Take the Loan, Single Moms

Most of the time on this site, I devote a lot of my space to discouraging you guys from taking student loans — at least the ones you don’t really need. On rare occasion, though, I’ll run into a situation where I wholeheartedly advise someone to take out more loans than they’re even considering.

For Jenn’s question below, this is one of those times.  She’s a parent of a 6-year-old and so am I, so I was pretty excited to respond to this mail.

My question is about small student loans. First I’ll give you some background. I’m an almost 29 year old divorced single mother, my son is 6. I’m starting community college full time in the fall as a freshman.

They don't stay this cute and sweet forever. Spend every moment with 'em you can!

Congrats! Big step — great job for jumping in there.

I will be pursuing an Associate’s in Nursing. I have received the Pell grant and the IL MAP grant that will nearly pay for all of my books, tuition and living expenses for the school year.


I would only need to work to have money for groceries, gas, household items like laundry detergent, and Christmas money.

I currently work two jobs, one Mon – Fri and every third Sat, the other every Fri, Sat and Sun. Basically, it sucks. I don’t get to spend very much time with my son and I feel like I’m just shipping him off to the next person who’s babysitting him for me, usually my mom and grandma. I miss out on seeing him EVERY weekend because of the hours I work, and I only make about $100/weekend doing it. I’ve only had 3 days off work since May, two because I was sick.

I agree, that sucks terribly. But it sounds like we’re onto a solution here.

I want to take out a small student loan, about $2K/year to cover the stuff I would have to work for and sacrifice that quality time. What advice do you have for me finding a loan and not getting screwed over? I’m very good at living on a budget, my car’s under warranty (no surprise car repairs) and if something did come up, I could take a job if I had to.

I know nothing about the student loan world, how it woks, what’s a good interest rate, what kinds of terms to look for, etc, etc.

Well, let me first back up your thinking here and tell you I absolutely agree — take the loan. Student loans are there to support you through school, and that doesn’t just mean tuition and books — it means living expenses as well.

With student loans, you should always look at the trade-off you’re making. Is the money you’re borrowing and will have to pay back later worth the benefit you’ll derive from receiving it?

If you’re a college student who just wants to use the money on booze and road trips and spiraling toward the freshman 15 by eating out five times a week, then that’s probably not the best decision.

However, your trade-off is: a giant increase in the time spent with your young son and the innumerable benefits that come along with it that’ll last your entire life. In my opinion, there’s no more worthy benefit than that.

But let’s be disciplined here and look at what you’ll pay back, and how you’ll be positioned to do so. I assume you’re looking to get some kind of RN job once you’ve got your degree. Those are solid-paying jobs. The nursing profession probably supports more single moms than any other I know.

And how much money are we talking about paying back? Let’s get crazy and say you’re going to take the maximum subsidized Stafford loan of $3,500 for your first year and $4,500 your second year. That’s $8,000 total.

Subsidized Stafford rates for 2010-11 are 4.5%. In 2011-2012, it goes down to 3.4%. I ran those numbers through a repayment calculator, and by those estimations, your monthly payment when you get out of school would be between $80-90 per month for 10 years, assuming you get a $30,000 job.

That’s dirt. Anyone can make those payments, especially a nurse. It’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one.

An extra $3,500 the first year and $4,500 the second year can, as you know, make a massive difference in your and your son’s life together.

My advice? Quit that weekend job immediately once you get your loan. Your son’s probably going into the first grade, so he’ll be at school all day anyway if you want to go ahead and keep the weekday job so you have additional money coming in.

But once the weekend comes, let it be all about you and him. Modestly budgeted, that student loan money can not only pay your bills (especially if you keep the weekday job, at least part-time), but also provide cash for some of the fun mother-son stuff you’ve been missing out on these past few years.

By all means, DO IT.

Now, in terms of how to go about the loan, there probably won’t be much to it, honestly. Check with your financial aid office to be sure, but if your school participates in the Federal Direct Student Loan program, you’ll get your money straight from the government — no outside lenders to deal with. If not, then your financial aid office will point you in the right direction.

Congrats on making this move! I look forward to hearing from you along the way on how things are going. Seriously, drop in from time to time here and let us know how it’s going.

— What about you guys? Any thoughts for Jenn? Let us know in the comments below.

