In the superhero origin story of Bitches Get Riches, student loan debt was our very first super villain. Only through defeating it did we become the Bitches, mighty warriors for truth, justice, and the debt-free way.
And since that legendary victory, we’ve had a lot to say about student loan debt: how it’s a uniquely predatory form of debt, how hard it is for many to escape, and why those desperate enough to get into student loan debt shouldn’t feel ashamed for wanting a way out.
So it should surprise no one that in the debate over whether or not federal student loan debt forgiveness should be a thing, our position is a resounding hell yes.
This week on the podcast we let out all the repressed rage we’ve been holding in at those who say things like “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s education,” and “I paid my student loan debt and so should you.” So tune in (or read the transcript below) to rage-scream with us!
This week’s question
Today’s question comes to us from an anonymous listener on Tumblr. Anon (good nurse) asks:
I have over $100k in student loan debt, and I keep meeting other people with student loan debt that wax poetic about how they feel like “their money belongs to the department of education” and “they owe it to the country to pay that money back” and “I made a commitment, I don’t want loan forgiveness” and sentiments of that nature. Am I entitled or being an asshole by feeling like: I’m paying mine back because I have to, but I don’t see anything noble about it and if I could get out of it, I would? I’m paying what I have to pay to qualify for the PSLF program and I’m not paying a penny more. Do I need to adjust my attitude?Anon (good nurse)
In a nutshell? NOPE. No attitude adjustment necessary! But of course there’s more to it than that, so listen to the episode to hear us weigh in on the student loan forgiveness controversy.
Watch our answer below, or listen in the podcast player of your choice.
And if you’d prefer to listen without video, you can subscribe in the podcast app of your choice, or listen here…
We have a well documented history of mouthing off about student loans. So if you’re new here, you can catch up on said mouthiness in the links below.
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Student Loans
- Season 3, Episode 1: “I Worry Paying for My Kids’ College Will Spoil Them. Don’t Student Loans Build Character?”
- When (And How) To Try Refinancing or Consolidating Student Loans
- I Paid off My Student Loans Ahead of Schedule. Here’s How.
- I Paid off My Student Loans. Now What?
- Ask the Bitches: “The Government Put Student Loans in Forbearance. Can I Stop Paying—or Is It a Trap?”
- The 2022 Student Loan Forgiveness FAQ You’ve Been Waiting For
This episode was brought to you by Capitalize: the free 401(k) rollover concierge that helps you stick it to the Man while saving for your future. They demystify the retirement account rollover process, making it simple, easy, painless… and free. *chef’s kiss*
Episode transcript (click to reveal)
This episode, like all episodes, is brought to you by our beloved Patreon donors. So this week, we’d like to thankErin, Laura, and Corrine. And an extra special thanks this week to Karin. Karin is the sound of a wild mustang’s hooves galloping across the sand of a perfectly white sandy beach at sunset.
Let me tell you the absolute worst thing that you can do for like home improvement. It’s something that you often will need to do, but it’s fucking awful because it is so much work, and no one notices it unless there’s something really wrong with it. It’s painting ceilings.
Oh no, you’re 100% right.
Painting and patching ceilings is fucking exhausting. I hate it so much.
Listen, we’re really giving a ringing endorsement for homeownership here, but I need to replace light fixtures in my living room and patch and paint the ceiling before putting new ones up. And I just, I know it’s gonna be such a pain in the ass, ‘cause I’m gonna have to move all the furniture out and cover the floor and whatever. And at the end of the day, [whisper shriek] no one will notice!
No one notices. No one notices.
It’s like a metaphor for stay-at-home motherhood.
I think you got it.
Trademark! Let’s trademark it.
Trademark. I got it.
How are mothers like ceilings? Ask me.
How is a raven like a writing desk? No, fuck that. Let’s get to the real issues. How are mothers like ceilings?
I’m so touched that you would pull out a Last Unicorn reference when you know I am just like,psychically low and I require sustenance
Theme Song 1:40
If you need some dough
You don’t know where to go
In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
We’re gonna help you, sis
Because bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
And so can you
Do you consider wyverns to be dragons? Or like, do you think it’s important to draw a distinction between the two?
I really don’t. I think, you know, your childhood fantasy animal of choice was, of course, unicorns. Mine was dragons and I think just any large, reptilian beast that can fly, like that—
It counts? Yeah.
