Why a millennial with $134,000 in student debt hasn't made payments while living abroad for nearly a decade

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  • Todd Squitieri, 37, has $134,000 in student debt he's placed in forbearance for nearly a decade.

  • During that time, he wasn't making payments, but interest on the loans surged.

  • He moved abroad and says he's much happier, but he couldn't leave the student debt behind.

Todd Squitieri has lived abroad for nearly a decade, and he's happier than he ever was in the US.

Even with $134,000 in student debt hanging over his head.

When Squitieri, now 37, graduated in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in criminology and later a master's degree in forensic psychology, he had every intention of using his degrees in a career.

"I originally had gone to school with the utopian vision for my life: that I would go to school and become not only just well rounded at different issues but be job-ready, and that I would have friends and a network, and I'd have opportunities the more degrees I had, and I would be able to work, and I'd be more involved in my community, and my life would just be growing," Squitieri told Insider. "The exact opposite happened."

Unable to land a job and gain a steady stream of income, Squitieri placed his student loans in forbearance, meaning that while he didn't have to make monthly payments, the interest grew. He said he exhausted avenues of finding work — he looked to the schools he'd attended, he applied for the Peace Corps — and he didn't want to take on additional debt to pursue a Ph.D.

Todd Squitieri
Todd Squitieri has $134,000 in student debt.Todd Squitieri

"None of the goals I set out for college materialized," Squitieri said. "So that left me very estranged to my own country, and it left me depressed and in a miserable spot."

That changed when Squitieri saw a job posting for a program to teach English in Guadalajara, Mexico — and he jumped at the opportunity. He moved there and completed the program. Then he taught English at a public school in South Korea and, later, in Thailand.

But as Squitieri was traveling and not making payments on his student loans, the balance was growing, and leaving the country doesn't mean he can leave his student debt behind. He now lives in Mérida, Mexico, and is looking for permanent employment.

He said that while he's happy he no longer lives in the US, he wishes that the US's education system was more affordable and that kids in generations to come won't go through the challenges he's had.

"You know, learning is curiosity, and we really prey on that," Squitieri said.

"These are predatory institutions that prey on kids to give money to these big corporations for their small number of shareholders at the expense of so many people," he continued. "And I don't want to support a country like that. I feel I would rather stand by my values and live overseas and not support this."

'I won't be able to afford it in my lifetime'

It's common for borrowers like Squitieri to opt for forbearance if they can't pay off their student loans. The Federal Student Aid website says borrowers can submit a request to their student-loan servicer to enter forbearance if, for example, they're experiencing financial difficulties, dealing with medical expenses, or changing employment.

The website says that a forbearance period can last no longer than a year and that a borrower would need to submit an additional request to extend it. But it cautions borrowers that they're "still responsible for paying the interest that accrues during the forbearance period."

"During a forbearance, you can either pay the interest as it accrues, or you can allow it to accrue and be capitalized (added to your loan principal balance) at the end of the forbearance period," it says. "If you don't pay the interest on your loan and allow it to be capitalized, the total amount you repay over the life of your loan may be higher."

The growing interest is a primary reason many borrowers like Squitieri find themselves with a balance that's much larger than the amount they originally borrowed — so when they're ready to restart payments, it's a much bigger burden.

"I've never been able to afford it," Squitieri said, "and I won't be able to afford it in my lifetime at the rate that I'm going."

Biden's student-loan forgiveness is 'token service'

There could be relief on the horizon for millions of borrowers with federal student debt. In August, President Joe Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for borrowers making under $125,000 a year, but the plan's implementation was halted in November because of two conservative-backed lawsuits.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases in February and is expected to issue a decision in June. Until then, borrowers are waiting to see whether they'll restart payments this year with lower balances.

Squitieri said he's not spending his time thinking about Biden's relief.

"I don't feel any sort of way about it. It's just like token service," Squitieri said. "It doesn't do anything for me. I have $134,000, and now critics are having disputes about whether $10,000 is even morally just, which is ridiculous because for so many people it doesn't help."

The White House has said Biden's debt relief is expected to wipe out the balances of about 20 million borrowers, but some people with six-figure debt loads have told Insider they wished the president had considered more relief to make a bigger impact.

Squitieri said he wished for that as well — along with an overhaul of the way education is handled in America.

"Education in the US is so important — it's like the main center of life. If you get educated, then you will have the tools and the access you need to be able to function in the US," Squitieri said, adding that he feels that there are a lot of "artificial boundaries," like the costs of getting a degree, "that don't necessarily need to be that way."

Read the original article on Business Insider