This Would Be Funny if it Wasn’t So Pathetic

One of my facebook friends posted a link to a person’s website asking for donations to help them pay off their nearly $200,000 in student loans. I visited the website and found their story on their About page:

I chose to attend a top 70 school — and why not? It had everything: prestige, great location, typical campus, every major under the sun… the full college experience.

Five years later I am $200,000 in debt, as my education did not lead me to the career that would help pay off my loans. Also – I am only 23.

What’s even more, Sallie Mae [student loan corporation] won’t allow me to consolidate my loans, repay the loans based on my income, or defer again (as I’ve already deferred for 6 months).

My monthly payments to Sallie Mae are at a cool $891, and next November, 2011, will rise to a mere $1600. Not to mention the 5 other lenders [including federal] that I pay per month…

They got their fancy education and now they expect/want people to help them pay off their massive loans.

Did this person not put pencil to paper and perform a couple of calculations first before they decided to attend this particular school? Judging from their “It had everything: prestige, great location, typical campus, every major under the sun…” statement, I’m going to say no.

I’m sorry but I have a hard time feeling sorry for this person.

36 thoughts on “This Would Be Funny if it Wasn’t So Pathetic”

  1. This post makes you look like a real ass. A lot of people get themselves in debt for various reasons. Websites like yours tout why education is a “good” debt (“investment”) and now you are bashing someone who has gotten over their head.

    Of course they didn’t do the calculations before attending school, what college kid ever has? Clearly this kid didn’t have rich parents to pay for his school but had the desire to get an education, and you fault him for taking on loans to get it? Yes, it sucks that Northeastern has some of the highest tuition in the country for undergrad. “Fancy education”. That school isn’t even that great. $200k isn’t even that bad compared to some grad schools.

    Sure, his website screams of desperation but it’s better than doing nothing at all. He has a job and still can’t pay his bills, what is he supposed to do? Bankruptcy doesn’t erase student loans. He may look like a dumb kid, but you look like a jackass.

  2. Brad,

    Thanks for calling me a jackass. Since I’m a jackass, why don’t you make a sizable donation to to help this person pay off their student loan?

  3. So just because most college students don’t think about they money makes it ok Brad? This person obviously made a mistake, and that needs to be made clear.

  4. It makes me a little ill to see that there have been some contributions already. Seriously?! These people can’t find a better use for their money than supporting this idiot? If he gets enough maybe he can go travel abroad again!

  5. JLP,

    Being on the topic of student loans, I’m curious what your position is on student loans and government involvement in education. I’d imagine you’d prefer less involvement than we currently have, but I was hoping to you could elaborate a little on your thoughts.


  6. 1) It’s obviously a mistake, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel bad for them. I will not be giving this person money (it’s a she, by the way), but I still recognize that it sucks. I did not really do the math before college, and all has thankfully worked out, but I made the exact same mistake.

    2) The government loan situation is absurd, and in this respect I do feel bad for her. Why the government won’t allow a private lender, if you can find one, to pay off that government loan at a lower interest rate makes absolutely no sense to me. If someone can explain it, I’m all ears. With private interest rates as low as they are right now, it’s highway robbery for the government to charge the interest rates they do and legally prohibit you from shopping it around for a better rate. It’s obviously hard to get credit right now, but a person should be at least allowed to try.

  7. I have *some* sympathy, and feel this story illustrates problems with the system (poor disclosure/explanation? loans and tuition out of control) as much as what he (or she) did wrong, but honestly, the first thing that popped into my head were these lyrics from Radiohead’s song “Just” (the rest of the song doesn’t fit):

    You do it to yourself, you do
    And that’s why it really hurts
    You do it to yourself, just you
    You and no one else

  8. I agree that people should not feel sorry for him. I turned down the option of going to Northeastern for the precise reason of the costs, combined with a co-op setup that makes you complete 5 years and lose a year you could be using working a full time job and already graduated. A friend who did graduate from there has a similar amount of seemingly insurmountable debt. If its such a common occurrence, the university should step in to do something about costs, but I refuse to think that any majority of students that are earnestly concerned about becoming independent and setting out on their own way take on that amount of debt. Especially if its in a possible field that doesn’t justify the debt (maybe med school, but it seems he was aiming for a financial services career). This is kind of analogous to an eagle grabbing a fish that’s far too large and plummeting into the lake. I would have some sympathy if he was trying to appeal in some other form than a plea for a no strings bailout. It would probably be paid in a sea change if this was someone doing endearing and selfless work, but unable to deal with the payments they got while trying to achieve a lifelong dream.

