Thursday, December 08, 2005



"Supreme Court: Social Security not off limits for old student loan debt"

The case involves a 67 year-old disabled man who has about $77,000 in defaulted student loans. The government defended its right to garnish 15% of the man's $874 monthly pension. The plaintiff alleged he required all of his stipend for basic necessities.

I'm hoping this case doesn't become the controlling legal authority.

A lot of questions come to mind. A few of them:

These debts are about 20 years old. How does it happen a man in his 40's goes to school and accumulates such a debt? Since it is within the purvue of the guarantor - the government - to forgive the debt, why wasn't it forgiven when the man is so impoverished?

And what did he receive as compensation for assuming the debt?

Education as a product is somewhat of a paradox. You can "buy" it, yet if you receive nothing, if you gain nothing, you can't return it or sue the education provider for providing a defective product. Indeed, it can be argued the failure of some is necessary to validate the success of others.

It's a pig in a poke; nevertheless, it is public policy to promote its sale.

And of course the sale and its promotion is in the interest of the "higher education industry."

A little math: 15% of the pension is $131, a sum certainly more significant to the plaintiff than the government. Without factoring the interest, which is unknown, if we assume the man lives another 20 years - very unlikely, and less likely with less money - he will "repay" about $31,000, less than half the debt.

Sure, it's a legal debt. I'm sure the Court ruled correctly within law. But here's what's wrong with this: There is no mercy. People make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes overwhelm the maker.

Our legal system is rife with situations where people are "let off." Plea bargains, probations, pardons, on and on. Yet when it comes to a bad debt at least partly due to the bad luck of bad health, an old man can't be forgiven something he cannot change. The government would rather impoverish a citizen than allow him this small margin of comfort.

This begs for Congressional action. And it's a pretty good argument for State-paid education through at least 4 years of college.

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