We asked Yahoo News readers to share their stories of living with mortgages that are underwater. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing their stories here.
Ben, Jill and Carlyn Wilson
Verona, PA
Purchased in 2007 for $115,000
Current value: $83,000

"We have never been late on a mortgage payment or any credit payment for that matter and my credit sits in the excellent range. However I recently found out that my home is now valued in the low $80k’s and we currently owe approximately $17k more than our home is worth, therefore I have found no bank that will refinance our mortgage for this reason."

We asked Yahoo News readers to share their stories of living with mortgages that are underwater. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing their stories here.

Ben, Jill and Carlyn Wilson

Verona, PA

Purchased in 2007 for $115,000

Current value: $83,000

"We have never been late on a mortgage payment or any credit payment for that matter and my credit sits in the excellent range. However I recently found out that my home is now valued in the low $80k’s and we currently owe approximately $17k more than our home is worth, therefore I have found no bank that will refinance our mortgage for this reason."

We asked Yahoo News readers to share their stories of living with mortgages that are underwater. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing their stories here. 
Emilie Peck
Minneapolis
Purchased in 2004 for $154,000
Current value: $64,675

“A year or two after we’d moved in, the houses in our neighborhood had started to go into foreclosure. At one point, there were more empty homes than occupied on our block.”

We asked Yahoo News readers to share their stories of living with mortgages that are underwater. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing their stories here. 

Emilie Peck

Minneapolis

Purchased in 2004 for $154,000

Current value: $64,675

A year or two after we’d moved in, the houses in our neighborhood had started to go into foreclosure. At one point, there were more empty homes than occupied on our block.”

'I pay on the loan monthly, but I still owe pretty much the same principal amount I did when I graduated'

I was able to get through undergrad without having to get loans. But the summer before I entered graduate school, my parents got divorced and were no longer going to be able to help pay for my Master’s degree.

I ended up taking out loans to cover my three years of school, while also working full time. I decided to go into the Social Work field and without a Master’s Degree I would not be making the salary I currently make. That is the positive of taking out the loans. The difficult thing has been paying them back. I pay on the loan monthly, but I still owe pretty much the same principal amount I did when I graduated. It is frustrating to not see that balance decrease but have so much less money each month for other things.

I think if I had to do it all over again (and knew then, what I know now) I might have gone into a different field. Possibly obtaining a MBA, where the possiblity to make more money and pay off the loans faster would have been much higher.

In the end, I am happy that I have my Master’s degree and while I live pay check to pay check, without the Master’s it is highly possible I would not have a job today.

Maggie, Dallas, TX via email

'North Korea and student loan debt have this in common: both are difficult to get out of.'

North Korea and student loan debt have this in common: both are difficult to get out of.

At the time of writing, my student loan debt sits over $40,000, divided up into three different loans, which are owned by three different companies. During the five years of owning this debt, those three different loans have changed more hands than I can remember.

When a loan changed hands, which happened frequently and suddenly, all I received was a simple email – no call or letter – just one email that told me who bought it and how I could now access it. If that email ended up in a spam folder, which happened on more than one occasion, all knowledge of the loan disappeared. This left me wondering where my loan debt went and why it had so suddenly disappeared, only to realize later that I was now late paying it off with the new owner.

My monthly minimal student loan payment sits around $450. But if I followed this recommended amount, I’d be in debt for another 30+ years. Since I actually want to enjoy my life and do something other than remain financially enslaved, I pay $800 per month, which shortens my payment period to 5+ years. Still a large chunk of time, but that’s the price of a mistake, I suppose.

I say my student loan debt is a mistake because I now know there are more financially viable options for attending college. For example, I would not have attended a private college for a liberal arts degree. Instead, I would recommend everyone to take advantage of the community college system, at least for the first two years. Get the general education requirements out of the way, use that time to burn through your energetic youth, and then get ready for an expensive two years at a university.