  9. For those who don’t take the time to figure the cost of education and get stuck with massive student loans, then they get what they deserve. To give a college age student a pass due to their age, which means allowing legal age adults to act stupidly, is ridiculous. I worked my tail off to get into a service academy because I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, and I didn’t want to be overburdened with debt. And since I agree with JLP, Brad would probably label me a jackass too. So if a jackass can figure this out, then anyone should be able to do so.

    As far as the government in education, it is the primary reason it is so expensive. Colleges know they can just send a student to get a loan guaranteed by the government so why keep costs down? Just look at the recent report about college presidents receiving enormous pay.

    This is going to change as more and more college grads find that they aren’t compensated in the private sector for the debt. Market forces will come into play, or students will start to take alternate routes to a degree such as junior college and online courses.

  10. I guess I’ll be the next inductee into the JA Club! At least I’ll be surrounded by good company.

    The brakes on this runaway train should have been applied after year 2….

  11. I had to make a very important decision when I was 18 (sucks that I had to make it to this day). I left a private school where I had a sizable scholarship (75%) because I couldn’t afford the rest and would have needed to take personal loans. I worked all summer to make the $4000 payment and because I played football my first semester, I had very little means to come up with another $4000 payment. The coach had told me personally to not sorry about it as I was being recruited, but alas, at 18 and starting on the football team, I left to attend a state college for what ended up being about 1/5th the cost of the private school. After ONE semester I had to make an adult decision and decide to not continue.

    There you have it. If I could make the dollar decision at 18, than anyone else can. And to think I was worried about having ONLY $35,000 or so after 4-years! This gal has damn near a quarter of a million dollars in loans!

    Do I have sympathy? Sure. But with my experience and the decision I made, it evaporates pretty quick.

  12. Guess I’m a jackass as well. Too bad her four year vacation from reality cost her so much. At least she has the memories.

    Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has done a great job reporting on the higher education bubble. This is another example.

  13. I know several 18 year olds who knew what they were doing going to college. I went to a private school, but not before figuring out whether I was willing/able to pay for it.

    I don’t fault the girl for soliciting help, but the idea that an 18 year old (or anyone) should be excused for spending $200K they don’t have without thinking about it is shortsighted.

  14. I agree that the site is pathetic, but I also completely agree with Brad @ comment 1 that tearing into this naive young person makes you all look like a herd of jackasses. Hee-haw!

    I imagine the majority of readers of this blog have made financial mistakes in their lives. This girl’s mistake was, admittedly, bigger than most. But fundamentally, she made the mistake that virtually everyone in America–with the exception of the sanctimonious commentators on this post whose balance sheets are, apparently, perfect–made of getting in over her head with easy credit.

    I will not be donating to her site, but at the same time I don’t think that her idea to solicit donations deserves the complete derision heaped upon it here. When you’re busted flat in Baton Rouge, after all, you just need to thumb a diesel down.

  15. Forrest,

    This story would have a totally different meaning if this person had created some sort of website that helped her EARN money to pay off her loans rather than BEGGING for contributions.

    And if you read her story, she acted surprised that she had so much debt—as if it just magically appeared. Another “victim” of society.

    Yes, we have made mistakes but come on…$200,000 is about 10 of my mistakes.

