The Student Loan Diaries: Stephanie Alicia

In the first of a weekly series, one Marie Claire reader shares her story of student debt, and what she's doing to get out of the hole.

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(Image credit: Archives)

We've all heard the statistic: Americans owe a collective one trillion dollars in student loan debt. And that number is growing at an alarming rate. Just last year, students borrowed $117 billion in loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some experts predict another financial crisis, the overwhelming debt forcing consumers to spend less and slow the economy.

To add another dimension, a recent U.S. News & World Report article suggests that women who borrow might be worse-off than their male counterparts. The piece implores us to consider the problem of the gender wage gap. Take a man and a woman with identical profiles: they attend the same college, borrow the same amount, graduate with the same degree, get jobs in the same field, live in the same state, and owe the same monthly amount at the same interest rate. Since the average woman earns 77 cents for each dollar that a man makes, it's easy to see why women would have a more difficult time paying back their student loans.

Now, we're making it personal. Our new weekly series, "The Student Loan Diaries," will feature testimonials from Marie Claire readers in debt, and tell what they're doing to get rid of it. Check back every Monday to read another woman's story.

My Student Loans Forced Me to Move Back Home

Name: Stephanie Alicia

Alma mater: Duke University, Class of 2008

Loan balance in 2008: $42,000

Loan balance today: $63,468

I didn't have a job when I graduated in May 2008, so I chose to defer my loan payments for six months while I continued my search. In June of that year, I was hired as an entry-level account executive at a NYC advertising agency. After the deferment period was over, I learned that my monthly payment would total $1,000. The cost-of-living in the city was already exorbitant, and adding that hefty bill to my rent, utilities, and grocery expenses would have left me with barely enough money to buy a monthly MetroCard for transportation.

I'd taken out eight loans over four years (one per semester), but the option to consolidate them post-graduation was no longer available—I would have had to do so while still in school. My only viable alternative was to enroll in an interest-only payment program, whereby paying a reduced $486 per month would keep me from defaulting.

In the meantime, I've moved back in with my parents in Georgia, and started freelancing at a major broadcasting company. I put aside the money I save on rent to pay off each loan from each semester, one at a time. My plan is to give Sallie Mae a few thousand dollars at a time until they're all gone. I'm hoping to wipe it all out by 2022.