Also – and I say this from experience - do not be afraid to drop out of college. This may sound anti-intellectual, but I am in no way advocating for individuals to not attend college. Furthering your knowledge of a subject is a great, great thing – the best, in fact – but you must understand that learning a subject from a college or university comes with a hefty price tag. And that price tag must eventually be paid back. If you feel the financial strain is too much, do not drown yourself within the murky red ink of debt, especially if your degree is not financially viable. Drop out, give yourself time to financially recoup, and then head back for more intellectual advancements. It worked for me.

The continual demand of my student loan debt may seem like a terrible thing – I mean, I called it financial enslavement earlier – but I have come to accept it as a generally positive part of my life. The need to meet those financial constraints has pushed me, both mentally and physically, to be a more productive citizen. Yes, I am a college dropout, one with loads of student loan debt, but the lack of a degree has not stopped me from being a successful individual; the lack of a degree and the looming mountain of student debt force me to stand out from the mainstream crowd. My skills much be sharper and more marketable than the competition, for the lack of a college degree is becoming a rarity.

Regardless, I anticipate the day when I can enjoy the financial byproduct of my work efforts, instead of promising them to some large corporation. What an absolute bliss it must be to look at a paycheck and say, “This is mine, and I’ve earned this for myself.”

Five more years.

Dale R., East Providence, RI

via email

'Maybe one day I’ll go back to school … but I think I’ll be vacationing on Mars before that comes about'

My name is Kyle, I’m 27 and I graduated from ITT Tech in 2008 with a drafting/design degree. At a cost of $40,000. $20k a year, now that’s a lot, but figured it was the first step in the right direction. Before I took up drafting, I use to work as a “housekeeper” for a local medical clinic. That’s really just a fancy way of saying I emptied the trash and cleaned the toilets. It was a dirty job, but it paid the bills. In fact, I may have been at that same job today, if it had not been for an auto accident in 2004. Unfortunately, due to the injuries I sustained, I was forced to look for work elsewhere. That’s when I made the decision to go back to school and hopefully get a job that didn’t require me to be on my feet all day long.

So in summer 2006, I enrolled at ITT in Seattle, WA. At first things seemed great, classes were going well, I was learning a lot and even made some new friends. But all that changed when I found out about some of the shady/unethical and even illegal practices that were going on at the school. For example, a student was going to school part time, but the school administration would tell the federal government that this student is going full time. There for, they are eligible for federal assistance. The school would then receive the money from the government, and would hold onto it, until that money was spend for future classes. The government has been made aware of this, but to my knowledge they have yet to do anything about it. “Lack of oversight” I believe is what I was told. There was no one to enforce the laws.

When I found out about some of this stuff, I was about half way through my course. So I made the decision to stick with it, and just finish the degree. Which I’m glad I did. Because not long after the beginning of my second year, I was offered a job at a local structural engineering firm. It worked out great for me, I hadn’t even graduated yet and I already have a job in my field. The drafting job paid several dollars more than my housekeeping job and I finally got benefits. I worked during the day and finished my classes at night. And in June of 2008, I graduated from ITT Tech and I was on my way to pay off my loans. $600 a month was my payment. It was a lot, but I was able to afford it with my new job. It would have been smaller, if I was able to consolidate my loans, but as of right now I have 8 loans each with their own interest rate and monthly payment. Add them all up, and it’s a lot.

Then came the recession. And the economy took a drop. I lost my job and couldn’t get another right way, so I had to go on unemployment. And anyone who’s been on unemployment, knows that you don’t get very much money. My $600 a month student loan payment ate up most of my money each month. I thought my biggest concern was to keep up with my payments on my loans. And to this day, I have yet to miss a payment. I had to live in the garage of my brother house for 9 months while I was on unemployment. With most of my UE checks going to keep my student loans current, there was little else I could afford. I owe my brother a big thank you (and a few dozen six-packs) for being there when I needed help.

