A “proud student borrower” writes me. Needs to withhold opinions until she is in repayment

Every once in a while, I’ll get an e-mail such as the one below:

Hi. My name is [redacted]. I am a junior, attending [redacted]. I just want to write to challenge you about the misinformation you are spreading about the student loan industry. Without the student loan industry, I would not be in college right now!

Mine is just a tale of one individual working hard in pursuit of her aspirations, but it must also be pointed out that student debt horror stories are completely overblown. The media just happens to highlight them the way it highlights any “horror story,” creating trends where there are none.

Here is a fact: most student debt defaulters are addicts of some kind. I know a couple myself so I know what it is I’m talking about.

[Long, boring paragraph on addiction I’ve decided to cut. Basically, the author seems to think that some people are just “weak,” though she doesn’t “want to judge.”]

You blame your student debt problems on your health, but that seems fishy, especially since you say you recently had a child. Anyone who took a basic science class knows that unhealthy mothers don’t carry their babies to term! Sorry if I appear suspicious, but I have simply known too many addicts and deadbeats to not immediately question your story.

Also I think it’s very telling that you would move to a country like Russia. I don’t know much about Russia, but this much is obvious to me as a young person who cares about the issues: nobody values hard work like Americans do. If irresponsible borrowers want to leave, then this is probably a good thing – you don’t serve as a good example for my own generation.

In just a few years, I will be in repayment and I am committed to making good on the promises I made when I signed the loan documents. Taking responsibility is something that makes our society great is what I firmly and truly believe. I am very sorry that a journalist of your stature would not be committed to our shared values, and would instead help spread the lies and misinformation that are contributing to harming our economy.

Sincerely,

[redacted], a proud student borrower.

It’s like being e-mailed by a bad Ayn Rand rip-off (though I have no idea what would constitute a good Ayn Rand rip-off).

Go ahead and talk after you’ve spent a few years in repayment, babe.

Until then:

P.S. I love the bit about Russia. She doesn’t know anything about the country, yet would criticize people for living and working here. Though perhaps Russia is also “for the weak.” I guess. (Also, LOL)

Student debt and double standards

So ever since this interview went up on Forbes, I’ve had a couple of people dropping in here to troll – of course.

I’m used to the trolling, but I’d just like to point something out:

Student loans reflect a double standard in our society. You, person who calls me “one of the worst examples of the selfish Me Generation” and you, guy who wrote in to say that I’m a “scumbag, worst of the worst, among the people who wants to take down the United States” – you are aware, right, that everything from gambling debts to child support payments can be discharged under bankruptcy, correct? The only reason why student loans cannot be discharged is due to tireless lobbying efforts – and in my view, lobbying is pretty much a form of legalized corruption.

Do you like Donald Trump? Think he’s a great guy? His companies have filed for bankruptcy four times, yet at no point was Trump cutting corners on health care or scrimping on glue for his toupee. The definition of “selfishness” in the United States is mightily skewed, if college grads with not a single asset to their name (like moi) face serfdom AND condemnation until the end of their days, while guys like Trump are lionized.

If I was irresponsible in borrowing money for my education – what about the people raking up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt? We, as a society, have long ago decided that these people should be allowed a chance to re-build their credit histories and otherwise move on with their lives. Not only is it in their best interests – but it is in the interests of our economy. Student borrowers, on the other hand, have somehow gotten stuck with the label of “lazy, worthless pieces of shit” (quoting another troll here) who are out to “bring down the economy” and must therefore “be made to suffer for the harm they’ve caused.” Investing in one’s degree? You’re worthless! Investing in gaudy designer handbags and other assorted forms of bling? You’re alright. Sure, you may have to do a lot of work to repair the damage – but at least we all understand where you’re coming from. We even have a term for it – shopping addiction. None of us think that said addiction ought to ruin anyone’s life.

Education is severely overpriced in America. But it is also practically the only means to be able to have an actual career. The generation gap has made sure that very few people who hold positions of power in our society – the lawyers, the judges, the senior politicians – are aware of the fact that times have changed. You went to college in the 80’s and found it affordable and managed to pay down your student loans in no time? Good for you! Guess what? It’s 2012 out there today – and your experience no longer applies. The price of education has risen dramatically – even as our opportunities in the workplace have been drastically reduced. Do the math. It’s no wonder why so many student borrowers are in trouble. As for the ones who aren’t – many of them receive help from parents and other relatives. I like what that Esquire piece by Stephen Marche says – we are becoming a patronage society, and that’s a depressing thought.

For the sake of perspective on student debt: my husband got two first-class educations. For free.

He studied theater direction at the Russian Academy of the Theater Arts. For free.

He studied documentary filmmaking with director Marina Razbezhkina. Also for free.

