A Pharmacy Student Struggles with School Debt

Once they take control of Congress in January, Democratic leaders say they'll work to slash the interest rates for student loans. Pharmacy resident Dr. Joanna Robbins talks about her struggles to pay back loans that total almost $200,000.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

College is tough enough, but for a growing number of people making loan payments it's next to impossible. That's why, come January, Democratic leaders in Congress say they'll work to slash student loan rates.

They want to cut the interest rates in half from 6.8 percent to just over three percent. But there's resistance, Republicans and even some Democrats say the price is too high.

But for people facing student loan overload, any relief is welcome. And African-Americans are more likely than most to get caught with high-loan debt. Take the story of pharmacy resident Joanna Robbins. She lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. She's single, 27, and comes from a middle-class family.

Early next year, Dr. Robbins will begin paying off her student loans. What she owes just might amaze you.

Here's Dr. Joanna Robbins in her own words.

Dr. JOANNA ROBBINS (Pharmacy Resident, Banner Health Good Samaritan Medical Center): Well, money did not look that good. Yeah, I didn't have that much money. Actually, undergrad, my parents took out a lot of loans for me and supported me that way, and then I was working about 20 hours throughout my whole time in undergrad. Twenty hours with a 25-unit load was what I was doing basically on average.

I actually got a deferment for the year on my federal loans because of how much I'm getting paid this year. My private loan, though, is starting to kick in February, so my stress level is coming up because I know this loan's are going to kick in soon that I have to pay.

And there's no deferment of this loan at all. As for my other - my federal loan, I'm going to get more stress as May and June approaches because I might have to start paying that. And I'm also thinking about doing a second residency that's paying less than what I'm paying now.

For a pharmacy school where I went it was about $40,000 a year for in - it's a four-year program. So at the end, I was at $160,000 just pure loans. But on top of the interest rates and the interests that collected, it's going to be probably close to $200,000 when I start paying it in a couple of months.

I have a lot of friends and other colleagues that didn't go to pharmacy school, or didn't go to medical school or dentist school, because of the interest rates on loans and they couldn't just pay the money themselves. They have to take loans.

So they didn't want to do that because of that interest rate. My school actually did a good thing where they have financial planners come and talk to us in the beginning, and then they have financial planners come and talk to us at the end.

It still wasn't enough for me. I still read up on a lot of things and went on the Internet. And I have classmates that taught me a lot of good things about, you know, just financial planning and how I'm going to pay out back these loans and what I should do with these loans.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Joanna Robbins is a pharmacy resident at Banner Health Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

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