Today, I have a great job, working for a civil engineer. Working on fiber optic projects throughout Washington State. While I have a good job now, my student loan payment is still a heavy burden. And if the interest rate rises back to 6.8%, it’s going to get even tougher. I still can’t afford some of the things I wish I could. But I manage to survive. Looking back I am glad I made the decision to go back to school and earn a degree. It helped me get a better paying job (even with this payment each month) and I do feel like it was one of my highest accomplishments in my life thus far. The only regret I do have, is going to ITT Tech. I wish I had chosen a different school. Even a community college would have been better, looking back. But that’s the past, and I have hope for the future. Maybe one day I’ll go back to school and study more, but I think I’ll be vacationing on Mars before that comes about.

Kyle C.,  Seattle, WA
via email

'It was only recently that I have been able to start paying my loans down'

The decision of taking out student loans was never really a question. Growing up in the mid-90s, the pervasive mentality was that successful people went to college. College people were smart. In an era where everybody was a winner, I was smart, so I was going to college to be successful, regardless of cost.

The initial thought was that scholarships would be prevalent, but they were not, so financial aid including government subsidized loans seemed to be the most viable option. Fast forward to the end of my college career. During that time, I had changed majors three times, adding superfluous summer sessions and private loans. The cost of my college education had ballooned nearly four times my initial expectations. Everything was going to be okay, because those with a college education find jobs. They find success.

My first post-college work was at a local movie theater in a southern capital. I moved northward to find work in DC, but only managed to muster up the lucrative career of bagel making. A brief pit stop in Iowa found me a meat counter position, putting me past minimum wage for the first time since my college career. Moving to the steel city, I finally found a job making double digit figures with the promise of future benefits, only to be let go six weeks into landing that position.

It was only recently that I have been able to start paying my loans down. After years of struggling, I am finally in a position that, while menial and vastly underutilizes my skills, talents, and abilities, I am able to be semi-independent, paying down debt, investing … being a real adult. Meanwhile, my friends who skipped out on college and worked their way up in their respective ladders for four years and not undertaking any financial encumbrances are getting married, finishing up car payments, and buying houses.

When all is said and done, I do not regret any of my past decisions. I have a cadre of friends, memories, and experiences that would have not been available to me otherwise. The choices I made were entirely my own and I will work diligently until every last penny has been paid in full.

Things could always be a lot better. At the same time, things could be a lot worse.

Jimmy M., via email

'I wish I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone to college'

I had to go to work right out of high school.  Yet ever since I knew what one was I wanted to be a teacher.  So with no savings I decided to take out loans.  I went to the University of Phoenix online (I still had to work full time) in 2003 and received my Associates Degree in General Studies in 2005.  I then found an online accredited teachers college called Western Governors University and started working toward my secondary teachers credential in Social Science in 2005.  I was able to graduate in 2007.  Ever since I graduated I have been applying for teaching positions and haven’t even been called in for an interview (may I remind you it’s 2012!?).  My speculation is that there are so many seasoned teachers who need work that they may not want a teacher who has no experience.

I owe a stomach wrenching $22,125 from Sallie Mae and $11,470 from Nelnet.  I was able to consolidate some of my FAFSA loans.  And I have had to ask Sallie Mae to make my payments lower because I am unable to find work.  But that is only going to prolong the process of paying it off.  I wish I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone to college.  Loans were my only option.  I didn’t realize how overwhelming the debt would be once I was done.  I was not only married when I graduated, but 6 months pregnant with our first child.  He is now 4 and we have another son who is 2.  We rely on my husband’s income and it is extremely tight to say the least.  I wish I didn’t have to send in the $355 a month in student loan payments.  I am sure that is not the message you want to give your readers, this is my truth.

Angela W., via email

'I don't necessarily think that someone else should have to pay for my loans, but I don't think that I should either.'

Down But Not Out started as a project to gather the stories of those dealing with long-term unemployment in the summer of 2011. We continue to gather stories of how Americans are coping with a rocky economy. In May, we asked Yahoo News readers about their experiences with student loan debt. We’ll be sharing some of their stories this week. 

