7 Millennials Share How Their Lives Would Change If Their Student Loans Were Forgiven

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
On April 22, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced a plan that has the power to dramatically alter the futures of countless Americans: student loan debt forgiveness.
Sen. Warren's latest proposal would cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for those with household incomes under $100,000. Individuals with a household income between $100,000 and $250,000 would still get some debt relief, with a cancelation amount of $1 for every $3 for incomes above $100,000.
This proposal comes as part of, arguably, the most comprehensive set of policies of any 2020 presidential hopeful thus far. Alongside progressive proposals addressing tax policy, the housing crisis, parental leave, and more, Warren is now setting her sights on alleviating the overwhelming debt currently saddling countless Americans.
Warren has spoken openly about the student loan debt crisis and how debt is negatively impacting millions of Americans today.
"Higher education opened a million doors for me. It’s how the daughter of a janitor in a small town in Oklahoma got to become a teacher, a law school professor, a U.S. Senator, and eventually, a candidate for President of the United States," Warren wrote in yesterday's announcement.
This policy has the potential to change millions of lives for the better — so it's worth asking: What would people's lives look like if this proposal came to fruition? We chatted with seven people who currently have student loan debt about how such a proposal might impact their lives and futures.

José María, 37, Puerto Rico

Current debt: $61,660
Job: Baker
Income: $8.50/hour
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
“I would feel overwhelmed to the point of tears [of] joy. I could breathe normally again! Suddenly, the ten years I've been paying $450 or $700 a month — without making a dent on the principal — would not be completely wasted in a hopeless endeavor.
“Working would be something that could provide wealth and goodness for my family, my society, and myself — not a chain of long hours to pay off a huge monthly figure set by a multimillion-dollar company. I could hopefully think about my family's future in terms of well-being. I could start a savings account to contemplate retirement later on in life. I could start a college fund for my kids so they don't have to do what I did to be able to pursue their passion via higher education.
"I could be a much better person [for] my wife, my kids, and my country... I could live, plan, and labor, being motivated by hope and by the growth I could see coming out of my labor, not by the fear of losing more than what I have already lost. I would sleep more than 4.5 hours a day. Stress would rarely visit. I would fix the house I live in, which sustained damage from a category 5 hurricane almost a year and a half ago [after which Puerto Rico was denied] basic aid. I would make plans to have a family vacation when my kid graduates from kindergarten. I would once again live with joy, optimism, and a renewed willingness and capability to help my fellow men and women.”

Eva, 27, California

Current debt: $36,000
Job: Social media manager and freelance writer
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
“Every time I log on to my student loan website and see a photo of a smiling student, it strikes me as terribly ironic. I currently owe around $36,000, a number that is suffocating and anxiety-inducing whenever I think about it.
“As a first-generation college student, I pursued my graduate degree because I loved school, but most importantly because I thought it would help me make more money when I entered the workforce. I also wanted to set an example for my nieces and nephews that they could do it, too (if they wanted). I think a lot about helping my family now and in the future, but it does feel like owing money on student loans makes this harder to do. It’s an added stressor.
“The idea of having my loans forgiven seems like an impossible one. I would feel an immense amount of gratitude. And I would immediately start to think of just where my usual $500 or more in payments a month would go instead. I’d love to help my single mom pay her mortgage, I’d love to help my nieces and nephews save for college, and one day I’d like to at least own a condo with my partner. I’m working toward these goals now, but it feels like an uphill climb with the amount of debt I’m in.”

Jayme, 31, Maryland

Current debt: $8,200
Job: Marketing manager
Income: $75,000
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
“When I was 22, I did a year of grad school for journalism right after college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after undergrad, and our counseling center wasn’t much help in how to prepare you for a job after college, so I figured grad school would give me two years to figure it out. Long story short, my first year of grad school was miserable, and I couldn’t see myself continuing in the program, so I left school after a year.
"I have never once regretted my decision to leave that program; it wasn’t right for me. However, that one year left me $20,000 worth of student loan debt. I didn’t make a lot of money at entry-level positions in my 20s, and there were some months that I couldn’t afford to pay my monthly loan payment. It was either pay rent, or pay my student loans. To compensate for other financials (like eating and paying utilities), I racked up some credit card debt.
“I'm a 31-year-old single woman with a great job and the ability to make smart financial decisions, [so for] the last few years my student loans have been just an annoyance instead of something to cry about. I’m trying to buy a house now; my monthly payments of $350 would speed up that process if it were going to a down payment instead of my loans. I’m working hard to pay off my loans in the next year and a half, because I just want them done with, but if I didn’t have to pay them, I would be free to contribute to other goals I have.
“I’ve heard other student loan horror stories much worse than mine. Everyone has said that they feel the heavy burden of their loans and maybe would have made a different decision if they could go back. But education, and the right to the education that you want, shouldn’t be a burden, it should be a freedom.”

