I’ve spent years raging against the student loan industry, a heartless, pitiless system designed to enslave young people for life under the shackles of debt (more often than not for useless degrees).
Millions of people laden with student loan debt had a three-year financial reprieve during the pandemic-era repayment pause. As of Oct. 1, that pause is ended – and people who are already living on the financial edge are now adding monthly loan payments on top of inflation, rising interest rates and skyrocketing rent.
But it’s only recently that I’ve become aware it’s not just young people affected by this horrible system. The elderly, too, can get tangled up.
When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who was a great inspiration to many of his students. Because he had a Ph.D. in his chosen field, he was known to his students as “Dr. Dan.”
To 16-year-old me, Dr. Dan seemed middle-aged (I’m going to guess he was in his late 40s at the time). One day in class, he happened to mention he had just – just! – finished paying off his student loans. Even back in 1978, when this happened, I was surprised to hear it took so long to pay off such obligations.
Fast forward to an astoundingly depressing article I found entitled “The Aging Student Debtors of America.”
“Americans aged 62 and older are the fastest-growing demographic of student borrowers,” notes the article. “Of the 45 million Americans who hold student debt, one in five are over 50 years old. Between 2004 and 2018, student-loan balances for borrowers over 50 increased by 512%.”
The article described how people well into their 80s and 90s are still mired down in hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Some of these are borrowers who have been paying debt since they were young. Some went to college later in life. And some are paying off the debts of their children or grandchildren, often because they co-signed for loans. In all cases, the burden is vicious and staggering.
In another article by Business Insider entitled “Older people are giving up hope of paying off their student loans before they die,” the writer gives some hideous examples of the loopy repayment calculations that enslave borrowers for life: “At 59 years old, David Wise has $236,485 of outstanding student loans, according to documents reviewed by Insider. That’s after making about $175,000 in payments over four decades. He said that when he graduated from law school with the goal of becoming a public-interest lawyer, his debt load stood at about $79,000, and he had initially taken out just $7,500 in loans when he entered undergraduate school in 1981.”
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These numbers illustrate the predatory math used to calculate the amount owed. The slightest hiccup in repayments – illness, a change of career, divorce, a period of unemployment (such as having a baby) – and suddenly the principal has penalties and interest tacked on that balloons and multiplies the amount owed until – like the man profiled above – people owe hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they began with, even after decades of repayments. The obligation cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.
This, folks, is sheer insanity. It’s cruel and inhumane. It’s also spectacularly corrupt.
Politicians squawk about how horrible student loan debt is, but they’re not offering a lot of solutions beyond some sort of vague debt forgiveness. I won’t comment on the constitutionality or ethics of student loan forgiveness – that’s way above my pay grade anyway. However, it does seem like the idea is merely slapping a Band-Aid on the problem. Besides, even if ALL student loan debt is forgiven tomorrow, what about future debt for future students?
What politicians are not admitting is the government is intimately involved in the corruption and has no intention of disentangling itself. The system is broken. It must be stopped before it ruins more lives.
There are – supposedly – programs to forgive student loans for seniors, but I suspect these are as convoluted and incomprehensible (not to mention subject to endless bureaucratic runarounds) as the programs supposedly in place to help younger debtors.
Personally, I would like to see the entire temple of student loans smashed into the ground and destroyed. Get rid of the [expletive] things altogether. Deprived of easy money, institutes of higher education would be forced to slash their costs so students could afford it.
But this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. And for that reason, please – I beg you – DO NOT TAKE OUT STUDENT LOANS. Ever. Do not let your children take out student loans. Ever. Do not co-sign for student loans. Ever.
It’s a cruel irony, isn’t it? This nation needs doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professions that can only be achieved through a college education. Yet to achieve these goals, people must resign themselves to economic slavery. Yet we had doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals before, say, 1980. What happened? What changed?
There are many explanations for why students in the 1970s could work their way through college with minimum-wage jobs, but today’s students can’t. Reasons include a massive bloating of non-teaching administrators; luxurious student facilities; and “activist” functionaries with political mandates, such as “Diversity Offices” and “Offices of Environmental Sustainability.” All these can be directly attributable to the rise in tuition costs.
Maybe I’m being simplistic here, but if student loans weren’t handed out so freely, perhaps universities would be forced to slash their budgets and actually offer worthwhile classes and degrees.
What’s the answer to this dilemma? I don’t know. Student loan “forgiveness” merely spreads the obligation among non-borrowers, and makes a mockery of those who never incurred debt to begin with or worked like crazy to pay it off. Additionally, it merely incentivizes universities to raise tuition by the amount forgiven.
What I do know is doing the same thing over and over again (loading teenagers with mortgage-sized unpayable debt in exchange for a largely worthless piece of paper) is quickly becoming the definition of insanity. It’s even more insane for seniors who shouldn’t have to work 80-hour weeks to pay down these usurious loans, and then have their Social Security garnished on top.
The “college-industrial complex” is a broken system, yoking millions into lifelong enslavement, including the elderly. Effectively, student loan debt punishes people for pursuing higher education. But unlike such debt burdens arising from medical expenses or personal disasters, acquiring student loans is still a voluntary act.
Starve the beast. That’s all I can say: starve the beast.
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