Hopeless, Helpless and Handcuffed to Debt: My Student Loan Story

It is very hard to articulate the anguish of a heavy student loan burden. After countless drafts and attempts to frame this in an impersonal way, I am now convinced that the only way to get the message across is for me to tell you my story. I can throw facts around all day, but without humanizing the real toll that daunting student debt is having on our society, we cannot expect to change anything.

As hard as this is going to be, and as much ridicule that will inevitably be thrown my way by fly-by trolls, I have to share this—if only to let you know, you are not alone. I am inevitably building a new stop on the Blame Train Railway, opening myself to the dissection of each of my life’s decisions and how they are ultimately my fault. Hop aboard, take a picture while you’re passing through. It doesn’t matter.

My story is only one of millions of stories of American students caught in this trap and I promise you, we are not any more stupid than anyone else was at the age of 18-23. The difference is our mistake was seeking an education—our mistake was doing what was beat into us from the beginning of elementary school: “Go to college, you’ll get a great job and make great money!”

I just want to offer a little perspective. I will not be citing sources here because this is from my heart, feel free to fact check me. Before you do, however, make sure you read my blogs about student loans as well.

Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the important events in my life that landed me where I am today.

My Story


I grew up in Lubbock, Texas. To be honest, it was wonderful. Growing up in a place like Lubbock has its consequences, though. I was very sheltered. I thought that everyone was polite, said ‘excuse me,’ and held the door open for others.

My parents, both from Lubbock, got married at the age of 22. When I was born, my mother was 27—by West Texas standards, she waited a long time.  My dad earned his associate’s degree at the local community college, but neither of my parents finished their bachelor’s degrees. My dad is a master auto technician and my mom recently retired after 30+ years of service to the United States Postal Service. They made decent livings and as far as my sister and I knew, we were comfortable.

Unfortunately, my parents got divorced while I was in high school. Our comfortable middle class life, took a nose dive. It was the first time that I became aware of how expensive life was. I knew I would be going to college—my dad, teachers and society made it clear that I did not have an option.

Even back then, both of my parents, especially my dad, regretted not earning an undergraduate degree. My dad would tell me how his options were severely limited if he ever wanted to change careers. He instilled in me that knowledge is power, the power to control your own life. The power to work for a great company and be able to leave a bad one. The power to find what you love and having the tools to know how to make money at it.

Something else my dad always told me was that I could get my college paid for if I could get a scholarship playing soccer. From the third grade until I finished high school, this became my goal. This was not for the reasons you think, however. In my teenage mind, this was a way to extend my soccer career. Up until this point, I had never loved anything more than I loved soccer. It was everything. I had very little interest in school, but I had always done well. I was excited to receive a small athletic scholarship at Texas Tech and this is where I started my college journey.


When I began attending Texas Tech in 2002, the price of tuition was around $2,000/semester. Although I had a small scholarship, the bulk of my college tuition burden fell on my dad for two years. At the end of the 2003/2004 season, I made the decision to transfer colleges. Back then, Texas Tech soccer was not good and it was not a good fit for me to stay in Lubbock.

I visited several schools and ultimately fell in love with Berry College in Rome, Georgia. For those of you who are not familiar with Berry, it is the largest, and arguably most beautiful, college campus in the country. Their women’s soccer team has also won 3 national titles.

More importantly, I had finally done it! My [private liberal arts] college was paid for. How lucky can I be? Now, I know how fortunate I was, but back then? No way. I went to college to play soccer. I did not play soccer to go to college.


I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was sure that I did not have to decide during college and that I would figure it out later. In all honesty, I believed I would be a soccer coach for the rest of my life.

Thus, I did not put much thought into my degree choice. Nobody had ever discussed with me that some degrees are worth about as much as the paper they are printed on. My parents could never have advised me that no degree—no matter how lucrative your major is—guarantees money or happiness. They did not go through the college process like me. How could they have known?

More importantly, though, none of my academic advisors had ever said anything to me about this phenomenon. Nobody said, “Hey, maybe you don’t want to change your psychology major to interdisciplinary studies.” In reality, either degree is largely worthless without graduate school, but one is less worthless than the other. No one ever challenged me on my life’s path or tried to hold me accountable. I did not hold me accountable, either. Honestly, I did not have the tools to do this for myself.

