Nation's largest form of consumer debt

By Beau Ebenezer

January 24, 2013 Updated Jan 25, 2013 at 12:04 AM CDT

CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- Student loans are the nation's largest form of consumer debt, surpassing 1 trillion dollars in 2012.

With millions of college students borrowing more everyday, those in repayment are looking for help.

"These students are signing their lives away," said Sabrina Johnson, a mother and loan co-signer. "They are signing themselves up for a life of indentured servitude to the private loan companies."

Student loan debt has surpassed 1 trillion dollars across the country, leaving some in more trouble than others.

Mother, Sabrina Johnson co-signed on her son's student loan.

A loan, The Harrington Institute of Design in Chicago assured her, was a federal loan.

Soon, Johnson says she realized the institution made a mistake, setting her up with privately operated, Sallie Mae...a corporation she compares to loan sharks.

"They can raise the interest rate to whatever they want. So these two particular loans I co-signed with my son started out at like 8% and now they are at 30%."

Johnson and her son's payments are now at $1,500 per month.

This week, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin re-introduced two pieces of legislation that would allow students to file for bankruptcy on their student loans, and require schools to counsel students before they sign on to private student loan debt.

Financial Aid officials at Illinois State say they already provide in-depth information to their students.

"We have Freshmen information nights and open houses where we hand out brochures and information to incoming students," said Bridget Curl, ISU Associate Director for Program Administration and Compliance.

Officials at Illinois State University say their average debt per student last year was $25,000. However, for some students, it wasn't that bad.

Illinois State University Alum, Erin Cushman says her federal loan debt is not the worst it could be.

However, she is still making payments, four years later.

"It's definitely hard knowing you have debt when there are other expenses that you have," said Cushman. "There's rent, car payments, and stuff like that that adds up."

Going back to Johnson, she says the best lesson for incoming college students is to steer clear of private loans and to avoid co-signing.

While her private loan debt won't be going away anytime soon, Johnson and many others will be hoping for new legislation to help them out of a hole.

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