During Student Loan Planner’s recent mental health survey, one in nine survey respondents with student loan debt between $80k to $150k said they had considered suicide because of their debt.
This student loan range had the highest suicidal ideation rate out of all student debt totals, making it the highest-risk debt range for borrowers.
Although it would seem obvious that borrowers with fewer student loans would have less anxiety about them, it doesn’t seem intuitive that borrowers with more student loans would have less anxiety as well.
But considering how the student loan system is set up, this “deadly middle” that Student Loan Planner discovered shouldn’t be all that surprising. Let’s take a look at why borrowers with moderate to moderately-high student debt tend to feel the burden of their student loans the worst.
Incomes aren’t proportionate to student debt
If there’s one common thread among respondents with $80k to $150k of student debt who said their debt made them consider suicide, it’s a high student-debt-to-income ratio.
Of those who were currently working (i.e., not still in school), these are what the income numbers looked like:
- 73% were making $80k or less in annual income
- 55% were making $60k or less in annual income
- 36% were making $40k or less in annual income
There are various reasons why people could end up with an income that doesn’t seem to match their student loan totals, including deciding to work in a different field than what their degree is in.
But exceptions like this don’t explain why such a large percentage of people in this debt range seem to have unfavorable debt-to-income ratios.
The rise of graduate degree requirements
Many professions have changed their licensing rules in the last decade to now require graduate degrees. For example, 10 of our respondents who had $80k to $150k of debt were physical therapists — a profession that, as a result of the Vision 2020 guidelines, now requires a doctorate degree in order to practice.
While seven out of 10 said they owed more than $100k in student debt, only one out of 10 said their annual income was at $100k or better. Here’s what one physical therapist had to say:
As a PT [physical therapist] doctorate professional, the pay salary is low for the level of schooling and debt necessary to get this degree. And most plans with financial assistance in forgiveness on loans are mainly for nurses, medical doctors, teachers, pharmacists, public health and other health related professions.”
Another four of our respondents in the $80k to $150k debt range were occupational therapists — a profession that began requiring a master’s degree for licensure in 2007.
In fact, the vast majority of all respondents who had $80k to $150k of debt work in fields that require a graduate degree of some sort.
Yes, doctors and lawyers have intense education requirements, too. But it’s important to remember that they tend to earn incomes that are commensurate to their education costs.
However, as we’ll see, other middle-class professions don’t offer sky-high salary potential, despite increasingly lofty education requirements.
More education doesn’t always mean more money
Oftentimes, the findings aren’t pretty.
A day in the life of a chiropractor
Many chiropractic programs, for example, now require a bachelor’s degree to be completed before starting your Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree program, with most D.C. courses of study requiring about three more years of education.
This has resulted in an average student loan debt of $248,000 for the over 100 chiropractors Student Loan Planner has consulted. The average chiropractor salary is around $71,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
That’s a nice salary, but remember, this is an average. Student Loan Planner has found that chiropractors who don’t own their own practices could make significantly less than this average.
In fact, the average starting salary for a chiropractic assistant could be closer to the $30,000 to $40,000 range. Starting with that kind of a salary despite student loan totals near or above $200,000 would be enough to induce anxiety attacks in anyone.
And even a salary of $71,000 is relatively small when compared to the average physician’s salary of $208,000 or even the average lawyer salary of $120,000.
A day in the life of a social worker
Social workers are amazing people who help children, families and individuals who are dealing with emotional or mental issues. Yet they are another group of people who can get hit hard by student debt.
Ten of our survey respondents in the $80k to $150k student debt range were social workers and accounted for 16% of those who marked that they had considered suicide because of their debt.
Part of the reason for the amount of stress social workers feel on a daily basis is surely related to the high-stress nature of their jobs. But growing education requirements certainly can’t be helping.
Many social worker jobs today now require master’s degrees. Yet the average social worker only makes $49,000, according the BLS.
One of our social worker survey respondents had to this say about their student loan situation:
Being in a ‘care’ profession and feeling like you’re constantly overworked and undervalued while going to graduate school at the same time is incredibly difficult, draining, and overwhelming.”
The bottom line? It’s costing more than ever to qualify for many middle-class jobs while income expectations often aren’t keeping pace.
Income-driven repayment plans squeeze middle-class professionals the most
While Elizabeth Warren’s new student loan debt plan has its pros and cons, one of the areas it does aim to focus on is the student debt burden on the middle-class.
Regardless of whether or not the specifics of her plan will work or will ever be passed into law, it’s great that she’s bringing attention to an issue that isn’t discussed nearly enough.
If you’re someone who has between $80k and $150k of student debt, there’s a good chance you may work in a field that requires a graduate or professional degree. And if that’s the case, you may also find that your starting salary puts you in a sort of “no-man’s land” when it comes to repaying your student loans.
With income-driven repayment plans, low-income student loan borrowers are required to pay very little or sometimes nothing at all toward their student debt. And high-income earners can handle their monthly payment without feeling too much of a squeeze on their monthly cash flow.
But the middle-class professional ends up getting hit the hardest. For example, take a look below at how much someone with $100k of student loans would have to pay each month toward their student loans. Especially pay attention to the percentage of annual income that will be going towards student loan repayment at each income level.
|Income||Payment||Payment as a
The people making between $55k and $150k are the ones paying the highest percentage of their income toward student debt. Therefore, people in this range are feeling the biggest cash-flow squeeze from their student debt obligations.
Everything from paying for groceries to saving up for a house payment becomes more difficult when a larger percentage of your income is being tied up in student loan payments.
When asked what could help to lessen the mental health issues associated with student debt, one of our respondents recognized that while having a good student loan repayment strategy is important, high expenses can make even the best plans difficult to execute.
To wrap things up, people with $80k to $150k of student debt are often dealing with incomes that are disproportionate to their loan totals while also dealing with the tightest budgets.
What to do if you have $80k to $150k of student debt
If you have $80k to $150k in student loans, you don’t have to feel hopeless or overwhelmed. Student Loan Planner has helped hundreds of people in your exact situation come up with a plan to make their student loan payments more manageable.
Here are some tips to help you make your payments more manageable or help you pay off your student loans faster.
1. Look for “free money,” like student loan grants.
Depending on your profession, there may be grant money available that could help you pay down your student loans.
To help you get a head start on your search, check out Student Loan Planner’s guide, 11 Grants to Pay Off Student Loans Faster.
2. See if you qualify for a federal forgiveness program.
While income-driven repayment plans come with forgiveness options after 20 to 25 years of on-time payments, there are other federal programs that could offer you student loan forgiveness much quicker.
You can find all the forgiveness programs and how to qualify for them by checking out our Ultimate Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness.
3. Refinance your student loans.
As discussed above, people with middle-class incomes tend to get the least amount of relief from income-driven repayment plans. If you owe less than two times your income, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans to a lower interest rate instead.
If you decide to refinance federal loans, you’ll need good credit to qualify for lower rates. Also keep in mind that you’ll lose all federal benefits like forbearance, deferment and student loan forgiveness.
4. Think outside the box!
From signing up for autopay to adding a side hustle, there are lots of little things you can do that combined can make a big difference in your student loan situation.
If you’re ready to kick your student loans in the pants, here are 17 Ways You Can Pay Off Student Loans Fast, which could give you the inspiration and motivation you need.
Speaking of inspiration and motivation, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your student debt, a Student Loan Planner consultant would love to talk to you. With the right strategy, no student loan situation is hopeless. Book a consultation today.