Thursday, August 25, 2022

Loans and Forgiveness

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.


Jon Z. said...

While I agree with all your larger points, you might want to show your work on reconciling "It comes to less than a dollar for each American citizen." and "$298 billion".

David said...

You know, you're right about that. Got carried away and transposed an M for a B.


David said...

I just deleted it rather than trying to do the edits. The paragraph works without it.

LucyInDisguise said...

History Professor.πŸ§‘‍πŸŽ“ Not Math.πŸ€”


100% behind you on this one. Didn't go far enough.

As for the complainers? Fuck 'em. Some people's kids just never grow up and graduate from the playground bully games.


David said...

Well, I suppose there's a reason I switched from being a math major during my sophomore year of college. ;) That and abstract linear algebra.


We've enabled the bullies far too much over the last couple of decades. It's time to remind them who outnumbers who.

But in the meantime, this is a decent start on trying to solve the student loan crisis.

LucyInDisguise said...


“… who outnumbers whom.”

Not an English major, either, I’ll presume. πŸ€”

In other news, I had to go look that up on to be certain that I had it straight, so there is that … Kettle >>> Pot. 😜

My downfall was the ‘New Math’. In high school, I had no problems passing Advanced Algebra and Intro to Calculus classes. Math was (and still is) FUN! But four years later when I got out of the Air Force, I couldn’t pass* an Introduction to Algebra class in my first year at Salt Lake Community College.

You see, when I learned math, all you did was add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide as necessary according to the Order of Operations. ( ) We didn’t have a one page definition of “addition”, nor a three page definition of “division”, and we most definitely did not have an entire chapter or three on “real” vs. “imaginary” numbers. I balked.

At the very least, you not only finished, but continued on to get your Doctorate so you could show the rest of us the way. I bailed, and forty+ years later I’m still working on earning my ‘degree’ from the College of Hard Knocks.

Life Choices. Seems that it is only in hindsight that some of us acquire 20/30 vision.

And, as for enabling bullies, speak for yourself, Bub! 😁


* ”… couldn’t pass …” explained: I could not do the math in precisely the manner that the Professor wanted it done. Every answer to every question on the final was correct - but I couldn’t show my work - did it all in my head. Short version: Me: “How can I possibly fail if all of the answers are correct?” Professor: “I’ll change your grade if you show me how you arrived at these solutions. Better yet, solve these equations for me: [writes equations on board]“ Me: [studies equations] “y=ab r=7 w=15” Professor: “Correct. Now, show me how you did that.” Me: “ … ” Professor: “ … ” Me: “ … ” Professor: “Well, I can see that you’re clearly capable of doing the math … I’ll change your grade from Fail to Incomplete. That’s the best I can do.” Me: “ … ”

David said...

Well, it was the Royal We, I suppose. We as a nation. Am I allowed to use a royal we in a republic? I will anyway! :)

Fortunately for me, by the time I got to high school and college the New Math had gone the way of every nonsensical fad in pedagogy and we were back to just teaching people how to do math the old fashioned way. It worked, though I did have the misfortune of having at least one high school math teacher who had the same attitude toward showing my work.

My parents saved all of my report cards, and on an earlier one (pre-high-school) one of my teachers noted that "David would rather accept the consequences than adjust to meet specific requirements," to which I could only respond, "Well, yeah." And that's how I dealt with that math teacher. I passed the class. By that point I had tested into all sorts of advanced math so he couldn't just fail me. But it wasn't a fun year.

I got to college as a math major, and then this happened, and suddenly I wasn't a math major anymore.

I did finish my degree, though, and then some more. The College of Hard Knocks featured lessons I did not care to learn, so I stuck with what I knew. ;)

Also, if the internet has taught me anything it is that nobody knows how to do Order of Operations anymore. Maybe we should have just kept the old way throughout.

LucyInDisguise said...

I left a comment in the past.

In other news, it’s the ‘them’ that determines the ‘whom’ in that sentence - not the ‘We’ve’ in the previous sentence, so the Royal We got nuttin’ to do wit dat. (Jus’ sayin’) πŸ˜‰

The ‘New Math’ ruined math for an awful lot of students. I learned how to build a multiplication table and in the process discovered the relationships in numbers. In the schools that I attended, that curriculum was always one scholastic year behind me. Kids one year behind me couldn’t figure out what 10% of 10 was. After I graduated, it caught up and passed me and I was forever lost.

Both of my daughters hated math. I did my level best to help them; to try to show them a way to use practical math to work around the theoretical shit they were being taught. That worked with 50% of my daughters but the other half couldn’t calculate her way out of a percentage off sale. The other became an accountant.

The College of Hard Knocks thinks that’s a feature, not a bug. Jury still out.

🧐 Also, I’m not all that certain that the internet has taught anyone anything of any real significance. Jury still out on that one, too!



David said...

My "Royal We" comment was aimed at your response to the bullying thing, not my grammatical error regarding "whom" - I didn't have much of a response to that one, really.