  16. Since when does having an opinion make one sanctimonious? We aren’t saying we’re morally better. We initiating members of the JA Club are just able to see poor financial decision-making for what it is. Recently JLP asked in a different post (1-2 months ago) about our poor finanical decisions. No one here is saying they haven’t had their own (financial) misteps.

    Also, no one has “torn” into her or heaped “complete derision” on her idea to solicit donations. It’s astounding that one could get into that much debt and not understand the consequences and thus ACT to stem the bloodshed. Can’t we call a spade a spade and an ace an ace here?

    JLP has had similar posts on this subject: the medical student who has tons of loans and the one guy (his name is escaping me–Applebaum or something like that) who is campaigning/lobbying to have student loan debt forgiven.

    History repeats itself. Whether it’s world politics or stories on personal finance blogs, having “disagreeable opinions” is its own magnet for derision.

  17. I don’t feel sorry for her, but I understand how this can happen since people are encouraged to acquire educational debt – whether or not they are college material. Begging for help to pay a stupid debt is no different to me than paying overpriced professionals their outrageous fees, which they justify by needing to pay off their debts. And not only that, but this story illustrates that taking on educational debt, just like taking on any other large unaffordable debt, is an act of faith. Obtaining a mortgage has always been the same type of faith-based act.

  18. I just can’t feel this sorry for the guy. I had about $65k in student loans from a sub par school, and I was able to pay that off by age 30 without ever making more than $45k per year. You want to make some headway on your debt, then it calls for belt tightening. That means living in cheap apartments, even if they are in a sketchy part of town, going without a car and using public transportation, and cutting things like cable etc.

  19. JLP: Bit harsh, man. This person was looking at schools at 16 and applying at 17. When he was looking for schools during a boom 22 year old graduates were pulling 6 figures at sweet financial jobs. At that age I don’t think you can have the perspective to do the kind of reasoning that you’re suggesting.

    Honestly, the way our system sets up student loans is criminal. You can’t lose them in bankruptcy, you can’t refinance them. It’s protected unlike any other debt you can hold. And you typically get them when you’re young enough not to know any better.

    Think about it. This kid made the decision to go to a school BEFORE HE COULD EVEN APPLY FOR A CREDIT CARD.

    The system is F’d. I do feel sorry for the kid.

  20. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to give me a response, JLP!

    Anyway, I think it’s naive to place the blame on any single entity in this case. Certainly, the girl has the largest portion of it as the decision was ultimately up to her to make. However, where were the parents in this? Presumably they co-signed on a loan or two to get her started. They were responsible for educating her when she was 16-17 and helping her make that school choice.

    Finally, let’s not forget the government’s role in this as well. Artificially low interest rates are just as bad for student loans as they were for mortgages. The government needs to get completely out of the loan industry, and while they’re at it revoke Bush’s bankruptcy laws which make it nearly impossible to discharge debt. Interest rates *should* be high for student loans as it’s an inherently risky proposition. Of course some people will default on their debt payments but that’s what the interest is there for! Let the banks decide if it’s in their interest to loan to someone or not.

  21. Sanctimonious jackass here with a less than perfect balance sheet. Why not forget the balance sheet and look at your potential income statement instead? Cut the income in half and double your expected expenses. If it still makes sense, then borrowing for a student loan may make sense.

    What’s ridiculous is that people can make horrendous decisions and then expect someone to bail them out. Wonder where they got that idea?

  22. Some of her problem, as you outlined it in your post, doesn’t quite ring true. In the past, I have found Sallie Mae to be very cooperative and helpful when deferring or making payment arrangements.

    So when she says “What’s even more, Sallie Mae [student loan corporation] won’t allow me to consolidate my loans, repay the loans based on my income, or defer again (as I’ve already deferred for 6 months)” — something about that isn’t right? WHY won’t they let her defer? That sounds like they think she currently earns enough income to be able to make the repayment schedule. And I have never heard them deny consolidation (it’s easier for them) unless there are some extenuating circumstances she isn’t mentioning. Something smells fishy.

  23. JLP,

    Thanks for your civil response. Please know that I was calling you all jackasses in a spirit of good fun—I don’t know if that friendly tone came across in my original post.

