Paying Off Student Loan and ED Treatment Debt

Student loan spreadsheet and calculator on a desk

Contributor: Courtney Howard, B.A., Executive Assistant at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope

Eating disorder treatment can wreak havoc on an individual’s finances. How does someone cope with this stress, especially when coupled with student loans? It can be difficult to spend the early stages of recovery in financial distress, but there are ways to navigate these potential triggers without compromising your health.

The Harsh Reality of Student Loans

There are four primary types of student loans an individual can take out. These include Federal Perkins Loans, Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans. The amount of money you are able to borrow, when payments begin or are due, and interest rates are all dependent on the type of loan you have.

The Federal Reserve reports that over 40 million Americans have some form of student loan debt. This student debt crisis is cited as one of the reasons for the “boomerang generation,” a term for the many millennials forced to move back home after college due to financial distress.

The salary for an entry-level job in most industries is not high enough for a recent graduate to even come close to paying off student loans. When compacted with debt from eating disorder treatment, this financial burden can feel overwhelming.

The Cost of Treatment

Gentelman using pencil and calculator to figure out his ED treatment costIt is no secret that eating disorder treatment is expensive and that it can be challenging to obtain insurance coverage for these programs. When you first leave treatment and are on your path to recovery, re-entering the workforce and your daily life can have added pressures when you are racked with debt.

A 2006 study [1] by researchers from the University of Minnesota found that the “average length of stay in [residential eating disorder] treatment was 83 days, with an average cost per day of 956 U.S. dollars.” According to these numbers, the average cost of treatment for residential care totals $79,348 per patient. When insurance refuses to cover these costs, the bills are paid out-of-pocket by patients and their families.

This does not even take into consideration aftercare for individuals discharged from residential treatment programs. These patients are encouraged to continue treatment at a lower level of care, often jumping straight to outpatient. Eating disorder specialists, including therapists, psychiatrists, and nutritionists, often do not accept insurance.

Learning About Financial Planning

Woman learning about financial planningFinancial irresponsibility, including compulsive shopping, is relatively common within the eating disorder population. This can make it even more challenging to manage student loans and eating disorder treatment debt.

The best way to get your finances under control is financial planning. This can take many forms, and can be as simple as finding a family member who is gifted at managing finances and asking for guidance. You can establish a budget and keep a daily log of your spending to get a handle on where your money is going. This will help you determine how much you can spend on necessities while making monthly payments for your various debts.

It is vital that you budget for food. It can be tempting to use financial insecurity as an excuse to skip meals or otherwise deviate from your meal plan. While financial stability and independence is an important thing to focus on and work toward, it cannot take priority over your recovery.

Be Patient with Your Financial Situation

Woman performing Yoga to help keep herself patientIf you are deep in debt, your financial situation is not going to change overnight. It is very difficult to default on student loan debt, and filing for bankruptcy or settling credit card debt can negatively impact your credit score.

It is often best to establish a financial plan and try to be patient with your situation. No one enjoys living on a tight budget, but it is a reality for many people.

Something that can help as you struggle with debt is reframing your financial woes into appreciation for the opportunities you have had to get an education and work toward recovery.

The inappropriately high cost of an education these days is undeniable, and any individual struggling with disordered eating should be entitled to insurance coverage for treatment. However, these are unfortunate realities of the world in which we live. Focusing your energy on your recovery and appreciating your second chance at life can give you purpose as you work to pay off student loans and treatment debt.

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Executive Assistant for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]: Frisch, M.J., et al. (2006). “Residential treatment for eating disorders,” Int J Eat Disord 39(5):434-42.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 19, 2016
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