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Debt Stories | Occupied Stories

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Another Government-Backed Swindle

I originally borrowed $20,000 from a 4 year college . I worked night shift in an urban hospital as a phlebotomist. The hospital was reimbursing the cost of some of my classes. One semester I had a 4.0 GPA and received a letter from the president of the university as well as from a state senator. In 1992, I dropped out of college to care for my mother, dying 6 weeks later from cancer. At the time I was planning on returning to college and finish my degree in nursing, physical therapy, or athletic training.

On a bike tour in Northern New Mexico,  I met a pilot that inspired me to become a commercial pilot. Upon returning to Ohio I began flying at a local airport with the intention of becoming a professional pilot. Knowing I needed a high-paying occupation to pay off my already accumulated student loans, I researched pilots salaries and learned pilots salaries approach $85,000 within 3-4 years after school. Wages for more experience was reported up to $150,000 after gaining 10-15 years. I always thought the loans would be insignificant compared to the initial cost. I was in top physical shape, and possessed an excellent demeanor for the rigors  of flying.

I contacted a number of out of state schools, but was sold by recruiters from a community college in Colorado. I moved to  Colorado in June 1994 and waited one year to begin my flight training, in order to avoid out of state tuition. I finished most all the ground classes including instrument, flight engineer, and commercial. I passed my FAA CATS instrument rating with a 94%, which is reported as the most difficult for pilots. I was on the dean’s list and had a 3.13 GPA. I received my Private Pilot Certificate
in 1996, and passed my first stage of my instrument training when the college advised me that they could no longer secure financing to continue my training. Since I had no other way to finish my training, I realized I had become the victim of a bait and switch scheme.

I have resorted to living with/imposing on various family members. I have paid $6,270. I currently owe $90,044.81 plus a reported $30,000 in collections fees. I am now 56 years of age and have been robbed of the chance to have any quality of life. I have not been able to get married and have children, and I consider what happened to me to be tantamount to genocide by financiers/ school officials. My estimate of the the wages I have lost over this period would be in excess of $1,000,000. Is the system that corrupt that the public doesn’t recognize that justice needs to be served for the miserable conditions these criminals  shamelessly cause?

In an article bemoaning the value of a college education, a Massachusetts attorney commented that when he needed a plumber/tradesman, he can’t call a person with a degree in social work. Given his arrogance, I challenge this Sturbridge attorney, when needing a package overnighted, a vacation flight for his family, or  a flight to attend a professional obligation, to consider calling another attorney. What makes this idiot think that his career is worthy of more merit than another occupation? This reminds me of
financiers/political officials that attempt to harbor shame on harder working individuals than themselves. My father warned me when I was a child that there are people in this world that are so crooked, they would need to be screwed into the ground when they die. The federal government had no business getting involved in funding higher education in the first place.

-Wright Way Corrigan-

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I’m Proud of My Debt

My main complaint is that those who need cheap loans the most get quoted the highest interest rates based on poor credit ratings.  This ought to be addressed by the banking sector – it is totally counterproductive.  I’m proud of my debt.  I use zero interest credit cards for monthly purchases each month and clear them at month’s end.  I’m busy looking for a lower interest loan to replace an existing high interest small building loan, also used for debt consolidation.  I’m sucessfully reducing my overdraft by a small monthly amount.  I’m repaying another handed over overdraft by arrangement at a small amount per month, ditto a council rent in advance loan, ditto some rent arrears, ditto utilities arrears.  I recently cleared a small personal loan and hope to do the same with a second one soon.  I am only just this month free from late penalties on all my monthly payments.  I’d love a low or zero interest loan if anyone knows where to find one!  DEFAULTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I am glad to take responsibility for my debts, but really resent the crippling interest which exacerbates my problems.

-Anonymous-

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Don’t Listen to High School Counselors

I graduated from high school in the top 10%. Of course I was going to go to college. I turned down the full scholarship to any of the community colleges in town because I wanted to go to the big university. Maybe that was a mistake. I got the Pell grant and took out loans to go to the university for art. That was my special talent, why wouldn’t I develop it? It was the 80’s and no one advised me except school counselors. They tell everyone with good grades to go to college and they tell you it doesn’t matter what kind of degree you get as long as you get one.

I went for a year and dropped out. Not really sure why now, but I got a job painting tiles with a small family business. I stayed in that job for almost 8 years. I was happy until I realized it wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t making enough money to pay the student loan, so I deferred. Maybe I paid on it for a year or so.

