May 21, 2013
Social Security Checks Garnisheed for Student Debt
Posted on May 11, 2012
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt
This piece originally appeared at Web of Debt.
So said Presidents Carter and Regan, but that was before 1996, when Congress voted to allow federal agencies to offset portions of Social Security payments to collect debts owed to those agencies. (31 U.S.C. §3716). Now we read of horror stories like this:
Her debt went from $3500 to over $17,000 in 10 years?! How could that be?
It seems that Congress has removed nearly every consumer protection from student loans, including not only standard bankruptcy protections, statutes of limitations, and truth in lending requirements, but protection from usury (excessive interest). Lenders can vary the interest rates, and some borrowers are reporting rates as high as 18-20%. At 20%, debt doubles in just 3-1/2 years; and in 7 years, it quadruples. Congress has also given lenders draconian collection powers to extort not just the original principal and interest on student loans but huge sums in penalties, fees, and collection costs.
The majority of these debts are being imposed on young people, who have a potential 40 years of gainful employment ahead of them to pay the debt off. But a sizeable chunk of U.S. student loan debt is held by senior citizens, many of whom are not only unemployed but unemployable. According to the New York Federal Reserve, two million U.S. seniors age 60 and over have student loan debt, on which they owe a collective $36.5 billion; and 11.2 percent of this debt is in default. Almost a third of all student loan debt is held by people aged 40 and over, and 4.2% is held by people over the age of 60. The total student debt is now over $1 trillion, more even than credit card debt. The sum is unsustainable and threatens to be the next debt tsunami.
Some of this debt is for loans taken out years earlier on their own schooling, and some is from co-signing student loans for children or grandchildren. But much of it has been incurred by middle-aged people going back to school in the hope of finding employment in a bad job market. What they have wound up with is something much worse: no job, an exponentially mounting debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and the prospect of old age without a social security check adequate to survive on.
Gone is the promise of earlier presidents of a “commitment to the belief that workers should not live in dread that a disability, death, or old age could leave them or their families destitute.” The plight of the indebted elderly is reminiscent of the Irish immigrants who came to America after a potato famine in the 19th century, who were looked upon in some places as actually lower than slaves. Plantation owners kept their slaves fed, clothed and cared for, because they were valuable property. The Irish were expendable, and they were on their own.
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