Paying for College

The Middle Class Dilemma

By Michael Lux

Do you feel stuck in the Middle? 

You are a good student, but not a great student, which means several college options but few scholarships. Your family is middle class—too much income to qualify for need-based aid, but not enough income for the family to pay for school.    

This college funding problem often leads to using student loans to fund an education, and upon graduation, finding yourself stuck in the middle again: too much income for loan forgiveness programs and lender aid programs, but not enough income to aggressively pay down the debt or to qualify for student loan consolidation and refinancing services.   

This can mean a lifetime of minimum payments on student debt. Today we will discuss some strategies to end the cycle we call the “Middle-Class Dilemma”. 

Best Route: Avoid Student Loans 

Getting in to your “dream school” is great, but if you are going to break the bank to attend, it could be a huge mistake. Many community colleges are substantially less expensive options and if you plan ahead, you can transfer your credits to the expensive school you want to attend for years three and four. Spending less on housing and tuition can make a huge difference in future years. 

Along the same lines, delaying school to earn some extra money or attending school at night while you work during the day can be a wise choice. Not only will going this route help you show future employers you have a great work ethic, but it will also mean that your short-term sacrifices will have long-term benefits.  

Read This Before You Borrow Private Student Loans 

The best advice I can give to anyone attending or planning to attend college is to avoid student loans. The second best advice I can give is to only get federal loans if you insist on borrowing money for college. There are two main advantages to having federal student loans instead of private loans. 

The first advantage is that borrowers can select repayment plans based upon their income rather than how much they owe. Most borrowers are able to get their payments lowered to 10% of their monthly discretionary income. This perk is not offered by any private lender. This means that if you finish school and cannot find work or lose your job at some point, you will not have to worry about defaulting on your student loans. Nobody heads off to college expecting to fail, but success is far from a certainty.   

The second advantage is student loan forgiveness programs.  Borrowers who are on income-driven repayment plans can have their loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years of payments. Additionally, borrowers who work in public service can have their loans forgiven after 10 years. This allows graduates the opportunity to pursue jobs in the public interest without having to worry that they will not be able to pay off their student loans. 

Bottom Line 

When you are stuck in the middle on student loans it can seem impossible to get ahead. Facing a lifetime of student debt or the possibility of failing to pay off your loans is a devastating situation to be in. Fortunately, there are ways to get past this problem. It certainly isn’t easy, but it definitely can be done. 

Michael Lux is the founder of the Student Loan Sherpa. He is an Indiana attorney who knows first-hand how frustrating it is to deal with student loan servicers and massive bills. He created the site to help other student loan borrowers navigate the  complicated world of student loans. For more student loan advice, visit 

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