The Student Loan Nerd Helping Borrowers One Email At A Time
A few years ago, Betsy Mayotte stumbled upon the — a section on Reddit where users ask each other questions about student loan debt. "I can't afford to pay. What should I do? I'm in default. What should I do? I'm trying to see if I qualify for forgiveness program, my servicer told me this, is this right?," Betsy remembers reading. "It took me aback that these borrowers—and a lot of them—were so desperate for help that they were willing to ask strangers on the internet that they had no idea what their credentials were."
At the time, Betsy was working at American Student Assistance , a non-profit guarantor for the federal student loan system. But after recognizing that borrowers desperately need advice about managing their student loans — and can't always turn to their loan servicers for reliable help — she left and started a non-profit called TISLA, or T he Institute for Student Loan Advisors. In addition to advocating for student loan reform, she now spends much of her time answering individual borrowers' emailed questions. "I've had to make myself close down my email at night and not open it until I've done human being things in the morning, like take a shower," she laughs.
We also shared with Betsy some of the questions we received from you about student loan debt. Hear her take on whether Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is going away, how to track down all of your loans, and what to do if think you're being scammed.
Our Student Loan Secrets, Part 2
Nathan realized he couldn't pay his rent and his monthly student loan payments. Beth* collapsed in tears while doing yoga because she couldn't stop worrying about money. Jordan set a calendar reminder to force herself to finally make her first payment.
In 2017, especially the mix of frustration and shame you feel about it. But we also heard stories of turning points — when something changed that redefined your relationship with your student loans.
For Beth, that meant radically changing her spending and allotting close to half of her taxable income toward student loan payments. Nathan converted a van into a mobile apartment to save on rent while he chips away at his $200,000 debt. And Jordan, finally set up regular monthly payments.
"It started becoming something that was consequential but inconsequential at the same time. Something that can be controlled and doesn't control me," a listener named Krista said about finally getting help managing her student debt. "That was a huge revelation."
Go to for more stories and to see how your debt compares to national statistics and to other Death, Sex & Money listeners.
Our Student Loan Secrets, Part 1
It's something that I think about—in some way—every single day.
When we asked you back in 2017 to tell us your stories about how student loans are impacting your life, we were overwhelmed by your responses. We heard about years of incremental payments and the thrill of getting to a zero balance, but also about delayed weddings, tensions with your parents over your shared debt, and fading hopes of ever buying a home or saving for retirement.
The student loan crisis has only compounded since our initial call for listener responses. Students who graduated with a bachelor's degree last year , an average about 2% higher than 2017 graduates. And that debt is fundamentally reshaping how you think about the value of education and the milestones of adulthood.
"You sort of feel lost and like you totally screwed up somehow because you just couldn't figure it out," a listener named Dena said about struggling to make loan payments ten years after college. "And the rest of the world is making money and paying their bills and there's this subculture of individuals who are book smart and world stupid."
"I don't know how else to put it except that I almost made it," a listener named Sharif said. He put himself through school with loans to became a chemical engineer, but feels embarrassed by his six-figure debt and never talks about it. " I felt like a total, complete idiot that I put myself in this position."
For some of you, that embarrassment has become denial. "I just didn’t pay," Jordan Gibbs told me about receiving her first student loan statement. "Like, I just felt like, how can you expect me to start paying you $700 a month? Which is just a crazy number. I can’t even afford to pay rent."
Today we listen back to stories about how the tough choices we make to afford an education are having unexpected effects, long after graduation.
Go to for stories about how some of you stopped feeling stuck and started taking control of your student loans.
E. Jean Carroll: More Interesting, Not Damaged
When writer E. Jean Carroll first arrived in New York City in the early 1980s, she says she was "a nobody from nowhere." Even so, she headed straight for Elaine's, the legendary restaurant on the Upper East Side where writers, celebrities and other power brokers gathered—and she says she always felt like she belonged there.
Over the course of her long career, she became known first for her incisive profile interviews and investigative pieces, and then later for her particular brand of tough-love advice, which she's doled out in her Elle magazine advice column for the past 26 years. But in the past few months, her name has been in the news for a different reason: she accused the president, among many other men, of sexual assault in her latest book, What Do We Need Men For.
I spoke with her about the years she spent learning to brush past those traumas, the parts of those coping strategies she says have continued to be helpful, and why she now says she doesn't want to live like a "chin-up girl" anymore.
50 Years Married To A Man Named Sissy
Douglas, Wyoming, natives Vickie and Sissy Goodwin got married in 1968. It was around the time they started their lives together that Vickie learned of a secret Sissy had been harboring since childhood—a preference for feminine clothing and cross-dressing in private. When Sissy decided to start wearing skirts, dresses and frills in public a few years into their marriage, Vickie struggled to accept it. And the couple quickly learned that Sissy's self-acceptance came with an often violent public backlash, both at home in Douglas and elsewhere.
We visited Vickie and Sissy at their home, for a conversation about masculinity, resiliency and staying married for 50 years.
Vickie and Sissy Goodwin at their home in Douglas, Wyoming
The World's Largest Jackalope in Douglas, Wyoming