The Loan That Keeps on Taking
Like many millennials, I am one of the 70% of college graduates who left college with student loans1. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to be diagnosed with terminal cancer a year after starting my entry-level position.
Metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
In May of 2014, I walked across the stage with honors after spending 6 years completing a Bachelors's in a field that was overstaffed, then going back to get another Associates's degree in a high demand field that I absolutely loved. I was ready for what the future would hold, unknowing the havoc that was already taking over my body. By March of 2016, while finally finding my stride in the career I loved, I learned I had metastatic breast cancer, the breast cancer that kills. My world was yanked out from under me. What would this mean to me not only physically, but financially? Going on disability because of my cancer would cause a gap in finances while waiting for disability payments to kick in, it would also mean a drain of the savings and financial independence I had begun to work for.
Cost of living with metastatic breast cancer
I moved back home to help relieve some of the financial pressures surrounding a cancer diagnosis and six months of no income. At the time I was applying for Social Security Disability, I was told about a program that would provide relief from one of my greatest financial burdens: my student loans. Like many of my peers, the federal student loan program made it possible for us to get a higher education. Many of us in the middle class, also fell into a bubble that caused our parents to also take out Parent Plus Loans in order to finance our education. My private college education amounted to a little over $100,000 in loans between my parents and myself.
Effects of metastatic breast cancer
At the time I initially looked to apply to have my loans forgiven with the Total and Permanent Disability Program, I was astonished by how unhelpful it really was. At the time, any amount that was discharged was seen as income for taxation purposes. This would have thrown me into the next tax bracket, making me still owe for my loans at a much higher lump sum through my taxes than my average current monthly payment under the Income-Based Repayment Program. Luckily, this past year, this tax burden has been reduced as TDP Discharge is no longer listed as income2.
Frustrations of metastatic breast cancer
Unfortunately, one thing that won’t go away, even when I eventually die from this disease, is the amount my parents borrowed on my behalf. Parent Plus Loans remain to be a burden on families, including those who have had to take in their child that they will eventually have to bury. The question becomes, if I, the student who is totally and permanently disabled can have my share forgiven because I can no longer work; why should my parent have to continue to pay? Just like my student loan, it can never be discharged, even though bankruptcy. Parents who have to help pay for funerals for their children, should not have to be expected to continue to pay back student loans during the precious end of a lifetime or after the death of their child.
How can we change this?
Write your representatives and urge them to make Federal Student Loan and Parent Plus Loan Discharge a process that families with terminal patients can utilize to the best benefit.
Do you have an MBC mentor/mentee?