Monday, November 8, 2010

An Attorney's Words About Bankruptcy And Student Loan Debt

My readers' comments blow me away. In this pithy comment, this attorney says so much.  In response to one of several pieces I've written on the subject of suicide (see here, here, and here), the reader stated:

As an attorney, I have seen people come and go through bankruptcy discharging everything from plasma screen tv's on their credit cards to gambling markers at a casino. Meanwhile - I struggle to pay my student loans and use all of my forebearances [sic]. I forgo health insurance and a social life because paying for a night out would mean having to deal with more credit card debt. Perhaps it's better to gamble and hope I win and, if I lose, discharge it. I cannot even dream of getting married in my lifetime as I would never want to burden someone else with the debt I am saddled with. Marriage + kids + student loan debt = divorce! 

Many student debtors have expressed similar sentiments to me. One woman recently told me that she planned on breaking up with her long-term boyfriend because she was ashamed of her student loan debt and didn't want him to know how much she owed. Sigh. It sure would be great if we could all get to work on the student lending crisis and solve this absurd problem. Can we stop for a moment and think about the Kafkaesque world we've created for the indentured educated class? (If my previous advisor happened to read this post, she'd croak with the way in which I falsely invoke Kafka in that way. Oh, well, I ain't a super-duper scholar like her).


Anonymous said...

I didn't realize so many reader comments can be posted many weeks or months after one of your own posts, such as the August 17th post on SL's and Suicide.

But if any story is Kafkaesque (as I understand Kafka anyway) it is the bankruptcy attorney's story. He is like the shoemaker with children that go shoeless.

As for the Suicide topic, it wanders in and out of my thoughts.

I'm still here, but I have to admit I take very poor care of myself though, compared to the person I used to be 10 or even 5 years ago, because I figure: "What's the use." or "What am I saving myself for?"

I wonder sometimes: "Who was that guy that worked so damn hard to struggle through Law School back then; who studied thousands of hours, and sat through and passsed all of those 3 to 4 hour long final exams?

The stress and worry of almost 300 grand of debt are taking its toll now, and I can see myself aging rapidly in the mirror.

I avoid looking at people directly on some days, because I am now told that the bags under my eyes and the exhaustion shows. That's what alcohol does I guess.

But sometimes a few beers or more is the only way I can forget the indebted trainwreck that my life has become. I was totally dry for 11 years at one point, but the debt is too much for the mind to handle. Something has to give under the pressure.

Student Loans destroy the credit. The poor credit shuts one out from decent employment.
There goes the Health Insurance, and all one can do is watch helplessly as the loan increases.
And the bigger the loan, the faster it grows.

One of the reasons I like these blogs is because I have the opportunity to read, and through making comments of my own, vaguely communicate with other people who are intelligent and educated.

I have found that working in the Blue collar world does not satisfy this need, and it can be terribly lonely, even though I have adjusted quite well to the Blue Collar life.

Many would say that it is the loneliness of a snob, but it is a type of social isolation all the same.

I guess I say all this because I think that Higher Education changes a person in some ways, and I lament the loss of the company of intelligent people and real colleagues.

Sometimes I express this to family, and they tell me to join a book club, but that is not the same thing. Nor is listening to endless hours of liberal or mostly conservative talk radio.

I laugh sometimes, because I used to know people that read the NY times and even the Wall St. Journal. And even books.

To conclude, Stutz Terkel dedicated his book: "Working" to Jude Fawley, and maybe I sound like Jude the Obscure as far as my social life goes.

But, in terms of Higher Education, I have accomplished what Jude Fawley could only hope for.

Yet on paper I'm much poorer than Thomas Hardy's character (Jude Fawley) ever was.

And so, after another one of my rambling rants, I ask the author of this blog:

Does Education Matter?

Cryn Johannsen said...

Trust me, JDPainterGuy, that is a question that comes up in my household on a regular basis. It is something I discuss with my friends all the time. As an educator, I am helping prepare students in South Korea to take examinations that will allow them to get into good English-speaking schools. When I have to test them - we have testing every 9 weeks - I ask myself, "what the hell is the point of all this crap? Do they really care about the person who wrote Emma? Does it really matter that somebody knows a shit load, pardon my French, about Buddhism?" I myself was working on becoming a scholar of Nazi Germany. My focus was on humor. It is still something I yearn to read about and do research on . . . but to what end? Who the hell would care at the end of the day? It's not just the intellectual questions that I think about. I too wonder the same things about the meaningfulness of education. Today, and since you're asking me, I do believe education matters. We would be incapable of having this discussion if it didn't matter. It's also done a lot to help those who have been treated unjustly for centuries (minorities, women, etc.). So I see the value in it for those reasons.

Ask me, say, tomorrow, and I might have a completely different response.

Phil said...

I was just told by a Sallie Mae rep that even if I am awarded an undue hardship for my loans, they would still collect because Sallie Mae would deem my loans ineligible for a undue hardship granted by a judge. How is this legal?

EvrenSeven said...

