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Columbus Physician Struggles With Student Loan Debt.

A Columbus family practitioner says she has a cautionary tale for those struggling to re-pay student loan debt. WOSU's Tom Borgerding reports.

With loan documents spread out across a dining room table, 41 year old Doctor Michelle Bisutti agreed to tell her story of student debt. Seven years after graduating from Med School she remains deeply in debt from loans she took out while she was studying.

"It's very embarrassing"

Doctor Bisutti estimates she owes a combined total of $550,000 to the SLM Corporation and Wells Fargo. She says more than half of that amount consists of fees and penalties. She actually borrowed about $250,000 so she could practice medicine. She says her debt ballooned in 2007 when she decided to specialize in sports medicine.

"I was able to defer through residency which most people do, you don't make too much in residency. But then I decided I wanted to do a fellowship, in a specialty, not all residents go on to do that but I wanted to, I really liked sports medicine and that's where I really got into trouble because my loans came due during that time."

Bisutti says she tried to work with her creditors but by the time she got a job her loans had gone into default. A collection cost fee of $53,000 was then added to her loans. Bisutti admits that while she was studying her growing debt burden was not a primary concern.

"All my colleagues were taking these loans out. I thought it was what you do. I thought it was going to be fairly easy to pay these back so I didn't know what I was getting into."

Bisutti is not alone. Ohio University Associate Professor of Sociology, Deborah Thorne, has studied consumer debt issues for two decades. She says more middle class Americans are struggling with college loan debt and its nearly impossible to get out from under.

"I've heard it referred to as the iron lung debt because virtually you can be in an iron lung and you will not be able to discharge that." Says Thorne.

A website that tracks student loan debt, Fin Aid-dot-org, estimates a total of $763,000,000,000 in outstanding federal and private student loans across the country. And, Thorne says as more people struggle to repay that debt they are making other critical life choices.

"They will have to postpone marriage, children, home ownership. Their retirement will be jeopardized because they're paying back student loans. We have got to take a hard look at that." Says Thorne.

Back at her north side residence, Doctor Bisutti says she's currently making monthly payments on the debt, but the principal on the loans remains high.

"I'm looking into a consolidation loan. I'm paying on my federal loans right now. I pay almost a thousand a month on those and hundred of that goes to principle. The rest goes to fees and interest."

Under the current re-payment schedule, Bisutti estimates she will be paying on her student loans until she's 70 years old.

"I think I'm going to be fine. I love what I do. I'm going to do it until I can't do it anymore. So, I hope to be working past 70.

Bisutti says she agreed to talk about her personal finances to help others learn from her experiences.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.