28 thoughts on “Take the Loan, Single Moms”

  1. You mentioned that you don’t know too much about the student loan world… let me comment a bit more on that.
    As mentioned, the Subsidized Stafford loan is best. I assume you qualify since you are eligible for a Pell grant. The subsidized loan pays your interest while you are in school and is probably the lowest interest rate you will find (excluding some variable rate loans which are always risky).

  2. I also agree. I am currently a full time student taking advantage of being laid off from my full time day job by returning to school…I am also a single parent of a disabled child.
    You will NOT regret the time spent on your child.

  3. If for some reason you are not eligible for the Subsidized Stafford, the Unsubsidized Stafford is the next best. Interest accrues while you are in school (6.8%) but you don’t have to make payments until 6 months after graduation (or if you are no longer enrolled at least part-time).
    If you take out a different loan, obviously look for the lowest interest rate, probably a fixed interest rate, and a loan that you do not have to pay while you are in school. You can always make a payment if you have extra money, but you are not forced to. Some loans charge you a fee when you take out the loan (ex: you take out a loan for say $4000 but only get $3950), but that is still probably better than a higher interest rate. Another thing to look for (I forget if this applies to Staffords or not) is that some loans will lower your interest rate slightly (maybe .25%) if you set up direct debits after you graduate, and potentially another .25% if you make a certain number of payments on time (say 12 monthly payments). Just a few perks to look out for and do your best to take advantage of!
    Hope that helps a bit. Good luck!

  4. I totally agree with Josh’s opinion on this one. Borrowing this small amount of Stafford money would be very useful to this student. She seems to know what her plan is with the money. She really needs the time to raise her son. The $8000 over two years is quite low and is flexible in repayment, in case bad things happen.

  5. I agree with Josh. Quit the weekend job and spend time with your son.

    RNs make much more than $30,000, even starting out. You can work extra shifts whenever you need to save up for things, like Christmas or new bathroom cabinets. If you get a job with 12-hour shifts, you’ll only work 3 days a week, which will free up lots of time to spend with your boy. Then, if you want, you can take on an extra shift one day a week and reap the monetary rewards. Nursing is so flexible in that regard.

    I would advise, though, to immediately start in on your bachelors of nursing ASAP. You can work full-time and still go to school (I did). If you work for a large hospital corporation, they’ll pay your tuition. I went to an RN-BSN program that only had class one day a week, so I only needed to arrange to have the day before and the day of class off. Everyone in that program was a full-time working RN. Better to just go ahead and get it done while you’re still young rather than wait till your older (like me).

  6. I completly agree. I’m a newly divorced single mother of 2 boys (7 and 2 years old). I’m doing the same thing. After my first semester of college I got pregnant with my oldest and I promised him that I would not miss anything (school plays, awards ceremonies, sports games, etc…) and I haven’t. I was blessed enough to find a part time job that pays the same as a low paying full time job. With me workin part time I qualify for everything: free child care, max grants and loans, and medical. I work 19 hours a week, and go to school part time. I now have about $20,000 in new debt, but I spend a lot of time with my kids, and I’m 12 classes away from my bachalors degree. The time we have with our kids is limited, and we can never get it back. I scarafice making money to spend quality time with my boys. The memories we make are priceless. The one thing I do caution you on, is once you start getting the money its hard to stop. I go to summer school not to get ahead in school, but for the money. Its hard to adjust to not having it in the middle of the year.

  7. I whole-heartedly agree with Josh! Where parenting is concerned, you only get one shot and then it is gone. I am in the same situation and this article helped to encourage and confirm my original decision to take out the extra loans and stop working so much and spend more time with my son. You will not regret it Jenn! Good Luck!

  8. Just be careful! Nursing is in high demand right now, but new nurses are not. Hopefully the economy will be better by the time you graduate, but I graduated nursing school almost a year ago and I know some people who still do not have a job. I was one of the lucky ones who got one within the first 5 months, but thousands across the country are not as lucky.

  9. I am generally against debt, but I agree with Josh on this one – the loans can be paid back, the time lost with your precious child cannot. As someone who went through nursing school, I can also tell you that working two jobs, having a six year old, and attending nursing school may just be too much physically. Nursing school demands a great deal of time and dedication, and if your school is like mine was you may be doing clinicals from 4 am – 6 pm. No I’m not kidding. So take the loans – I think it’s a wise choice in this case. Good luck!

