College degree means accomplishment, but also means big financial pressure

For college graduates, walking across the stage to receive their diploma is a sense of relief and accomplishment. Unfortunately for 44 million Americans who attend school without scholarships, there's also a sense of financial pressure.

"There's not enough scholarships in the world to fund several hundred thousand dollars in education costs," said Cody Hounanian, Program Director of the non-profit company Student Debt Crisis. "Taking out student loans is just kind of the reality for many borrowers unfortunately."

Student Debt Crisis works directly with borrowers to advocate on their behalf and hear their stories. For many borrowers it prevents them from becoming financially stable.

"When they talk about debt relief, they're not talking about having their student loans wiped clean so they can go on vacation," said Hounanian. "They're talking about putting food on the table, making sure their home is safe, healthcare and stable retirement."

Research shows that 70 percent of college graduates will take on a significant amount of student debt.

"We're working towards paying them off a little bit faster, but right now it's paying them off every 26th day of the month," said Cody Retlich, a 2015 graduate of UW-Whitewater. 

Retlich majored in entrepreneurship and professional sales, hoping to upstart his own business, but he's learned that takes time, hard work and setting realistic expectations.

"The first year of the business I was working a full-time job and then another 20 hours into my business," Retlich said. "I've always looked for ways to find other income because student loans have to be paid."

So what can be done? For starters, it's imperative for prospective students to understand costs that come with each educational opportunity. 

"I knew I didn't want to go out of state because I didn't want to pay too much," Retlich said of his options. "For the first year I went to an extension school. Three years out of [graduation] I'd say I'm about a third of the way done."

As for those already facing mounting debt, there are options out there.

"Contact the Department of Education or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaint portal," suggested Hounanian. "The last option is always turn to advocates."

Paying off loans isn't a walk in the park, but despite these financial challenges many experts still agree it's one of the most reliable investments for future well-being.

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