As a college-age woman from small-town West Texas, I had no idea what I was doing. Of course I have some responsibility in this. I should have asked more questions, but for the life of me, I’m not sure how I would have even known what questions to ask.

When I finished my B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Sport Psychology), my parents were so proud. Honestly, so was I. I had lived away from home for the first time in my life. I worked at the HVAC department for the entire time I was at Berry. I coached soccer and interned with the best coaches in the business. It was amazing. You can imagine my shock when I graduated and nobody gave a shit that I had gone to college.

Real-World Bitch Slap

The summer after I finished college, I coached soccer camps full-time. After the summer was over, I was at a loss about what to do next. I had never had this little structure in my life. I had always had a very specific schedule. I knew what the expectations were. Keep your grades up, practice hard, travel for games, work, and repeat. I saw my best friends every day at practice where we blew off steam—sometimes even aimed at each other. But in the end, when we walked off the field we were one. In the real world, I was totally alone and quickly realized that not everyone “leaves it on the field.”

Soccer is a very physical (and sometimes violent) game, but it is much more civilized than the “real world.” I would take a broken hand/ankle/finger over someone conspiring behind my back, setting me up to fail, or treating me unfairly in a way that is hard to explain, but made me feel like trash.

To make matters worse, I needed a plantar fascia release and a tarsal tunnel release on my foot. Years in cleats had left me with battle wounds. My soccer career was over. I was not even sure I could ever coach again because the pain was so bad.

I began substituting for Lubbock ISD and then got a full-time job as an attendance clerk at Lubbock High School. I made $765/month once a month. The receptionist at the time was an attorney. She had just passed the bar and she made less money than me.

I was officially pissing my pants. What the hell was I going to do with my life?

I started looking at graduate school and was between getting a master’s degree in business or marriage and family therapy. I had never taken a business class before and honestly, it scared me. I had never considered myself to be that intelligent but I thought, if I work hard, I can learn anything. Plus, business school is a very pragmatic choice, right? I had never been pragmatic in my life because up until this moment, I had not thought that much about what my life after soccer would look like. I was a kid. And I was invincible. I didn’t need a plan B.

MBA—Where I fell in love with learning


Since earning my MBA, I believe there are generally two types of people that pursue graduate degrees. The first type are the people that earn a master’s degree for a purpose. It is the last degree they ever want to earn. Some of them begrudgingly went back to school for a specific purpose—get a credential, get a promotion or get a master’s degree and the company will pay for it. They have a plan in mind and this is just a stop on their path.

The second type of person is more like me. I pursued a business degree, not because I love business, but because it seemed like the responsible thing to do. Once this type of person begins a graduate degree, they are consumed by it. They take the ethics courses seriously, they begin reading the Wall Street Journal, and start following politics. That was me. I made it my responsibility to get a 4.0 GPA. I was that person.

I did not end up with my dream GPA (I finished with a 3.8), but I was so proud of myself. Along the way I had met many JD/MBA candidates. After talking to law students and taking an extra business law class as an elective, I started to believe that my MBA did not have to be my last degree.

I began to become passionate about something other than soccer. After learning about corporations, finance, and the law for two years, I was disgusted by Corporate America. To me it seemed greedy, heartless and manipulative. As if I was not jaded enough, I was in the middle of my MBA when the crash happened.

I thought how lucky I was that the market crashed a year before I was set to graduate, so maybe things would be better by then. I watched my friends look for work for years after that. By the time May 2009 rolled around, I had been accepted to Florida International University College of Law after it became clear that the economy was not bouncing back any time soon.

I did not ever receive a scholarship from Texas Tech, but at the time, after finishing my MBA (and working as a graduate assistant for two years), I had approximately $23,000 in student debt.  Between 2002 when I first attended Texas Tech to 2009, tuition had already risen significantly, but unbeknownst to me, tuition was about to get much higher in the coming years.

