How One Man Racked Up $1M in Student Debt

Orthodontist and his wife lived frugally but the bills kept piling up
By Janet Cromley,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2018 2:00 PM CDT
Hundred-dollar bills. But not enough to pay Mike Meru's debts.   (Getty/SARINYAPINNGAM)

(Newser) – Mike Meru has a staggering student-loan problem: He owes lenders $1,060,945.42. He is making payments, but still, his debt grows $130 every day. And the 37-year-old orthodontist is not alone. There are currently 101 borrowers who owe more than $1 million in student loans, and there are 2.5 million who owe more than $100,000. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Meru’s problem and explains the hard choices he and other borrowers like him are facing. Part of the problem stems from rising cost of tuition. Meru graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah with no student debt, but his goal of becoming an orthodontist brought him to the University of Southern California, an expensive choice. Over the next seven years of school, tuition and interest rates spiraled.

A few years in, he started to panic and considered dropping out. "I'm sitting here saying, 'Holy crap! Should I really be doing this?'" Meru tells the Journal. But Meru felt that orthodontics was his calling. (He had been embarrassed by his own bad teeth as a teenager and says "orthodontics changed my life.") To save on money, Meru and his wife lived with his parents and he drove a used Buick. By his third year he was $340,000 in debt, and then he entered a residency program. Of his growing debt, he says, "I just wouldn't look. The only thing looking did was create stress." In all, he borrowed $600,506, which topped $1 million after interest. Today, Meru makes $225,000 working in his field, but the debt is unrelenting. "If you thought about it every single day," says his wife, "you'd have a mental breakdown." To read the entire story, go here. (Read more student debt stories.)

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