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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Josh Marks is happy about his future in financing. Despite accumulating big student loans at the University of New Hampshire, he found a job in his field right out of college.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Josh Marks of Salem is one of the luckier college grads, despite the big student loans he accumulated at the University of New Hampshire. He talks about his new job in financing Monday, July 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Josh Marks is photographed with his parents, Jodi and Steven Monday, July 9, 2012, at his home in Salem. The recent UNH graduate landed a job in financing right out of school.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Josh Marks shows off his mortar board Monday, July 9, 2012, at his home in Salem. The UNH graduate was hired right of school for a job in financing.
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Salem resident racks up $100K in student debt at UNH, but lands job

With his first paycheck from the finance job he landed right out of the University of New Hampshire, Joshua Marks made an investment.

“I upgraded from a twin bed to a full-size bed,” he said. “My feet were hanging off the edge completely.”

Marks, 22, of Salem, is one of the lucky ones. He was able to get a decent-paying job after graduation to help pay down mountains of college loans. But like so many of his peers, he’s far from the living the high life.

Marks moved home to live with his parents after earning his bachelor’s degree in finance from UNH in May. He kept his old sheets for the new bed – with faded characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It matches the ’90s-era style of Marks’ old room, which includes a poster of actor Will Smith in tie-dye and a backward blue hat, dressed as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Despite the youthful decorations, Marks works like a grown-up. He nabbed a job as a financial advisor at AspenCross Financial Group, located in Westborough, Mass., and a member of the John Hancock Financial Network.

It’s a long commute – at least an hour, sometimes three in heavy traffic – but Marks was desperate for a career-related job. He attended job fairs and applied to several positions each day during his final semester, searching throughout New England and all the way out to California. He was offered the AspenCross job in April.

“It was a huge relief,” he said in an interview at his parents’ Salem home.

After four years at UNH, Marks racked up $101,000 in student debt, including about $20,000 in interest from private loans. His monthly payments could add up to as much as $900 when his sixth-month grace period on federal loans ends in November.

“It freaks me out, for sure,” he said. “It’s tough to budget when you think about how much that is per month. It’s definitely scary.”

Marks took out more than three times the average debt burden for New Hampshire college graduates, which in 2010 figures amounted to $31,048. And that’s the highest average debt load for students in any state in the country, according to the Project on Student Debt.

“I might have been able to take out less, but I would have been stressing a lot more,” Marks said. “I didn’t even get a meal plan senior year, and I was still scraping to get by.”

During his first three years at UNH, Marks said he rarely thought about his loans.

“It felt like I was going for free,” he said. “Senior year, it really starts to hit you. You’re paying the cost of a new Lamborghini for what it cost you to go to school.”

Marks’ numbers are a little off.

New Hampshire students will pay $26,186 to attend UNH next year, bringing the total for a four-year degree to slightly more than $100,000, while a low-end Lamborghini costs closer to $200,000.

Still, the surprising thing about UNH tuition is how much it’s risen in a relatively short amount of time – it has ballooned 87 percent in a decade from $14,012 just 10 years ago.

Rising in-state tuition costs have caused debt burdens to soar as well – national student loan debt exceeded $1 trillion in May, surpassing credit card debt for the first time in U.S. history.

The trend paints a bleak picture for today’s generation of college graduates, many of whom are struggling to find jobs in the tight economy – about 53 percent of bachelor’s degree holders younger than 25 were jobless or underemployed in 2011, according to research conducted for The Associated Press that made headlines in April.

It can be tough even for the lucky ones like Marks who landed a career-related job: The Wall Street Journal reported in May that private and public student loan debt in the U.S. has gone up 24 percent since 2000, while average earnings for full-time workers aged 25-34 with only a bachelor’s degree has declined 15 percent.

To save money, Marks moved home to live with his parents, Jodi and Steven, and his younger brother Brian, 18. He has no immediate plans to find his own place closer to work. That will have to wait until he has some extra money – or until his parents get sick of him, he joked.

“My mom was begging me to move home, but that might change in a couple years,” he said. “I have a great relationship with my parents. I’ll ride this as long as I can.”

Still, it might be a while before Marks has enough money to move out. He hasn’t socked away every dollar since graduation – after the new bed, he bought a pricey 65-inch TV.

Marks also didn’t have much saved before college. He spent his money in high school on a 1998 Nissan 240 SX, which now sits dormant in the yard of his parents’ Salem home.

He worked throughout his years at UNH – driving home to Salem to work a concessions job on weekends in order to pay off small private loans with higher interest rates. He also earned an internship at a financial advisory in Portsmouth, where he worked two days a week during his senior year.

But he paid for everything in loans, including many living expenses. He lived in off-campus apartments in Durham his junior and senior years – rent and utilities bills totaled more than $600 each month – and he didn’t apply for any scholarships entering college.

“I didn’t realize how much of a help it could be,” he said.

Neither of Marks’ parents went to college and couldn’t contribute to his tuition bills. His mother works for a local orthodontist, and his father works at Raytheon Co., but Marks doesn’t blame his parents for not chipping in. They’re helping him out now, when he needs it most.

“They don’t charge rent, they pay for all the food I could want, they pay for my cellphone,” he said. “They’re doing their share. It makes a huge difference that they’re letting me live at home and save for a little while.”

Marks has never questioned the value of his college degree, despite the financial pressures.

“It was absolutely worth it,” Marks said. “Getting a degree is more important now than ever. Starting out, it’s tough. But in a couple years, I think that I’ll be really happy with my decision.”

Education experts would agree. Higher education is a smart investment, given that those with a bachelor’s degree earn 84 percent more – an average of $1 million – over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, according to a study by Georgetown University.

Marks’ father used his lack of college experience as a piece of advice to his children.

“With all three boys, I told them, ‘Get an education,’ ” Steven Marks said. “I did well with a high school diploma, but I could’ve done better. It’s one of the few mistakes I’ve made in my life.”

Both parents said they felt it was the right choice for Marks to pursue higher education, although they do worry about his upcoming loan payments.

“We’re very proud of him,” Jodi Marks said of her son. “He got a good job right out of college. It was absolutely worth it.”

Marks is confident that he’ll pay off his loans and find success. He also knows that he wouldn’t get there without his time at UNH.

“I was not prepared for exactly how much I’d be paying, and it will be tough,” he said, “but that’s why you do it – to get a good job and pay for those loans, to have the lifestyle you dreamed up when you were little.

“I wouldn’t give back those four years for anything, for any amount of money. I made the best friends I have. There was never a dull moment. I’ll be missing it for the rest of my life.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).