

And then another.

And then more letters.

“Is this even all of them?” you find yourself wondering aloud.

You google to try to find out how how much you really owe.

Where is the bottom to this crazy money crisis rabbit hole?

You find out that you can can try to chase all the loans down through your credit report, so you request the credit report.

More loans found.

Now you’re sitting in a circle of opened letters, tallying it all up in a Google Sheet: $15,000… $30,000… $60,000… more?!

OMG! OMG! OMG!

Your face gets warm and chest tightens, you’re not even used to thinking in units of double digit thousands.

Sound familiar? Ladies and gentleman, buckle your seatbelts and place the oxygen mask securely over your face — we have arrived at the student loan debt realization stage.

Stage 2: Pain and angst

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

This is the freakout stage. How in the hell am I going to pay this off? As you do the grim calculus of your current entry level pay check vs. your gargantuan mountain of debt, you start to do panicky searches on Google:

Will Sallie Mae find me if I move to Mexico?

Can I stay in school forever to avoid repaying student loans?

This. This is the pain stage.

Stage 3: Anger and bargaining

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

This is the stage where you’ve made your first couple payments on the small mortgage that is your student loan payments. The bubbling anger at The Man reaches a rolling boil. You feel swindled by the educational industrial complex.

Since the initial freakout has passed, you’ve had a month or so to accept to adjust this dark new normal of repayment.

During this time, cooler heads prevail. You research possible options to try to get this beast under control.

You look into:

In the far, far distance, you see a light at the end of the tunnel — and you create a plan to get there.

Stage 4: Acceptance and hope

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

A couple years into repayment, your career is on the upward swing (hopefully!), and your life is in a different and maybe even better place, too. Student loans are just another bill that you’re wrangling, and it’s getting progressively smaller (hopefully!).

Maybe you had to navigate a lay-off and now know about “deferment” and “forbearance.” You’re doing really well and want to crush the student loan monster ahead of schedule: you know that you can do “accelerated repayment.”

You’ve become a pro at working with your servicer and now know all the student loan speak.

Stage 5: The “repayment complete” happy dance

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

Although it may seem so abstract to some people reading this who are deep in the repayment trenches, eventually the time comes when that giant Himalayan mountain of student loan debt is paid off.

There is literally a day where you log into your student loan servicer account to make that last payment.

You sit there, you click the button, and expect the screen to show confetti and display “CONGRATULATIONS” in birthday balloon font (which definitely should exist).

But.

It doesn’t.

The moment is so small. And yet… It’s means so much.

Although there is no digital confetti, you realize you’re done. Finally.

Which stage are you in?

Hang in there, things may seem grim now but take it from us that have been there and conquered this thing — there is an end, and you totally got this!

If you’re looking to avoid these stages altogether, check out Frank’s platform for FAFSA® and Aid Appeal services to get as much financial aid as you can. We might be able to get you as much as $15,000. But you don’t know until you try.

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