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I Said No to My Student Loan: One Borrower's Decision to Stop Paying

I am aware of the total lack of consumer protection associated with student debt. But I took a long, hard look at the numbers, and I realized that I am already a slave.

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Like most U.S. institutions of higher learning, Duke costs too much. The astronomical cost of tuition is an exact reflection of our values – not just as members of the Duke community, but as Americans. We Americans pride ourselves on the lack of a safety for people like me. We’re rugged individualists, dammit! But entrapment of students does not help our society in the long run – it defies financial logic.

Oh, so first you were begging us for loans – now you won’t pay them back! Hypocrite!
I was desperate to stay in school. That was the “responsible” thing to do – look at how much scorn is heaped on “the drop-outs.” And I was already in debt from previous years – so I correctly reasoned that dropping out, and ending up with debt + no degree would screw me in the long run. Whups – I’m still screwed!

There are major profits to be made from peasants who decided that they too are entitled to receive degrees – most often because that is the only way to get a good job in the U.S. (something that people are eager to forget when they get on their soapboxes about “the irresponsible poor”) And people in default are, in fact, even bigger cash cows, and not just for the feds. People are not just punished for falling behind on student loans – they are trapped for life. Professional licenses are revoked, wages garnished, friends, family and employers harassed. People are made examples of, so that others fall in line. And when they do fall in line – here is where they end up. Why is it that forbearance fees are legal again? Because, the system is stacked against borrowers? Gotcha.

Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You’re a professional journalist, a wife, a mother!
Shame is one of the great tools of what is an all-out class war. The funny thing is, by all appearances, I’m an American success story: immigrant family, great education, international career, husband I adore, fantastic baby who wears little hats with ears. But, like many people, I am being suffocated by a screwed-up system.

You know what I am actually ashamed of? Gambling with my life and the life of my kid because of student debt. Check out this article I wrote for Foreign Policy about giving birth on the state’s dime in Russia. One detail I “forgot” to mention is that my husband and I had the money to pay for a private contract at a Moscow hospital – thing is, it was a lean summer, and I was terrified of defaulting. I was so brainwashed by the system that owned me that I wouldn’t touch the money meant for Sallie Mae. My father, who’s been struggling financially as well, wired me some cash – that was set aside for loans as well. I actually went against my husband’s wishes and put myself and my child at risk, because I was trying to be “financially responsible.”

My son’s  face greets me every morning. It says, “I trust you, mother.” When he grows up, I’m going to have to explain the risks I took with him while he was at his most vulnerable, because I wanted to be a good little cash cow.

This wouldn’t have been the first time I skimmed on health care. Because I could not invest in decent preventative care while having dental problems, I lost two teeth at the ripe old age of 26, to give one example. I have literally been falling apart, all of the sake of letting people make a buck off of me. Except I can’t afford to do that anymore – I have to be able to take care of my child.

 
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