The sun is set high. Taryn Smith sits on the front porch of her house with her husband, watching her children play. The day is perfect; birds flying high in the sky, sun beating down on the white picket fence wrapped around the small home, and her husband’s hand in hers as the pair sits and watches, their children’s laughter filling the air.
It is the perfect image. It is exactly what Taryn wanted when she graduated in 2010 from Taylor High School in Kokomo, Indiana. But it is not what she got.
When Taryn graduated high school, she had a one-year plan. She would be married, have children, own a house, and start her journey of becoming a nurse.
Instead, Taryn and her high school sweetheart broke up. Suddenly, she didn’t know what she wanted. Taryn didn’t attend college immediately after high school, and instead put off her dreams for three years.
When she finally decided to go to school, it was in May 2013 at Ross Medical Education Center. Her tuition was about $15,000 and only $5,000 was covered by a grant. Taryn did what most students do in this situation: She took out loans to cover the rest.
The average student loan debt in Indiana is $29,222 and 61 percent of college graduates have debt, according to research by the Institute for College Access and Success.
The $10,000 she still owed was split in half between two different loans. The loans were not deferred until she finished the nine-month medical program. Taryn had to pay them off simultaneously while in school, which was harder than what she had originally thought. Sometimes she put her loans on the back burner, which only made them accumulate more interest.
When the program was finished, she was immediately hired on at American Health Network. This lasted around six months.
Taryn found herself unhappy with being a medical assistant. She was questioning if she even wanted to do it for the rest of her life. She knew she wanted to help people, but there was something missing. Her plan – a husband, kids, a home of her own – seemed more distant than ever.
So she took a year off of work and school.
Her debt grew as more interest accumulated on unpaid loans.
The reality of the debt hit her the hardest when she was first asked to make payments. Because she wasn’t working, she had to ask her family for help.
Taryn hated the guilt of having to ask her fiancé, Jeff, and her grandma to help pay her student loans. I signed my name on these loans. I should be paying, she thought. I am not okay with other people paying. This is my responsibility.
There were many times during that year off when Taryn had to ask for help. She didn’t like it, but she wasn’t working and there wasn’t any other way to pay the monthly bill toward the loans.
Many of Taryn’s plans have been postponed because of her student debt, however, she is not the only one. Many students experience similar situations.
Economics professor Cecil Bohanon said that students should be careful when choosing a major. He said it is vital for students to have an idea of their career plans and have some knowledge of how they will pay their loans back. He recommends that students are careful how they borrow. Don’t take too much, just take what is needed.
It was in a mall that Taryn picked herself up again. She was spending time with her best friend, Kara, a rarity for the two of them because Kara lives in Indianapolis and Taryn lives in Kokomo. Kara was an assistant manager for Hot Topic. The conversation of Taryn’s unemployment came up between the two, and Kara convinced Taryn to go to the store and ask for a job
The moment the two walked in, the familiar black aura of Hot Topic engulfed them. Countless band T-shirts of musicians Taryn grew up loving lined the walls. But she felt awkward. Kara approached the workers, already knowing some of them, to ask if they would give Taryn a job.
“Hey, are you hiring? ‘Cause, she needs a job,” Kara asked the associate, pointing in Taryn’s direction.
“Actually, yeah. We are hiring,” the associate said.
After Taryn submitted her application, an interview was set up with the manager. Taryn remembers the encounter to be the most laid-back interview she had ever gone through. She was used to nail-biting interviews with surgeons and doctors. But the one with Hot Topic was just a conversation, sitting with the manager and talking about music. She was hired on the spot.
Things were looking up. But her debt still hung over her head.
Taryn and Jeff have lived with Taryn’s mom and grandma for the entire time they have been engaged, since 2012. Taryn has never had her own place, another part of her dream she is still trying to make reality.
In 2010, 24 percent of Millennials were living with their parents. That percentage has risen steadily since then, reaching 26 percent by 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
The cost of rent has increased 11 percent since 2012 according to Zillow, an online real estate database. Because of this, Dr. Bohanon said that it makes sense for recent graduates to live at home. They can’t afford anything else.
The average first-time home buyer is 33 years old and single, according to research done by Zillow. The number of first-time home buyers who are married has decreased from 52 percent in the late 1980s to 40 percent today.
Taryn will not fit that description of first-time home buyers.
In November 2015, Taryn was driving to Chicago for an album release party with her mom and sister when she got a phone call from Jeff. He had been approved for a home loan. It was only then that they began the search for their home – one Taryn hoped would one day be the picturesque image she had in high school. The two soon fell in love with a home in Kokomo.
Oh my God, it’s in a good area. We can start our lives together here. This is perfect, she thought.
There was only one problem: The loan didn’t cover the house that they had found. Her dream was halted once again. They ended up not accepting the loan, and stopped their search for a home altogether.
When Taryn began dating Jeff, she had the same picture in her head that she did with her high school boyfriend. Children, a home, the perfect job, and marriage. But that dream has changed. Taryn doesn’t know if she wants children anymore. She still plans to marry Jeff, but she fears she may not settle down until she is at least 30, which is six years away.
There are days when Taryn feels depressed about her situation. She looks at her job in retail and compares it to what could have been if she had remained a medical assistant.
On December 2 of 2015, Taryn received a call from Ross Medical Education Center. The person on the phone informed her that she qualified to return to school. For free.
Taryn wasn’t sure if she should take the opportunity or not. Her previous experience in the medical program had left her unhappy.
What if this time isn’t any different? she thought.
The woman on the phone convinced her to just come in and talk to them. After her meeting, Taryn had made the decision to go back to school. She would try again.
Taryn still has her two loans that she has to pay. The one she hasn’t touched is now $7,000 and the other that is being paid back monthly is $13,000. Taryn often thinks about where she would be if she didn’t have to pay the loans back. She could have her picturesque scene that has been implanted into her head since she graduated high school. A home, marriage, children; if she wasn’t paying $100 toward one loan a month, those things could be hers.