My Story

I married and had kids late.  My husband earned good money.  I was a stay at home mom, raising our two daughters, and his two kids from his first marriage.  Then he decided he didn’t want to be married any more.  I hadn’t had a regular paying job in years, so it took months to find a low paying secretarial position.  I felt fortunate to have that.  I already had a college degree, a BA obtained in the 80’s.  I’d quickly paid off the small loans on it. When I was in my 40’s and my girls were in elementary school, I decided to go back to school for my master’s degree.  I thought it would lead to a better paying job and improved quality of life for my family.

I worked very hard for nearly three years, parenting, full time job and a graduate program.  I started looking for a professional job six months before graduating.  I figured within six months to a year, I would have a professional job.  I had a plan to pay off my loans early, well before retirement.

But I couldn’t find a job.  I looked for years.  When I hadn’t found a professional position within a few years, I searched for ANY better job.  No luck.  My loans were on financial hardship forbearance.  I simply didn’t have the money left over from basic living expenses to pay on the larger student loan account.

I did begin paying the smaller account, a Perkins loan, a year after graduation.  Perkins loans were only made to low income borrowers.  I will have the Perkins loan paid off a little more than a year from now.

But there was no way I could make the payments on the larger account.  The interest continued to mount, by thousands of dollars.  Finally the servicer told me that I could no longer postpone payment.  I said that I couldn’t make those payments, plus pay rent and buy food.  The guy would even listen to me.  Every time I started to say something, he interjected “You’re out of forbearance,” over and over.  He wouldn’t even let me get a word in.  I finally hung up the phone, sick at heart.  I was informed by mail that my first payment, for hundreds of dollars, was due in two weeks!

Friends helped me out, and I was able to avoid default.  If you default (don’t pay) on these loans, they pile on more fees.  And they can just take the money, by garnishing your wages without a court order.  The student loan lenders are apparently not concerned whether or not you will have enough to live on, they just want their money.

My friends’ help dropped off after a while.  I lived in fear of homelessness.  With the student loan payments, I was barely able to pay my rent.  And I couldn’t manage to save enough to move.  I would have insomnia for weeks at a time.  I wrote and asked them to lower the principal.  Now in my 60’s, the odds of finding a better paying job are slim, to say the least. I got back a form letter saying “We don’t negotiate on the principal.”  I wrote begging for a break on the interest.  At this writing they have added over $12,000 in interest charges!  Another “no” to that request.

Fortunately, I was able to move in with a friend, so did not become homeless.  I am paying hundreds of dollars a month to student loans.  Some of that money, for my future survival, should be going into retirement savings.

I became aware, as I researched the student loan situation, that there are many thousands, if not millions, of seniors in similar trouble.  I decided to try to do something to improve things for others like me.  That is the reason for this blog.  Please share it, and encourage others to do so.  I believe that most Americans have no idea how bad the laws are.  Read my earlier posts and/or do your own research.  Thanks for reading.



First Senior Student Loan Story

The first story sent in by a reader has some similarities to my own.  I’ll call her Joyce,  not her real name.  Joyce is in her 50’s. Like me she had no trouble paying off her first degree, an associate’s, obtained in the 90’s.  Then in the early 2000’s, she went back to school.  The field she chose seemed to be a practical one for finding a job in the future.  Joyce said lots of extra money was offered on top of what was needed for the actual cost of school.  She described it as not easy to refuse or give back.  She discussed it with her husband who agreed they could use the extra for health insurance (not offered by his job) and basic living expenses.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, she decided to go back for a master’s.

Joyce found a part-time job teaching in her career area, but the job didn’t pay very much.  Her student loans became due six months after graduation.  She was mortified to find the total of her student loan payments was nearly as high as their mortgage payment!  Joyce reports she spend a weekend crying her eyes out and wondering what to do.  Then a possible solution came to mind.  Lots of foreclosures were happening.  She decided to withdraw her retirement savings and buy some houses to rent out, using the income to make the student loan payments.  Her husband liked the idea and also put in some money, less than a third of what Joyce contributed.