    In any event, here’s my more thought-out concern with this donation website: this girl, between the ages of 17 and 22, was trying to do everything RIGHT. She got into a good college, took advantage of the programs it offered, got a good education, and was working toward bettering herself and society.

    This is a laudable thing. Perhaps blinded by her zeal to succeed, she did not pay attention to the minor detail of “cost.” That she was surprised by the total at the end of four years is, indeed, naive. But, I think we can all agree that her heart was in the right place (although her calculator was apparently misplaced).

    I work in the criminal justice system, and I encounter dozens of ruined lives every day. Most of these folks are, coincidentally, in the 17-25 age range. Given this perspective, I have a very hard time condemning someone who blew $200k in an effort to do the right thing and make something of herself. Does that, in and of itself, deserve our donations? I guess not. But I hate to see a good person raked across the coals for a financial action that was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minor.

    That said, I wonder if her whole website is a scam? Here is a story that piques people’s interests and/or sympathies. If they buy it, the scamster cashes in on the suckers’ donations. It may simply be a convenient way for someone offshore to pick up some extra income by a fictional story designed to play on people’s sympathies in a bad economy? It sure riled us up!

  24. What I find most hilarious about this is that the student went into this much debt for a TOP 70 school. TOP 70! And seems to be bragging about it. $200,000 for a top 70 school? Honey, if you’re going to get in that much debt, at least do it for an Ivy degree. Nobody, but nobody, thinks a “top 70” degree is worth that much.

  25. Some of the responses to this posting amaze me. . . almost. I say almost because the stupidity of people rarely really amazes me anymore.

    We are a society of victims and whiners and all of those who support this idiotic plea for help are enablers. You want to help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves. You want to excuse someone who willingly went in to debt with no guarantees as to employment. You want to reward her for not taking responsibility for her decisions. This is ultimately what will bring our society to its’ knees: a lack of personal responsibility and a society who will support it and defend it.

    Education is no guarantee that you will be employed. Yet it has become popular to blame the college for the lack of employment – even to the point where some are actually suing their college to get their tuition back. Didn’t see that story? Look it up. Suing your college because you can’t find a job. Obviously the college is at fault because you aren’t employed.

    Education is simply an investment in your future. Period. All investments come with a risk. Two people graduate with the same diploma and one gets rich and the other either goes or stays broke. Are we supposed to blame the diploma? Does the individual play no role in this? Remember, when you miss the target, never in history has it been the target’s fault.

    Stories like this evoke NO sympathy from me. None. Stories of real desperation where kids don’t have enough to eat and go hungry do get sympathy from me. Proof I am not an unsympathetic jerk, just a person with common sense who believes that there are real victims and fake, self-imposed victims. A college kid who finds themselves with debts they don’t want and who are now begging for help only disgust me. For those who say she did everything right and now finds herself a victim of correct action . . . come on!

    Welcome to Life 101, Lesson One: Sometimes you do the right thing and it all goes wrong. Life doesn’t come with guarantees or money-back offers.

    Life 101, Lesson Two. Your life, your results, your debts, your health . . . all are your own fault. Take responsibility.

    Life 101 Lesson Three: You are entitled to NOTHING. No one ever owes you anything. Ever. Anything! Grow the hell up!

    JLP, if you are a jackass, I willingly join the ranks with you!

  26. I have tons of respect for the kid. She is taking full responsibility, hasn’t missed a payment, doesn’t want a bailout, and is publicizing her story so others can learn from her mistakes.

