Doing Good Work Doesn’t Mean Doing It Alone

How many good ideas are formed in a vacuum?

It’s interesting to think about how many businesses were formed by hermits or people who didn’t do much collaboration around the things they were interested in.

I think there may be a tendency to isolate yourself, for some people, when you’re trying to stay true to yourself and be original, but more often than not, I’d say ideas that stew in your own brain that don’t get tested, shot down, re-evaluated and re-built are going to stay right where they originated in – your head.

Just like how there isn’t really a lot of room on the bandwagon when it comes to a lot of new businesses for jacks of all trades to hop on (although I’ve been lucky to be included on the proverbial bandwagon more than once by several gracious startups), you should also establish and develop community in as many different ways possible early on in your formative professional years.

Even if you’re moving to a new area that already has a solidly established community (tech incubators, small business networking groups, blogger meetups) in which ideas your interested are being developed, you can step up to the plate and offer up your services and help in any way in order get involved with successful professionals already doing their thing.

Even if you’re not 100% sure about what you want to be doing or how you’d like to change your career or even grow a business, by placing yourself among actively thinking and acting business people and having your own ideas challenged or encouraged, you’re setting yourself up for a breakthrough, one way or another.

There are people out there who would be interested in meeting you, who are doing the things you want to do and might even be willing to help you. Place yourself out there, be useful and assume you know almost nothing. That’s the path to a breakthrough.

I Am King Of The Overshare (Even on The Huffington Post)

This got featured a while ago on The Huffington Post regarding people with big time student loan debt and I didn’t share it with most people I knew… but it’s gotten lots of page views and I figure… what the hell?

(I should have smiled)

Here’s my page: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/120000-in-debt_n_492092.html

Here’s a page with other people’s stories: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/22/college-debt_n_471023.html

I guess I just never subscribed to the “don’t talk about your debt or your salary publicly” ideology 🙂

What do you think? Am I nuts for putting this out there? Do you have a similar story? Or are you a financial prude that turns your nose up at this? Leave a comment either way!

Generation Y’s Student Loans

Today I got a letter in the mail stating that my student loans were being altered. Not in a bad way though! My interest rate was reduced! I am so pumped that I’ll be paying drastically less for as long as this lasts.

Basically the letter states that I understood my interest rate on my private student loan as well as my federal student loan were variable but had a ceiling. I’ve been seeing my interest rates move higher as the years progressed. As the interest rates reached their ceiling, I get this letter stating they were dropping over 2 percentage points.

Thanks President Obama. I owe you one. Also, thanks Graduate Leverage. Not sure why you’ve done this, but keep it coming, PLEASE!

I’ve Exhausted All My Private Student Loan Options

After this week’s stint of futilely trying to explain to my student loan lender that I paid them everything I owe them, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I need to suck up whatever customer service and interest rate issues are at hand for a little while. I figure there has got to be some sort of resolution to the issues that people such as myself are having trying to pay back their student loans at high interest while also trying to buy homes, cars, more education, etc…

I called a credit counseling company that was mentioned on NBC. I won’t put their link on here because they weren’t helpful and I’m going to try and refrain from giving companies any undue good PR unless they want to pay me for it. The company I called is the largest in America when it comes to renegotiating credit card debt and bank loans. My grandfather suggested I give them a call and see what they think about student loans.

The gentleman I spoke with on the phone was stumped. He said that even though private student loans are lent by private banks, they are still backed and protected by federal law which keeps third parties from negotiating interest rates and repayment terms. Essentially, private student loan companies that make big bucks off of my loan get essentially the same protection that Stafford and Perkins loans do, with none of the interest rate restrictions and less than half of the repayment options. The phone call ended with the associate wishing me good luck and saying there’s nothing anyone can do for me under the current laws.

Encouraging, no?

On a whim I applied for a pre-approved private student loan refinance and as I had suspected would happen; I got rejected without a co-signor. I have fair to good credit, but not enough to even get my foot in the door to negotiate a lower rate without dragging a co-signor into this mess. What a joke.

So, I look to the federal government to smarten up and help people such as myself out. These banks have padded their pockets enough with my overly high interest rates. The ROI on my education has been null because of this.

I feel like I’ve hit a dead end with this. Has anyone had any success in this arena? I am always curious to hear input on other people struggling to fight the “man.”

Private Student Loan Customer Servicing: Hearing It From The Source

I got in touch with the Executive Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage today and he offered an apology for bad customer service. He said he had come across my blog and explained to the best of his ability the disconnect between the billing and servicing departments because one is in Massachusetts and the other is in Texas. While I’m still not completely certain that things like this won’t happen again, it was interesting and encouraging that an executive from a company called me directly and offered to deal with any issues I had moving forward.

The power of social media. Cool, eh? I guess Graduate Leverage kept a customer because their management listened and was concerned about their image. That’s a good thing.

On a side note, I talked to my grandfather about some of the current legislation going through about private student loan lenders and how bankruptcy may be the only answer to overwhelming debt (a road I refuse to go down). I wonder; if the federal government bails out private loan companies with the bailout package, does that suddenly turn all those private loans affected into Federally backed loans? Would that in essence change the structure of those loans, including interest rates, forgiveness and repayment options? I am VERY curious about that!

Do you think if these loans are propped up by the government then they should have to change inherently?

It Is Amazing To Be Listened To

Let me preface this that I just received a non-descript voice mail from the Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage saying he wants to speak with me. About what? I wonder…

http://projectonstudentdebt.org/

This morning I got an email asking me to sign a petition to Mr. Paulson, the Treasury Secretary saying that student loan companies should not be bailed out as planned. The email alienated me somewhat though because they said:

“Most students and families do not use private student loans to pay for college, nor should they. Private loans are risky and expensive, and they lack the important consumer protections and repayment options that come with federal student loans. Providers of private student loans already receive special treatment in bankruptcy at borrowers’ expense. Taxpayer dollars should not go towards helping lenders make these high-risk loans.”

