Read Her Story

Ellsworth Nurse Shares Story of How Refinancing Student Loan Debt is Helping Her Regain Independence

Since childhood, Nichole Austin of Ellsworth, Maine, dreamed of becoming a nurse. When the time came to pursue her dream, she went to college and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2011. Right out of college, she was able to secure well-paying nursing jobs and, over the last five years, has been able to continue to advance her career. She is now a labor and delivery room nurse at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.

Although working in her chosen field and making good money, Austin, like many in Maine and across the country, is confronted with paying off her student loan debt. Her student debt is unusually high and totals over $100,000 and her monthly payments are equal to what it costs to rent an apartment or pay a mortgage here in Maine.

Austin says: “I didn’t understand the long-term financial impact of choosing a private college and the cost of private student loans to help pay for it. I don’t regret my decision, but wish I had done more initial research so I would have had a clearer picture of the loan costs after graduation. I didn’t know how student loans were going to impact me. Living with student loan debt, despite having a good paying job, has definitely limited how I can live my life,” she concluded.

In an effort to help Maine residents understand the consequences of taking on student loan debt, as well as how to refinance or consolidate their student loans, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), in partnership with a network of local Maine lenders, recently unveiled an online resource: TheLoanforME.com. Designed to be Maine’s Student Loan Resource, the website assists individuals seeking to refinance or consolidate their student loan debt, as well as helping families become informed borrowers when they need to close the gap between the cost of higher education and what they have saved and might obtain through financial aid, grants, and scholarships. Since the online resource was launched last June, the tools have already helped nearly 1,000 Mainers become more informed borrowers to help minimize their student loan debt and lower their overall costs of borrowing.

As the end of the year approaches and recent Maine college graduates complete their grace period and begin the student loan repayment process, FAME wants to ensure that Mainers are aware of their local options for refinance and consolidation of their education loans. TheLoanforME.com includes new refinancing and consolidation options for existing student loan debt offered by six Maine lenders.

Austin recently worked with FAME and Seaboard Federal Credit Union to refinance her higher, variable interest rate loans with a lower, fixed interest rate loan for the same term as her original loan. The process allowed her to:

  • Cut her interest rate from roughly 8.8% to approximately 4.75%*
  • Lower her monthly payments by almost $400 (from $1200 to $822)
  • Remove her parents as co-signors

FAME’s new and free TheLoanforMe.com refinancing/consolidation resource tool offers valuable information, including:

  • Things to consider and steps to take before refinancing or consolidating student loans
  • Informational videos
  • Tips to consider when selecting a lender
  • A refinancing example
  • Access to six local lenders with online applications
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Support from FAME Student Loan Specialists during the process.

“We’ve been helping Maine families for decades become better informed about borrowing and finding affordable solutions to help reduce student loan borrowing up front,” said Martha Johnston, Director of Education at FAME. “The Loan For ME can now help people with existing student loan debt explore ways to lower monthly payments and have more dollars in their pockets to help build their lives.”

Austin concluded: “FAME has been extremely helpful throughout this entire process. I felt like I had someone in my corner and a real advocate to help me understand what I was facing. Refinancing has been invaluable. My original loans made me feel like I could never get to the end. Now I feel like I have some control. Gaining my independence and being able to live on my own was really important to me.”

*Rates are determined by lender and consider applicants’ credit and other factors; rates may be fixed or variable.

This fall, FAME announced its statewide Invest in ME goal that by 2030, all Maine families are saving for college and Maine will have one of the lowest average student loan debt rates in the nation. Today, FAME assists Mainers with refinancing or consolidating their student loan debt ranging from $10,000 and upward. About 64 percent of Maine college students graduate with student loan debt, and the average student loan debt per student in Maine is $30,908, putting Maine 7th-highest[1] in that regard when compared to other states. To get involved, please visit InvestinME2030.com to find action items that Maine people can deploy to make progress on this goal throughout the state.

[1] Institute for College Access and Success, Student Debt and the Class of 2013-2014