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

A Seriously Bare-Necessities Budget

My take-home pay is a little more than $3,000 a month—and roughly 45% of that goes toward my student loan payments. When that much of your paycheck is eaten up, something’s gotta give.

For starters, my boyfriend and I got engaged, and we realized that if we were going to save for a wedding, we’d have to move in with his parents. When we lived on our own, our rent was $1,200 a month, which wasn’t that expensive, but the $600 I was paying wasn’t chump change either. After the loan payments and rent, I was left with about $1,000 to cover gas, my cell phone bill, groceries and other expenses.

Moving in with my fiancé’s parents allowed me to allot my saved rent money—and then some—toward saving for the wedding. Now my readjusted monthly budget looks something like this: 45% goes toward my student loans, 40% funnels into our wedding fund, and the remaining 15% is spent on bills, gas, food and any other expenses. I pay for necessities and necessities only. I also contribute 3% to my company’s 401(k), but that comes directly out of my paycheck.

RELATED: How to Save for Retirement … When You Have Student Loans

I’ll be forever grateful for my education, but something is wrong with the system when a student like me doesn’t get financial aid—even after repeatedly applying for it. And I even consider myself one of the lucky ones: If I were making less, I don’t know how I’d be able to afford to pay for the loans, much less anything else.

My fiancé and I are petrified that we may never be able to get a good interest rate on a mortgage—much less afford a home—because of my debt-to-income ratio.

Even with my decent salary, there are times when I feel like I have nothing to show for it. I get to work at 9 a.m. and don’t leave until 11 p.m. I won’t let myself spend on items as simple as new shoes for work, and I can’t join my coworkers for drinks.

My fiancé and I are petrified that we may never be able to get a good interest rate on a mortgage—much less afford a home—because of my debt-to-income ratio. He’s supportive, but I know he feels the stress of my debt, especially since he has no college loans of his own. There have been months when he’s had to give me his ATM card, in case I really needed cash but didn’t have any.

If there’s any bright side, it’s that I’m definitely in the habit of saving. My fiancé and I have talked about how it would be great to continue paying ourselves $1,400 a month after my loans are paid off. Sure, it’ll be nice to have a little more wiggle room in our budget, but that money could also go toward future goals, like buying a house or contributing more to my 401(k).

And I’m hoping that as my salary goes up, I’ll be able to pay off the loans sooner than my current 10-year window. In the meantime, I’m definitely struggling—and left wondering how many others are too.

RELATED: How I Paid Off Over $20,000 in Student Loans in Three and a Half Years

  • 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.