Why You Shouldn’t Be Ashamed of Your Student Debt
Have you hidden how much student debt you have from friends or partners? Do you feel embarrassed when you think about your balance? Many people feel a sense of shame when it comes to their debt, and student loans are no exception.
In the U.S., 45 million borrowers now have a combined $1.56 trillion in student loan debt. For many people, student loans are the largest chunk of debt they will face in their lives, excluding a mortgage .
While most people are accustomed to going into debt in order to purchase a home, there seems to be more internal baggage associated with carrying around student loans. This shame and feeling of isolation can escalate if you have trouble paying your loans, if you didn’t graduate, or if you are struggling to find a job in your field.
Student loans can certainly feel like a burden and can take years to pay off, but they don’t have to be a source of embarrassment. Instead, you can shift your mindset to see them as an investment, just like a house or car—and, in many ways, better.
When you shift away from shame toward confident action, you can take the reins to manage your debt effectively—and you’ll gain confidence and peace of mind.
Why People Feel Embarrassed About Student Loans
Feeling a sense of shame about student loans is common. One recent survey found that 55% of borrowers are embarrassed or self-conscious about their student loan debt.
Another study revealed that people having trouble paying off debt are twice as likely to struggle with depression and anxiety—and twice as likely to have heart attacks—as others.
One reason that people feel shame about debt is that the mainstream American vision of success is tied to financial prosperity. Student loans can eat up a significant amount of your income each month, making it harder to afford the car or house of your dreams. Your debt can force you to delay marriage or say no to travel or flashy purchases. In a materialistic culture, feeling behind financially can affect your self-esteem.
Another reason people feel guilty is that, unlike a house or a car, you don’t have a physical object to show for your debt. Some people are saddled with student loans even though they didn’t complete their degrees or are struggling to find a good job.
Even if you have a successful career, it’s not always easy to feel confident that your expensive undergraduate or graduate degree was necessary to get there. If seen from this angle, it can be hard to for a piece of paper to justify the money you owe every month.
A third reason you might feel ashamed is judgment from others. Previous generations didn’t take out as many student loans since college was significantly less costly . Your friends or spouse may have made other choices too, opting for less expensive schools or being lucky enough to have their parents foot the bill.
Internalizing their explicit or implicit judgments of your debt can prompt you to turn that criticism on yourself. And because others in the same boat are just as embarrassed as you are, you may not know just how many people around you are struggling with similar feelings.
Why Shame Doesn’t Help
As in other parts of life, feeling ashamed about student debt not only harms your mental health, but can also be counterproductive. When you feel guilty about your debt, you’re more likely to avoid your student loans and any issues that come up. That could lead to late or missed payments, which can set you on a path to ruined credit, lawsuits, or wage garnishment.
Avoiding your loans can also prevent you from actively examining the best repayment plans and strategies for dealing with them. Being ashamed can prevent you from sharing the truth about your debt with partners, leading to conflict down the line.
And it can discourage you from seeking help from loved ones, your loan servicer, or student debt counseling services when you need it. Overcoming shame is a step toward taking a proactive approach to your student loans.
Why You Should See Your Debt as an Investment
Simply put, student loans are nothing to be ashamed of. Education is an investment in your future. It’s a bet on yourself and can pay dividends for a lifetime. Unlike a car, your degree doesn’t depreciate over the years. Unlike a house, you’re guaranteed to have it with you forever.
Unlike credit card debt, it produces consistent value. For one thing, the earning gap between college graduates and those with just a high-school diploma is the highest it has ever been, with college grads earning 56% more, on
Beyond monetary advantages, the network you built in college or graduate school is likely to serve you throughout your life across multiple spheres.
Plus, the critical thinking skills and knowledge base that higher education provides makes you a more well-rounded human being and a more valuable citizen—which is pretty priceless. Yes, college has gotten really expensive, but you should never be embarrassed about your willingness to invest in an education.
How to Make Debt Manageable
You can reduce the stress of your student loan debt by letting go of shame and putting the focus on overcoming debt. Here are some tips on how to tackle your loans effectively:
1. Choose a Loan Repayment Strategy
There are a few popular methods for paying off debt that can help you attack your student loans. The debt snowball method involves focusing on paying off your smallest debt first, regardless of interest rate, while still paying all your other debts.
This is a great strategy for building self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, but it won’t necessarily save you money. The debt avalanche method , instead, involves paying off your highest-interest debt first, while making the minimum payments on all other loans. This can help you save money on interest in the long term.
2. Make a Budget
Both of these debt solutions can be more effective if you also start budgeting. List out all of your monthly expenses (including loan payments), as well as all sources of income. If you are living beyond your means, you won’t be able to step up your loan payments and you risk being unable to pay.
Find places to trim down your monthly expenses: Can you jog outside instead of belonging to a gym? Take public transportation instead of using a ride-sharing app? What about getting a roommate or cooking more? On the flip side, get creative about increasing your income.
That could mean asking for a raise, switching jobs, or adding a side hustle. The more money you free up each month to put toward your student loans, the more confident you’ll likely feel, and the sooner that debt can be off your back.
3. Look Into Deferment, Forbearance, or an Income-Based Repayment Plan
If you’re still struggling to make payments, it’s normal to feel stressed, but don’t get trapped in a cycle of self-blame. Instead, face the issue head-on. If you’re going through a temporary financial hardship, such as losing your job or unexpected medical bills, you can apply for deferment or forbearance if you have federal loans.
Many private loan servicers also offer temporary relief if you’re struggling financially. For a more permanent fix, look into the four income-based repayment plans available for federal student loans.
There are specifics you’ll want to look into, but generally these plans limit your payment to between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income, and your balance may be forgiven in 20 or 25 years if you make the payments on time and consistently. Getting an affordable repayment plan in place can help you shift from shame and inaction to a sense of control.
4. Student Loan Refinancing
Another way to make headway on your student loans is to look into refinancing. For some borrowers, this is a way to save money by obtaining a lower interest rate or monthly payment.
When you refinance your student loans, you take out a new loan to pay off your existing loans and agree to a new set of terms. You are more likely to qualify for a lower rate if you have a solid credit and employment history, or you can try applying with a cosigner to see if that helps.
SoFi lets you refinance both federal and private student loans, and you’ll pay no origination fees or prepayment penalties. You do, however, give up the right to apply for deferment, forbearance, or income-based repayment plans through the government.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s Website on credit .