Death by Debt

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Death by Debt

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The student debt crisis cripples borrowers through endless loan payments, raising the question, what’s the worth of a higher education?

Taylor Smith, a 25-year-old graduate, has put off buying a house, getting married and starting a family due to loans. To pay for her education at Texas A&M University, Smith worked full time throughout college. She also cobbled together 11 student loans.

“I probably graduated with about $53,000 in student debt,” Smith said. “That number hit me for the first time my last semester of college. And it was the first time I saw the full balance.
And I had a panic attack immediately.”

The United States’ student debt is $1.56 trillion with over 44.7 million borrowers, according to Forbes. An average college student borrows upwards of $22,000 before the time
they graduate. As of 2019, more than 42 million student loan borrowers owed $100,000 or less, becoming the second highest form of consumer debt.

In 2015, community college students borrowed more than ever, according to pewtrust.org. These are small loans, but are at high risk of default. The average loan defaulted on by a community college student was $5,000. Community college may have lower tuition rates, however students are still borrowing to compensate for the rising cost of higher education.

There’s a growing debate in the 2020 presidential campaign over student loan forgiveness and proposals to relieve graduates in debt. The majority of American voters give a thumbs up to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s plan to cancel student debt. In total, 56 percent of registered voters said they support the Massachusetts senator’s proposal to wipe out $640 billion in outstanding education loans by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Warren is the only presidential candidate to issue a detailed plan on student debt forgiveness. Under it, borrowers with household incomes under $100,000 would have $50,000 of their student debt canceled, and those who earn $100,000 to $250,000 would be eligible for relief on a sliding scale.

“My broad cancellation plan is a real solution to our student debt crisis,” Warren wrote on Medium last month. “It helps millions of families and removes a weight that’s holding back our
economy.”

Teenagers with no credit history and no guaranteed job routinely borrow tens of thousands of dollars through loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’re telling individuals to just take on the debt, it’s worth it. And the larger ramifications to their lives and our society are truly unknown,” said Seth Frotman, the executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, a non-profit watchdog. “The student debt crisis is here. With no end in sight and absolutely zero plan to tackle this at the federal level.”

While students suffer, the federal government thrives.

“The federal government will always get their money,” Frotman said. “We don’t give student loan borrowers a second chance in bankruptcy. We let their wages be garnished. We even let their Social Security benefits be seized.”

Month by month, Smith chips away at her college debt but she still owes $49,000.

“The moment you get an acceptance letter from college, that’s really the moment you start taking on this debt,” Smith said. “If you want a good job, you have to go to college. But nobody talks about the price.”