After a few more dead end jobs I decided to return to school and finish my degree in art. I had found my love, ceramics. Science and art, awesome! I graduated with honors in 1998. But by then manufacturing jobs, especially anything having to do with ceramics, had been shipped to Korea, Vietnam and China. All the businesses in town that made anything with clay was out of business. The only jobs in ceramics were teaching jobs at community art centers, community colleges and universities. I know everyone who has those jobs and they will die in those jobs, they know how lucky they are.

I was, however, able to get a studio tech job in one of those places. Part time with the city. It even had benefits. After a few years I again, felt like it was going no where. I wasn’t making enough money to pay the student loan and was feeling like I needed to do something drastic. I was also finding the summers in Arizona unbearable. Maybe mistake number 2.

So, I moved to Portland, the opposite of Arizona and went to engineering school, the opposite of my bent. That’s the ticket, I thought. Even with a 2 year degree I could find a better paying job than I had in Arizona. I was going to remake myself.

I hated it, I was miserable. I felt like the people in my classes didn’t understand me. They were so linear and didn’t get my jokes and snickered at me because I asked so many questions. As Barbie said, “math is hard”. My grades were fine, a mixed bag of A’s, B’s and C’s. But, I was not able to find enough financial support to get through without getting a job, and I needed all of my spare time to study. I could do math but it didn’t come easy to me.

So, I dropped out and got a job as a courier. My student loans were probably up to $30,000 or more by this time. The courier job wasn’t even paying enough to pay the interest so, I kept deferring and forbearing. Plus, Portland was not a cheap city to live in like Phoenix was. And I stress the WAS.

I moved back to Phoenix where I had friends and connections. I thought I could get a job at the one and only ceramic supply store in town. Hell, I have a degree in ceramics and I had been shopping there for years and knew most of their products. I asked for $12/hr and was offered $10/hr. This was 2004. Phoenix wasn’t so cheap anymore because of the housing bubble plus, there was that nagging student loan. They wouldn’t budge.

I ended up getting a job with a faux finish painter. She paid me well as an independent contractor but the work wasn’t steady. I still was not able to pay anything on the student loan. When the housing bubble burst in 2008 there was not enough work to keep me employed and I was competing with other faux finish painters for work. I again, had to remake myself. I could see that anything in the arts was not viable anymore.

Somehow, I got into organic farming. “Hey, there you go”, I said to myself. People always need to eat and “green” is up and coming. Seemed like a good direction. I got a job with a small organic farm and became farm manager. I did everything except the tractor work and the computer work. EVERYTHING. I wasn’t getting paid much but it was a bare minimum and I was learning how to farm! And I was able to buy my house at a smokin’ deal because of the burst housing bubble. I was happier than I’d ever been. I was being creative and doing good things for the Earth and people. I loved it even though it was hard work out in the heat.

But, I lost that job this past October, 2012 because the owner had mismanaged the money. We knew he was a screw up but since he didn’t interfere with us we figured we could work around him and build the business ourselves. Since then I have worked for 2 other small organic farms, briefly, and I found both of them to be highly exploitive. Terrible work conditions. I was not willing to sacrifice my body and health at this age for very little money.

And still, that nagging student loan looms and grows. Last time I checked it was over $60,000. That was a few years ago. As of yet, I haven’t had the experiences some others have had of garnished wages or anything like that. I try to keep up on deferring and forbearing. That’s how I was able to get this house, is because I have kept up with that. But I worry that I will lose my lovely house or something worse. I can’t imagine losing my house. It has given me a semblance of stability.

My mother is getting old and will need help very soon. I’m still unemployed. I have a weird work history and it’s difficult to find a job here in Arizona that pays a decent wage (right to work for less, you know). Going back to school is not an option. I just got an email from a grocery store where I applied for a cashiers job and they told me I was “unqualified”. Really? I have a fucking degree and lots of work experience. Couldn’t they have said over qualified? If there is a job that is unskilled out there it is cashier. They don’t even have to count back change anymore.

I am talented, smart and skilled and I have somehow fallen through the cracks. Reading others stories, I don’t feel so alone. How is it that so many useful people have become useless and desperate? I see so many short sighted and stupid people doing so much better than me. I don’t understand.

-KPea-

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Back Taxes, et cetera

I’m college educated, but never felt comfortable applying to the white-collar world.  So, I scuffled by for some years as a cook and then joined the carpenters union–in part, for reasons of “activism”, fight for the labor cause, yada yada–about 13 years ago.  That was pretty good up until latter ’07, when the bottom dropped out real fast.