That counts, yeah. Yeah.
I feel the same way. I think I see a lot of people “well actually”-ing about like, a Game of Thrones dragon or something. They’re like, [sarcastically] well actually—
[sarcastically] It’s a wyvern.
I’m like, you know what? No one hired you to be like, the walking bestiary, like be gone!
Let us have our very non-specific fantasy animal terminology, okay?
Yeah, get out of here, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I’m not coming in here and telling you about the difference between unicorns and alicorns, okay?
Wait, what’s an alicorn?
An alicorn—I’m so glad you asked.
Here we go.
An alicorn is a unicorn and a pegasus put together.
Mmhmm. Yeah. There you go.
Anyway, I’m Piggy.
And I’m Kitty.
And we’re the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
We are eagerly awaiting the release of Empire Queen, Chris Dane Owens’ fantasy feature film debut.
And we’re here to fulfill our CDO shout out quota of the season. [sing song] Love has enemies!
But our time on this planet is limited.
So let’s get started.
Okay. Today’s letter comes to us from our tumblr. Thank you, tumblr followers.Okay so our anonymous question asker asks, I have over 100k in student loan debt.
I feel you.
Just let that—just let that sit.
And I keep meeting other people with student loan debt that wax poetic about how they feel like “their money belongs to the Department of Education” and “they owe it to the country to pay that money back,” “I made a commitment, I don’t want loan forgiveness,” and sentiments of that nature. Am I entitled or being an asshole by feeling like I’m paying mine back because I have to, but I don’t see anything noble about it and if I could get out of it, I would? I’m paying what I have to in order to qualify for the PSLF program and I’m not paying a penny more. Do I need to adjust my attitude?
No. Bitches out. Cue the theme song.
Yeah, wow, this is the easiest episode ever.
Wow. Great. No, god, I have extremely passionate feelings on this one. Yeah.
First and most simply, you’re hanging out with bad people.
Yeah, you’re hanging out with bad people.
Who are you hanging out with that like—
Who are your friends?!
—in casual conversation, young people with their peers are like, [swirling a hand in the air as if holding a glass] well y’know—sorry, I’m trying to swirl and I don’t know if it’s reading, but I actually do have coffee.
Yeah, swirl a glass.
[swirls coffee cup in the air] Ohohoho, well actually, the money doesn’t belong to me. Blaah. Like, ew. Ew! Get better friends.
No, I will tell you exactly who these kids are. And I say kids, but let’s face it, like people in their fucking 50’s still have student loans to pay off. So I’ll tell you exactly who these people are. They are people who have listened far too closely to certain political talking points, and they have absorbed them into their own opinion in order to make themselves feel better about the fact that they are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
I completely agree and I actually think it’s important to note that it is something that makes them feel better. I think saying, this is my responsibility, I signed up for this, and I’m going to fulfill this commitment. I think that is a way of someone giving themselves a greater sense of control over something that they fundamentally actually, like feel pretty bad and out of control about. Which it’s totally fine and normal to feel helpless or intimidated or like you don’t have full personal autonomy when you’re in debt. Like—
There’s a vast difference between consumer debt and student debt. For one thing, like when I talk about consumer debt, like that’s your credit cards, your mortgages, your auto payments, stuff like that. You can discharge those in bankruptcy, it’s not easy, but you can. And those are things that, arguably, you don’t necessarily need, or things that you aren’t sort of talked into on the promise of a better life and a higher income. Like the reason people take out student loans is because they and their families can’t afford to put them through college. And the reason they feel like they need to go through college is to access a better life for themselves, and their families, and their future children. And like, I’m sorry, but if you’re going to go into debt for anything, a college degree, when put in those terms, sounds well worth going into debt for.
Yeah. I agree. I think that in our current system—like I think in this episode we may talk a lot about the way things are versus the way they should be. So to make clear, like the way things are right now is that for many people going to college is kind of a you must pay us this money in order to become middle class. You have to give us this money as an educational institution so that we hand you a piece of paper that says, this person is allowed to get a job with a living wage. And that is not the way things should be, but it is the way things are in America. Shout out to our international listeners who probably just threw up and turned the whole podcast off.
Yeah, our international listeners right now, it’s like please get yourself a security blanket and whatever your comfort food is while you listen to this.
Yeah, we’re gonna tell you— [Captain Barbossa voice] you best start believing in ghost stories!
