How a Missouri high school teacher ended up with $410,000 in student loan debt

America's Next Big Crisis? Student Debt
America's Next Big Crisis? Student Debt

Student loan debt is only becoming more and more of a problem — the average debt weighing down graduates has reached a record high this year: about $33,000, according to

For 48-year-old Missouri high school teacher Liz Kelley, $33,000 of debt would be a dream.

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Over the course of 25 years, Kelley has accumulated an unfathomable $410,000 in student loan debt, Kevin Carey of the New York Times reports.

"I am not a victim," Kelley tells Carey. "I made choices."

Her choices started in 1990, when she first enrolled in college, already married with children. After four years at Maryville University, she had accrued her first $26,278 in student loan debt (the equivalent of about $42,000 in 2015, Carey notes).

After three semesters of law school, a career path change to teaching — which required more graduate school from 1999 to 2004 — additional loans to cover child care for her four children, and steep interest rates, she owed $194,603 by April 2005, the Times reports.

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One final educational endeavor post-2005 — a Ph.D. program at Texas A&M — tacked on an another $7,748 in loans.

It wasn't until this September that Kelley realized the extent of her debt, thanks to a call from her loan servicer. After 25 years of not making any payments, her total was a jaw-dropping $410,000.

She had borrowed a lot to cover tuition, but it was the build-up of interest over the years that sent her so deep into debt. In fact, the accumulated interest was more than double the original principal, Carey writes.

While Kelley's situation is extreme, she's not a complete anomaly. With student loans remaining one of the few types of debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy, her options — and the options of others in a similar situation — are limited.

What's more, the government's plans that would 'forgive' your mountain of debt over time are far from a perfect solution.

That doesn't mean graduates with debt don't have options. Consider looking into student loan refinancing and alternative repayment plans for federal loans, and read up on tips to eliminate debt from regular people who paid off thousands.

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