Terry Rooney is a teacher, which means she is well versed in organization, planning and executing those plans, none of which seems to help when it’s time to pay her monthly bills.
Rooney organizes her activities very carefully, budgets expenses prudently and plans to pay for it all at the end of every month, but it almost never happens.
“Student loans,” she explained in a humble voice. “It’s a burden every single month and it feels like it’s never going to end.”
Rooney is single, owns a home and just bought a new car when her old one died. She borrowed $37,000 to get her degree. Her first job was a pre-K teacher at a parochial school that paid $35,000.
She said she only eats out once or twice a month, takes a one-week vacation in the summer and hasn’t shopped for clothes in six months. The rest of her expenses are the same as most of her peers: credit card debt, utilities, cable and cell phone. Oh, and like 73% of the recent college graduates, a student loan.
That payment and an occasional hiccup with the three credit cards in her wallet, have been a drag on her finances and on her life.
“My credit card debt got up to $1,500, but I’ve put those away and paid that down some so I’m not really worried about it,” she said. “The real stress came when I had to start making a car payment along with the mortgage payment and student loan payment. I don’t have an emergency fund and there isn’t any wiggle room at the end of the month.
“I’m probably going to have to have to get a second job just to meet expenses and put food on the table.” ”
Teachers face some real financial obstacles, especially when they’re starting out. Starting salaries vary widely from South Dakota ($40,400) at the low end to Ohio ($57,970) in the middle and New York ($72,840) at the high end. None of those salaries puts teachers anywhere near the middle class for the area where they live.
Beyond that, prices keep rising, sometimes sharply, for the basics of after-college life. In the last five years, costs are up for rent (23%), utilities (4%), cable (8%) and broadband internet access (21%).
Most teachers even foot the bill for their own classroom supplies. A survey by SheerId found that teachers spend an average of $487 on class supplies. The survey revealed that 77% of teachers spend more than $200 and some spend as much as $4,000.
Student loan debt, stagnant salaries and consistent increases in expenses are part of the reason why a teacher shortage looms in the next few years. Only 4.2% of the 2015 college freshman class said they would be education majors, the lowest number in 45 years.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Teachers Federation and one of the speakers at the Democratic National Convention, said educators are well aware of the problem.
“Debt is certainly a real problem for people who want to be educators,” Weingarten said. “This is a wonderful profession, but when you combine tough working conditions, the fixation on testing and insufficiency of salaries, especially for new teachers, it’s easy to see why student loan debt is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back and deters people from the profession.”
The federal government is trying to offer some help for teachers through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program (TLFP) and Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans.
The TLFP program applies to those federal loans that are willing to work full-time for five consecutive years at schools in designated areas serving low-income families. That could qualify them to knock $5,000 to $17,000 off their loan amount after the fifth year.
Teachers with a Perkins Loans could have 100% of the loan amount forgiven for working five years in designated areas serving low-income families.
The other avenue available to teachers is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program that will cancel the remaining debt for teachers who make 120 qualifying payments under a qualified repayment plan while working full-time for a qualified employer.
None of that helps Rooney, who still works at the same parochial school. She recently went through a loan consolidation through the Income Based Repayment Plan that reduced her payment to $210 per month. She figures she has somewhere between 12 and 15 years of student loan payments, though she’d like to hurry the process by finding more money to throw at the loan.
She also talked to a credit counseling agency about enrolling in a debt consolidation program to try and eliminate credit card debt, but decided she would put the cards away and work on reducing that debt herself.
““You try to save money for a rainy day situation and give yourself some breathing room, but there’s never much left after I pay the student loan,” Rooney said. “I can’t wait for the day when I can take that $210 and put in a savings account and finally relax, but right now, that seems like a long way down the road.”