I made my decision to attend an out-of-state law school very carefully. It was not a whimsical decision and I tirelessly researched state laws on in-state tuition and how I could get the most out of my education without racking up enormous debt. Then, it all bit me in the ass. It just goes to show that no matter how much you plan, there are always going to be things in your life that are out of your control. Some of these things affect the rest of your life, some don’t. This was more the former than the latter.

Law School


Here is a picture of me graduating on a cake. 🙂

Why did I choose FIU? Why did I not just stay in Texas? I chose FIU because my new husband and I had made a decision to start our new lives together on our terms. I had only lived in Lubbock, Texas and Rome, Georgia—not the most progressive or modern cities. My husband had never lived anywhere but Lubbock. We decided to move somewhere that we would never in a million years thought we would ever go. Plus, wherever we chose had to have an affordable tuition structure and an MBA program nearby.

Why did I not just stay in Texas? I am not conservative and I have always felt like I did not belong. I needed a change in my life. Texas Tech was the most affordable option for me, but I was not accepted at Texas Tech before I was offered admission to FIU. With deadlines looming to accept a seat in a law class, I committed myself to FIU before Texas Tech ever called.

When I applied, and after I was accepted at FIU, I confirmed with the school that after I had lived in Florida for a year, had a Florida residence, etc. that I could be reconsidered as an in-state student for tuition purposes.

It was my intention to stay in Florida, after all. I joined the Florida bar and got a Florida drivers’ license. Unbeknownst to me, in July of 2009, one month before I was to begin orientation at FIU, the State of Florida passed a law making it impossible for an out-of-state student to be reconsidered for in-state tuition. I was never informed by my school that this happened.

Instead, I learned about the legislation from a friend at the end of my first semester. I was inconsolable. I poured everything I had into moving to Miami. My husband and I spent an entire year apart. He stayed in Lubbock to finish his bachelor’s degree, and I lived in the dorms. During my 1L year, my husband was accepted into an MBA program in Fort Lauderdale and he was set to start in Fall 2010.

We planned our wedding for the summer of 2010. We had saved for years and were able to throw a very inexpensive affair in Las Vegas. We no longer had a place to live in Texas. We had packed up our things and shipped them to Florida. My husband was about to start his master’s degree and I was starting my second year of law school. We were all in. We could not afford to not go-both financially and for our futures. We were both in phenomenal programs and learning so much, plus we were broke.

Attending law school and living in Miami was transformational. I had never been around Jewish people, I had never met a Cuban. I was one of those Texan assholes who thought all brown people were probably Mexican. I had never heard of paella, I had never had a Publix sub, and I had never felt like such a cracker! I made the best friends of my life, people that I trust with my life, my heart and my soul.

It is a strange feeling loving and feeling passionate about your life decisions, and regretting them all at the same time. The impending doom of a life of debt is enough to give a person an ulcer. But again, I was young and lawyers made good money, right?

As I pursued my law degree, the debt racked up. Living in Miami is very expensive, but we lived 40 minutes north of Miami proper in Miami Lakes where the rent is much more reasonable. The problem was never the rent, though.

Like my MBA, I dedicated myself to my studies. I graduated cum laude and 22/141 in my class. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not receive any financial aid during law school (other than federal student aid—including a $5,000 grant each year).

As I made my way through my studies, getting a high-paying job after law school began to impregnate my every thought. What I really wanted to do was teach and find a way to practice law that made me feel like I was actually helping others. Down at my core, it has never been about money for me.

It was too late for me now. I had to grow up and get a job and pay back my debts. I interned with a federal judge, a small law firm and worked as a teacher’s aid. I knew after my small firm experience, that Big Law was probably not going to be a good fit for me. Big law firms are not places to learn how to be a good lawyer. But big law firms are the only hope you have for paying off your student loans.

The real work, the real justice, is in the hands of your public defenders (and some state attorneys who will probably get a little booty hurt over this sentence) and they make less money than teachers in some cases. You learn how to be a real advocate in public service work, but good luck paying your bills.

By the time I graduated in 2012, the job market in south Florida was still reeling from the crash four years prior. Further, the law market was flooded. The University of Miami, Florida International, Nova Southeastern University and St. Thomas are all within a 30 minute drive of each other and they all have law schools. My husband was being offered jobs as a COO making $20,000/year . . . that’s just south Florida. He finally was offered a consulting job in Dallas, and after Florida bent me over and f*cked me, I was ready to get back home.