I responded with:

“I was fooled into getting private student loans as a first generation college student. They’re ruining my financial situation. What happens to me in all this? My interest rates keep going up and I don’t know what to do. Just because I’m not in the majority of people who paid for their college with federal loans (I used as much as I could) doesn’t mean I should be left out in the cold.”

Shortly after I recieve this email:

Dear James,

Thank you for responding. I couldn’t agree more that borrowers like you who have already taken out private loans need better options for repayment. This issue is addressed briefly in our letter to Paulson, where we say that existing private loan borrowers should be able to renegotiate the terms of their loans. We have also been fighting for over a year to allow private loans to be discharged in bankruptcy like other consumer debt. We know that folks like you face major issues with the repayment of private loans, and we will continue to do what we can to expand your options while minimizing the risks and burdens of private loans for future students.

Take care,

Edie Irons

Communications Director

The Institute for College Access & Success

Now that is the sort of response that I am looking for! No more blank stares or silence. I want to live my life the way a college graduate should, not the way someone working minimum wage does.

Now I await the call back from this gentleman at Graduate Leverage…I am VERY interested in how this will go and what it will be about.

We’re In A Recession of Corporate Brainpower

After getting several harassing calls about money I’ve already paid, I have truly fallen out of love with my student loan lender, Graduate Leverage.

In 2004 I was swamped with a horrible student debt burden. My interest rates had soared to 14% under Sallie Mae, which at one time was touted as the people’s champion for private student loans. My private loan payments alone were over $1000 a month. I literally didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I confided in a co-worker while at my state job who was finishing Law School and asked her how she dealt with her student loans. She raved about Graduate Leverage and how they were owned by local Harvard MBA grads. I thought, cool, I’ll give them a shot. So I called them up and they were able to offer me a variable interest rate loan that would never go above 7.9% interest. Granted, that’s still not an awesome rate by most standards, especially when you owe over 100k, but it was far less than the 14% I was paying with Sallie Mae, so I went for it. The process was complicated but I felt the associates at Graduate Leverage were helpful.

Fast forward about 5 years later and I’m still with Graduate Leverage. I have the same amount taken out of my bank account every month. It’s not affordable, but I don’t have a choice in paying and it seems no matter where I look nobody else knows where I can get a better rate. So goes the doling out of my hard earned money until one day someone stole my identity and in getting my checking account funds back from the people who took them, I closed my checking account. I had to re-open a new account and re-establish all of my direct withdrawals, including my student loan payments. No problem, right? There should be a protocol involved, right?

Wrong.

Upon telling them that my checking account was hacked into and hundred of dollars were stolen the first thing the confused representative advised me of was that if I didn’t have funds in my account that I was going to be charged fees for being late. She really didn’t care to work with me to make sure my payments were made on time and I decided at the end of the phone call to just cancel my direct withdrawal and send in my payment checks directly. That’s reasonable right? Well, according to Graduate Leverage’s “computer records” I was 30 days delinquent with my payment and action was going to be taken. I was furious and confused after my identity ordeal that these people couldn’t get it right even when I was trying my hardest to work with them. So, while I had the representative on the phone I logged onto my online checking and told her the exact check numbers and dates when they cleared (which were 5 days before they were due). I got the repealing “ohhhhh” on the other line and she reassured me that my account would be updated but she couldn’t do it and would need someone from operations to do it manually. Seeing as I work in an operations/support department, that sounded strange to me but I agreed because I was ready to start yelling.

Since that phone call I’ve received 3 calls saying they never received my funds and I’ve had to explain to each rep again and again that the checks cleared and I owe them nothing until next month. They apologize and say they understand my frustration upon which they assure me will not happen again.

Me being frustrated with a less-than-stellar loan rate is one thing, but dealing with awful customer service again and again like this, especially from someone whom I’m sending thousands of dollars to a year, is beyond my realm of acceptance. As of right now, I am vowing to find another student loan company with better customer service and a lower interest rate. I will not settle for this shit any longer, especially when I will be paying them over 100k in interest over the term of my loan. Screw them.

College Graduates Are Being Ignored and We Hate It

I calculated what I’d need to make for a yearly income to healthily afford my student debt. It’s about 15 thousand more than what I’m making now. WTF? This calculator doesn’t need to tell me that I have a hell of a time making ends meet every month, but seriously, I’ve never thought that you need so much money just to afford an education.

I’ve said before, my student debt burden equals that of a small house or condo. Why do people in my situation get ignored when it comes to cutting privately loaned interest rates? Congress and Senate bills are being pushed through that will lower interest on mortgage loans to 3% and allow people to stay in their homes even if they default.

I’m working, paying my loans back (barely) and I haven’t heard anything about these people coming to help me out. Working in public service roles for 10 years and having federal loans forgiven is a nice thought, but public service jobs are either ridiculously low paying or bureaucratically stifling creativity killers.

My generation graduated into a shit (excuse my language) economy. I had a terrible time finding a job. I know previous generations (not the past two though) had it tougher and made it through. I’m making it work and constantly scheming how to do better, but there’s got to be a better way out there, no?

I feel a literary piece coming out of this.

What do my readers think? I’ll listen to those of you who have student debt, whether little or small and even to those of you who didn’t have to borrow for college. I just want to know that I’m not crazy for being bitter about getting fleeced each month.