Editor’s note: One of everyone’s favorite speakers at last year’s Chairman Mom Flee was the amazing Shannon Downey, aka Badass Cross Stitch. She is a tireless advocate, and I always learn from the essays she throws up on Instagram, so I’ve asked if we can repurpose a few of her ideas regularly with our audience. This post on student loans was a revelation to me, as a mother, an aunt of college-aged kids, and someone watching the Democratic debates…

I am a smart woman. I also have two degrees. I’m not so sure those two things are related. I grew up poor and queer and saw college as my way out of a life that I didn’t want. I took out loans to attend a state school and was the first in my family to graduate college. Years later, I took out more loans to get a Masters degree. I borrowed a total of $46,052.

My loans were sold off more times than I could count. I paid above my minimum every month. I had to put them into forbearance one particularly hard year, my second year as an entrepreneur.

My loan ended up with American Education Services (AES) in 2005. Their dashboard was simple and I paid my $400/month for the past…oh…19 years. For 19 years I have paid more than my minimum, but the most that I could afford each month. Nineteen f*cking years.

Earlier this year, AES was forced to change their dashboard to make it more transparent. Here’s what that transparency revealed to me: I had three separate loans all with different interest rates, all above 7%. When I paid my $400/month, AES was deciding where the money was being distributed and guess what? Shocker…they sure as shit did not distribute it in a way that benefited me (or was in any way just or responsible).

As I mentioned, I borrowed a total of $46,052. After 19 years, I still owe $30,132.

Yes, you read that right. I STILL OWE $30,132. Why you ask? That math doesn’t add up. Well I have paid $26,036 IN INTEREST. If I had continued, I would have paid $39,307 in interest on $46,052. This is evil capitalist predatory bullsh*t.

Once I discovered this, I dove deep into research mode and I found Earnest.com and in about 20 minutes had refinanced those loans into one at 5.34% paying a minimum of $380 a month. Worst case scenario, I pay it off in 8 years having paid an additional ~$7,000 in interest over that period.

I think back to my 18-year-old self and marvel that my school encouraged me to take on that much debt, minutes after I tattooed the Guinness turtle on my hip! Clearly, I should not have been making such massive decisions. I had no one in my family that could guide me. College was life-changing for me and it truly did set me free in so many ways in my life, but it’s been a financial ball and chain, and I am not alone. Spend 10 minutes on my Instagram posts about this and you will see HUNDREDS of people with the exact same story. Interestingly, dozens of folks have messaged me that they went and investigated their own student loans after reading my posts and found they too were paying almost exclusively interest.

I am done carrying shame about this. F*ck money shame. I keep reminding myself that I was not taught any of this. That we live in a capitalist society that benefits from the poor staying poor and ignorant. This is how the system works for the very few it works for. This is a game and it’s rigged. I am just going to keep educating myself and talking about money with everyone I meet. No more silence. No more shame. No more stigma. Women should be in charge of this country’s money and I am dead set on making sure I’m playing my role in ensuring that can happen.

To that end, I don’t know if Earnest is your solution but it sure as shit was for me. And if you were someone who was privileged enough to not have to take out loans for higher education, please don’t ignore this issue simply because it doesn’t affect you directly. It affects our entire economy and our society cannot sustain a debt ratio like this. Americans owe over $1.56 TRILLION in student loan debt. That makes it everyone’s problem.

Talk about money!

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

* * * *