Sounds like it worked for a brief time.  She was able to make her payments.  Then she found out her husband was having an affair.  The marriage fell apart.  They fought over the rentals, and spent thousands on attorneys’ fees.  Joyce tried to get her husband to split paying back the extra amount borrowed that had gone to health insurance and other living costs.  The judge turned it down since she’d received the degree.  She looked into the repayment plans, and said she realized quickly that they were scams.  The payments would never touch the principal, only go toward interest.

She lost her retirement savings, and most of the rental properties.  Joyce had found another, full time job, but still wasn’t making enough to make a dent in the student loans.  She’d borrowed about $75,000 for the two degrees and paid back about $3,000 before her marriage ended.  As if her situation wasn’t bad enough,  Joyce found that a loan from the 90’s had been handwritten into a consolidation loan requested much later.  She estimates she now owes over $90,000 and doesn’t feel too hopeful about the future.

Over 50 and want to tell your student loan story?  You can send it to me at or by U.S. mail at Jessica Hopkins, PO Box 2745, Salem OR 97308.

Student Loan Forgiveness – Not Much

Frequently you’ll see articles with “Student Loan Forgiveness” in the title.  I believe the student loan power players keep putting out this information in the hope that most people will not realize how terrible the system really is.  They want to lull the public into thinking “Things can’t be that bad.  Look at all the student loan forgiveness out there.”

Nearly always, these pieces are promoting a very limited type of forgiveness that has been available for years.  Let’s look at some circumstances under which loans may be forgiven.  These are from the Department of Education website,  Check it out if you want more details.  Here are some situations where student loans may be forgiven:

  1. Death  (this is the only one that always works, at least for the person who died.  Not for any cosigners.)
  2. Becoming totally and permanently disabled to the point where you can’t work.  (Even this one has many qualifications)
  3. If the school falsely certified the loan (only under very specific circumstances)
  4. If the school closed before you graduated (only under very specific circumstances)
  5. If the loans was falsely signed for, due to identity theft

There is a program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which sounds good, at first.  But after reading further, here is how it works.  The person must be working in specific types of jobs, the full ten years.  They must make ten years of full payments, only on certain types of loans, and only on certain payment plans.  Then they can apply for loan forgiveness.  This may or may not be approved.  The Department of Education has also come out and said that they make no guarantee that the program will still be in existence after the borrower completes ten years of payments!  Not much hope of relief there.

There is more, but you get the idea.  Having the loans discharged when you die is certainly no help to the people who need relief while they are alive.  The other conditions only pertain to a very small percentage of these loans.  The website specifically says: “Note that a Department loan cannot be canceled because a borrower is experiencing financial hardship and can’t afford his or her loan payments.”  Apparently in the Department of Education’s world, financial hardship is always temporary.  If only it were true.  And “experiencing financial hardship” sounds so much milder than “struggling to keep a roof over their heads.”  Which is exactly the situation that many with these loans find themselves in.  Especially seniors.

There is no meaningful help for seniors who can’t afford to pay their loans, yet are forced to pay anyway.  This is wrong.

Things need to change

I’ve been searching the Internet for articles on seniors and student loans.  There are a lot of stories of hardship out there.  What is so frustrating is that these news items have been running for years.  Yet there has  been no meaningful change in the laws that are ruining lives.  So many seniors whose loans have increased by tens of thousands of dollars because of interest and penalties…  There are people who have paid back what they borrowed, and interest on top of that.  Yet they still owe as much as the original debt, or more.  This is not right.  People should not be struggling to keep food on the table because they went back to college years ago.  I recently spoke with a woman whose father had just died in his 90’s.  At the time of his death, he was making payments on his daughter’s student loan, which he had co-signed.  He’d been paying on it for years, and apparently, could afford to do so.  When he died, the servicer immediately demanded payment in full from the daughter!  She didn’t have it.  Fortunately the total owed was less than $3000 by then.  A relative was able to loan her the money to pay off the debt.  But what about the many older Americans who can’t afford to pay and don’t have a relative who is willing and able to help?  They have no way out of a desperate situation.