Cryn, my magic 8 ball says that in the coming years, the BK courts are going to chip away at the "undue burden" standard until people like JD Painter Guy are able to discharge or have their debts or interest reduced. We will never see congressional action on this matter because it involves banks' bottom lines and we know that can't be touched (we have to stop gay marriage, after all!)

The solution is here is judicial, and hinges on the interpretation of "undue burden."

Monica R. Tanzey said...

JDPainterguy, you just made me cry.... The thought of opening up my MBE review book and studying for the February Bar Exam feels pointless right now. With $300K in debt as well, even a job as a public defender making $37K a year won't matter. I've seen jobs paying $40K plus with no education needed... Talk about motivation...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to make anyone cry.

MY story is just one of many. And many have succeeded where I have failed, and will dismiss me as a fool. The fault being in myself and not the stars etc.

I can take all the blame. That's why I exist now, to send out the warning that not everyone does make it in Law, and that not making it carries dire consequences in the form of Toxic debt from early adulthood to the grave.

In NY I took the Bar 3X. My fist time I scored about a 415. The second time I was maybe 490. The third I was about 550. (600 is passing if I recall correctly)

THen I met another ex-Touro Grad wandering the halls of the Jaitt center 5 years after his graduation and sitting for the NY BAr for the 8th time.

Seeing him, and knowing some other people who took the exam over and over and still unable to get the 2 or 3 points needed to pass, I just finally realized how insane the whole situation was.

Besides, I had real hunger, and no money for Gas for the tank. I mean at the very end of my "fantasy that is a law" career rope, and begged and borrowed up to the hilt.

But I cried a river, and ended up divorced because of the debt.

But I found that one cannot cry forever. Time heals all wounds. (Except for Student Loans)

My ex was really afraid of the loans, and tried to find me bankruptcy attorneys that could help me.

But they were all rude as hell, and practically threw me out of their offices.

So over the years the debt just kept growing, and growing, and growing.

I kept applying and applying and applying over and over for a job in the insurance industry mostly. Compliance and claims adjuster types of jobs. But also many other applications in all kinds of industries.

But I never found one.

You can read more about me here:

Anonymous said...

Your post is not unique to the lawnmower law School. I know many Touro graduates (and an number who have passed the bar exam) and all are in the same place as you.

Anonymous said...


I lived in absolute silence over this debt for 14 years.

It carries with it a lot of feelings of disgrace and shame, and failure. And I still can't shake those feelings off.

It is only after reading some of the scamblogs, like Jobless Juris Doctor, and Third Tier Reality, that I decided to go out on a limb and share my story.

I admire and applaud Cryn's work, and have seen her comments on the Internet with respect to Student Debt in general, and not just in the Law School context. So that is why I make comments on Education Matters.

And, like you say, I suspect that I am not the only one from Touro drowning in debt.

The school was new and ambitious when I went there, and it had an agenda to prove Itself, I thought; and to that end, to be as tough on the students as any upper tier law school can be.

So it was a very stressful and often demoralizing time there, but always with the belief that the Touro people knew what they were doing, and that the sacrifice would "pay off" someday with a profession and a career that paid rather well. A lot of trust on my part in Touro the Institution, in other words.

Granted, there were some kook and incompetent Professors that didn't teach anything at all. But overall, Touro probably did have the best of intentions back then, and how were they to know a student Loan bubble would form a decade or more later? They were just doing what all the other new Law schools were doing, and raking in all of those Student Loan checks. "So happy they could hardly count", to borrow a phrase.

I never wanted to do a hatchet job on Touro Law School, and I don't feel hatred or anger, so much as stomach tightening fear over my debt and the grim purposeless of my life now, and my inability to plan ahead.

Youth has a way of telling someone that "everything will be all right."
But how can it ever be all right with my debt load? And I'm not young any more.

But maybe by now, Touro is also feeling the sting of failure, since they never managed to climb out of the 4th tier. (And I never knew that until maybe 7 months ago.)

And Maybe others don't want to admit to their debt load from Touro, because they still have a legal career to think about.

But I really feel at this point that I have nothing left to lose. Certainly not a legal career.

I couldn't even land a Paralegal job. I even remember paralegal help wanted ads that said: "NO JD's!"

And still, I ask: Is there anybody out there? Does anyone in the ABA care about all this?

Monica R. Tanzey said...

ohhh the ABA... screw the ABA! I canceled my ABA membership during my 3rd year of law school when I realized what a worthless organization they are. If you didn't graduate from a top tier school or weren't employed in "Big Law" then they could care less about you.

I'll be 30 in a little over a year and I make my first loan payment in a little more than two weeks... 60+ years old when these loans are paid off... ohh the American Dream. I wish teachers hadn't told me I could be anything I wanted, I wish my parents had banned me from watching Law & Order as a kid, and I wish I had never taken that tour of the U.S. Supreme Court when I was in High School.. maybe then I would have chosen differently.. hmmm maybe a massage therapist, or dog groomer, maybe I'd be managing a department at the local Macy's store... how nice it would be to make $10.50 an hour and not have a single student loan to worry, I can only dream of getting a $10.50 an hour job and wonder when money will start growing on trees because the credit cards are maxed out, the savings is dry, and the plasma place says my veins are too small to sell plasma....