scorecardMeet a millennial mom with $77,000 in student debt who's struggling to afford groceries while caring for her son with autism
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Meet a millennial mom with $77,000 in student debt who's struggling to afford groceries while caring for her son with autism

Jason Lalljee   

Meet a millennial mom with $77,000 in student debt who's struggling to afford groceries while caring for her son with autism
PolicyPolicy4 min read
  • Linda Vick owes $77,000 in student debt, $7,000 more than when she graduated from college in 2011.
  • Much of that is due to interest, despite ten years of payments.

Linda Vick, 39, has had difficulty balancing work and raising her five-year-old son, who has autism, over the past few years.

"The reason I only work part-time is because we can't get childcare," she told Insider. "There's no after school programs… there's not a list of babysitters here who know how to work with special needs kids, if there is an after-school program, it's like a 6-month wait list."

Vick was laid off from her job as a mail clerk at Boston College this summer, where her husband currently works in housekeeping. Even when she was still employed, Vick's family faced a catch-22: Working meant that she wasn't around to take care of her son, and not working meant that she couldn't afford to provide him the specialized care that he needed. Her husband, Jeffrey, works full time.

Of her son's autism, Vick said, "He's not high functioning so he does require a lot of assistance. He goes to school during the day, so he gets on the bus at 8:30 and gets home at 3:30, and I have to get off work in time for him to be home."

But her family's problems shifted since she lost her job last month.

"I have to cancel all my son's activities like adaptive gymnastics, and any other programs he's in that we have to pay for," she said. "Also grocery shopping is a struggle with one income."

Compounding her family's problems is Vick's $77,000 in student loans, an amount that Insider verified via documents. When Vick graduated from the University of Phoenix in 2011 with a degree in business she owed nearly $70,000, and she's struggled to make payments on her interest over the years to offset the rising balance. Her husband makes about $32,000 a year in net pay, which Insider verified via paystubs, and Vick receives about $800 a month in unemployment.

In April, President Biden announced $7 billion in student loan relief for 350,000 student loan borrowers with a total and permanent disability, but Vick said that relief should also extend to the caretakers of people with disabilities.

"We can't buy a house because of the debt I owe," she said, adding that her son "would need a backyard that's fenced in to play outside, because he's a flight risk. It's financially holding us back from being a good family — I can't buy a house, I can't get a loan, I can't go for a master's degree when he's older... it's ruining me from furthering my life if I want to."

'We make enough to survive and pay bills and that's it'

Vick is not alone as a University of Phoenix graduate saddled with debt years after finishing school. For-profit institutions like Phoenix have been criticized for decades over allegations of misleading students about future earning potential, engaging in aggressive recruitment tactics, and pushing many to take on student debt when it was not the best option for them.

A few years ago, Vick applied for an income-based repayment plan, which is theoretically tailored to what a debtor can afford to pay based on their income, a system that often doesn't work out practically.

"They want you to basically pay a month's worth of pay in a month, and that was out of the question, so I had to keep doing deferment," she said. "We make enough to survive and pay bills and that's it."

Vick worked at a corporate job for years after graduating, thinking that a degree in business would propel her through the ranks of her industry. (Vick declined to disclose what company she worked at.) She said that she eventually left her job because she didn't agree with the business practices of her employer, and ended up working at the post office, where she stayed until she had her son in 2017. She and her husband later started a vape business, which was shut down after Massachusetts placed a temporary ban on the sale of vaping products in 2019.

Vick and her husband filed for bankruptcy in 2019, which her school loans weren't a part of. It's possible to discharge student loans as a part of bankruptcy, but difficult.

"A lawyer to help you file bankruptcy for school loans is super expensive," Vick said. "If I could afford a lawyer, I'd pay my school loans."

And taking care of her son became a full-time job: he was diagnosed with autism when he was nearly 2-years-old, and Vick said everything changed for her after that. Doctors told her that he needed in-home services, group therapy, and specialist care, which ate up a lot of her family's time.

"Me and my husband had to switch off at the store because one of us had to be with him, and once you tell a daycare that your kid has autism they don't want to accept him because it's too much," she said. "My husband and I never saw each other... I would work during the day at the store and my husband would go in at night."

Vick said that the time and money-intensive role of being a parent to a child with a disability makes contending with her student debt unfeasible — and should make her eligible for some sort of relief.

"They have a program where they forgive people with disabilities, but not their parents," she said. "Their parents need to be able to take care of them."