Sometime in the summer of 1984 I sat down at the dining room table with my parents with the paperwork for a student loan between us.
My dad had filled out the PHEAA form a few months earlier – the Pennsylvania version of the FAFSA before there was such a thing – and after much bureaucracy I’d gotten my financial aid package from the university I was hoping to attend. It was a generous package, enough so that I could actually afford to go there. And part of that package was a student loan.
My dad pushed the papers toward me. “I’m not signing this,” he said. “This is your loan.”
I understood what he was doing. This was my education, and while my parents would help me to the best of their ability there were certain things that I needed to take responsibility for and this was one of them. I signed the papers.
I signed similar papers in each of the next three summers as well.
I graduated college in 1988 and started paying those loans back later that year, after my six-month grace period expired. With four years off while I attended various graduate schools (you don’t have to repay student loans as long as you’re in school for at least six credits, which is a point that the bank refused to recognize until I threatened them with legal action) it took me until 2009 to finish repaying them. There were some lean years in there, particularly between graduate schools, but I never missed a payment.
We finished paying off Kim’s loans a couple of years before mine. She graduated before I did, so that made sense.
With this in mind, we made sure to put aside money for our kids so that they wouldn’t have to take out student loans when they went to college. Like most states, Wisconsin has a 529 Plan system that allows you to do that. It meant some sacrifices, but it was worth it. Oliver graduated without loans. Barring economic crisis, Lauren probably will too.
This is good.
Part of my job is advising students about financial aid and how it works, including student loans. My advice is always the same: Don’t take them if you don’t absolutely need them. The student loan industry (and consider, for the moment, the fact that “student loan industry” is an actual thing, and what that means for our culture) is quite possibly the most predatory and soulless branch of the financial services sector today, which is saying something in a field that includes payday lenders. They wrapped Congress around their little finger a couple of decades ago and now you can’t even get out of repaying those loans if you die. Unlike most debts, they’re not discharged by bankruptcy either. They’re a racket, pure and simple. But not everyone has the luxury of turning them down, and for those students I simply advise them to be careful, explain to them how the system works and where to start, and tell them not to take more than they need. They’re always surprised by the fact that you don’t need to take the entire loan. I suspect that’s by design.
So, bottom line:
1. I am intimately familiar with student loans – how they work, what the consequences are of both taking them and not taking them, and what the cost/benefit analysis is regarding whether to take them or not.
2. I paid mine back. It took me over twenty years, through good times and lean times, when I had much better things to spend that money on, but I paid them back.
Joe Biden announced this week that the federal government will forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for most borrowers.
You know what?
This is an unmitigated good. This is a thing to celebrate. This is what government serving the working majority of the population instead of the parasitic elites should look like.
Student loan debt has been a primary factor in keeping educated Americans under 40 shackled to low-paying, abusive jobs, so that they can keep making payments. Eliminating it entirely would free up immense reserves of entrepreneurial talent and money, stimulate the economy, and constitute one of the best investments in the American economic future that we’ve seen in decades.
Naturally the small and petty are against it. “I paid my loans!” they whine. “Why don’t they have to?” Or, even more small and petty, “Why should my taxes pay for their loans!”
First of all, the amount we’re talking about here - $298 billion, including everything over time – constitutes roughly 0.3% of federal revenue. It’s statistically insignificant compared to the tax giveaways that have gone to the already wealthy in the last few years, by an order of magnitude. It’s a classic example of what can happen when miniscule amounts are taken from large groups to produce vast benefits for society as a whole, including those who had those miniscule amounts taken. Honestly, folks. It’s not that hard and it’s not my fault that so many Americans have been duped into forgetting how this is supposed to work.
More importantly, if your reaction to this is “I carried my burden, why shouldn’t everyone have to carry their burden,” instead of “I carried my burden, nobody should have to carry that burden,” I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to convince you that you should care about other people. I probably could wrap my head around the kind of immorality if I wanted to do so, but I don’t. The whole point of life is to make things better for those who follow, and the fact that you suffered should not mean that everyone else has to suffer as well.
Seriously, people, try to keep up.
Naturally the American right wing is horrified. They’re losing a key lever to keep younger Americans subservient to their corporate masters. They’re losing a way to bludgeon the poor into serving in the military. They’re watching people NOT SUFFER, which frankly galls the Party of Performative Cruelty no end.
Eh. Fuck ‘em.
I paid my student loans. I paid them entirely, every last dollar, in good times and lean times. I paid.
And the only thing I don’t like about this loan forgiveness bill is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.