Confessions of an Accountant: ‘I Have $130K of College Debt’

Danielle Mascio

Danielle Mascio graduated college with a $130K student loan bill.

Public School, Private Loans

On top of the $22,000 a year that I’d need to cover tuition and room and board, I figured that I needed another $2,000 to pay for books (some cost as much as $400!) and the additional credits I would need in order to take my CPA exam to become an accountant. This meant that I had to sign up for two summer sessions and a winter session of extra classes when most other students had breaks.

I went ahead and applied for the $7,500 in federal subsidized and unsubsidized loan amounts I was eligible to receive. Every year, I also reapplied for aid through the FAFSA, and every year I got the same response: no grants and a similar amount of limited, low-interest loans.

Over the course of four years, I ended up borrowing roughly $30,000 in federal loans. I pieced together the rest through five private loans, which added up to about $100,000, factoring in the interest.

I covered other day-to-day costs by working at the student activities office throughout college, as well as a paid internship my senior year. When I couldn’t afford certain books, I’d borrow them from friends or make photocopies of what I needed.

During my first two years of college, I conveniently forgot about how much money I owed. I just told myself I’d figure it out when I graduated. Then, in my junior year, I had to start paying interest on a few of my private loans. The payment option that most students get—a six-month deferral after graduation—wasn’t available for these loans, so I was forced to pay $175 a month. It killed me that this money never touched my principal, but it was the only way I was able to afford college.

RELATED: Lessons Learned: ‘My Biggest Student Loan Regret’

It felt like a mortgage payment—except that I would have received a better interest rate on a mortgage than I did on most of my private loans.

Reality Bites: The $1,400 Monthly Loan Payment

I graduated in May 2013 with an accounting degree and was fortunate enough to land a job at a big accounting firm before I even graduated. I counted myself lucky: While many of my friends were frantically sending out résumés and wondering whether they’d have to move back home, I was negotiating my salary, which is north of $50,000.

As soon as I graduated, I started paying $178 a month in interest toward the private loans that I’d already started paying my last two years of college. Six months after that, when the other loans kicked in, my payment ballooned to $1,415 a month.

It felt like a mortgage payment—except that I would have received a better interest rate on a mortgage than I did on most of my private loans. My subsidized federal loan has an interest rate of 3.4%, and the unsubsidized loan is at 5.6%. But my lowest-interest private loan has a 7.5% rate, and the highest is at 9%. The private loans are really what’s killing me.

I’ve looked into consolidating, but I haven’t had luck finding an option that works for me. I’d either have to accept a variable rate, which seems too risky because the interest rate, by law, could shoot as high as 18%. The other option is to consolidate and pay the average on all of my combined interest rates—but with an additional .25% percentage tacked onto the rate. Plus, I would have to extend my loan repayment time from 10 years to upward of 25. This would ultimately mean paying close to $300,000 for my loans!

Since I can’t bear to give the lenders so much more in interest, I’ve had to wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be paying $1,415 a month for the next 10 years.

RELATED: 7 Federal Student Loan Payback Plans: What You Need to Know

  • Scott

    The big problem. I’m “entitled” to go to school. Surely someone will help…. Just like her mother who is on disability. Everyone is entitled. No you are not. Iam sorry for your situation. A two year tech school while living at home and while having a job a McDonald’s would have served you better.

  • Synnae

    I felt sorry for the author right up until the moment she said she was putting 40% of her pay-check away for her dream wedding.
    Really? Seriously? Hasn’t she realised her post-dream wedding life will be a lot better with more debt being paid off?

  • stan the man

    I am so tire of the people who are tired of paying back money they borrowed. If you dont want to pay the money back dont borrow it in the first place. Mcdonalds is always hiring…

  • Brett Carey

    No sympathy here… I graduated with my doctorate at 26 years old with no student debt. I worked my ass off all 8 years of college, while taking full time classes. I didn’t live the on-campus college lifestyle and party like most people. I went to community college for two years and then commuted 2.5 hours in the car each day to college all while working multiple jobs. Having to work I am sure hurt my grades but I still got accepted in to graduate school.

    Your students debt is the fault of your own decision making progress and not the fault of the public tax payers. Lets get this straight – the government doesn’t produce any of it’s own revenue. Any money that they would give you in student loan forgiveness would be taken directly from the pockets of the public — many of which are trying just like you to live a normal life, get married and buy a home.

