In a column for The New York Times, author Lee Siegel recently wrote about his decision to intentionally default on his student loan debt. Siegel, who is currently working on a memoir about money, justified his actions by stating that he would’ve had to take on a job he didn’t like in order to pay off his student loans.
When explaining why paying back his college debt is totally beneath him, Siegel said:
Maybe, after going back to school, I should have gone into finance, or some other lucrative career. Self-disgust and lifelong unhappiness, destroying a precious young life — all this is a small price to pay for meeting your student loan obligations.
To That, I Say: Poo, Poo
People like Siegel, who intentionally make the decision not to repay their student loans, are the worst. They are no better than criminals who take out student loans using stolen identities, then use the funds however they please. This growing trend in fraudulent activity has burdened taxpayers with an estimated $187 million in college fun-times (and sometimes education) for other people that we now have to repay without ever having gotten to experience the fun times (or education) we’re paying for.
Siegel shares a pastime with criminals who prey on the identities of children: plotting to take advantage of the student-loan system. He even offers a how-to-guide,
You might want to follow these steps: Get as many credit cards as you can before your credit is ruined. Find a stable housing situation. Pay your rent on time so that you have a good record in that area when you do have to move. Live with or marry someone with good credit (preferably someone who shares your desperate nihilism).
Siegel deserves his own special circle in hell, where he is forced to prepare tax forms day and night, filled with “self-disgust and lifelong unhappiness.”
Everyone Knows Higher Education Needs a Fix
Siegel and I actually have a lot in common. I also attended a small, private, liberal-arts college, and amassed a large sum of debt to pay for it. As a recent graduate, I’m facing the reality of how my debt will shape my decisions, financial and otherwise. However, I’m not actively plotting to not repay what I borrowed. To be honest, I couldn’t default even if I wanted, as my loans were issued directly from my alma mater, a private institution. In other words, the government, and taxpayers, aren’t on the hook for what I borrowed, and I will be liable to repay them until the day I die.
Like Siegel, I think those of less-than-privileged backgrounds should have better college access. I agree that the federal takeover of the student loan game is irresponsible. Using taxpayer dollars to burden students with crippling amounts of debt, further inflating the cost of higher education, and then making taxpayers liable for the balance when students cannot, or refuse to, repay is illogical and unfair.
Student debt collectors who contract with the U.S. government are awful. I’ve written about how they don’t care at all about securing borrower’s data, which has resulted in 5 million college students’ data becoming vulnerable to theft or worse. The Federal Student Loan Administration isn’t actively working to fix the problem, either, at least not when I asked them about it a few months ago.
Refusing to Pay Won’t Improve Higher Education
While the higher-education system is flawed, Siegle assumes that if enough people refuse to repay their loans, it could change for the better:
I am sharply aware of the strongest objection to my lapse into default. If everyone acted as I did, chaos would result. The entire structure of American higher education would change. . . Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education. There are a lot of people who could learn to live with that, too.
Perhaps he was inspired by the growing media coverage and attention from government officials to student loan strikers. About 1,200 graduates have declared they will not repay their student loans unless the U.S. Department of Education tells students of the now infamous Corinthian Colleges they’re off the hook for the debt they accumulated, according to MarketWatch. Their cause has secured them lots of media attention, and a sit-down with “top officials from the U.S. Department of Education, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau student loan ombudsman and representatives from the Treasury Department,” Inside Higher Ed reported in April.
His solution, however, is not only wrong, but in extreme cases is used as a fundraising tactic for terrorists. Seriously, two men were recently caught trying to use student loans to pay for airline tickets to the Middle East, where they planned to fight alongside terrorists. I’m not saying Siegel is advocating for terrorist activity, but I am saying popularizing student loan fraud certainly won’t bring about the change he says he’s hoping for. Rather, it’s a flimsy excuse to try and get out of repaying the debt he contracted and that taxpayers, including myself, will be on the hook for.