Vice News had a fascinating, and kind of disturbing, article on Americans who moved to Europe to avoid paying back their student loan debt obligations. While I get it that it sucks to start off life with tens of thousands – in insane cases hundreds of thousands – of dollars worth of debt, the attitude of entitlement and absurd immaturity that comes off of these four case studies is oddly strange. The mental gymnastics going on to justify their behaviour is fascinating – it’s like watching some add one plus one and trying to justify it being five. Here’s my analysis, with full colour commentary and analysis.
Case Study #1
First up was Brian, age 29, who has $40,000 of student loan debt. He moved to Germany after graduation because of anxiety over paying off his loans. The most insane thing he says?
I really, truly, honestly don’t want to pay it back. Sure, I realize the responsibility I took when I signed the papers and agreed to take out the loans, but I should have never had to do it in the first place. I feel some sort of civic duty not to pay them back, as if my small protest will make any kind of difference…
I think I know two friends that have completely paid off their loans and have received an awesome amount of confidence because of it. I am very proud of them, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. I would rather spend my money on things that I need like food and shelter than to give it back for a service that should have been provided for me.
In these 3 short sentences, the level of entitlement that oozes from this makes me want to punch myself in the face.
I mean, this is like saying:
I really, truly, honestly don’t want to work but still want to get paid money. Sure, I realize that a responsible adult understands that they aren’t owed anything in life and have to go out and make a living, but I shouldn’t have to go work in the first place. I feel some sort of civic duty not to work and get paid money, and this is my small protest to “the man” that might make some kind of difference…
I think I know two friends who work and make money and have received an awesome amount of confidence because of it. I am very proud of them, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. I would rather receive money by not doing work and then spend it on things that I don’t need like dining out and tech gadgets than to actually go out and find work because society should have handed everything to me on a silver platter.
The absurdity that I wrote above is basically what I heard when I read what Brian had to say. It blows my mind.
Case Study #2
Next, we have Vanessa, age 29, who has $45,000 of student loan debt. She took out the loan with her mom as the co-signer on some of the loans. She also moved to Germany after graduation. Her insightful thoughts?
The only reason that I’ve ever worried about the debt from the private lenders is because it affects my parents. I don’t give a shit about the loans in my name. A year ago, I was working at a fancy restaurant in Berlin and made a lot of money in tips. For about ten months, I was paying some of the loans, but I don’t have that job anymore so I had to stop.
Debt collectors haven’t badgered me in Berlin. They haven’t found me in Germany. But when I go home, my phone rings non-stop. I always think it’s an old friend trying to hang out with me, but it’s really Sallie Mae. It rings like every hour…
I realized that we weren’t thinking about the debt when we were signing up for school. And sometimes I think living in New York City and going to a private university maybe wasn’t the best idea. I could have gone somewhere else and gotten a political science or history degree and only been in $50,000 dollars worth of debt. But I’m happy that I got that education. It’s the education I wanted.
If I don’t have the money, then I don’t have the money to pay for loans. I need to eat and live and not be a slave to this debt. But I’m scared. When I look back, I wonder what I could have done differently.
There’s so much going on in this one that I don’t even know where to begin. I mean… two adults, one younger and one older, both signed documents accepting money from a financial institution with conditions attached. I don’t understand where the misunderstanding is on the fact that you promised to pay back what you borrowed.
Case Study #3
Mario, age 34, at $160,000 or more in student loan debt. This one is shocking because when you hear about student loan debt amounts this high, it’s typically for a doctor or lawyer. No, Mario went to film school.
I just feel bad for Mario. That is an insane amount of money to have taken out to go to film school.
The craziest part? His parents co-signed for the loan, and then once he decided to move to Europe and not pay it back, his parents transferred their home to his sister’s name so that the creditors could not potentially seize it.
Then his closing nugget of wisdom is for people to study abroad.
Case Study #4
Zoe, age 31, with $35,000 in student loan debt. Surprise, she also moved to Europe to avoid paying off her student loan debt.