  27. I have some sympathy for a person that got herself into this mess, but it’s like a sympathy for a person that got drunk and hurt herself. It does suck, and I can empathize, bu it’s completely self-inflicted, and there was ample time to think about it and ample opportunity not to get into it. I would never donate to such person – I know literally hundreds more worthy causes than helping somebody that burned through 200K in education money without getting anything.
    Actually, people like her is part of what’s wrong with the education system – by paying outrageous prices with loaned money for a worthless product, they keep the price level up and responsible people get crowded out of the market. It’s like the housing market, where outrageous prices were paid by speculators with loaned money until the whole thing collapsed – and now the mess if being sorted out with the help of the tax money from people that were responsible and didn’t help to create this mess.
    I’m really afraid that more sob stories about poor students with 200K debts would lead in this case to politicians again using responsible people’s money to bail out irresponsible ones. I know this particular person does not ask for it, but the shadow of it is present and weakens the sympathy.

  28. I never thought of doing the HELP me pay my student loans thing. Maybe I should. I have been activated four times since 1999 as a National Guardsman and now as a Reservist. I accrued about 48,000 in student loans while serving. Now the new GI Bill will pay more for vets that have served in a combat zone. Too little too late. So, if anyone wants to donate to the farce of the student loan system, so I can have a fresh start, I am willing candidate for reception. Difference between me and the other guy: I am actually participating in today’s society, not just asking for a free handout…

  29. Does anybody know what she was majoring in? Just curious. I agree with Larry Winget: she made an investment, it was clearly a bad one, sorry. Shall anybody who lost money trading on margin or all business owners who borrowed money for an idea that didn’t work out have a website asking for donations too.

    @BG – she wants people to donate their hard earned money to her, how is this not wanting a bailout?

    But donate if you will, there are far more worthier causes for me like maybe donating to organization that helps people with serious diseases like cancer pay co-insurance.

    But… I have to admit, it was a good idea on her part to just ask people for money. Judging from the comments, she may find quite a few of them here.

  30. #31 kitty) Churches ask for donations too. It is one thing for someone to post their sob-story online and ask for donations — and quite another for big business to ask for bailouts paid for by the taxpayer through congress.

    She is doing the first: asking for donations. JLP has posted similar stories on this blog for donating to various causes — nothing wrong with it at all.

    If you are moved by the story and want to give, the link is provided. If you aren’t moved by the story, then move along.

  31. Well, it’s a free country: she is free to post her story on the internet; some people free to donate; others are free to criticize her. Criticizing her is just as much exercizing of freedom as her asking for money.

    As to the banks – their bailout was in terms of loans at very stiff interest rates, some banks were forced to take the money, and last time I checked most if not all of the banks have paid off the loans with huge interest and the government made money on the deal. It’s interesting how people forget this litle fact.

  32. From a student who moved from a relatively expensive, more renowned university, to a (almost) free university, here’s some advice.
    Learn french and come study in france. Their universities are good(different, but decent), admission only costs 400euros a year, you get financial aid, for no reason at all ( I pay my accomodation at half price) and social security is amazing.
    You can always make up for the disadvantage of not having an american degree by doing more exams later, but JLP is right, it’s way better to graduate without loans than with loans, job or no job.

  33. Poor girl. Where were her parents when she was falling into debt. My son goes to a Regional University living in the dorms and its $18,000 per year which thankfully I can afford. And if we couldn’t there are several local universities where if you live at home and just pay tuition you are down to say $8-$10,000 per year. Thats what I did by the way 30 years ago and I am doing pretty well. I’m sorry but $200,000 of debt is only worth it if you come out a doctor with a high income. Shame on the school and the adults in her life for putting her in such debt…..shame ….shame …..shame…..

  34. I graduated college in 1993 with a BS and then a masters in 2000. Both degrees were from two separate state schools. My husb graduated in 1994 from a pretty expensive private college. We had around 40k in school loans which we have paid all but 11,500 so far. Last Friday, I called Sallie Mae to confirm the final total of our consolidated loan, because we now have 12k saved up to pay in cash to settle our loan. I was told we now have 3k in interest that I wasn’t aware of. I realize there would be interest, but I didn’t think it would be that much. I was told our interest is $1.87 per day or $54 per mo. We had paid down so much of our loan that we didn’t have a payment due until Aug 2011. Sadly, we didn’t think the interest would pile up so much. Makes me sick!

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