I am 50, and as of today I owe $153,000. Originally my debt was $78,000. I went to school to get an MBA, from a state university to avoid higher costs, yet as soon as I graduated Lehman Brothers collapsed and my job prospects have been dim ever since. The reason why I went to school was to lift my family’s standard of living. When I first went to school, I was married with two children. Along the way, I helped my spouse earn her BA and two master’s degrees. The effort to pay off these loans created much stress in my marriage, and I eventually divorced. My former spouse left the workforce because her mental health did not allow her to remain employed, and this doubled my burden with my young sons and has not allowed me to pay off any significant portion of my student loan burden, which is why it has ballooned in the way that it has. Student loans, as it turns out, cannot be considered as part of the calculus for child support.
As I turned 50 recently, I realized that I likely have fewer years left in me than ones I left behind. I am not turning away from my financial responsibilities, however as my strength wanes and I consider the inevitable, that I will get sick, face old age, and death, I wonder whether the enormous mountain I have ahead of me is going to take my life as I try to take this burden on.
I was not successful in raising my sons’ standard of living. I have not met my financial obligations. There is no money I was able to sock away in a retirement account that has been earning interest.
While I recognize that I made a mistake in taking out loans that I could not repay, I do not believe that the result of this miscalculation renders me a criminal. I went to school to learn lessons, and regrettably, this lesson was not well imparted or executed. While I place the burden of responsibility on myself, it is also just as important to recognize that the trap I fell into was borne from a rapacious effort to derive profits at the expense of human suffering, loss, and servitude. I made a poor choice, but I should not be criminalized for this. Plenty of businesspeople make poor choices and they are able to overcome their foolish blunders through the legal system. If I made a poor choice with my education, and I did not know any better as I was making this choice, who should shoulder this responsibility?
Since I went to business school I learned that my vocation is to teach. An expensive discovery, to be sure. Unfortunately, I have not been able to lead a classroom, because doing so would have involved taking on additional debt to earn the credentials I needed for certification. To practice my vocation I turned to afterschool and summer camp programming. Educators do not earn much in our society, and I find myself in the curious situation of needing to teach students how to avoid the mistakes that I made.
I often wonder whether it is even worth it to face the mountain ahead and begin climbing, knowing that on the way down I do not have anything to return to that will help be bear sickness, old age, and death. I may only be able to pay off this debt and not have enough to survive after this effort has concluded.