Nick Crocker found a solution to spiking rent costs: moving into a school bus. But his $108,100 student-debt balance is continuing to hold him back.
When Crocker, now 37, started his education at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, he did not anticipate the economic
he was graduating into in 2008. He was unable to land a job using his bachelor’s degree, and right out of college he moved to Pennsylvania and began working two jobs — one at Jimmy John’s and one at Olive Garden.
During that time, he was able to keep up with his $540 monthly student-debt payment. When it doubled to $1,089 a month once his graduation-repayment plan ended, the only option available to Crocker that would decrease his monthly payment was to extend the time it would take to pay the balance off. Crocker knew something had to give.
“I was tired of throwing away half of my income on rent and not being able to save a dime in the process,” Crocker told Insider. “So I decided to build out a school bus.”
Since October 2018, Crocker and his fiancée have been living in a 120-square-foot school bus he spent $25,000 to renovate. He pays around $550 a month to rent out a backyard parking space in Portland, Oregon. Even with those extra savings from rent payments, Crocker defaulted on some of his student loans because he was not making sufficient income to afford basic necessities alongside his student-loan bills. He’s only continued to make payments on a loan that his father cosigned to ensure his dad wouldn’t be impacted by a potential default.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is in the process of deciding whether millions of federal student-loan borrowers will get relief. Recent reports suggest he is considering $10,000 in relief for borrowers making under $150,000 a year — an announcement the administration will likely make in July or August, closer to when the pandemic pause on student-loan payments is set to expire after August 31.
With the majority of Crocker’s debt being private loans, Biden’s relief won’t make a significant dent for him and about 3 million other borrowers with private loans. He says he wishes he’d known the high, life-long costs of higher education when he was in high school. It may have prevented him from being in his current situation.
“While college was a great way for me to figure some things out, it was a really expensive way for me to do that,” Crocker said. “I wouldn’t do that again. I would have gone into the trades. The student-loan debt is by far my biggest regret — it’s too much money to let somebody borrow at 18 years old.”
‘We’re not getting out from underneath this’
The reason the majority of Crocker’s student debt is privately held is because when he was applying for federal financial aid in high school, his parents’ income was high enough that they only qualified for limited aid. Still, he needed funds because he was responsible for some of the expenses, and private student loans were readily available, so Crocker turned to those — but later found that the high interest rates on private loans make it difficult to touch the original balance borrowed.
“I wasn’t chipping my way out of this,” Crocker said. “$540 a month was just covering interest, so at some point, we’re not getting out from underneath this.”
Before Crocker began falling behind on his monthly payments, he said he had a great
. After his loan company raised his monthly payment in 2015, his wages at his grocery-store job were garnished, so he picked up carpentry and other jobs on the side to keep up.
Now, as an adventure-van builder making $25 an hour in Portland, he said he knows his current living situation is not sustainable in the long run. He will eventually need to face high rent prices and his six-figure student-debt load.
As Insider previously reported, average rent in the US has increased to $1,722 a month, which is more than 30% of the national median, accounting for taxes. While mortgage debt is the largest form of consumer debt in the US, student debt follows right behind, currently totaling $1.7 trillion for over 40 million Americans. But while the Education Department oversees federal loans, private student loans can fly under the radar, which is why the department has taken actions to ensure private lenders don’t steer students into an unaffordable debt.
The Federal Student Aid office in March detailed requirements for colleges to better inform students about the risks of private student-loan options that can carry costly fees, writing in a blog post that “the stakes could not be higher” for students when they figure out how to pay for college.
Crocker said he’s “on a savings plan right now” by living in a bus, but wishes he’d gone to a trade school rather than take on student loans for a degree he couldn’t use.
“I would love to be able to afford to buy a house, but right now it’s not the best market to be buying a house,” Crocker said. “So we’re living in a 120-square-foot school bus, and while it’s been a great way for us to save the money, it’s cramped. And we want more than that.”