Feeling hopeless about student loans? Start with a theological virtue

By Victoria Sechrist (ConsumerCatholic.com)

Part 1 of a 5-Part Series on Student Loans

There is no patron saint of student loans specifically, but maybe someday there will be. In the meantime, you can lean on: 

  • Saint Edwiges, patron saint of debtors 
  • Saint Matthew the Apostle, patron saint of finances  
  • Saint Anthony of Padua, known to advocate on behalf of debtors 
  • Saint Jude, patron saint of desperate situations 


If you’re feeling overwhelmed about your student loan balance, I would venture to say that you’re one of millions of people who are. Even if people aren’t talking about their own student loan saga, that doesn’t mean it’s not affecting them. As a financial planner, I’ve worked with several clients with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt. It begs the question, “Would I just have been better off not getting this degree at all?” It’s so easy to feel like you’re stuck in this debt forever with no way out! 


I could write a whole other post (and maybe someday I will) with some ideas on how to fix the student loan crisis (prayers included). 


Theological Virtues 

Thankfully, there are things we can draw upon that can help us to transform the way we look at seemingly insurmountable problems. Of the 3 theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), we’re told that the greatest of these is love. 


Today, though, I’d like to highlight hope because can we really work towards paying off student loans if there’s no hope? Can we get anything done if we’re hopeless? I believe one of the requisites to making lasting changes is to have hope. If you think doing XYZ won’t bring about your desired outcome (paying off student loans), then why would you do it? 


There’s an idea that life must be “beans and rice” until the debt is paid off. For some people, that works. But it’s not for everyone. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for paying off student loans, or any debt for that matter. Everyone has different circumstances. Your student loans have to be looked at in the context of the broader picture: What are your other debts? What’s your potential income? What are your monthly expenses and could they be reduced? What are your other goals? 


Venerable Bruno Lanteri said, “We can never hope too much. The one who hopes for everything, obtains everything.”


Know Your Numbers

Start by making a document to help you get organized. Take time to gather all of this information (and double check even if you think you know). 


  1. What is your balance? 
  2. How much of that is principal and how much is interest?
  3. What is the monthly due date for your payment? 
  4. What is your monthly payment amount? (Sometimes, if you’re on income-based repayment for Federal loans, it can be as low as $0.) 
  5. How long have you been paying these loans back? 
  6. How long until they’re paid off? (This may not be easily publicized because it would probably shock most people to see this number. You can do your own calculation here: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/student-loans-extra-payments or, if you’re still in college and are curious about how much you’d need to make at your job, you can use this one: http://www.finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml

Cardinal Virtues Come into Play 

The cardinal virtues are built upon the theological virtues; they depend on them. Therefore, hope is necessary!


In the next 4 parts of this series, we’ll break down each of the 4 cardinal virtues and how to apply them to paying off your student loan debt. Yes, there will be practical things because as much as I wish we could all just pray away student loans, it likely won’t happen that way. Here’s some of what we’ll get into:

  • Private vs Federal vs state student loans 
  • Public Service loan forgiveness (PSLF) and other forgiveness programs
  • Income-based repayment 
  • Student loan refinancing 

In the meantime, reflecting on these verses may bring you a sense of hope.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.


Psalm 71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.


Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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