I’ve called my representatives repeatedly pleading for some relief from these terrible loans.  They’ve told me “It’s the law.” They say it as if that should be the end of it.  Sadly, some people probably take that statement as the final word and hang up.  The members of Congress and the Senate passed those laws.  The ones that don’t provide real relief, even if the senior is forced into poverty by the student loan payments.  Congress and the Senate could change the laws to help people who are suffering, but so far, they haven’t.  It’s highly unlikely that seniors who are struggling financially are suddenly going to get a high paying job or experience some other big increase in their income.  There needs to be loan forgiveness for seniors who can’t afford to pay.  Real change in the laws is overdue.

Impossible situation

Some people seem to wonder why people who have these loans don’t just shut up and pay them already?  For thousands, if not millions of seniors, it is because paying them is impossible.  The government keeps bringing out new payment plans and claiming this solves everything.  It doesn’t.  Many can’t afford the payments, and have no way of increasing their income to do so.  Even for those who can make the payments, those payments frequently don’t even cover the interest.  Imagine how discouraging it is to pay thousands of dollars a year, only to see the debt keep growing!

This results in some seniors suffering severe stress, sleepless nights, and stress-related health conditions.  These can and do lead to premature death.

Businesses are being impacted as seniors spend more than they can afford on student loans.  Money that would have otherwise gone to consumer goods or basic living expenses is being sucked up by these loans.  See my related blog post, dated February 29, 2016.

One terrible aspect of the current laws is that when consumer protections were removed from student loans in 2005, it was made retroactive.  So people who borrowed money in the 70’s and were unable to pay it back, suddenly find themselves owing many times the original debt.  Before 2005, student loans were covered under states’ statute of limitations laws.  Loans taken out in the 1970’s had long since been cancelled under the statute of limitations.  Yet with the current draconian laws, these ancient debts were resurrected and vigorously pursued.  This is wrong.  Debts that were covered by statute of limitations laws when they were taken out, should not be subject to collection decades later.

If a senior who has these loans gets married, the spouse’s income will be counted on a income based payment plan.  Relationships suffer.  Some seniors don’t marry, knowing that their budget can’t take the pressure of even higher payments.  It is sad that they are denied being able to marry the person they love.  Others marry, not knowing how bad the laws are, and get a shock when their loan payment suddenly increases.

Student loans are a constant shadow over the lives of people who should be living out their final years in peace and tranquility.  The laws need to be changed.  The lender/loan servicer and/or harsh laws should not be the authority deciding what a senior can afford to pay.  They will squeeze the last cent possible out of the senior citizen, with no regard to quality of life.  There needs to be realistic consideration of what the person can afford to pay and still have a decent standard of living.  This is not even close to the current state of affairs.

Thomas Villalobos

Recent college grads aren’t the only ones suffering from oppressive student loans

Former California state government worker Thomas Villalobos, 66, who is currently unemployed, never thought he’d be nearing retirement and still paying off his student loan. But that’s exactly what has happened to him.

Villalobos, of Loma Rica, Calif., borrowed $12,000 to attend law school back in 1976. Since then, he has sometimes had to defer the loan payments due to a cash shortage, adding interest to the principal. Villalobos figures he’s paid $31,000 in interest over the years and the loan’s balance is right back where it started: $12,000.

Villalobos is looking for work so he can continue making the $160 monthly payments until he’s eventually free and clear. He’s also facing the prospect of watching his 15-year-old son take on student loans when he graduates from high school. “This is no way to educate American students,” Villalobos says. “It’s all about money, not education.”

