Amanda Courtney, 36, of San Diego, said she began falling into debt as soon as she entered college, nearly two decades ago.
“There was no way for me to go to college without taking out student loans, so I knew as I was applying for colleges that I was going to have to take out loans,” Courtney told “Good Morning America.” “I was kind of like, well, everyone takes out student loans, right? It’s fine.”
Courtney said she took out $15,000 in loans for her freshman year of college, and then also got into credit card debt when, at 18, she got a credit card without learning about how to budget and make her payments.
When she graduated from college in 2008, the U.S. was in the midst of a financial crisis and Courtney said she could not find a job. Without a job, she could also not afford to pay off her student loans, she said.
“I continued to enroll in school just so I could defer my student loans because I couldn’t afford to make the minimum payments, all while continuing to accrue more credit card debt,” she said. “And I just fell deeper and deeper into debt.”
At age 25, Courtney, who now works as an administrative assistant at a San Diego high school, got a job working in education that allowed her to start to pay off her debt, but only with the minimum payments each month. She said she quickly learned that though she had deferred making payments on her student loans by taking low-cost community college classes for several years, the interest on her debt had continued to add up.
“I was deferring my loans, but I wasn’t deferring the interest, so though I was deferring making those payments, I was adding to my balance,” she said. “I didn’t have the financial literacy to understand what I was doing and the full implications of what I was doing.”
Courtney said that because federal loans and grants did not cover her full college tuition, she got a loan through a private loan company that carried what she described as an “insane interest rate.”
Coming from a family that did not discuss finances or budgeting, Courtney said she “truly did not know” what she was getting herself into when she signed up for student loans.
“I didn’t understand the economics of it and the commitment of it,” she said. “I think I just had this false sense of security that I’m working and I’m going to get a degree and then I’m going to have a job that can pay off the debt so it won’t be a big problem.”
“Then reality hits and you realize that’s not how any of this works and my $15,000 in loans very quickly becomes $30,000,” she said.
“I, very innocently, early in our relationship, was like so, ‘How much debt do you have?,'” she recalled. “He looked at me very plainly and said, ‘I don’t have any debt. How much do you have?'”
Courtney said she made a decision in that moment to be honest about her financial woes, and her now-husband worked with her to build a budget, the first time Courtney had done that in her life.