Esquire in Medium Law

I took the Texas bar the summer of 2012. It was a horrible summer to say the least. I was offered a job at a firm in uptown Dallas. It was a national firm with multiple offices. I made a good salary, but I was miserable.

If you follow my blog then you know about the prevalence of depression among graduates with student debt. If you know anything about the practice of law, you know that the job “Associate Attorney” has been dubbed the worst job in America at one point. The industry is plagued with high suicide rates, depression and anxiety disorders, substance abuse and destitution. Being a lawyer does not guarantee that you will make money, and for most people, it is statistically likely to result in an unhappy career.

It’s no wonder with stagnant wages, high billable hour requirements (mine was 2,000 minimum), and the old tales of Christmas bonuses of yesteryear, being an attorney is no longer a lucrative profession for the majority of practicing attorneys. After gritting through a year-and-a-half of hyper-misogynistic, high-pressure and largely unnecessary emotional turmoil, I resigned from the firm. To be clear, however, I did not hate the work. I actually really enjoyed it. The problem was that the firm culture was toxic. It began to affect my mental and physical health. It was a strain on my marriage. It wasn’t worth it.

I had a choice: (1) my health, sanity, marriage; or (2) work, a.k.a. money. But really it was not really a choice; it was merely prolonging the inevitable. The loans are never going away. The anxiety about never having control over your financial future is never going away either—at least not for 25 years. By that time, I’ll be 57. I guess I’ll start saving for retirement then . . .

From Then to Now and the Lasting Scars of Student Loans

Since I gained my freedom from firm life, I have been on a journey of self-discovery and getting help for the depression and anxiety issues that I have had my whole life but were exacerbated during law school and working at the firm. I coached soccer in the meantime until an 8-year old took me out at a soccer camp. I blew out my ankle and said goodbye to soccer one more time.

It took a lot of time and angst, but I finally have a law practice I am really proud of—and I’m actually helping people! It’s still not about the money—and trust me when I tell you, not all lawyers are rich. I have rediscovered my love of art and writing. During this time of reflection and healing, I deferred my loans. I knew I could not jump back into a job like the one I had before. I knew I would not make it. I knew it would destroy my life.

I recently went back into repayment and it has been very stressful and it will only get worse. I am currently using the income-based repayment and it’s a double-edged sword: (1) make more money, get a higher student loan bill; or (2) continue to scrape by so that the loan payments do not go up.  They already rival our mortgage payment. How can we pay the equivalent of two mortgages and still live our lives? Right now, we don’t really live our lives.

Student loans invade every purview of my being. Can we afford life insurance, how many times a month can we go out on a date, what if the car breaks down, what if the water heater craps out, what if . . . Everyone has these ‘what if’s’ and there are people in real dire circumstances. I never want to minimize poverty or the financial struggles of others.

For college graduates, though, we went to school to avoid feeling this pressure and angst for the rest of our lives. We went to school to avoid poverty. Now school has broken us financially. It is not a hole we can dig out of with hard work and determination. The only way we get out of this hole is to work our lives away always chasing a higher pay check or win the lottery—most of us can’t afford lottery tickets, though.

It is completely possible that 20 years from now we will be asking ourselves the same questions because there is no light at the end of this tunnel. Student loans are like a black hole for millions of us. They are so powerful, even light cannot escape.

We are drowning every day.

Mine and my husband’s student loans could pay the rent on a really nice apartment or a mortgage on a decent house. We also pay a real mortgage (the kind where you actually gain equity and get something in return for 30 years of consecutive payments). Just like everyone else, we need a place to live, we need transportation and we have to be able to go on a date with each other once and a while. We do not take extravagant vacations, we do not buy clothes, we cut our cable, we seek out free activities, and we spend a lot of time at the dog park and at our friends’ houses.

The dread of being perpetually financially impotent infects every facet of our lives. It’s the reason we stay in jobs we hate. It’s the reason we drink. We are so afraid of losing everything, that we never do anything.

