"If you build it they will come." Apparently, if you take it they will pay. At least that seems to be the notion of some states regarding student debt. In an attempt to collect payments on delinquent accounts, some states have opted to revoke licenses (be it a driver’s license or professional license) to “aid” borrowers in getting back on track with repayment. I think, at the heart of the decision (regardless of its ridiculousness), many of us with student loans understand the reasoning behind such a drastic approach. People took out loans-in large amounts- with the promise they would pay it back and they have not. In any circle, no one would overlook a $30,000 loan, and no one would fault a person for wanting their money back or for even finding unconventional methods for getting it back.
In this case, we have to step into reality, and the reality is that people sometimes run into unexpected life events that impede their ability to pay back their loan(s). For many people, student debts accrue under the belief an education will bring forth a better life. With every chance, educators, parents, and employers hammer into our heads that our education will pay for itself. That it will ensure a life of less struggle, more opportunity, and upward mobility. This part of the “American dream” remains an imminent piece of our society even when many of us have yet to see our educations pay off. While people still fair better with a college education in comparison to people with a high school diploma, the fact that students venture into a world armed with their piece of paper that is meant to say, “I am somebody”, does not shield them from the false start they receive when leaving college with massive debts.
While defaults on student loans may mean the state does not get all of their money or investment back, ultimately they will recoup the bulk of it and will not have to rely on revoking licenses alone in order to do so. Garnishing wages, withholding taxes, filing lawsuits, and even placing liens on property are well within the state’s arsenal (www.pymnts.com). However, a vital piece is missing from the involved states’ approach, and that piece is the human component or perhaps the little bit of common sense that many of us like to believe the population holds. According to CNBC’s report by Kelley Holland the numbers of those in debt tells the story of a population desiring an education and drowning in its aftermath. Holland reports, “more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, 40 million borrowers, and an average balance of $29,000.”
The concern does not end with student debt alone. It is not a separate entity. The impact of soaring debt before people have even had the opportunity to create a life for themselves shows up in their choices to place on the backburner home ownership, starting a family, limiting their choice of career fields, starting a business, and saving for retirement. Now, this is not to say people will never do these things. Nevertheless, when a person feels that he or she is up to their eyeball in student debt one may choose to focus on lowering that debt before taking on more. Especially when one considers that next to a mortgage, student loan debt reigns supreme.
I do not fault anyone for choosing to obtain an education, but I do believe there is shared responsibility on both sides. People have to understand what their loan means (i.e. interest rates, repayment options, and the fact that it does not disappear after filing bankruptcy) and the state needs to understand that not every situation is the same. People do not often wake up in the morning and say, “I think I will ruin my credit and risk losing my license by not staying on top of my student loans.” People cannot always foresee the financial obstacles they will soon face, be it a medical issue or job loss, just like the state cannot foresee a person defaulting on a loan several years after obtaining a degree, a degree that was supposed to make their lives easier.
Although states are within their right to recover money from defaulted student loans, I do not think states adopting such an authoritarian approach, such as revoking licenses, (drivers’ or professional) is the best practice. While they are making it clear that they have no interest in babysitting debt, they have also made it clear that the human components of compassion and common sense is severely lacking at some of the highest levels.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Latanya Muhammad is an educator, group facilitator, and 100% a wife and mom. If you would like to read more of her posts visit www.shetanagain.com. And if you want to weigh in on the action, feel free to direct all feedback and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. See ya'!