  10. Also look into programs that pay off loans. Hospital these days to have programs that ask that you commit work form them for several years and in exchange they pay off portion of your loan. And it doesn’t mean you paid than the other nurse. And a perk they do sign you up with a bonus. So all in all you got a win- win situation. Take out the loan= get a guarantee job= get a bonus= loan is paid off. So go for it and good luck you’re on the right track.

  11. I will quit the weekend job, get on first shift take all the class I can online,and home when your son get out of school.There are scholarship for single mom check those out, you need to apply for all the scholarship you can find, there are no small scholarship.Work in a place that pay for you to go to college.I will stay away from all those loan,you still be working two job after you finish college.

  12. I totally agree- I am a single mother of two little boys (ages 5 and 17 months) and I just graduated with my BS in geology. I am moving on to graduate school this fall. I have had no help with my kids financially (nor otherwise save my mother’s generous babysitting) so I totally understand your situation. I have been working unbelievably hard to accomplish this goal (amongst others- like raising two happy, healthy, well-adjusted boys who get a reasonable amount of their mother’s time.)
    The bottom line is—a college-educated mama will benefit your son far more than all those rinky-dink jobs will. Don’t worry about accruing debt for the time being- Take out the MAX and drop one of those jobs- We are not traditional students and we do not have the same luxuries (including excess weekend and evening time and energy to devote to three jobs.)
    I will tell you this- Even if you take out every penny that the University offers- you will likely still have to work. Of course since your boy is 6 you don’t have an obscene daycare bill (mine is $1200/month ACK!) Still rent is high when you can’t get a roommate and having even school-aged children is far from free. I worked at least 25 hours a week all through school and took out the max in student loans and I still struggled. Cut corners and make ends meet as best you can. Sounds like you’re prepared to do that. And the truth is, a good student gets more free money so freeing up your schedule a bit to ensure you do fairly well in school (work on research, maintain a decent GPA, etc…) will pay off as well.

    Just think about how much better you will be able to provide for your family after you finish your education.

    And Polly makes a wonderful point- many loan forgiveness programs are out there for public service positions. Also there are several grants available for people earning degrees in particular fields and I would guess nursing is one of those (also education if you’re thinking about other career options offers amazing loan forgiveness incentives and the TEACH grant which is excellent and federally-funded.)
    Seriously don’t worry about racking up debt right now. Plenty of folks pay far more for a home mortgage than you probably will for your education and really— what is going to provide the greatest return ultimately?
    From one single mama who’s been doing it to another- You can totally achieve this without sacrificing all your time with your boy!
    Best of Luck to You!

  13. I agree with Josh and others by saying drop the weekend job, take the loan money (if it’s financially feasible for your future career path) and spend the time with your little one! =)

  14. If you need nursing grants to help cover your education, you will first have to file for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the starting point for applying for any financial help. After filling out the application, you can talk with a counselor about the different types of grants available for financial aid.

    grants for single mothers

  15. If you qualify for subsidized loans take them. If you accept an unsubsidized loan and continue to work during the week you may want to seriously consider making the interest payments to reduce the amount you pay back. I only qualified for unsubsidized student loans and make the interest payments to reduce the amount I’ll pay back when I’m out of school. I hate the thought of paying compounded interest!

    Also, IF you are disciplined get one of those credit cards that earn you rewards. Put all expenses on it: gas, utilities, groceries, including textbooks, but only if you have the means to pay it off each month. The result: my husband and I have not paid for vacation air travel for a family of four. Good luck!

  16. Amanda Riggins

    I agree! I am a single mom of a 4 month old and I have taken out extra loans to get a better car and take care of some expenses so that I don’t have to work every night and weekend. I am a full time student by day and a mom and part-time server by night. I hate spending so many nights away from my son becasue they grow too fast! Go for it Jenn. I know wholeheartedly that it is completely worth it and you will enjoy the extra time you have with your little boy! Good luck in school!

  17. I agree with other posts. Take out the student loans. I am in your position too and my daughter is 9. I want to be at her soccer games and school functions. If I work I miss out on that and that is not fair to her.
    I plan on working in a rural area when I graduate which qualifies me to have up to $60,000 in student debt forgiven if I stay three years. I will need that since I plan on pursuing my Bachelors and Masters after nursing school. I also apply for every scholarship and I am in the honors program which provides another $700 per semester in scholarships. I thought I would be too old to join those student organizations, but found out, I am not the only old gal applying and participating. Good luck with your studies.