Yes. [laughter] The horror movie that is the American educational system.
Okay, so besides getting better friends who don’t just like thoughtlesslyrecycle these weird talking points that they’ve heard that maybe give them a greater sense of comfort and control over their own lives. Is it inherently wrong for someone to take advantage of existing programs that could allow them to pay less over the lifetime of their loan?
Such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, or the Income Based Repayment Program? No, I do not think that it is inherently wrong or guilt inducing to take advantage of those programs and here is why. Education is valuable to the economy. An educated populace is great for the economy. It’s great for your community, it’s great for society in general. So I think we need to stop looking at this as a, you know, oh no, potential tax dollar deficit if people don’t pay back their student loans! What about the education deficit that our country is enduring because we make college so unaffordable?
Yeah, even from a pretty ruthless capitalist perspective. You don’t want for other economies, like India or China or Russia or South America. You don’t want them to have the best and the brightest and meanwhile, you have a populace that like can’t perform above like grade school level.
Can’t afford to—yeah exactly. And it’s not even like we don’t want them to have the best and the brightest. It’s no, we want to be able to compete on the global stage. And again, we’re saying this as like cold-hearted, capitalist people who stan the economy, you know? Like this is—if you aren’t compelled to believe in student loan forgiveness on the basis of it makes people’s lives more bearable, fine, we’ll talk about it in terms of your precious economy. Like, we got this.
Yeah. We’re so versatile, we’re flexible.
We’re so flexible.
We’ll meet you where you are.
Bitches Get Riches: We Meet You Where You Are.
So I was talking about this question beforehand with my husband, and he had a really good analogy that I want to share with you all. In a game where you don’t control what the rules are, it’s impossible for you to fight honorably or dishonorably. You can only play with the rules that someone else created. None of us listening to this have created the rules around how student loans work, and whether those rules are fair or unfair, fundamentally, this is what you have to work with. Can you work with what you have, and figure out the best way to win even if it seems like it could be quote-unquote cheating? You have to work with what you have. Now, if you are designing a game and you can make the rules and you make the rules so that you win every time. Yeah. Then you have no honor ‘cause you had control over that and you chose to game people. But this is different. If you don’t have control, then you don’t have the option to fight honorably.
That is brilliant and I fucking love it.
I know. I know.
Because I mean, let’s talk about it. Like to continue that metaphor, the system of student loan debt is dishonorable. It’s not ethical. It is set up so that some of our least powerful citizens, and I’m talking about 17 year olds, with limited financial resources, but also limited financial literacy. Like I didn’t quite understand what interest was when I was 17 and getting student loans.
Yeah, limited life experience. If you want to sell snake oil to someone, find a sixteen-year-old. They don’t know!
They don’t know anythi—they’ll sign up for3 credit cards for 3 free pizzas, like they don’t know! Like the system really is designed to take advantage of them and incentivize that, you know. So you’re taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable citizens for these student loans, you are putting them in a position where they cannot discharge that debt in really any way. Like, student loans are not able to be discharged through bankruptcy so it is one of the most restrictive forms of debt. You are also keeping them in debt regardless of whether or not they received the product. Some of the people who are struggling with student loan debt, do not have a college degree!
Never graduated, yeah.
They never graduated! And most of that is probably ‘cause they couldn’t afford more loans to pay for further semesters so, you know, they took these loans out with the promise of a better life and better opportunities and now they still have the loans. They don’t have that better life and opportunities. So the game is rigged in ways where, you know, you can very easily say they should have known better, but practically speaking, that’s not the case.
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So I was actually listening to a really interesting Planet Money podcast the other day where they were talking about the evolution of the tax code over time, and they pulled out this line from an era when the tax code was kind of shifting from something very simple and straightforward and universal into something that was kind of filled with loopholes. There was one that had like a specific line, in United States tax code! that said if you owned a movie studio for at least 20 years, and had shared equity for at least 12 of those years, then you can deduct this kind of special tax rate. Jess, I want you to guess—
Is that the Cecil B. DeMille clause? Like what the hell?
It is literally—it applied to one person and it was the “M” in MGM.
Oh my god.
So it was literally that this person was well-connected enough that they could get a custom tax code just to benefit them. And it was really fascinating, go check that out. Planet Money’s a great podcast, by the way. Not as good as ours, ‘cause they don’t swear enough.
