First-generation college graduates navigate mountain of student loan debt

Kari Boudreau, the first in her family to go to college, said she still owes about $600,000 in federal student loans. She stands inside of her chiropractic clinic, Ambiente Gallerie, in Minneapolis on Feb. 8.

Kari Boudreau did everything by the book when it came to her student loans. She still couldn’t stay ahead of her debt.

A self-proclaimed rule follower, Boudreau was the first in her working-class Northfield, Minn., family to go to college, earning a degree from Iowa State University that led to her building a successful chiropractic business.

Getting there, though, meant taking on loans. What started out as $139,000 in federal student loans became $600,000. This happened because of a combination of loan consolidation, forbearance, having her loan sold from one servicer to another, interest capitalization — when a loan’s unpaid interest is added to the loan total, or principal — and moving to an income based repayment plan.

Boudreau, 53, is among a growing legion of people in Minnesota and across the nation now hoping President Joe Biden will take steps to ease what’s become a massive student debt problem. Supporters say that debt, more than $1.6 trillion currently, is holding back the American economy, keeping people from buying homes, getting married and otherwise taking their next steps in life — and affecting Black and brown borrowers in unequal ways.