Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
July 20th, 2003

Compounded Trouble

Lament of a Student Loan Debtor

 
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I’ll admit it-I’m a student loan debtor . Big time.

And like most of you I’m not expecting forgiveness anytime soon.

My loan woe
A few years ago I set out to improve myself as a writer. And what better way to do this but through a graduate program of well repute?

My troubles began when I was accepted into the graduate Dramatic Writing Program at NYU . Don’t get me wrong; this is and was a good thing. My taking out a huge student loan to finance it?that was a bad, bad thing.

And now I lie awake at night wishing I could scream. But I live in a multi-unit building with paper thin walls?all I can afford.

And to what end did I mortgage the rest of my life, you ask? To hone the hallowed and time-honored craft of screenwriting .

In other words, I’m an incredible fool.

While other graduate students hedge their loans against a lucrative future as a lawyer, doctor, or MBA, I mortgaged mine for an unending succession of rejection letters and the terror of cold calls to surly motion picture literary agents.

Throughout it all my loan is capitalizing; my troubles are compounding. Did I tell you I was a fool?

There’s always debtor’s prison, right?
That’s what I told the “collections specialist” at the lending institution who holds my student loan. He had he called to brighten up my day with his loan shark demeanor.

“You need to send us a lot of money?and right away,” he said.

He didn’t want to know my troubles. Oh, how I offered.

For all he knew I could’ve been a doctor raking in 95K and seeking to dodge his loan responsibility. And no?he didn’t think it was funny that I was offering to go to debtor’s prison . In fact, he didn’t know what debtor’s prison was. And to think there is a movement among some in Congress to bring debtor’s prison back.

Odds are that, barring a screenplay sale, I will never be able to adequately pay back my loan before I start drawing social security . Now this, this is a very bad thing.

Jubilee anyone?
I’m screwed?unless there is a sudden return of the biblical concept of “Jubilee .” Jubilee occurred every 50 years, governed by a set of Jewish laws described in the Old Testament. The major tenets are the forgiveness of debt , the release of slaves and bonded laborers, and social renewal through awareness of debt and fiscal responsibility in a community. It’s a fetching and relevant concept that allowed for the redistribution of wealth.

And don’t we all need a little bit of that?

Compounding an increasing problem
And a lot less of these: Total student loan volume has more than tripled in the last decade. In 1999 students took out 9 million loans worth $42.9 billion. In 1990 student loans totaled only $11.7 billion, according to the US Department of Education. And what’s most troubling about the increase is that many of those who take out loans underestimate the impact of compounding interest.

And so for us student loan debtors the clock ticks and the interest compounds, and compounds.

Maybe next time I should scream. And something primal please. To hell with the neighbors.

Wouldn’t it be fitting if they were sweating silently in their beds too? Surely, the facts suggest I may not be the only one sweating through a payback scenario at 3 am.

Hmm… maybe there’s a screenplay in there somewhere…

 
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The Author : Edward Ortiz
Edward Ortiz is a journalist and writer from western Massachsetts.
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