You wouldn’t give a mortgage to an 18-year-old. No bank would make a $30,000 car loan to a 21-year-old without a co-signer. A 19-year-old couldn’t get $100,000 to start a business without putting up some serious collateral. But taking out $50,000, $100,000, $150,000 in student loans? It’s as easy as signing your name.

Currently, I have $71,135.31 in student loan debt. It is in a total of seven loans, ranging from $2,200 to $22,000. I required loans to pay for both my bachelor’s degree (Smith College) and my master’s degree (Simmons College). The exact amount I owe fluctuates constantly – interest piles up every single day, and then once a month I pay $140 and knock it back – but it has remained terrifyingly stable at around $70,000 since 2015, which was when I took out the last one.

In some ways I’m lucky. My debt is all with the government, so at least it will be forgiven if I die, although not if I declare bankruptcy, because student loan debt doesn’t get discharged through the bankruptcy process. Does that seem fair? No, not even a little. Furthermore, I am lucky in that so far, my monthly payments have been affordable. I am not completely crushed by the weight of the money I borrowed 10 years ago, when I was a dumb, wide-eyed freshman with big dreams. But the weight is still there, suspended over me.

Imagine an anvil dangling from a giant crane, and it follows you around everywhere you go, and it creaks in the breeze. And you know it could drop and squash you at any moment, or if anything goes wrong with the crane.

When we talk about loan forgiveness, a lot of people come out of the woodwork to say, “Well, you have to pay what you owe, you knew what you were doing.” But that’s not entirely true. There is well-established science that the human brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25; before then, it struggles with long-term risks. It’s why teenagers do dumb, life-threatening stuff all the time; they simply cannot process the long-term risks and threats.

Furthermore, at the time I took on the debt, I actually did have a plan. I got a master’s degree in library and information science; the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a librarian, except for in fourth grade when I wanted to be a zookeeper. I was going to get a job in a public or school library, and use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, in which you can qualify for debt forgiveness after 10 years of qualifying payments and working in a public service sector.

Unfortunately, I and many other millennials learned the hard way to never trust the government with your future. The Department of Education has denied more than 96 percent of public loan forgiveness applications, and indeed has been working hand-in-glove with loan companies and debt servicers to not only refuse debt forgiveness, but also to allow debt collection despite court orders, resist approval of payment plans and generally wring every last cent of profit out of borrowers. They are not on the side of American students and, quite frankly, I would not recommend that any high school or college student today go into debt to get a degree. Find some less expensive dreams.

Assuming debt forgiveness gets watered down when passed through the House and Senate and the lobbyists, even freezing interest rates and forgiving accumulated interest would be enormously helpful. The principal balance on my student loans is $63,830.53. The interest is $7,304.78. The highest interest rate on my loans is 5.96 percent; the lowest is 3.15 percent. Lowering the interest rate and forgiving the accumulated interest would at least give borrowers a little more breathing room, and the possibility of catching up to the balance owed, while still leaving plenty of room for corporations to claw up profits. Everyone wins.

There has also been a school of thought going around that forgiving student loan debt would be somehow unfair to the people who have paid off theirs. Using this extremely bad logic, if we discovered the cure for cancer, it would be unfair to give it to patients, because so many people have died from cancer before. Even if I manage to pay off my loans (doubtful), I still feel that others will be deserving of relief.

If there were a law passed by Congress declaring that all student debt would be forgiven except for what’s owed by Victoria Hugo-Vidal from Buxton, Maine, I would campaign for, sign and happily assent to that law. My mom owns her own house, so I know I will never be homeless. I’ll be OK; I can keep one step ahead of the angry wolf pack that is chasing me (the pack of wolves is a metaphor for all of my debt). But there are others who won’t be, and there are thousands of others who need help, too. Or else my generation, and the next, will continue to be drowned by our dreams.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

 


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