Meet a lawyer with $347,000 in student debt who can’t land a job

  • Steve Pederzani was told that going to law school would prepare him for a comfortable future.
  • But he hasn’t been able to land a steady job and is buried in student debt of $347,000.
  • He wants to pay back what he borrowed but hopes those with law degrees won’t be turned away for help.

Steve Pederzani thought going to law school was the best decision for him.

After graduating from college and working as a social worker, Pederzani, now 37, wanted to continue helping people and saw a law degree as the next big step in getting there. As a first-generation student, he said he was frequently advised by lawyers and those around him that pursuing a law degree would leave him well – and keep a roof over his head, even at school – so he thought about getting student loans. would be worth it.

“I grew up in a working class family and I don’t want to worry about when the next meal will be. I don’t want to worry about putting food on my plate,” Pederzani told Insider. “And with law school, everyone said I would never have to worry about those things.”

But after graduating from law school in 2017, Pederzani now has an ever-growing student debt of $347,000. He took out graduate PLUS loans to attend Seattle University Law School, which allowed him to cover full tuition, but medical complications with his fiancee prevented him from passing the bar exam, and their collective earnings have taken a major hit since his fiancée. couldn’t work.

As a result, Pederzani could no longer afford Seattle rent, so he temporarily moved to Nebraska to live with his fiancée’s family. They now live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, thanks to housing assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Graduate PLUS loans — the type of loan Pederzani took out — are the most expensive type of federal loan with the highest interest rate, now at 7.54%. They are also likely not included in any of President Joe Biden’s relief plans, which are expected to include $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for undergraduate borrowers earning less than $150,000.

Either way, Pederzani said he had no problem repaying the amount he borrowed. In fact, he wants. But he said he wants more people — and the president — to recognize that good-paying jobs don’t benefit everyone who seeks them.

“There are people who would find Joe Biden’s $10,000 relief to be miraculous,” Pederzani said. “But there are a significant number of people like me who are forgotten. We are left behind.”

“Paying off student loans is the last thing on my mind right now”

Pederzani said he chose to take out student loans to cover full tuition because he believed he would be hired upon graduation and earn enough money to repay the loans. This was hardly the case for him. After delaying his bar exam, he contacted his alma mater for help in his job search, to no avail.

He was able to work as a clerk at a personal injury company for a short time, but moved to New Mexico during the pandemic and jobs were scarce.

Since then he has not been able to maintain a stable income. While he’s on an income-based repayment plan that allows him to make $0 monthly payments on his student loans, interest continues to accrue, and he said it would take “a win in the lottery or buried treasure” to get out from under this.

“We are not well,” Pederzani said. “Who told you that lawyers had instant tickets to the middle class, it existed maybe 10 or 20 years ago, but it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not the same job market anymore.”

The idea that those who pursue a law degree will be instantly successful — and therefore not in need of student debt relief — is one that Biden has touted, repeatedly saying that those who got advanced degrees from prestigious institutions, such as Harvard or the University of Pennsylvania, did not require loan forgiveness. Some lawmakers have made that argument, too: GOP Sen. Tom Cotton wrote on Twitter that if Biden canceled student debt, taxpayers would have to pay “the law school loans of a lawyer earning $300,000.”

According to the Department of Education, approximately 70% of law students leave school with debt, with the average amount being around $138,500. And one investigation by the American Bar Association in 2020 revealed that law school debt caused some graduates to “stay awake at night worried”, leaving them in “constant anxiety and stress” that forced many of them to postpone the purchase of houses or to marry.

Pederzani can attest to that — he said he put off buying a house and adopting a child because of debt. While he hopes he can eventually pay for it, that’s out of the question right now.

“We don’t even have enough money for next month’s rent,” Pederzani said. “Paying off student loans is the last thing on my mind right now.”

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