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Please Make Payment In Full

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr tosses occasional and minimal scraps to ordinary people, but as US President his real job is to serve the needs and desires of the moneyed class. That's why forgiveness of student loan debt is simply not on Biden's agenda.

I never went to college, so I never had student loans, but I have some second-hand experience with that racket.

Stephanie, my wife, went to college on a scholarship, but she needed loans for grad school, and she made payments on those loans through her 20s, 30s, and 40s. It was an expense we couldn't afford, but she felt (and legally was) obligated, so she paid, and paid, and paid.

She's gone, but I'm here to tell you, student loans are absolutely a criminal enterprise. The victims are barely adults when they sign for the loans. They usually have little grasp of adult finances, and how the payments could impact their lives and budgets in ten, twenty years. 

The major difference between student loans and loan-sharking is that the Department of Education won't send someone to break your legs. We appreciated that distinction, but it wasn't much.

And good luck paying the loan for your college degree if you don't get a job in your degreed field — my wife never did. She was an office worker like me, but making loan payments as if she had a much higher income.

Most of Stephanie's payments went toward the interest, and the principle never seemed to go down. She renegotiated the payments twice, a bureaucratic process where they pretended to “help” by reducing the payments thirty bucks a month but adding five years to the term.

Her student debt was a factor in why we had to leave San Francisco — we couldn't afford rent plus her loan payments. It was why our vacations were always weekends and day trips, never two weeks in any far-from-home location. It was why we never bought a house. It was why her wheelchair was manual, not electric. Her student loans bled our budget, and even bankruptcy doesn't dissolve student loan debt, thanks to legislation backed by Senator Joe Biden.

Permanent disability is the only way out of student debt. If you become disabled, so that it's physically impossible for you to hold any job, then your student loan debt will be “forgiven.”

Well, Stephanie got kidney disease, which left her weak, eventually unable to walk, and took giant chunks of her time for dialysis. She couldn't work, so she won the grand prize — the debt for her student loans was canceled. Eventually.

We didn't have a lawyer to navigate the paperwork, so we didn't even know disability was a way out until almost a year after Steph was officially disabled. That year of payments certainly wasn't refunded, but after she'd filed the forms to satisfy the Department of Education that she was unemployable, four months later they “forgave” the debt. We celebrated with pizza and champagne we couldn't afford.

That's not the end of the story, though. There's one last gotcha. Stephanie may have known about this, because she handled the minutia of her student debt, but it was sure a surprise to me:

Even after her student loan debt had been abrogated due to permanent disability, she was still required to file paperwork annually, to re-certify that she was still permanently disabled.

The required annual filing date, to re-establish that Stephanie was still permanently disabled, came while she was in the hospital dying. I was unaware of it until months later, when I slowly and sadly started handling the many assorted legal tasks required after a death. In a stack of Steph's unopened mail was a letter from the US Department of Education, and I wondered what it could be, since her student loan debt had been canceled years earlier — right?

Ripped open the envelope, and imagine my surprise. It was dated two weeks before my wife had died. I burned the letter so this isn't a quote, but the gist of it was, 

“Dear Stephanie,

The deadline for re-certifying that you're still permanently disabled has passed, so your student loan debt has been reinstated. Please make payment in full of [more than the value of Stephanie's estate] immediately.”

Yeah, it wasn't even “resume the damned monthly payments.” The note had come due, and they demanded every dime, at once. The Department of Education is Mr. Potter's Bank from ‘It's a Wonderful Life.’

I wrote the fuckers a letter, barely able to restrain myself from opening with Dear Fuckers, and explained that my wife couldn't re-certify her permanent disability because she was dead.

They sent two more letters threatening to turn the debt over to a collection agency, but I didn't respond. Their third letter, their first acknowledgment of my letter to them, came three months later. Instead of demanding money, they demanded only a certified copy of my wife's death certificate.

Two months after I'd sent that, their next letter said that Stephanie's student loan debt was finally, really and truly canceled, again. It's been almost four years since her death, three years since her debt was “forgiven” the second time, and they haven't yet asked me to re-certify that she's permanently dead, so I guess my wife's student loan debt has finally been cleared. I'm still watching the mail for that next letter, though.

You either pay the money, or become disabled and stay disabled, or die. That's how student loans work. Hell of a racket, ain't it? And it sucks money straight from ordinary people to America's moneyed class, so Joe Biden isn't going to do anything about it.

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