  18. Take out ALL the loans you are offered…. I’m serious. I am also a single mom of 2 girls (age 11 & 6) and pursuing my Associates Degree R.N. I am in my LAST semester as we speak and those loans have been a GODSEND. Trust me, there will be a LOT of unforeseen expenses in Nursing School, from uniforms (and $60 nursing shoes) to parking fees to eating dinner in the hospital cafeterias… You’re going to need any monies you can get your hands on.

    You can do it! If your program is anything like mine, it gets tough during the 3rd semester (we lost 22% of our class that semester) but if you make it through that, you’re home-free. Just keep thinking – failure is not an option!

    Congrats on your decision – your school’s financial aid office should be VERY helpful in helping you get student loans.

  19. So after reading all the comments, I got the student loan packet from school. I also did some research into the schools in my area, I’m lucky enough to live in a city with 2 private colleges, a business college, a community college and that is within commuting distance to a state university. Three of these have a Bachelor’s program for nursing and are within an easy commute distance. I’m leaning heavily toward St. Anthony’s College of Nursing, which accepts only Jr. and Sr. students. They (conveniently) have a page listing all the classes I need to take to fulfill their requirements, which I’ve compared to the courses required for an Associate’s in Science. I now have my courses planned out and I realized that I can have my AS in 3 semesters. Once I’m accepted into the program, which I can apply for once I meet half of the requirements, I can start applying for nursing scholarships which are very generous.

    My boyfriend and family were pretty skeptical when I suggested *not* working while in school and just taking small loans to make ends meet. The huge consensus at this forum told me to follow my heart and definitely take this route.

    So, thank you, Judge Josh and all the posters who commented! I appreciate input from unbiased sources!


  20. I agree with Josh, you should definitely take the loans and spend every minute not studying with your son. My Mom did this when I was little and those were some of the best years in my life. She was taking the Nurse Practitioner program at a local university. I wish you the best of luck in life!

  21. Hi Jen!!! Congrats on making the decision to not hide behind your single mom status as a crutch to be miserable… I am a single parent who took student loans to complete bachelors'(32K) and MBA (4K) and I am going to take another 60K to go to law school. My monthly payments when I finish Law school will be 1000 a month, but when I put things in perspective my life is so much better financially I wouldn’t dare blink if I had to take loans again. I bought a townhouse on my own, I bought a new car, and even though my son’s dad does not give him a penny in child support, I was able to save money for a rainy day.
    Everyone will judge you – people called me heartless, and even judged my ability to be a parent, simply because as they say ” I put my own needs before my child’s”. Such a load of you know what!!! A child’s needs are also material! Food, money for field trips, vacations! No one is happy by having mom get home early but be so frazzled with unmet financial responsibility that mom doesn’t even see the child or interact.
    I am very proud of you.

  22. Like you advised,i too would suggest her to quit the job after getting a student loan.Spending time with our kids is something that we must not give up for the world.And good luck to Jenn in all her endeavors.You surely can look forward to great times once you get the nursing job 🙂

  23. I just graduated from community college and registered to a University today. I’m overwhelmed and wondering if I too should quit my 25 hour a week part time job. My kids are 12 and 14 and I cannot leave them alone after school. I want to be here for them every day. I’m struggling with obtaining the classes I need within my time frame. I’ve been thinking about quitting my job and taking out student loans. I only make around a thousand dollars a month.

  24. We are in the same boat. No really, almost the exact same boat! I am 28 with a 6 year old son. I decided to move in with my mother to cut out on transportation time and avoid that babysitter shuffle. I am riding on grants for now but will take the loans when the time comes and I think you should also take the loan. $8,000 is nothing spread over 10 years compared to your expected income as a nurse! And it will give you a couple extra dollars to take your son places you have been missing out on. Good luck and enjoy that little boy. He won’t be so small forever!

  25. Hi Jenn!
    Congrats & yes the loans are the right thing to do. I too am a single mom with a young child – he’s 4 – and I will also be taking loans for my junior year starting this next September to pay for his preschool.

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