I would never wish this burden on my worst enemy. It can wreck your life and destroy your relationships. It is exhausting sounding like a broken record player, “That’s just too expensive;” “We can’t afford to do that;” etc. What a bore we’ve become. #FirstWorldProblems

But really, how hopeless we’ve become.

I struggle with the question, “If you could go back, would you do it again?” I have to answer honestly and say I don’t know. Law school made me who I am today. Those experiences I had in my MBA and law school can never be taken away. My knowledge and my credentials cannot be taken away, but I am not too prideful to say that I am not sure they were worth the rest of my life.

I feel guilty, and I feel proud. I love who I am (and who I will be), but I hate the cloud that will hang over my head for the next 25 years. I feel like I committed a crime. I feel like I ruined my life and my husband’s life.

My generation is defined by this debt and it is going to get worse. At least we are not alone even though it may feel like it.

Stay strong and get out and vote. #FeelTheBern

Peace and love,





Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal Responds to Open Letter

Much like his reporting, Josh Mitchell’s response to my critique of his lackluster and misleading article is completely underwhelming. As most of you know, last week I wrote an open letter to Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal following the release of his article entitled, “Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries.” As a graduate student borrower, I felt compelled to respond.

After relentless tweeting, I finally received a response from him. Check it out:
J Mitchell Response 1

You can check out all of my tweets to him here.

I, for one, am disappointed in his response. The smugness is palpable. I am not surprised by his dismissive response, or the lack of response from the editor at the Wall Street Journal (even though I courteously emailed my article to him). My lack of surprise, however, does not mean this is an acceptable practice for the media.

We deserve better reporters.

I do not want to leave any doubt in Mr. Mitchell’s mind. I was not providing him feedback. I was providing him with the truth and the facts. This is what some would call the proverbial b*tch slap. He failed to do his job.

As an attorney, I am held to a very high professional standard. If I lied to my clients or misled my clients–even at the direction of a senior partner–I could lose my license. I acknowledge that a lawyer’s job is not exactly like a reporter, but both jobs are essential to our democracy.

Why do we not hold our media to a higher standard? Why do we allow them to shape the conversation about problems that they know nothing about? Should they go unanswered when they fail to do their job with integrity, or at the very least, accurate citations, attributions, and facts?


It is time for student borrowers, and the people who love them, to change the conversation and correct the misinformation. If you would like to contact Josh Mitchell at the Wall Street Journal, you can find him on twitter by clicking HERE and via email at this address: Additionally, if you find misleading articles regarding the student loan crisis, or you want to share your student loan story, please send them to me via my Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you.

I leave you with this:

john lennon meme 2

I promise to keep screaming. Who’s with me?

Let’s talk about Debt, Baby: Student Loan Series Vol. I

What do student loans, the 2008 bank bailout and credit card debt have in common? They all have cost Americans dearly. What are their differences? In America, if you are a banker on Wall Street that crashes the global economy or a person who cannot pay off their credit card bill, we’ll bail you out and forgive you for your sins.  If, however, you are a college graduate with student loan debt:

Good luck

2008 Wall Street Bailout

During the most recent financial crisis there were a number of players involved.  This was the perfect storm where willful ignorance and overconfidence that the fast rising market would never crash, combined with good old fashioned American greed to create one of the worst financial crises in history.  There were warnings of a storm off the horizon, and much like a hurricane, those who heard the warnings could have prevented catastrophic loss by boarding up their financial “windows.”  Instead, they looked to the sky and thought about how it had not rained on Wall Street for over a decade, and it was unlikely to ever rain again.

In 2008, our government approved a tax-payer-financed-bailout plan to save huge, unregulated banks that gutted private and public sector retirement accounts and made speculative bets against everyday Americans’ ability to pay their mortgages just to make a profit. By the time all relief programs had been rolled out by the federal government, the total estimated cost of the Wall Street bailout was $14.4 trillion.  And although most banks who took bailout money have paid back the government back, those payments are merely a drop in the bucket.

What exactly did Wall Street do that almost tanked the global financial markets? The answer is relatively complex, but not impossible, so I will attempt to break it down here.