And while he studied for free, he always had ways of “giving back” – whether it’s helping organize a drama lab in a remote town, or put on a play in a provincial theater, or organize a free movie showing for people who may not otherwise be able to afford to go to the movies, or offer help to a struggling production free of charge, and so on.

There’s something weird about a system where everything is monetized. I didn’t notice it when I was much younger. I was just used to it. “This is how things are,” is what most people think when thought to consider it. And more people than that don’t even get as far as that – they have no consideration for the system, they just exist within it. Except I don’t think that this is how things have to be, not really. The people who let my husband get a free education got something right. They were investing into the future – their own, and everybody else’s. They weren’t investing into a golf course for a multimillionaire student debt industry exec such as Albert Lord (incidentally, dude has an appropriate last name).

People write me about student debt

And some of them are talking about wanting to end their lives. They are not speaking from “weakness” or “stupidity.” They’re just tired. They feel done. “I’ve never had serious issues with suicidal ideation, but damnit, this is causing that for me,” one woman wrote – she ended up having trouble with her loans due to mounting health problems. Debt collectors are harassing her 81-year-old grandmother. Every time she applied for a forebearance, her paperwork was conveniently “lost,” she says. She suspects they wanted her to go into default early. Are we honestly going to be OK with it when it happens to more and more people?

Since my piece on student debt was reprinted by AlterNet, I’ve had all sorts of trolls showing up here, in the meantime. Here they are, distilled to their essence:

Pay the money, bitch!
It’s gone, baby, gone. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be willing to negotiate with the loan company for a fair amount, considering all of the money I have already sunk into my loans. If I’m in a position to negotiate, I will do so. Neither am I above asking for help with my loans. But most of the people close to me are also having financial troubles.

You’re a thief! You planned this! Got a fancy education then decided you didn’t have to pay the money back!
Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

Coward! You ran away to Russia!
I’m in Russia on a work visa. As a former USSR citizen and wife of a Russian citizen, I am entitled to residency – but in Moscow, that’s a prohibitively expensive process for me at the moment. In my husband’s hometown, it doesn’t make economic sense. I didn’t “run away” – though working abroad was ultimately a smart decision for someone with my skills and background. Many people in similar situations cannot say the same.

That’s what you get for being uppity and a part of the “me generation”
What about the generations that came before? Our collective values as such that people are considered “uppity” for wanting to get a good education. And they’re such that a good education comes attached with ridiculous costs. And they’re such that when you are 18-year-old, you are told that student loans are “a good way to build credit.”

Now responsible people like me will have to pay for your sins!
Responsible people have ended up bailing out Wall Street. At this point, we need to re-think the entire system of lending in this country. Not to mention re-thinking higher education and its costs. I could be quiet about my debt problems, or I could go public with the issue – but not as a means of going, “Hey guys! Take responsibility for my problem!”

Well, you just suck. As opposed to me. I mean, look at me! *hold on, let me dust off the halo for a second* Where was I? Ah, yes. The only thing your example proves is that some people in our society are bad apples. I worked hard all of my life – and will never be in the situation you’re in. I’m not a freeloader or a thief – and neither am I an entitled jackass who thinks that everything ought to be handed to me on a silver platter. That’s the difference between you and me. That’s why I matter. That’s why you don’t matter – aside from being an example of how not to live one’s life.
I had a guy tell me once that the only reason I *needed* student loans in the first place is because I was not smart enough to get into university “on merit.” Smart people can always score a full ride to a school of their choice, you see. Everyone else should not go to school – or have the good grace to be born rich. Of course, he and his family would never end up in my shoes. Except that years later, they did. When their eldest daughter got a rare illness and the insurance company screwed her. That was when their financial free-fall started. The man who said those hurtful words to me now works as a sales clerk – way past retirement age. His family home has been repo’ed. I’m not saying this because I want to gloat – what happened to them is a goddamn tragedy. And it goes to show. Under the current system, none of us are safe from harm.

Its your parents’ fault! They should have saved up for college!
College costs too much in the United States. Most normal families can’t afford it. It doesn’t seem like a problem at first – because of course something great ought to cost a lot! Right? It made sense to me as a kid. If we don’t think that people ought to have adequate access to health care, when it comes to education, we’re even worse. And we’ve completely devalued vocational schools and made apprenticeships obsolete, which compounds the problem.

They ought to strip you of your citizenship! You ought to have your child taken away! I hope the lenders DO drive you to suicide!
I’m including this as an example of how vicious ordinary people are to other ordinary people. Pitting us against each other is clever. It’s something that has always been done, throughout the ages, by those in power. Throw a few bones to the rabble. Let them fight each other for scraps. Sell them a convenient fairy tale about how they have every chance to become the next Bill Gates in the meantime – even though an entire economic system’s existence depends on a bunch of them being in poverty, while the rest cling desperately to middle-class status. It’s a fool-proof plan. Or is it?