When I left, I had maybe $24,000 in loans. My intention was to get forbearance for like a year and then start paying the loans. And I knew I would be paying the loans until at least my late 30s…
After school, I went through my grace period and forbearance application and started paying the loans off. I was working and had a really good job. I think I was paying like $100 or $150 a month. I decided my senior year that I would move abroad after graduation. The last six months in the States I wanted to get all of my loans in order because I knew I wasn’t going to be paying them when I moved to Europe.
Once I moved abroad, though, I just stopped paying. Once you move abroad, you just kind of turn off that whole part of your life off. They can’t touch you; you’re elusive. But they started calling my parents, my grandparents, my past employers. And I was just living my life in Europe, kind of oblivious to it.
It wasn’t until about six months ago that I started paying my loans again. I realized that I’m 30 and I just can’t dip out on my loans forever. And maybe I’ll want to move back to America at some point. I don’t want to have this burden if I do.
The past two years I’ve been banking on this rumored Obama loan forgiveness bill that still hasn’t really been passed. I guess I’ll continue at this rate until they go away? I don’t mean until I pay them off. I mean until the government’s like, “You don’t have to pay those loans anymore, you millennial! We know you’re not good for it.”
Zoe had the most sane story of the bunch, which isn’t saying much. Let’s see… she only had $24,000 in debt when she finished school. She apparently had a really good job, which allowed her to pay “like $100 or $150 a month”. This one is strange because either you didn’t have a really good job or your priorities with your money were somewhere else because paying a $100 to $150 a month is not going to be making a dent on your principal outstanding when you are paying off a combination of interest and principal.
Then she decided to leave her really good job to go to Europe. Then she decided that going to Europe was like the grown-up version of that saying in childhood where if you have a girlfriend but hook up with another girl in a different area code, it doesn’t count as cheating.
The kicker is that she comes around eventually to realize that it might be a good idea to pay off her debt obligation. But then this streak of intelligence is broken by fantasies of Obama forgiving her loan obligations.
Those of you that have been around here know that I once had $54,000 worth of student loans. I got a job and paid it off. Yes, I had similar thoughts that ran through my head like these four: oh woe is me; how unfair that I have to pay back all these tens of thousands of dollars I agreed to as an adult to take on; university didn’t hand me a job on a silver platter so why should I have to pay back money I borrowed; etc, etc.
While in moments of weakness I allowed myself to indulge in these perfectly immature and deluded fantasies, I never for a second entertained the thought that I would skip town to avoid paying back my obligations. Avoiding my obligations was never in the picture.
I fully admit I had a strong support network – something that some people may not have – that accelerated the payment of the loans, chiefly my parents allowing me to move back into my childhood bedroom, rent free, so that I could focus on aggressively paying back as much as possible. If I didn’t have that support from my parents, the loans probably would have taken 4 to 5 years to pay off at the rate I was paying.
Nevertheless, my focus would still have been paying off my loan obligations, not skipping town to avoid my obligations. While this is only a case study of 4 people, and I imagine that most student loan borrowers diligently pay back the debt that they assumed, I worry about people in my generation who possess the attitudes displayed above.
Who would hire people with this type of attitude? In fact, who would want to marry or commit to long term relationships with someone displaying such brazen entitlement and immature thoughts? It’s a little disturbing. I can’t imagine you find success in life with the recipe these four are indulging in.
Being an adult means you accept the consequences of your actions. In this case, as an adult, you signed documents with an institution stating that they would extend you money that you didn’t have so that you could pursue what you wanted to do, with the catch being that once you were done doing what you wanted to do, you were obligated to pay back all that money you didn’t own back to the institution with an interest rate attached. It was all laid out there in the documents you signed. No one pulled a fast one on you. You signed the papers with all the small print detailing what the obligations were. By signing, you accepted responsibility of your actions.
From the four case studies Vice News presented, all I see are lazy, entitled young adults who possess a distorted view of reality.