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DAVID ROSMAN: Let's find practical ways out of student-loan debt

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

There are three loans most of us will have to deal with during our lifetimes — home, automobile and student loans.

When seeking relief through the federal bankruptcy courts, only two of the three qualify. You must pay off a private- or government-sponsored student loan regardless of financial status.

That may change with passage of the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 532), sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., which would allow for the discharge of a student loan “in cases of undue hardship.”

Cohen’s bill would help relieve the stress on those who find themselves unemployed for the long term or beset by other financial difficulties that may arise from, say, medical bills, the No. 1 cause for seeking bankruptcy in the United States.

According to Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, the $1 trillion debt in student loans far exceeds credit card debt. Baum emphasizes repayment plans as a recourse if one is in default with a federal student loan, but what if that is not possible?

What happens if one is unemployed for an extended period or enveloped in unpaid medical bills?

Right now, not a whole lot can be done because of the current bankruptcy laws. In fact, if one is in default on a student loan, the government can take the money from Social Security payments.

Yes, there are programs and jobs that will help with loan forgiveness, but very few. Many of the jobs, such as teaching, require additional education, working at low-income levels in rural areas or accepting a position that may be unsatisfactory from the outset. And not all teaching or government jobs qualify for loan forgiveness.

A student loan should be the last resort. In fact, I have friends who completed graduate work without taking out a loan and had money left over to put in their pockets.

My friend, Abby, received her bachelor's and master's degrees in physical therapy from the University of Colorado without paying a penny in tuition and had nearly $10,000 for living expenses available after graduation.

How? By acquiring private and government grants and scholarships that are accessible to the general public.

It is unfortunate that college and university financial aid offices go as far as the government-funded Pell Grants without considering alternative funding.

I am not advocating the free money guides marketed on television but suggesting only that students do some quick research at university and public libraries, talk to civic and professional organizations, and seek out those representing minority and ethnic groups.

Even businesses and nonprofit organizations, such as MoveOn.org, have scholarships of $10,000 or more to award. Most, however, are less than $1,000.

Yes, finding “free money” can often take diligent effort.

One place to start is “The College Board Scholarship Handbook (2014),” which features “more than 1.7 million awards, including scholarship, internship and loan programs offered by foundations, charitable organizations, and state and federal government agencies.” It is available at the Daniel Boone Regional Library (R378.3025 COL).

Other resources include online organizations such as SALTMoney.org. Its booklet, “60+ ways to get rid of your student loan” offers invaluable advice and direction for those in a financial bind. Also studentdebtcrisis.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to fundamental reforms to the way higher education is paid for in America.

For those who are years away from school with no way out of mounting debt, Cohen’s bill may be the best bet. The problem is that it has no co-sponsors.

A bit of activism is needed. It is time for the GOP to pay attention to those who find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. H.R. 532 will actually stimulate the economy by putting a portion of $1 trillion back into the pockets of those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the economic bubble.

Columbia represents MU, Stephens and Columbia colleges, one community college and a number of private for-profit institutions. It is time that U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., take a stand for students and alumni by adding her name as a co-sponsor of H.R 532.

The economy is not going to lose $1 trillion in the bargain. We will acquire more money to help stimulate economic growth.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.


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Comments

Michael Williams February 19, 2014 | 4:44 p.m.

Patrick McManus, an outdoor humor writer I really like, calls this "Sequences".

Let's say you want to go fishing, but realize your fishing line is old and you need to go to the tackle shop. Your spouse asks you to ALSO stop by the post office and get the mail while you are in town, so you do. After getting the mail, you open a bill that is obviously incorrect, so you decide to stop by THAT place to figure out what went wrong. On the way, you have a flat tire and your spare is out of air, too. Hitchhiking to the local service station, you fall and break your ankle. You end up in a cast, and never get to go fishing.

I'm guessing Rosman WAS in favor of enhanced gov't money available for higher education...either "free" (which it isn't but he thinks it is) or in the form of loans. Well, markets being what they are, educational institutions see all this newly-available money and, voila, tuition goes up....because the institution wants its cut and so do the professors and staff AND somehow it's become a RIGHT to go to college. Meanwhile, owners of rental properties see an opportunity to charge more, too. Also, the job situation sucks so graduates can't find a job that allows the expected high standard of living AND pay off the loan at the same time. Moans and whines ensue. And, finally, Rosman proposes a bailout.

See how "Sequences" work?

PS: Liberals should read McManus and his philosophical discussion of "Sequences".

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 20, 2014 | 1:50 p.m.

Michael Williams:

I don't know about sequences but it appears there's no boondoggle federal program that can't be improved if we just make it ever larger, more expensive, and significantly increase eligibility. Some cheating is apparently tolerated (encouraged?).

(Report Comment)

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