FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KFTA) – Arkansans struggle with paying off their loans, and 55% of people in the state have student loan debt, according to Experian statistics. One woman in Northwest Arkansas recognized that the only way to better her family’s livelihood was to seek advice in paying off her loans, and she said her story applies to other cases.
Darnisha Owens started attending a Louisiana college in 2006, but she had to drop out to take care of her already-large family–she already had five children at the time.
“Life, history, things happened,” Owens said. “I ended up separating from my ex-husband and decided I needed to make a clean break. I needed to make a move, so I ended up coming to Arkansas.”
Without job prospects or a place to live, Owens relied on a local church to help her find refuge. Church members introduced her to Restoration Village, an organization that houses women and their children during times of crisis. There, she also learned the necessary steps to improve her situation, starting with encouragement to call Credit Counseling of Arkansas, a non-profit company, to get her finances in order.
“While I was here, the whole entire time I’m like, ‘okay, I want to go back to school. I want to be a nurse.'” Owens said. “I want to be able to take care of my family and not worry about if this bill has to be paid or that bill has to be paid.”
Two years ago, Owens met with Joel Doelger, CCOA’s director of community relations and housing counseling, who also worked with people who needed advice on student loans. They discovered that she had taken out 11 student loans totaling around $38,000.
“Her’s was a pretty convoluted case about trying to locate where the loans were, whether all the loans listed were legit or not,” Doelger said. “It was a lot of steps that we had to go through in order track down where the loans were, determine what type they are, determine what the best option was for her.”
Doelger said the complexity of Owens’ situation made it a layered process to correct the problems.
“Darnisha is a delightful woman, really outgoing, very pleasant, and so she sticks in my mind for a lot of different reasons,” Doelger said. “A lot of the loans were out of state. One case, we had to deal directly with the college rather than with the Department of Education, for example, or a loan servicer or collector.”
They made the decision to consolidate her loans to opt for more payment options considering the amount she’d accrued. The average Arkansan borrows $32,203 in student loans, according to Experian statistics, and the percentage of people who have student loan debt has increased since last year. Like Owens, many have the option of seeking help to make sure they don’t accidentally take on more debt by falling into delinquency or default.
“A lot of people…they’re out of school for a while and haven’t even thought about their loans for a long, long time,” Doelger said. “They go into default and haven’t made consistent payments on them. For government loans, that’s fairly easy. Others aren’t so easy.”
Still, Doelger said it’s important to invest in education after one studies the loan process beforehand.
“I don’t think you should be afraid of that, but I think you should go into it with your eyes wide open,” Doelger said. “You have to recognize the amount of debt that you’re taking on and make choices accordingly.”
While Owens still pays a monthly rate for several of her loans, others have been paid off, and she’s studying at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) with hopes of being a nurse in the future. She said her seven kids are her biggest supporters and hopes to reward them for their patience.
“No, I will not be overspending. No, I will not be going out there doing something crazy with my money because I know that my goal is to have a place for us to call home one day,” Owens said.