First, America was in a pattern of stable growth and low interest rates. This seems to have caused the old white guys on Wall Street to have a false sense of security and banks began handing out mortgages to millions of people who would not otherwise qualify for the amount borrowed. In other words, if you make $50,000/year, you probably cannot afford a $300,000 house. During this time, though, variable interest rates on mortgages were at an all-time low. But the problem with variable interest rates is that they vary! As interest rates rose, more and more people could not afford the mortgage payment that they never should have been approved for in the first place.

Next, in an effort to continue the American tradition of making something out of nothing, financial experts began “pooling” these bad mortgages together with other mortgages. It was like a Goldie Locks-type of arrangement. The pools of mortgages were then used to secure collateralized debt obligations (the details of which are not important for our discussion) and divided into tranches of (1) the risk and the likelihood of default is too high; a.k.a. the soup is too hot; (2) the risk is a little lower, but the return is not expected to be high enough, a.k.a. the soup is too cold; and (3) the risk of default looks low, but the returns look high, a.k.a. the soup is just right.

What happened, though, was that although these tranches looked “just right,” nobody actually tasted the soup to see if that was true. Rather, they relied on a credit rating agency to tell them what kind of soup they were eating and if the temperature was appropriate. So, Wall Street, instead of trying the soup, opted to have it fed through a tube in their stomachs. They had no idea how hot or cold the soup was that was being pumped into their system. When they recommended the soup to other investors, the investors assumed that Wall Street had tested their soup. They themselves did not taste the soup; rather, more feeding tubes were inserted as the soup was passed around the market. This pattern flooded our markets and eventually, it turned out that the soup was not worth the ingredients used to make it. The soup was toxic.

As all of our soup connoisseurs began to realize that their soup was not worth a thing, they began taking out insurance policies to protect the value of their soup stockpiles called credit default swaps. Enter AIG. When it was discovered that the soup was worthless, AIG could not afford to pay all of the insurance accounts that now had a claim. There were too many people with spoiled soup. AIG did not have enough money to cover the tab.  “In effect they had bet on themselves with borrowed money, a gamble that had paid off in good times but proved catastrophic in bad.”

This is not where our story ends, though. Uncle Sam rode in on a white horse and promised billions of tax payer dollars. Uncle Sam exclaimed,

“Old white men of Wall Street, it doesn’t matter what you do.

We’ll bail you out, we’ll figure it out. We don’t care about all those you screwed.

You’re too big to fail and we need you too much.

We’ll front you some money to use as a crutch.

The tax payers have your back, and we know they’ll agree,

America: where white men can steal and get off scot-free.”

~Lindsey Mears, 2015

Crash the global economy with your greed? Forgiven.

Credit Card Debt in America

Credit card debt in the United States is valued at approximately $60 billion. What happens to ordinary American people who spend too much money on their credit cards and cannot pay it back? If you spend recklessly (or out of necessity) on your credit card, there are a variety of programs available in order to lower, and even absolve, your debt. You can renegotiate your interest rates, stop making monthly payments until the credit card company deems your account to be “uncollectible,” offer a settlement to your credit card company or collections agency, or file for bankruptcy and have your debt eliminated entirely. Sure, if you file for bankruptcy, your credit will be ruined for seven years and this is not something to take lightly. Compared to 25 years, however, it seems like a walk in the park.

Can’t afford your credit card payments? Forgiven.

The Hand That Holds Us Down

Federal student loan debt, on the other hand, can only be forgiven in four practical ways. I will cover the details of the various repayment options on student loans in a later post but the four following options have the most practical applicability for most students wanting to have their student loan debt forgiven.

1. Student loans may be forgiven after 10 years of public service work. Some of the jobs that qualify for this program are public school teachers, police officers, public defenders, etc.

2. Die. Death will absolve federal student loans (assuming your parents did not cosign).

3. A student can attempt to have her loans eliminated through the bankruptcy process. But unlike credit card debt, it is extremely difficult to have your student loan debt forgiven through bankruptcy. Unlike a bankruptcy proceeding involving credit card debt, however, in addition to filing for bankruptcy, a student must undertake another separate process for the discharge of her student loans.  This increases the cost of the bankruptcy proceeding. Then, to make matters worse, the student must then show “undue hardship” to have their loans forgiven. Three factors are considered to show undue hardship.