Alexandria, 29, California

Current debt: $93,161
Job: Substitute Teacher and Chef
Income: $21,600
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
“If my student loans were to be forgiven, I'd feel like a new person. I would take more chances with my career and creativity. My physical and mental health would most likely improve drastically.
“My student loans cause the majority of my stress and anxiety. My credit score took a huge hit when I wasn't able to pay my loans, so trying to rent an apartment is impossible. Having this debt is very restricting, especially when trying to improve my life and living conditions for myself and my family.
“If my loans were forgiven, I would feel happy, grateful, and free. I would be free to make decisions based on what I truly desire, instead of what seems to be the best in respect to accommodating my student loans."

Tasha, 33, Texas

Current Debt: $120,000
Job: Sales Executive
Income: $80,000
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
“My husband and I have a combined $180,000 in debt, including student loan, credit card, and car loan. A large percentage of that is student loans alone, with $120,000 being my personal student loan debt.
“If Warren could forgive student loan debt for individuals like me, this would change our lives drastically. Last year, my husband and I made the decision that I would put a pause on running my own business to pursue a career that would help us alleviate this debt faster. I had been in business on my own for almost a decade.
“It was a tough decision to pause what I loved doing to knock out debt more quickly, because I chose to pursue a degree when I was 17 that I'm still paying off. I love the current company I work for, but my husband and I have other dreams we want to fulfill, and it's not possible with all this debt hanging over our heads. Even if 25% of my student loan debt could be forgiven, that would change our lives, too.”

Alicia, 33, New York

Current debt: $25,000
Job: Deputy Press Secretary
Income: $65,000
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
"I spent the last 11 years under the weight of seemingly impermeable student loan debt. Graduating during the 2008 recession with an international studies degree in the Midwest saw me clawing for part-time, no-health-insurance work just to stay on top of my debt, at one point working five part-time jobs and still not making ends meet. After becoming ill and choosing to pay a doctor bill over a student loan, I defaulted and, unable to catch up, found myself with a charge-off, which affected my credit for the next seven years.
"If my remaining student loans were to be forgiven under a plan like Senator Warren's, despite my already wrecked credit, my future would look a lot more hopeful. While I am now thriving in a career that I love as a public servant, the dismissal of my student loan debt would put within reach things like a savings account, buying a house, or starting a family.
"When I took out my loans, I anticipated being able to pay them back in 10 years’ time. Since I have been out of school I’ve never not worked, yet I have barely made a dent in what I owe. The $500 I pay in loans each month would go a long way toward building a safety net for myself, but right now it feels like I am digging my grave with a spoon."

Michael, 24, Illinois

Current debt: $45,000
Job: Sports and Entertainment Publicist
What would your life look like if your student loans were forgiven?
"From a monetary standpoint, if my student loans were forgiven, I would be able to reallocate that money to my savings, invest in professional development, the stock market, and business ventures — as well as a retirement plan. Additionally, it would allow me to be more flexible with my budget month-to-month and provide some much-needed breathing room that would allow me to plan for things like emergency funds, dating, and vacations.
"From a mental-health perspective, my relationship with money and my family would change drastically. Going to a private college for five years and transitioning to the corporate world took a toll, because I went in with the understanding that the degree would make it possible to live the life I wanted. To graduate stuck with debt and a less-than-ideal starting salary makes me question the path I embarked on.
"The pressure during and after college was and is intense, because I'm a first-generation college graduate on my dad's side. My family sacrificed and invested so that I could attend college — AND there was a certain expectation that I would complete my education and bring in a certain level of income. I agreed to the loans before I had the financial literacy to know what I was signing.
"College grads are not looking for handouts, they are looking for help. For many, including myself, forgiving student loans would be a monumental action that would change the trajectory of my life and career."

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