Rick Tallini didn't worry much about the $55,000 in federal student loans he took out for law school in the 1990s. His future seemed bright.
Yet in the decades since he graduated, he's struggled to find employment and pay the bills. His original student loan balance, meanwhile, has soared to well over $300,000.
"They'll tack this thing to my coffin at this point," Tallini, 61, said.
Outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade, surpassing auto and credit card debt and only second to housing debt, and now stands at almost $1.5 trillion. That's in part because many people are seeing their individual balances spiral out of control.
"Loans doubling, tripling, quadrupling, it really does happen all the time," said Persis Yu, director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"There are ways these loans are structured that encourage this ballooning," Yu said.