Lee Siegel, New York writer and recipient of three Ivy League degrees, was roundly castigated after he proudly explained “Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans”.
Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.
I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.
As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.
Besides generating revulsion at Siegel’s oozing sense of entitlement, his column stirred criticism of the New York Times for “dispatching criminally negligent financial advice”.
Ron Leiber pointed out the flaws in Seigel’s explanation of how to circumvent the negative repercussions from a student loan default.
First, he tells people to get as many credit cards as they can before they stop repaying their student loans. This way, presumably, you will have plenty of credit available once your credit report is ruined and you can’t get new cards. But card issuers are constantly checking the credit of existing cardholders to look for distress signals. If they see any, they may lower your limits or close your accounts….
The second piece of advice Mr. Siegel has for aspiring defaulters is to establish a good history of paying rent. This can work, as long as you rent from a landlord who never checks your credit or a new one who relies on your old landlord’s good word.
But many landlords do check and won’t be sympathetic, especially in tight markets. Besides, plenty of people don’t want to be tenants forever, given how hard it can be to find rentals in some good school districts. Others want to plant roots and build home equity.
Will those defaulters be able to qualify for a mortgage? A judgment resulting from a default may stay on your credit report for up to 10 years….
Bank of America, one of the biggest home lenders, did not comment on whether people with defaults on their credit record would be able to get mortgages, and a Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to categorically rule out the possibility that someone could qualify for a loan within the tarnished-credit window.
But Richard M. Bettencourt Jr., the secretary of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers and a lender himself with a company called Mortgage Network in Danvers, Mass., said he had never seen people with student loan defaults on their credit records get a mortgage….
Which brings us to Mr. Siegel’s third piece of advice: Marry well, or at least have a creditworthy partner. Then, that person can be the sole mortgage applicant. Mr. Siegel’s wife bought the home where they live, according to public records.
There are a number of problems with this approach. Some lenders may not allow it, since certain low down-payment loans in community property states require both spouses to apply, according to Wells Fargo. Of course, you’ll need to talk someone into coupling up with you in the first place, after explaining that you’re not so big on financial obligations but that you really, truly intend to honor marital ones.
Lee Siegel, “Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans”, New York Times, June 6, 2015.
Ron Lieber, “Taking On Student Debt, and Refusing to Pay”, New York Times, June 15, 2015.