I have had to go non union since then, but private sector work here in the small towns of New England is sketchy for rank and file tradesmen.  I was on UI for a year or so and otherwise have been able to piece together a couple years worth of work at about 1/3 the pay and no benefits:  it’s all 1099 now, which is technically illegal, and can be likened to a migrant labor mentality: seasonal and serving the extremely rich who, with their huge, relatively uninhabited estates, occupy most the land in a feudalistic way.

Anyway, regarding the debt.  Well, since the decline, I have basically been living paycheck to paycheck for subsistence only, have been homeless a bit and using food pantries here and there.  When work is happening I can get by okay at this level, with pretty much zero “discretionary” money available:  raw survival.

I didn’t file my taxes over some of those years because I knew I didn’t have the cash to pay the government and basically have been in a mode of resistance about it.  Plus, I have some CC and other basic bill type stuff that I basically blew off as well, for lack of funds and need to eat and such.

A couple months ago I was driving home and got randomly scanned by a cop and, long story short, turns out my license had been suspended for “back taxes owed to the state”–unbelievable.  Well, that is, as I’m sure you all can understand, a direct attack on my survival–no car–and, combined with work being cut back to next to nothing, has pretty much shot me out of the water.  Borderline homeless again and some days without eating much.

It takes some up front cash to initiate some sort of deal with the state–to get the process going, lawyer, probably–and, well, I haven’t had that.

I haven’t believed in the “system” for some years and that’s part of my problem I guess, as there is certainly the unavoidable shame and sense of isolation, powerlessness, and for me, a tendency toward some fairly serious depression.

I’m near 53 and am of the harsh realization that perhaps my life is destroyed for the duration.  Maybe it’s the fact that I recognize the system as a farce, that things are therefore not necessarily my fault in the end, and that keeps my head afloat, but at the same time hunger is very real.

This “Strike Debt” thing, well, sounds good–have no idea how and if it is working.  I get tired of listened to the talking heads giving their analyses of the situation.  Most of them seem to be making a living at that.  I am old enough to see that most movements haven’t done much to change anything.

-Bourne-

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Heartbroken and Defeated

By trade, I’m a high school teacher and had, since 2009, been working in some schools that would scare the slacks off Tom Berenger in The Substitute.

I’ve been laid off for over six months and have not been able to find work anywhere; I literally can’t even get a call back from Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  I’ve exhausted my UI benefits and just received a 14 week extension and that’s only if Congress approves the funding by Dec. 31.

I’ve done everything I can to cut expenses.  I gave up my new car for a 15 year-old car with more than 200k miles and a lot more problems, reduced my cell phone plan to the cheapest available, moved into a studio apartment that offers week-to-week rent, been rolling my own cigarettes and getting many food from food pantries.

I’m so depressed and Sallie Mae is relentless.  They won’t stop calling and, despite what they say, they’re completely unwilling to work with me at all.

My debt is preventing me from so many things I want to do in my life, and my girlfriend of two years won’t marry me because of my student loan debt and I don’t blame her.  I’m 27 and I’m worse off now than when I was 17 and that is not hyperbole.  At least at 17 I was working and had no debt.  The right-wing Oligarchs or Plutocrats (six one, half dozen the other in this country anymore) who keep spouting off about low marriage rates among young people and the high marriage failure rate need to re-examine the leading causes of both these phenomenon: IT’S DEBT!

Next time I hear someone say something cliché like “tighten your belt strap,” “pull on your boots,” or “just get a job,” I’m going to kick their teeth in.

Things just keep compounding, pun definitely intended–if you catch my drift.  I can’t cut any more from my budget between rent, gas, and the groceries I need to purchase because they aren’t at the food pantry and I have no money.

So, I’ve lost my job, and instead of flexibility or compassion the vulture capitalists line up at my door trying to get as much out of me is possible before the next one can push through.

I’m at my end.  My student loan is crushing.  It is literally stripping my life away. I can’t get ahead because of it and it is preventing me from ever achieving any sort of economic security.

-Andrew Breen-

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Crushed by Debt

Born into a middle class family who owned a mom & pop grocery store operating on a cash basis, you may not realize it but you’re taught that cash is king. Qualifications for loans or credit cards were never discussed. The real world is quite different on your own, parents deceased, store gone, just a working stiff trying to live the American dream. Land contract you thought bought your house is defaulted on by mortgagee and about to be foreclosed. IRS wants payment plan? Under water is not a reasonable term, more like frozen in ice. Credit report agencies won’t budge, a three way triplecross. What are my chances?

