Dear Penny: I’m in So Much Debt My Teenage Son Is Afraid of Student Loans

Dear J.,

Your debt has consumed you. You probably thought you hit your lowest financial point years ago, when you were a new mom; then you probably thought you were at the bottom again when you defaulted on your student loans. And now, here you are with the added burdens of medical debt and your son’s misconceptions about how investing in college could derail his future.

There’s a lot you can’t change right now. But one area where you can make a major change right away is in how you and your son discuss his options for higher education.

Your family’s income is not the sole determining factor for how much financial aid your son is eligible to receive. The size of your family, for instance, will also be considered. Applying for federal student aid is a must-do if your son wants to pursue college, as it’s the first step toward figuring out what sort of grants, loans and work-study programs will be available to help him cover the costs.

Once he receives financial aid offers, he can truly evaluate the affordability of school. He may have to start at community college or another lower-cost option, but he shouldn’t count out college solely because of your family’s financial struggles.

Next, it’s time for you to get help sorting out the options for your own finances. Calling for assistance from an impartial third party can help you make sense of your situation instead of spinning your wheels and feeling desperate. A debt counselor in your area can review your credit report and provide free educational resources that can help. They can also help you enroll in a debt management plan that will make your debt easier to manage.

In extreme cases, a debt counselor may recommend that you consider filing for bankruptcy, which can discharge some of your debt. There’s a lot of shame around the idea of doing this, but it could be the lifeline you need to find stability for your family.  

And that may be the hardest part of taking your next financial step: letting go of the shame. More people than you can possibly imagine have struggled to gain financial stability, let alone success. I won’t be glib and say you’re in good company. But you at least have company.

You may be surprised at how understanding your peers are as you seek help and start to work your way out of debt.

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny and you might see your question answered in an upcoming column.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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