DC's Marketing Manager Fights for Your Right (to Learn)
BY JENNIFER MATHEWS // PHOTOS BY TIM KLEIN
Raise your hand if you’re still paying off your student loans. Forbes estimates the total outstanding student loan balance to be $1.08 trillion (yes, with a T). Whether you’re fresh out of college or trying to save for your kids’ college bills (and still paying off your own), student loans are becoming a bigger burden on US households while incomes have failed to keep pace.
A growing contingent of advocates, like The Empowered Dollar and Student Debt Crisis, is not taking this lying down. Fiona Teng, Zipcar’s Marketing Manager in Washington, D.C, also stands up for student rights and aims to dissolve the huge taboo around talking about student loan debt by arming people with the knowledge necessary to make the right decisions for their financial future.
The student becomes the teacher: Fiona works with former, current, and future students to help them navigate student loans and loan debt.
Zipcar:How did you become interested in the student loan problem?
Fiona: As student loans from undergrad and grad school started to kick in early in my career, I felt overwhelmed without a stable full-time salary. I accrued $83,000 of student debt without once questioning or being prompted to question my decisions. I realized that I will be in my 50’s when I finally pay it all off!
I started looking for other people to talk to and realized people were pretty uncomfortable talking openly about loan debt. It was clear that somebody needed to break the stigma, get information out there and advocate for student loan transparency to help the next round of borrowers.
How are you getting the word out?
I began to raise awareness withthisinfographic I created on my personal blog. I described my story and asked for others to tell theirs. Even though hundreds of people viewed it, and privately praised me for sharing my story, very few people were comfortable enough to share their stories publicly. The shame and embarrassment that we all felt was palpable.
Before signing on the dotted line to accept thousands of dollars from loan lenders, students need to ask themselves if the return on their investment will be worth it by breaking the cost down into concrete, quantifiable terms.
So I decided to create a website dedicated to filling in the information gaps for people who have questions or advice to share about student loans. This website will serve as a forum for students and potential students to post their stories anonymously. I hope to have it up and running very soon. I’ve also been vocal in the media - onTV shows, networking with government officials, university administrators, and grassroots advocates about solutions to this mounting problem.
What is the most important thing people need to know about student loans?
Before signing on the dotted line to accept thousands of dollars from loan lenders, students need to ask themselves if the return on their investment will be worth it by breaking the cost down into concrete, quantifiable terms. Students need to be able to answer the following questions: What will the estimated monthly payments be? What salary will be necessary to afford these loan payments (in addition to other life expenses)? How long will it take to pay off? What kind of trade offs will have to be made by committing to loan payments? I’m not saying that education isn’t important; but it’s vital that people understand the financial impact ahead of time so they can make the most informed decision and plan accordingly from the start.
What does this mean for Millennials?
Student loan debt affects millions of people and has a huge impact on how they are living their lives. Studies have shown that debt-burdened young adults are delaying the traditional American Dream by waiting longer to buy houses, get married and start a family. Since about half of our members are Millennials, this is an issue that impacts many Zipsters and influences why young people forego car ownership. While I am happy that we provide a valuable solution, I want to make sure that our members are taken care of all aspects of their lives.
Where can you go for more information on student loans?
Check out the data thatCFPBhas available and an organization calledYoung Invincibles, whose mission is about giving a voice to young people. There’s alsoMoneythink, whose founder was featured on Ziptopia a few weeks ago. Do your research, get a great education, and go forth prepared, young people!