-Jon Tucci-

 

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Drowning in Debt

I am 40 years old and earned a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling in August 2011.  I earned my BA in Psychology in 2004.  My BA offered almost no opportunities for employment, especially a respectable living wage, so I decided to further my education.  The economy was sliding in 2008 when I made the decision to return to school, and I figured that by the time I earned a higher degree, the economy would be in a turnaround and I would have increased my chances of finding a career. Just not the case.  Due to the current laws and insurance policies, my degree is all but worthless.  I cannot bill insurance  Medicaid or Medicare for services until I complete 3,000 hours under a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, LPC, or LCSW. The problem is that I cannot bill, so no one wants to hire me, or even let me volunteer my time. I sit with over $90,000.00 in student loan debt, of which I must keep applying for hardship forbearance as my waitressing money does not afford me the money to stay on top of my bills and keep my family fed and housed.  So the interest keeps adding on, and I keep falling further into debt.  Take my degrees back and forgive my debt. I was better off 20 years ago as a waitress with no federal loans.  I am unsure if I should be pushing my children toward college or telling them to run away from it!  What a sad state of affairs.

-Jen C.-

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I Take Your Stuff…

On the weekend of the Occupy Wall Street anniversary I attended a meeting of the Strike Debt assembly in New York. The meeting was a book release for The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, but also a working meeting to get input from all that attended. At the onset of the meeting a couple of people shared their personal stories of debt with the group. This sharing of stories was intended to address the shame, frustration and fear that many feel in connection with their debt. I could understand the logic here, but I found myself having a very strong reaction to the idea of shame being a common reference point for our discussion of debt. I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t think it fit within this construct. I’m in debt, but it is not shame that I feel, it is outrage. I don’t buy into the common American debt narrative: you are in debt because you bought something you couldn’t afford, because you were living beyond your means, because you are lacking in personal responsibility, because you are lazy, etc. The underlying idea here is that debt is a product of choice. But debt is about much more than choice, it is a deliberate and coercive means of control.

After several people involved with Strike Debt had spoken about different aspects of the project, a facilitator asked us come up with a question concerning debt to be posed to the group. I wasn’t really sure how to frame my question, but I was eager to offer my input and get some feedback. So when the mic came around to me I asked, “How does debt relate to theft of resources by 1% corporations?” When corporations go into countries and steal resources to sell them on the global market, often back to those they originally stole them from, how does this relate to debt? The facilitators wrote down the questions people had posed, inviting us to break out into smaller groups and choose one of the questions to discuss. The group I was part of was interested in discussing several of the questions, one participant even adding a question of her own to the list. A few people in the group were particularly interested in the question I had posed and asked me to elaborate on it. I appreciated their interest and enthusiasm, but at the time I felt reluctant to do so. I was much more interested in engaging in dialogue and listening, than in elaborating on my question. Deference to leadership is common within our culture, a show of respect for those who appear knowledgeable and capable (or, in seeming contradiction to the origin of this nation, are divinely appointed). When this is coupled with individual ownership of ideas, another root tenet of our culture, it can be difficult to contribute to a conversation without appearing attached to the ideas one contributes. But if we are truly looking to evolve “our” ideas, and not simply own the soap box, perhaps we should be seeking to free them from ownership, to let them exist independent of individual ego and belief, to invite and encourage modification of the ideas through alternative perspectives.

When it comes to movement building I have always been a big proponent of broadening our focus to include allies internationally, to more objectively understand and address the obstacles we face, as well as to learn and share successful strategies for moving forward. While focusing on a single issue may seem like good strategy for mobilizing a specific group of people affected by and passionate about that particular issue, it can also create a kind of tunnel-vision, blinding us to the broader interconnectedness of multiple issues affecting our larger community. Similarly, we can become trapped inside our own cultural identities, unable to recognize that many of the obstacles we face are a function of these identities. Inclusion of alternative perspectives, free of this cultural bias, can often allow us to see past these obstacles.

