Sunday, December 4, 2011

Student Loans: a continuing series

This is a really depressing story about how devastating referrals are in modern student loans:

Notice anything?

Original balance: $37,099.00

Current balance: $35, 908. 41

I’ve been in repayment since 2006. I had to do one deferral – as to not default. I signed up for a program to minimize my payments that, I was told, was beneficial to someone who is going through financial difficulties – yet I regularly made payments over the minimum payment.

Because Sallie Mae helpfully provides a payment history, I was able to whip out a calculator and count up the exact amount I have paid over these last few years.

That amount is $23, 449.65

The penalties are pretty spectacular for needing to defer the loans. After 5 years of repayment, Ms. Antonova paid 50% of the starting balance of the loans. Presuming that she is being honest, the effective interest rate on this loan beats that of unsecured debt. Is this really a sustainable pattern? Do the "no bankruptcy provisions" not reduce the risk of the debt and suggest more moderate effective interest rates.

If we consider this in light of the "risk-free" borrowing rate (TIPS are now 0.2%) then an inflation adjusted loan at such rates should be 50% gone already. Why are rates not reflecting the new reality of how hard it is to be forgiven your student loans?

Also germane to Mark's recent post, there is an ant/grasshopper dichotomy here as well:

We have a myth of the “deserving poor” in our culture – it’s similar to the myth of the “good rape victim.” But like most people living real lives, I have my financial ups and downs. I’ve all sorts of things these last few years: walking people’s dogs for grocery money, sitting in a cafe in Chelsea, drinking a glass of moderately priced champagne and asking the readers of this blog for Paypal donations.

As a writer and journalist, I supplement my income with freelance writing gigs, much like my director husband supplements his with acting gigs. All of that together makes up our family budget. When the gigs dry up, so does the money going towards my loans. We’ve been chasing more work, but as the economy continues to suffer, and the cost of living goes up while jobs evaporate, people like us end up competing for jobs that barely exist.

Now it is true that some people manage to graduate with degrees and without debts. In many cases, they have families who made huge sacrifices in order to make this happen -- they feel like they avoided a debt trap through virtue. But the plain truth is that a lot of young Americans can pick between college (and bankruptcy proof, high interest debt) or questions about "why didn't you go to college"?

If we walked back and asked if education is a public good, that would be a good step. I don't want to spur a false dichotomy, but we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world in the United States. That isn't free, either. Are we sure that we have our priorities correct?

h/t: Erik Loomis

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