Meet a single mom who took on $49,000 in student debt to put one of her 2 daughters through college: ‘It’s the only way for my kids to get an education and be successful’

  • Danet Henry, a single mom of two, is $49,000 in debt after funding one child’s college education.
  • She estimated that the balance would double when her younger daughter graduated from college.
  • She told Insider she knew debts must be repaid, but she wished relief for parents was on the table.

When Danet Henry’s two daughters were born, she didn’t think she’d be funding their educations on her own.

But after a divorce, and what she said was an unexpected lack of child support, Henry had to decide between delaying college for her kids and taking on a student-debt load herself. She chose the latter.

“College is what they’ve always wanted,” Henry, 53, told Insider. “Especially my oldest. She knew she was going straight to college. And when my youngest said she was going to go, I wasn’t going to stop her.”

To make sure her kids could achieve their higher-education aspirations, Henry turned to parent PLUS loans — a type of federal loan for parents that covers the full cost of attendance minus any financial aid the child already received. 

Henry took out the maximum amount for her older daughter, who graduated in three and a half years from a public college in 2021 with a partial scholarship and roughly $8,000 in student loans per semester under her own name, as well. Henry now has almost $49,000 in student debt that she anticipates will double once her younger daughter graduates from college in 2025, given that lenders don’t typically start collecting payments until six months after a student’s completion of school.

While PLUS loans offer a financial reprieve to parents who cannot afford to pay out of pocket for their kids’ college experiences, upon graduation, the debt from those loans can accumulate quicker than anticipated. PLUS loans have the highest interest rate of all federal loan options — 6.28% — and since the federal lender doesn’t assess a parent’s income when loans are disbursed, it’s easy for a parent to take out more than they can afford to repay. While President Joe Biden has granted targeted student-loan forgiveness to certain groups, parents likely won’t be one of them.

Henry said she was aware that since she took out loans, it was her obligation to repay them. But with the number of loan-repayment and -forgiveness programs out there, she wished parents like herself could be included in some form of assistance or relief, rather than paying the cost of sending their kids to college for the better part of the rest of their lives.

“I’m the sole provider, and it’s the only way for my kids to get an education and be successful,” Henry said, referring to taking out PLUS loans. “It would be a huge relief to be included in some form of forgiveness program.”

 ‘I most definitely will not be able to make those payments’

Before the pandemic, Henry had a telecommunications job in Texas with an income that allowed her to keep her family “financially afloat,” she said. But after a layoff, Henry’s income took a hit, and she now makes a five-figure salary with a job in security.

She said she didn’t know what her monthly loan payments would look like after the pause on payments expired, but she knew that affording them would be a challenge. Payments are set to resume on May 1.

“I most definitely will not be able to make those payments,” Henry said. 

It’s not that Henry didn’t do her research before taking out loans. She said she asked a financial-aid representative to walk her through her options, and while she determined PLUS loans were her best bet for sending her kids to school, she said the loan companies “really try to make it a one-stop shop” to easily take out loans. 

That’s a key characteristic of PLUS loans that a number of parents have noticed. Insider previously spoke with Jeff O’Kelley, who has a $104,000 student-debt load for his son’s education through a process he described as “extraordinarily simple.” Robert Pemberton — a dad with a $265,000 student-debt load for his two kids — told Insider the loan process felt like it was “on autopilot,” and that all he had to do was “sign a paper.”

‘Loan forgiveness for parents would be such a relief’

During his campaign, Biden pledged to approve $10,000 in student-loan forgiveness for every federal borrower. But parents didn’t appear to be included in that plan, and Henry said she wished that weren’t the case.

“I know there’s other forgiveness programs right now, but I don’t meet any other criteria,” Henry said. “Loan forgiveness for parents would be such a relief.”

At this point, though, it’s unclear if any borrower will receive student-loan relief anytime soon. While Biden has extended the pause on student-loan payments three times during his presidency, payments are set to resume on May 1. And even as lawmakers and advocates have pushed for either another extension of that pause or student-loan cancellation, Biden and his administration have expressed hesitancy in doing so, placing the matter in Congress’ hands instead.

Henry said she was glad targeted groups of borrowers had already gotten some debt canceled, like those defrauded by for-profit schools, but she wanted relief for parents to also be in the cards.

“There are some initiatives already out there for forgiveness” of $10,000 and $20,000, Henry said. She added: “But it’s only for select groups, and we don’t fall under that. It puts a lot of pressure on a parent.”

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