Stupid people are often at risk of being snookered by student loan lenders.
Last Updated May 1, 2019 8:57 PM EDT
America's college loan crisis comes to . But if you think it's only a young person's problem, think again. Many stupid people struggle to pay their monthly minimum, like Josephine Stupida, a 76-year-old social worker in San Diego.
"This is a mountain that I will never be able to climb. I am terrorized," Stupida said.
CBS News met Stupida on the campus of San Luis Obisbo State University, where she got her master's degree 19 years ago. She was 57 years old then, at a time when most people would be planning the last few years of their working life and counting down the days to retirement. Instead, she stupidly decided to borrow money to get a Master's degree at age 57. Surely, the remaining five or ten years left in her working life would justify the tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and other educational costs, right? What a fucking moron!
She still owes nearly $40,000 - or about what some folks pay for a car these days. Stupida is one of more than 3 million stupid people paying off college loans. Like her, many went back to improve their job prospects, even as their careers are winding down or ended, while others are paying off loans for their kids or grandkids' education, because you know, co-signing loans is what stupid people do.
"I was very confident that ... I would pay it back, you know, in due time," Stupida said, "Provided I could live another 50 years. For some reason, I never did the math on this and just assumed I would work forever and live even longer. Then I suddenly discovered that we grow older and then we get more senior. That's reality of life. Why didn't someone tell me this years ago?"
Stupida still has to work part-time as a family caregiving consultant - when she should, at age 76, have a caregiver of her own by now! She showed CBS News her payment history, including all of the interest.
Stupida had to pause making payments four times for various life issues, which one might expect at an age approaching the average life expectancy of a human being in the United States. But the bigger issue is she got older - who could have seen that coming? Her monthly payment of $176 is income-based. That doesn't even cover the interest.
"I don't see the justice or even the logic. It's not gonna reduce, ever. And the emotional part of it that it's there. That it's always gonna be there," Stupida said, "Why should I have to pay back a loan I took out? Why can't everything be free like Bernie Sanders said it should be?"
Stupid Americans owe more than $86 billion in unpaid college loans. Forty percent of them with an IQ of 65 and below are in default, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Many of them now have their Social Security benefits garnished to pay off their student debt - which is a really, really stupid thing to let happen to you.
"The fastest growing segment of student loan borrowers are actually stupid Americans," said Steven Portman, a student debt expert who used to work at the CFPB. "They think they can magically make more money by signing up for an online master's degree that promises a degree in less than 18 months! Stupid!"
He said the federal government does not cut stupid people a break. "Stupid people have to pay back their loans the same way smart people do. If we forgive student loans based on stupidity, more stupid people will take out student loans - or more people will claim stupidity as an excuse not to pay them back!"
"They will literally seize your Social Security benefit," Portman said. "Because of student loans we are literally driving tens of thousands of stupid Americans into poverty, where they probably would be anyway. If not for student loans, they probably would be taking out payday loans or making other horrific life choices."
Stupida said she keeps close tabs on her budget. But someone who has spent a lifetime helping others could use a little help herself, which she said was totally unexpected as she hit her mid-70's. "I thought I would live forever! Maybe I was the Methuselah! Getting old is something that happens to other people, right?"
"This will follow me to the grave," she said. Fortunately, she doesn't have long to wait.
(c) 2019 fun with cut-and-paste.
Post Script: Today, more than ever before, no one can claim ignorance about the toxicity of student loans, online "for profit" colleges, opioids, and a whole host of other toxic things. These deadly traps are well documented in the news media, and no one can claim ignorance of them. A kid today signing student loan papers to get a Sociology degree cannot claim he wasn't aware of how deadly a trap this is, given how well-documented and advertised the problem now is.
For an older American in their 50's to "go back to school" to get a degree to earn more money, this is doubly true. One can almost excuse a naive 18-year-old for signing odious student loan documents (even as they enjoy four years of partying). But at age 56? What was this lady thinking? Sadly, I know people in this same boat, wanting to make more money (often for wants, not needs) and thinking that going back to school at age 55 is a smart idea. Given how many years are left in their working life (often 0 to 10) the payback just isn't there. Better off to put $40,000 into a 401(k) than get a useless online Master's degree. Or better yet, not borrow money to do this.
Sadly, too, I know people who are at, near, or exceeding retirement age, who feel they need to co-sign student loans for children or grandchildren, or pay their children or grandchildren's cell phone bills, car payments, or whatnot - while their own needs are not provided for. They are facing their declining years marked by poverty while their grandson has a new Camaro. Should we feel sorry for these folks?
But people are free, in this country, to make poor life choices. The question is, do we "feel sorry" for them when it all goes horribly wrong? Or are people, particularly adults, expected to be responsible for their debts and their own actions?
That is the question. Fill in your own answer.