I like to say I’m a victim of the poor economy, although I don’t like placing blame on others.

When I started college in 2000 at the University of Minnesota, I was a starry eyed freshman with high hopes and aspirations, of what, I was never quite sure, but I was looking forward to finding out. I spent my undergraduate years taking classes that interested me, hoping that by the next semester I would decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At this time, the economy was good, and the advice most commonly heard was, it doesn’t matter what you’re degree is in, it just matters that you have one … which is how I ended up with an Art Degree after 6 years of taking classes that interested me.

My parents were generous enough to pay for my first 4 years of college, so I left the university with only 12,000 in student loans. During college, (and still) I made my income working at various restaurants and bars, which pays far more than the average entry level position, so I continued to work there while I searched for jobs … The University of Minnesota did not prepare me for looking for jobs. I didn’t even know how to write a resume. Needless to say, my poorly written resume did not land me any jobs, or even any interviews for that matter. I was frustrated, depressed and needing a change in my life so I decided to go back to school. I then attended the Minnesota School of Business and obtained a degree in interactive media and graphic design. Things were looking up, as I knew that I would have a leg up on the other graduates with my second degree. I was wrong.

After I graduated I spent pretty much all day every day filling out tedious online applications, some which took over 2 hours. I never heard back from most of them. Because companies are spending less money on marketing in the poor economy, jobs in my field are sparse. For every 1 open position companies are receiving about 250 applicants. I have had a few interviews, they went well, but someone with more experience beat me into the position. How does one get experience when no one will give you any? Do it for free. Which is when I started my unpaid internship helping out in marketing for a local website.

I did this for four months, and decided it was time to start looking again. I joined clubs, volunteered, and went to networking events. Still no luck. It’s been 2 years now since I graduated for the second time. My student loan payments are over 1,000 dollars a month, which leaves me 30 years old and living in my parents basement. I haven’t given up however, and I did just get a part time marketing job that pays 12 dollars an hour, but as you can imagine, this is not paying my bills. Again, I left am frustrated.

I don’t necessarily think that someone else should have to pay for my loans, but I don’t think that I should either. I feel that I have done all the right things, I graduated with honors from both schools, I’m talented, hard working, and eager to be a part of something. My student loan debt has left me in a hole I can not see way out of.

Chantal L, via email

'Sort of like being the only sober person at a party of drunks'

My husband is officially laid off today, after 26 years with the company and roughly 2 weeks before Christmas. We have scaled back tremendously—no gift baskets to relatives, only cards. No big presents to my two adult kids—just some cash and a few stocking stuffers. No trips to see family.  My adult son has only been able to get part time work and lives at home with us.

To cheer the holiday up we decided to have a Mexican food fiesta for our family- it’s inexpensive, well-loved by all, and will break the tradtion of the usual ham or turkey. We’ll watch a movie at home or maybe catch a matinee.

Not being a part of the consumerism, it is sickening to watch. Sort of like being the only sober person at a part of drunks. That part feels good!

Julie M.

'I do not have a new years resolution. Well maybe never to be where I am again.'

I am a mother of three living in Reno, NV. The holidays this year are rough.

I am still without work and my husband is just starting his job on Monday and we do not know if it will even pay the bills. We have gone from making $72,000.00 a year to food stamps and $100.00 to my name.

To add to our struggles the home I live in is being auctioned off on Thursday and my oh so wonderful landlords are turning off the lights and water on Thursday as well. With help from family we will be able to move into an apartment. But it will not be ready in time. So we will be homeless for the first days of Hanukkah. I won’t even be able to light our menorah.

My children are handling it well. We have always instilled the point of being together as a family first rather then gifts. But this will be the first year they will probably receive none. It is breaking my heart because I thought at least we will be able to light the menorah but we will not even be doing that.

So as this holiday season comes in its weight is heavy. I do not have a new years resolution. Well maybe never to be where I am again.

Michelle G.; Reno, NV

Stories from a bad economy, as told to
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