  1. If you are forced to repay the loan, you would not be able to maintain a minimal standard of living.
  2. There is evidence that this hardship will continue for a significant portion of the loan repayment period.
  3. You made good-faith efforts to repay the loan before filing bankruptcy (usually this means you have been in repayment for a minimum of five years).

The problems with this test are readily apparent. What is a “minimal standard of living,” who gets to decide what is minimally acceptable? What evidence can a person present that hardship will continue for a “significant portion of the loan repayment period”? What is significant and insignificant? Are we not just asking students to predict their own future? Finally, did you make a “good-faith effort” to repay your loan—for at least five years—before you filed for bankruptcy? Does that mean all of the payments have to be on time? Or, does that mean that you just really tried to make those payments for five years even if you never succeeded?

Each judge presented with these factors attempts to apply them with the best of their ability, but inconsistency is rampant in this area of the law. And some brave judges are writing new rules of their own. Unfortunately, it is still the rare exception and not the rule.

4. A student may switch to an income based repayment plan that forgives the remaining debt balance at the end of a 20-25 year repayment period. Even though these new repayment options have been touted by the Obama administration, this law does not do what you think.

If you still have a balance on your loans at the end of that term, you are taxed on the remaining balance, plus your income. Here is a great explanation of this phenomenon by Jantz Hoffman of Advantage Group, “Let’s say your debt has grown to $180,000 over 20 years, and by that point, you’re making $120,000[.] If $180,000 is being forgiven, then you are looking at paying taxes on $300,000 in total income in one year. At that point, you’re over the $250,000 income category, my friend.”

By using current tax rates, a single student who makes $120,000/year and has a remaining student loan balance of $180,000, that student’s out-of-pocket tax liability would be approximately $33,166. I married student’s tax burden would be approximately $39,710.

Lindsey Mears, 2015

Lindsey Mears, 2015

Remember, that on your $120,000 salary, you are having taxes withheld from your paycheck and most people do not owe more taxes in April. Instead, most Americans look forward to their tax refund every year. Thus, in addition to the taxes you have withheld every pay check, you would owe an additional $35,000+ in taxes the year that your student loans are finally “forgiven.” Who has that kind of cash lying around?

There is literally no escaping this debt for the majority of students. We came out of school in debt because we could not afford our tuition. If we cannot afford to pay off our loans we may have our balance “forgiven” so long as we follow the strict rules in place to achieve this goal.  In the meantime, we will hope that we stay healthy, that we can continue to work. We will abstain from taking vacation and will work ourselves to the bone trying to make ends meet.

Then, if we can make it 20-25 years in this pattern without keeling over, the U.S. government will finally “forgive” our ballooned student loan balance. Then, to add insult to injury, the federal government will tax our forgiven balance as income.

The structure of this program tells you everything you need to know about the higher education crisis in America. A remaining student loan balance at the end of a 25-year repayment term–a quarter of a century–is a product of financial distress over a 20-25 year period. We have millions of college students that will still be paying their student loans off well into their forties and fifties. How can we expect them to ever save for retirement, raise children, invest in real estate and purchase more than bare essentials?

If we finally get desperate enough and file for bankruptcy, we run the risk of ruining our credit scores and walking out of the court room with an unchanged student loan balance. Where else do you go if you have already been through the arduous process of bankruptcy to find relief? A judge has decided you are not suffering quite enough yet to be forgiven for your crime of seeking an education. Don’t let the door hit ya’ where the good Lord split ya’.

How Big is this Problem?

Student loan debt in America is estimated to exceed $1.2 trillion and the cost of college tuition is still rising at an alarming rate. To illustrate how obscene that number is, credit card debt in this country is equal to 5% of $1.2 trillion.  If we invested in bailing out all Americans with student loans, it would cost approximately 8% of the total price of the Wall Street bailout.

Lindsey Mears, 2015

Lindsey Mears, 2015

They may not be able to put you in jail for defaulting on your student loans, but in America needing help to pay for a college education is an offense punishable by a lifetime of insurmountable debt. College students have committed no crime by seeking an education. Unlike Wall Street, we have done nothing that warrants punitive consequences.

It is time to send a message. WE are too big to fail.