    The good news is there is a student loan forgiveness program, it is called the U.S. armed forces. The mob-ocracy of former students wanting their loans forgiven for nothing is a direct smack in the face to the armed service members that risked their lives in service wanting to one day get a paid education.

    If you want to graduate without debt, that is a tremendous goal. It is also a goal that you should complete yourself, with your own strategies and resources. Go to community college, go to online college, live at home, take more than 4 years to complete your bachelors degree so that you can work at the same time – just to name a few ideas.

    It makes me nauseous to think that I have no student debt because of my own efforts, yet I may be forced (through taxation) to give my hard earned income to pay for other’s debts.

  • 18235

    oh danny girl….learn from college and skip an expensive wedding.

  • Grayghost1968

    Why is there so much sympathy for this young lady. Education is a privilege and not a right. Why should others pay for her schooling. I am also a CPA and I worked several jobs during school and kept books on the weekend and nights to pay my own way through school. It is not your parents responsibility to take care of her for life!
    The entitlement mentality is ruining our country. Take responsibility and grow up.

  • JRL

    …..2 years of County College transfer to a 4 year school: $44,000 potential savings. 4

  • Steven Wu

    I don’t understand. Your story is a bit inconsistent.

    First, your college cost is about $25k/year which includes supplies. After four years, it should be ~$100k plus interest. The $130k came out of nowhere.

    Two, you stated that your dad was helping you pay for living cost which should only lower the amount of money you need to borrow.

    Third, you stated that you got into a big accounting firm before graduating. This means you had a paid internship with them, further lowering your need for loans.

    Fourth, you stated that you were an A student in high school which usually qualifies you to a handful of scholarship.

    Fifth, your family has 3 dependents with 1 income source that is not considered too high. Your current financial state should qualify you for pell grants. This is dependent on the standardized federal EFC (so yes, I can say with full confidence that you should’ve got something). My guess is that your family owns a some rental property. The Feds expects you to sell your assets to pay for college if you able (not counting your principal home and vehicles). This includes stocks as well.

    Sixth, FASFA considers family members with permanent disabilities and extra medical costs. When you were denied aid, you should have appeal right away. In my first year of college I was denied all grants as well – I appealed saying my mom lost her job. I immediately got the full grant amount (cal grant).

    Based on the information you have provided, either you did not handle your FASFA properly or there is more information that we do not know about.

    • jessief

      The kid is dumb

    • William Zhang

      probably some liberal brat that doesnt realize the kids that really struggle……Probably failed to understand all resources and terms

  • Mich

    The good thing about your career track (I also was a big firm CPA) is that your salary level will continue to increase at a healthy level as you advance within the firm and also when and if you decide to leave public practice to be a controller or other job in private industry that prefers a CPA. You will also not fall into the “keeping up with the Jones” trap many of us professionals do as your situation is making it necessary for you to live frugally even as your wages increase. Accounting is a good stable career path. I’m a lot older than you but your tuition as a resident sounds very high to me. I majored in accounting at my State school in the early 90s. My parents paid my tuition and board but it wasn’t anything near the levels yours was or they wouldn’t have been able to afford it either. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the career path you chose, accounting is one of the more stable and lucrative degrees if you do well, which it sounds like you are. While you need to and should concentrate on your job and passing the CPA exam, there are still ways you can make some extra money while working to attack your debt further. After you become a licensed CPA,you could apply to be a CPA review course instructor (good extra money and also looks good on your resume). I also had friends who worked special events at hotels (i.e. extra wait help for banquets, etc on the weekends). Others did babysitting and others wrote for professional journals or taught continuing education courses. If you get creative, you’ll find there are other ways you can tackle it down a little quicker.

  • Susan

    That sounds stressful but like you have a good plan and end in sight. But I’m confused. Why aren’t you putting the amount for your wedding to pay down the loan? How is that even a luxury you can afford? And why are you even considering buying a house? Renting is very, very often far less than buying when factoring in expenses, taxes and everything else. It still sounds like you’re in a bit of denial.

  • Allison N. Jones

    Hi Danielle, I’m struggling too! I have student loan debt as high as a mortgage as well, after being denied federal loans based off what my parents made. I wish I would’ve known when I was 17 that it was possible to have a solid career without going into debt to get a college degree.