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As student loan repayments resume, financial experts offer resources for Vermonters

We're talking about how to direct your charity giving at the end of the year.
Student loan repayments are resuming after a three year pause for the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a three year pause, student loan payments are starting back up. For many people, this can be a difficult time — causing both financial strain and mental health impacts. Vermont Edition has resources for Vermonters working on paying off their student loans, and tips from a financial therapist on how to approach the topic of money and reduce anxiety.

Student loan payments in Vermont

The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation was created to ensure Vermonters have access to the necessary education they need for their goals.

Scott Giles, the head of VSAC, says education is one of the most important investments we can make. But student loans are becoming a bigger part of the economy than they were just a few decades ago.

Giles said there are over 43 million federal student loan borrowers. And with payments returning after years away, it could have a large impact, even for those without debt. The return of payments is expected to impact people's expendable income — which can stretch into certain economic sectors like auto and housing, or even someone's ability to simply make ends meet.

Giles highlighted three student loan repayment programs that Vermonter's with educational debt should consider:

  • Green Mountain Job & Retention Program: For 2023 Vermont graduates who are now working in Vermont, the state legislature (in partnership with UVM and VSAC) are offering $5,000 of loan forgiveness simply for staying in the state.
  • The federal SAVE plan: The SAVE repayment plan can help give borrowers a lower monthly payment based off of income for federal student loans. It also eliminates interest, meaning your loan won't grow during your scheduled payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: The PSLF is a federal program that supports borrowers that are employed by a government or not-for-profit organization, by eliminating their debt after 10 years of employment in those sectors while making payments.
    • Giles says this program is especially important in Vermont, where more people are employed in the government and not-for-profit organizations per capita than most other states.
    • Giles also says that, if paired with the SAVE plan (when possible), this could allow some borrowers to pay $0 a month, with debt cancellation possible in the future.

In addition to these resources, Giles also recommends looking into options like VSAC's loan coaches — who you can contact for additional resources and support to make a plan for your individual circumstances.
"This can be a complicated process for folks, particularly if they've not made payments for the last three years," Giles says. "Call us, bring your student loan information, you know, with you and we'd be happy to help walk through your options and in even have in many cases gotten on gotten on the phone with federal loan servicers with Vermonters to help make sure that they get into a payment plan that will work for them."

Tips for financial stress and anxiety

Jennifer Calder is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist who specializes in financial therapy for individuals and couples.

Calder says she's had a lot of clients approach her recently with anxiety about student loan repayments.

"I've definitely talked to people about them. And they're very stressed out. A lot of people don't know how they're going to make it. And it's a big pressure for them. Now, it does impact sleep and general well being, too," Calder says.

But financial stress and anxiety can be common even without the presence of educational debt.

And the way we feel about money and interact with the topic starts from a young age. Calder says we form our beliefs — or scripts — about money by the age of seven. And we can often hold anywhere from 50 to 200 beliefs about money with us. Calder says some examples of these scripts can be "money is evil" or "all wealthy people are greedy."

Calder works with clients using a model that categorizes relationships to money in four groups:

  • Worship
  • Avoidance
  • Status
  • Vigilance

Oftentimes, our feelings about money come from our parents, family, friends and even the media. Calder says she works with her clients to explore their money story — their relationship to money, and where and how they developed their understanding of money.
Calder says that while it's difficult to talk about money, it's important to do so. Understanding that everyone has different money scripts can help people come to agreements or remove blame surrounding money in relationships. And having all of the facts can eliminate some anxiety, too.

"I would encourage them to get the facts. Look at look at their budget, look at what's coming in, what's coming out, because oftentimes, we can imagine that things are worse than they actually are. And so when they have their numbers in front of them and figuring out, OK, so where if I need to, where can I make adjustments in my spending habits, that's gonna give them information that will reduce some of the worry and the anxiety," Calder says.

Therapy — both financial and otherwise — isn't an accessible option for everyone. Calder says some things you can do at home to start addressing financial stress and anxiety is to start identifying your unconscious beliefs and examine them.

"I would offer people to ask themselves some questions like, 'What did I learn about money from my mother? What did I learn about money from my father? You know, what's my most painful money memory? What's my most joyful money memory?' Just getting some some more insight into their own psychology," Calder says.

Calder also recommends these resources:

Broadcast at noon Monday, Sept. 25, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.