International debt relief has been a focus of the global justice movement for many years, but that concept of debt appears quite different from the American (USA) model. It occurs to me that the major difference here is this American illusion of “choice.” When a Bolivian farmer is made to choose between paying for water or feeding his family – is this really a “choice”? When our seniors are made to choose between heating their homes or medicine to keep them alive – is this really a “choice”? When our youth are made to choose between getting an education or supporting their families – is this really a “choice”? All of these “choices” have something in common: resources that have been privatized and then sold off to make a profit. The corporations and financial entities (and governments that empower them) that have privatized (stolen) these resources have no intrinsic right to them and may have even received public subsidies to extract and/or refine them. We  are so indoctrinated into a system of individual ownership in the US, the very concept of “property” enshrined in our Constitution, that we can scarcely conceive of the commons belonging to us. When we provide our labor, why do we not conceive of it as a resource? When we speak of success, why is it not as a function of the combined labor (physical and intellectual) of those who have come before us? When the air, water and land we need to live is jeopardized by corporate abuse, why do we not simply take it away from them? Even our genetic information, the very mystery of life itself, is but another resource to privatize and commodify. Key here is that, once the resources have been extracted, the people will require assistance to make up for the loss to their economies, their livelihoods, their ability to provide for their people’s basic needs. And, as if on cue, in swoops the benevolent benefactor (you know – the same one that stole all your stuff moments ago) to generously provide that needed assistance – at a price…

So how can we recast this American debt narrative of “choice” to be more in line with the one that is known throughout the world? One person in our break out group suggested that we might come up with a sort of overarching metaphor, something to cut through all the complicated financial bs that insulates debt from critique. I mentioned something about native cultures’ conception of land as communal, a gift from the creator, rather than as some thing to be owned. It got me thinking that a deeper look at the concept of ownership itself might be helpful when examining debt. As the break out groups were called on to report back to the larger meeting, I quickly jotted this down in my notebook:

I take your stuff, then I make you pay for it. I take the lion’s share then I make you fight for the crumbs. Then I offer you a “loan” to make up for your loss. Then I sell your debt/use it to make even more money.

I’m not an expert in finance or debt. I have a BFA, not an MBA. But swimming in this financial cesspool of intentional obfuscation, perhaps more expert testimony is not what we need. Perhaps a bit of intuitive common sense instead. When the banking/brokerage kings of finance are allowed to sell 30-40 times more debt (most of it in bundled home mortgages) than they can back up with actual cash money (liquid assets), turning profit on every sale along the way, knowing full well that our taxes will bail their asses out when the junk debt they’re selling goes belly up; maybe we need to be looking beyond the paltry sums that we “owe” them – to the massive amounts of profit they make dealing “our” debt. Whatever we decide to focus on, we should keep in mind: it is only through our common consent to their hoarding of our resources, that we remain indebted to them.

-Thomas-

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Same Old Story

After graduating High school, I was young and brash, and definitely not interested in further schooling.  I was also an excellent musician and knew with absolute certainty that I would eventually make my living as a musician and performer.

At the age of 23, after a series of dream and soul-crushing factory temp jobs, I decided to attend college for music education.

I still have the unshakeable belief that I will be a musician, but decided that it would be good to have a backup career in a field that I love.

I attended university for three years, and was rejected from the school of music there three times (the reason I was given for one rejection was that my hair was too long, but that is an entirely different story).  I auditioned and applied at two further schools and was outright rejected from both.

Frustrated, I withdrew from college, finally beginning to realize just how hopeless my situation was becoming.  My original $10k in student loan debt has skyrocketed.  The only jobs available to someone in my situation around here are through temp agencies, who 1) run credit checks for their “better” jobs, and 2) hold you to impossibly strict attendance and performance regulations (O once worked 14 hour days for 8 days straight; I was fired on the ninth day for being 15 minutes late to work in 16 inches of snow).

Now, I receive monthly notices and multiple-times-daily, seven-day-a-week phone calls from no fewer than five collection agencies (two of which claim to be authorized to collect the same debt).

I refuse to answer the phone, I throw away the notices unopened.  They can sue me if they like, I have nothing left to give.

I’m 30 years old, single, and live with my mother.  I have no life and no future, and it’s all because I was too stupid to realize just what I was getting myself into.  All I can do now is try to help expose our current education-financial system for what it is: a predatory method of enslavement that replaces shackles and chains with dollar signs.

-Dustin-

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Senior Citizens are Bound to College Loan Debt unto Death They Do Part

I took out a student loan of $4,000, for my son when he was still in college–he’s now forty-three years old, so you do the arithmetic.

The principal is now well over $10,000. I now draw social security and am required by law to send a percentage of my (meager) monthly social security check to Sallie Mae towards the interest on that student loan for the remainder of my days on planet earth–unless and until the president of the U.S. grants me a discharge of obligation.

Student loans cannot be discharged under bankruptcy. One can be old, broken and homeless and still be required to repay their student loan.

We need to start a movement to have the president discharge college loan debts (parent or student) of any senior citizen whose sole source of income is social security.

I’d volunteer for that!

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