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This Viral Twitter Thread About the Impossibility of Paying Back Student Loans Is Terrifying

Student loan debt viral twitter thread

A professor’s tweet went viral after she shared that she had $70,000 in federal student loans. She’s made $60,000 in payments over 11 years. She still owes $70,000.

When I went to sleep last night, after a long while scrolling with increasing anger through the reply thread that Johnson’s tweet had wrought, there were maybe a few dozen retweets and a few hundred likes. The tweet had exploded by the time I woke up, with 13k retweets and 70k+ likes at current.

Johnson’s experience struck a nerve—and revealed just how common it is for Americans to be drowning in nigh-on-unpayable student loan debt. For a variety of factors, but crucially at the moment because of ballooning interest rates, even when you are prompt with paying a significant balance each month, you’re often only digging yourself deeper into a debt hole.

As Johnson’s tweet demonstrated, many, many people have ended up owing far more than their initial loans after years of expensive payments. While the problem of student loan debt is much bandied about by Presidential candidates, often in the abstract, it’s another experience entirely to see the outrageous numbers so starkly in this thread.

For the most part, this is a uniquely American problem, and several replies to Johnson’s thread have emphasized how our policies effectively keep generations of students indentured to their loans for the crime of pursuing a higher education degree (which we were raised being told was the right thing to do and is often the only way through the door in many jobs).

Beyond binding so many to debilitating loans and soaring interest rates, people’s frightening experience herein also serves to disincentivize many who would love to go to undergraduate or graduate school, but are rightfully afraid of finding themselves in a similar situation. This renders a less-educated populace overall, not to mention a sacrifice of potential. Imagine all the knowledge and innovation and creativity we have lost and are losing by making education so prohibitive, and paying for it a life sentence.

It’s incredibly disturbing and infuriating that these are government-backed loans that are chaining people to ballooning loans for life. For many, there’s zero expectation that they will ever be out from under this insane financial burden.

One of the biggest problems with so many of these loans and payment systems are ballooning interest rates, so that you’re paying considerable sums every month—but that’s merely paying off the interest, not making a dent into the principal of the loan. We used to call this usury.

It is, as one user expresses, something that sounds more like an organized crime racket. It’s also incredibly difficult under the current law to declare bankruptcy and discharge student loans—unlike what’s possible for people with failed business ventures like Donald Trump. (Trump filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for his companies six times.)

Paying so much interest means that people who took out federal loans can end up paying much more for their education than those whose families could afford it from the start or who could afford to take smaller loans.

While there are a few concern trolls in the thread complaining about ideas for loan forgiveness, there’s a great deal more support from people who realize that relief from this kind of crushing debt isn’t only humane but would also beneficial for the economy. Also, it costs nothing to be nice and considerate to people who are suffering, like these exceptional Americans:

I recommend starting from the beginning and reading all of Johnson’s now-viral Tweet thread. This is happening to so many people, and the American government, which just filed a “$735.2 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2020,” has the money to be taking better care of its citizens who are enduring a lifetime of fiscal punishment for their education. We must do better. Both Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are intent on tackling these issues if they’re elected President; hold anyone without a plan to account.

(via Lacy M. Johnson on Twitter, image: Pexels/Twitter)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.