If you want to help

If you know someone who is being hurt by the student loan policies or if you just think what is being done is wrong, there are ways you can help.  Feel free, encouraged even, to refer them to this blog.  So many folks I’ve spoken with about student loans have said things like “I had no idea how bad the system was.”  I’ve experienced it, and done a lot of research.  Please publicize this blog.  I haven’t been writing much lately, but the problems I’ve detailed in past blogs have not gotten better.  The pieces I’ve written are still valid.

Talk with people and tell them how bad the laws are.  Write, or better yet call, your representatives.  Repeatedly.  Weekly wouldn’t be too often.  Write newspapers.  You can friend me on Facebook under the name Keep Jessica Afloat.  There is also a group that has been working on this a long time, called Student Loan Justice.  They are also on Facebook and on Twitter.  It’s going to take a lot of pressure from those of us being hurt by the draconian laws before we see meaningful change.  Thanks for reading.

Senior parent and student loans

In the news: a 65 year old man is trying to discharge student loans he took out to finance his three children’s education.  Current student loan policy is that students under 24 years of age have to have their parents co-sign to get student loans.  If the young people don’t repay the debt, the parents are held responsible.  As most students  who want to go to college plan to do so right after high school, I predict there will be more cases like this, unless and until the whole system is reformed.  It is nearly impossible to get student loans discharged in bankruptcy.  This man is 65, and couldn’t find a job after being laid off 14 years ago.  Yet the bankruptcy court said it would not be an “undue hardship” for him to pay off nearly $250, 000 in loans!  Makes one wonder how dire the circumstances would need to be for “undue hardship.”  Although a federal appeals court urged the bankruptcy court to allow the man to discharge the debt, it is up to a bankruptcy judge.  The bankruptcy courts don’t have a history of being merciful since standard consumer protections, including bankruptcy, were removed from student loans in 2005.  Here is the article.

Dad wins court victory in effort to erase $250K in student loans

By Associated Press

April 15, 2016 | 10:15am

BOSTON — A Massachusetts man who owes about $250,000 he borrowed to put three children through college has won a major court victory in his effort to have the debt forgiven.

The Boston Globe reports that a federal appeals court has urged a bankruptcy judge to consider a settlement with the company that holds the loans to allow Robert Murphy, of Duxbury, to erase the debt.

A bankruptcy judge and district court judge previously ruled that the 65-year-old Murphy failed to prove repaying the loans was an undue hardship, as required by law.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals sent the proposed settlement back to bankruptcy court. It’s now up to the bankruptcy judge to rule.

Murphy says he was unable to find work after being laid off 14 years ago.



Discharge of Disabled People’s Student Loans

Today the government announced that they are taking steps to make sure that people who are totally and permanently disabled get the student loan discharges that they are entitled to. This is a good step. But it would sure be nice to see some progress toward discharging loans for people who can’t afford to pay them and who have no way to earn the money. For example, people at or near retirement who aren’t going to get a job that pays well. Here is the article:

Seniors’ Stories Wanted

There are many seniors struggling to make ends meet because of their student loans.

I would like to be a voice for those people.

I am looking for stories from people over 40 years old who have student loans and can’t afford to pay them.  I chose the age of 40 because many of the loans have 25 year repayment plans and 65 is the traditional retirement age.

I will feature some of the stories on this blog.  I won’t use their real names unless they give me permission to do so.  If you want to see my story, check out my other website at

The more we can get the word out on how bad the current laws are, the better chance we have of getting them changed.

Here are my contact options for folks to send their stories to me.  By mail: Jessica Hopkins, PO Box 2745, Salem OR 97308. On Facebook, send a message to me under the name: Keep Jessica Afloat.  Or you can e-mail me at

I’m looking forward to helping to publicize the plight of seniors with these loans.

If you know anybody who meets the description, encourage them to get in touch.

If you know a news outlet who might be willing to air or print this notice, by all means, share it with them.  Thank you!

A note, I have my blog set up so that I have to approve comments before they appear.  So don’t be concerned if you try to comment and it doesn’t show up right away.  Also, since I work full time and have a busy life, I generally only am able to work on my blog once a week.