Today, women hold over two-thirds of America’s trillion-dollar student debt. Each holds, on average, $31,000 in student debt before their career even begins, and because of the persistent gender wage pay gap, it takes years longer for women to pay their debt back. All of these obstacles are growing at a time when women, for the first time, seek higher-level degrees more often than men. Despite hard-work and aspirations, it is fundamentally harder for women borrowers to afford their monthly payments and rise above this debt, no matter how educated or experienced they are. 

Thanks to a moratorium on payments implemented during the Covid pandemic, most student loan borrowers haven’t had to make a payment for over two years. But pandemic relief is only a temporary fix. On May 1, payments are set to restart for millions of people. Many are experiencing anxiety and fear, as they face the possibility of financial ruin, of drowning under their debt. 

Pandemic relief allowed people to put food on the table, pay rent, and afford health care and medicine during the crisis. Others were able to get ahead for the first time; they started small businesses, purchased homes, and saved for retirement. A world without student debt changed their lives for the better, and there is now an unprecedented movement to permanently cancel student debt. 

Following is a series of stories from communities impacted by debt, produced in collaboration with the Student Debt Crisis Center to bring the voices of everyday people into the spotlight and highlight calls for our government to cancel student debt by presidential executive action.

My student loan payments are higher than any of my other bills. Read that again. My loan payments are higher than what I pay for my rent, car, insurance, credit cards, and everything else. I’m 27 and I feel like I can’t even start my life. I want kids right now but I know I can’t have them because I would go bankrupt trying to afford everything. I can’t buy a house because my debt-to-income ratio is too high. I have had countless medical bills go into collection because I had to make a choice between that or defaulting on my student loans. Education should not be a money-making industry. 

—Alexandria Myers
In debt since 2012

The job that I was promised would be available by the time I graduated was not there. I could only work for minimum wage, where I had no way of saving for retirement because I had to pay for my student loans. This debt has prevented me from trying to pursue a masters degree, in fear of racking up even more debt. Canceling student debt would mean that I could afford to pay my medical bills, as I am currently struggling with the long-term effects of chemotherapy.

—Lynnette Wilcox
In debt since 2006

I work two jobs just to survive. I cannot own a house and can’t even afford my rent, car payment, and car insurance. My daughter has suffered because of my student loan debt. I can’t afford to buy new clothes when we need them. Even with my dental insurance, we can’t afford to get our teeth fixed. I can only buy $50 worth of groceries per week, but sometimes not even that much.

Melanie Lisciandro
In debt since 1994

Student loans were created so everyone could have an education. Today, that is not possible. I had no debt from undergrad and had a significant scholarship for law school, but I still came out with $70,000 in debt. After five years of payments, I now owe $110,000. Without student loan cancellation, the debt that students gain will be impossible to pay off because of the compounding interest. 

—Jessica Gill
In debt since 2015

I pursued higher education because I believed that having a college degree made a huge difference in one’s future success in the job market. Instead, my student loan debt has impacted every aspect of my life. I am in no position to take out any parental loans to help cover my daughter’s college education, and I will never allow her to take out her own loan for college. I still believe in the benefits of higher education, but they should be equitably accessible to every American citizen. 

—Darlene Schniewind
In debt since 1991