Every time I hear the phrase "New Math" I think of the Tom Lehrer song. And I'm glad I didn't have to do it.

I always liked math - it's mostly just puzzles, after all, and in the end you have an answer, which is more than you can say most of the time. Neither of my kids liked it, though, and after a while I was just happy that they got through their courses successfully. ;)

The internet has taught me many things:

Nobody knows "order of operations" or the difference between there, their, or they're.

There is no real way to determine whether someone is being sarcastic until they tell you outright (and even then, I personally will likely miss it half the time).

There's probably porn of whatever you're looking at and if you have any brains at all you will NOT try to find it because there just isn't enough whiskey in the barrel to get rid of some of those mental images.

There are a lot of people on this planet with way too much time on their hands. There are also some supremely talented people, who are vastly outnumbered.

So many lessons...

Ewan said...

I love maths. Also math. Any number of maths, really. My elder son will still call from college: “Hey, Dad! Do you know that you raise numbers to the power of a *matrix*?? Wanna watch a YouTube with me?”

This is a joy. My younger son enjoys, but does not embrace and intuit the way that Aidan and I - and apparently, Lucy! - do. Oh, and we do SO understand order of operations.

When we started making money, ensuring that our sons would be able to graduate debt-free was priority one. Ahead of say the mortgage. We were both lucky enough to do so - I because I grew up in a country with a rational attitude to public funding of education, Jenny because she is the world’s only ChemE on a PolySci full scholarship… - and it was the foundation for financial stability ever since. 529s are great; because tuition is so far out of control, it is going to cost in round figures a million bucks to out the two kids through undergrad. Saddling them with that? Peonage.

To be fair: if we had student loans somehow right now, it would be a waste of tax dollars to void them. But making community college or your local state college effectively tuition free? Yes, please, take my money.

David said...

There are a few of us who get order of operations and know that the answer is 9 not 64, or whatever in those memes that go around, but it astonishes me how many people will insist otherwise. I'm glad I get a high quality of commenter here on my blog. :)

That sounds like a great sort of bonding moment - I hope he never stops doing that.

Peonage is absolutely right. It never fails to escape my notice that the sorts of people loudly freaking out about the idea of forgiving student loans are generally also the sorts of people pursuing a political agenda of authoritarianism and anti-democracy. The Founding Fathers understood very clearly that an educated population was critical to the survival of a republic (even if they were rather shortsighted as to who actually counted as part of the population), and watching the American right wing trying to recreate an ancien regime society of nobles and peasants is nothing short of bizarre. For one thing, contrary to what most of them think they are not going to be nobles. Hint: nobles are above my pay grade and if you're within the sound of my voice you're not going to be one. For another thing, the ancien regime didn't end well last time and won't end well next time either. We don't need peonage. We need citizens.

I would understand if I got means tested out of any loan forgiveness at this point in my life, but then I wasn't at this point when I did have loans to pay back. But I did pay them back and neither of my kids will have them, so I do not directly benefit from this forgiveness program at all. And I support it wholeheartedly.

I like living in an educated society. I would like that to broaden.

LucyInDisguise said...

“I [would] like living in [a higher] educated society.” [There. Fixed that for you. Difficult to justify using the word "educated" in our present environment.]

Short example:

“ancien regime” Spell check: you forgot the ’t’. Wait. He did it the same way twice. Select. Lookup. Oh. French word for ancient, old, also, former, senior Learned something.

And look at that >>> Spell Check thinks it’s wrong, but Grammarly thinks it's right, so maybe I’m not weird, per se, just didn’t recognize the source language. Perhaps you should have italicized it?

That is all. You may return to your regularly scheduled afternoon activities.


David said...

Well, educated can mean a lot of things, I suppose.

What I really should have written was ancien rΓ©gime (with both the italics and the accent mark). But I often fall victim to the general trend in English of turning everything into an English word or phrase and dropping both accents and any indication that it's stolen from another language.

Right now my scheduled activities are dominated by trying to revise an entire class. I'm nearly done, but not done enough. Onward.

Jon Z. said...

Well, I knew exactly what you meant by ancien regime. But then, I've learned French. Math too. Does that make me well educated?

By the way, we had a rule back in school that when we went out to eat as a group, the person who had to figure out how to split the bill would be the youngest non-math major. Math majors were notorious for an inability to do arithmetic. Of course astronomers were even worse, but that's another story.

LucyInDisguise said...

Mayhap we're using the wrong word here. Capable. I would like to live in a more capable society.

Let us leave it there.


David said...

@JonZ - I suppose it does, at least in this context. We'll take it!

Having the non-mathematically-inclined figure out the bill could go either way, really. I'm sure you were there to correct them, right? Right? Hello? Is this thing on?


@Lucy - Yeah, I'll go with that. Living in a more capable society would be nice.

Jon Z. said...

Well, I was at a school where pretty much everybody was mathematically inclined, so that wasn't an issue. But math majors were known for being unable to get arithmetic correct.

David said...

But the theory is sound!