Frisky Rant: Pay Off Your Own Debt!

I graduated from college two years ago with $115,000 in student loans. I’m paying them off a little at a time, and when I need a reason to drink, I like to play with loan payoff calculators online, which tell me that, if my monthly payments stay as they are, I should be done in about 42 years. Sure, sometimes I wish I had picked a less expensive school, but so do a lot of people, right? What’s done is done, and now I have to pay for my degree, just like everyone else … right?

Not exactly. Apparently, not all of us are in the same shoddily constructed boat. While some of us are wondering where the hell we put the life vests, others are jumping ship and demanding a refund. Like the anonymous Boston College Law School student Julie wrote about yesterday: He’s penned a letter to the dean, proposing that the school deny him his degree in exchange for wiping out his student loan debt.

Julie asked, “…when a student takes on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that law degrees require, should there be a safety net of some kind in place?” My answer? No way! He chose to pay for an education: the right to go to class and have professors teach him, nothing more—certainly not the guarantee of a degree or a job offer. And that’s what he got: knowledge and skills, which is not something you can give back, hard as you may try.

He’s not the only one trying to get around paying for school. Elsewhere on the web, the anonymous blogger behind asks for donations to pay back $200,000, writing that their “situation is somewhat unique,” citing completely non-unique examples like being 23, not making enough money yet to pay off the debt easily or quickly, and choosing an expensive school.

And earlier this year, would-be law student Sarah Allen thought ahead and took to the internet to ask for donations to fund her law school education before she even started it (to her credit, she also intended to start a debt-free scholarship fund). But after being criticized by press and commenters online, she took down her site and put her law school dreams on the shelf.

The problem, of course, starts with the high cost of education in the first place. It’s not right that we feel like we need to pay over a hundred grand to get a decent education and a leg up in the job hunt when we graduate. But the current reality—one that we’re aware of when we start applying to schools—is that yes, education is expensive … and, unfortunately, not always worth the investment. If you’ve made the decision of your own free will to go ahead anyway, should you get to backtrack? (It’s not just school debt, either: Remember Karyn Bosnak of, who asked for donations to wipe away the $20,000 of credit card debt she racked up shopping?) Debt is hardly an issue exclusive to our generation, so what happened to putting on our grownup pants and paying it off without asking someone else to pay it for you … or asking the dean for a takeback?

I can certainly empathize with feeling overwhelmed by your debt: Regret over a financial investment—whether it’s the hundred grand you owe for school or the two pairs of boots you bought last month and now can’t return because you lost the receipt (damn it!)—is very real and very stressful. But I have a hard time empathizing with what seems to be an inability or a refusal to make peace with the decisions you’ve made and to deal with the consequences, one payment at a time. After all, what’s the difference between asking strangers on the internet for financial help and asking Mom and Dad to bail you out?

In the meantime, I’m going to click the little red X on the browser window when I stumble on another pay-off-my-debt site, and go back to that video of the cat eating watermelon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts: Do these pleas for help get under your skin, too, or would you consider doing the same?