My Two Cents: Help is needed for those struggling with student loan debt

The talk of student loan debt is reaching a crescendo as President Biden considers cancelling or cutting it across the board. We need to finally take action.

To tell someone struggling with student loan debt that they need to pay what they owe, all the while being allowed to bankrupt car repossessions, medical bills, credit card debt, home foreclosures and a list of other debts, makes you a hypocrite at best.

I support debt forgiveness for high debt, low income individuals. We do not need blanket forgiveness, but a strategic implementation of relief. I support allowing student loans to be bankrupted. I cannot fathom how we can decide to hold someone financially accountable with no relief option for a large debt load at a 7% interest rate.

For comparison purposes, $28,000 in student loan debt, which is modest by today’s standards of education costs, would be about $300 a month for a decade to pay off. If this student ends up failing to translate their education into a promising job, they end up being placed on a lower payment plan that barely (and sometimes not even) covers interest, which translates to an entire lifetime of debt.

For example, if someone making $30,000 a year, their monthly take home after single/no dependent taxes is $1,775 a month. If they live in an average to high population city (especially on the West and East Coast), they pay at least $1,000 for rent for a small, one-bedroom apartment. That leaves them $775 for an entire month for utilities, food, gas, medical expenses, auto insurance and unexpected miscellaneous expenses.

In this scenario, we won’t burden them with a car loan; they drive a 2004 Prius with 227,000 miles on it that they own outright.

Now, let’s go ahead and take $300 out for their student loan debt. That leaves this person $475 a month to cover all of those expenses, which is probably unlikely, but possible. They would sacrifice any vacations, splurges, etc. because they are on a razor-thin budget to pay that debt. For a decade. This usually translates into credit card debt to offset the gaps in unexpected bills, or when they just want something nice, or to go somewhere.

Now imagine a second person.

They didn’t acquire any student debt or attend college. They have a job that pays them $30,000. They decide to buy a $400-a-month truck, lifted, with all the goodies on it, but over time it turns out they can’t afford it, and it gets repossessed after a couple of years. They owe $23,000 on it after auction, and another $5,000 to the tire shop who financed their tires, rims and lift. Well, no worry, they file a chapter 7, walk away debt free, and their quality of life becomes that much easier, because they aren’t burdened by an unaffordable debt.

We cannot condone debt enforcement on person 1, but not person 2. They both acquired their debt without thinking through the long-term burden on their finances. Why do we allow consumer debt to walk away, while the other is crushed under debt for a decade or longer.

More importantly, why as a society do we revel in holding 18-22 year olds accountable for an unforgivable and sometimes insurmountable debt while allowing everyone else to hit a debt reset button?

We need to do better.

RJ Benner is the publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and the South Whidbey Record.