$1,200,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros. That’s also our country’s nationwide student loan debt. Student loan debt has recently passed both auto loans and credit card debt, but this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Recent college graduates, much like myself, didn’t have many options when graduating high school and entering college in the heart of a recession. My parents were losing their jobs, so how was I supposed to find one right out of high school? College was really the only option. Having grown up in the Detroit area, one of the hardest hit areas of the country; my family was greatly impacted by the recession, leaving me with very little college savings. I had to borrow four years worth of tuition, books, housing and living expenses.

At the time, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. And honestly, getting my refund check every semester was almost like winning the lottery. Then I graduated in the Spring of 2012. I didn’t have a full-time job and I wasn’t sure what was next. I ended up taking a summer internship and moving back in with my parents. It wasn’t long after I walked across that stage that the harassing phone calls began. I had finished school and Sallie Mae wanted her money. Once I finally got those payments sorted out, my six-month grace period had expired on my federal loans, and I received a payment schedule that looked much like a mortgage payment!

Terrified, I made the call to the loan officer and was able to work out a much more affordable payment. But still, the road is long and often times overwhelming. Even though I have a solid job, the monthly payments that I face will prohibit me from saving up for that first house and starting a family any time soon.

I would never say that I regretted going to college, it was an invaluable time of my life where I learned who I was, what I wanted to do, and got to have some fun along the way. I just wish I would have had more education on the borrowing that I was doing and how it would impact future me – I may have wanted to consider other options.

I never imagined that the financial decisions that I (necessarily) made at such a young age would have such a big impact on the next 20+ years. But I am glad this issue is starting to come to the forefront, and hopefully someday my kids will have other options when it comes to financing their education.