So, have you read The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton?
I have not.
Great book, but it basically blows apart our understanding of taxes and why we pay them, because a lot of people who are against student loan forgiveness, for example, are like, no, I paid my debt back. Why should somebody else use my hard-earned tax dollars to get their student loans forgiven? And that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. Basically, the United States government is not a currency user. They don’t budget like a household budgets, they don’t even budget like a corporation budgets. They are a currency issuer, not a currency user which, and I’m totally going to simplify this so that it can be picked up by even the most stubborn listeners, they make money out of thin air. They don’t need our tax dollars to do things like, say forgive student loans or, you know, give a bailout to an auto manufacturer. They don’t need our tax dollars do that because they make money out of thin air. The reason they charge us taxes is to incentivize us to earn money that we then have to pay in taxes. So anyone who’s upset about student loan forgiveness, through the lens of I don’t want to pay for somebody else’s education. You’re wrong, calm down, that’s not how it fucking works. Boom. Modern monetary theory in less than 5 minutes.
Frankly, I’m blown away.
You should be.
I totally agree. I think that kind of the root of this question is a little bit interesting to me because I’m like, why would you even feel this way? Like I could hear a talking point like this or hear someone say a bad take like this, and I would not internalize it and like be laying awake at night going like, well why haven’t I? If you are wealthy enough, you can hire people to basically up to and including writing laws for you to make it easier for you to do very complex things that allow you to legally dodge taxes, such as, for example, offshore banking. That’s not something an average person and their household is going to do. But every single company in the Fortune 500, I guarantee you, is employing some degree of what I would call creative accounting in order to minimize their tax repayments.
Every single one.
And you know what? I understand that they have every incentive to do that. Again, if the rules are unfair but you have no control over the rules, figure out how to use the rules to your advantage. Take advantage of those programs. If you have a strategy where it makes sense for you to pay the minimum, pay the fucking minimums. Pay less than you have to.
Pay the fucking minimums.
Because what are you going to do with that money? Unless you are an extraordinary wealthy individual, I think it’s almost certain that you will take that money and you will use it on things like food and rent and gasoline. And it’s going to go right back into our economy where it should be circulating anyway, so why would you carry this guilt over this?
Where it’s gonna do some good.
Do not do that.
Absolutely. Do not do that. Do not carry any guilt and if anybody tries to make you feel guilt over your desire to not pay back your student loans, be like, you know what, my money would do much better in my local economy. It would do much better if I used it at local businesses and restaurants. It would do much better if it was saved so that I could afford property, so that I’m no longer paying rent. It would, you know—
Here’s another way to think about it. When you made this agreement, did you go in with a clear understanding of the terms? Was this a very clear business transaction, where I will loan you $100 and in a week you will send me back $110, and it is super simple, super clear, nice and digestible. Or is it more of a Faustian bargain where you’re like, oh I get to go to school? Oh, and you’ll put my room & board and my meal plan on there too? And you’ll let me defer the interest for several years? Wow, this is amazing. I don’t really get how this stuff works, but all my friends and my teachers and everyone is telling me this is a great thing, so I’m just gonna sign on the dotted line and just do it. And then later on, when you are 24, you’re like hold on a fucking second! Now I understand why this was a good or a bad deal and I didn’t when I signed it. So I think how clear-headed were you in terms of what the benefits and drawbacks were, because I think it’s fine to charge interest on loans. I think it’s fine even, to a certain extent, to charge some money for education. I’d prefer if it was free but I’ll settle for affordable, and like if you don’t know going into it what those terms really are, and what they really mean, it is in no way shameful or dishonorable for you to later on go, you know what, I actually made a pretty bad deal. I did what I thought was right at the time with the information that I had and it was not enough information. And now I would like to use every tactic at my disposal to change the terms of that loan. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I completely agree. And I think that you know, this again goes back to the point of like, well you signed on the dotted line, like you made an agreement! And I just don’t think it’s fair to hold people to predatory lending terms when they got into those terms when they got into those terms through a Faustian bargain, when they got into it through ignorance. And I also think that holding people to those terms and shaming them, either through the lens of well you should have known better or through the lens of well I don’t want my tax dollars paying for somebody else’s education. I think that that is unfair and it’s short-sighted. I think that because a well-educated populace is good for all of us. When I am a 90 year old crone surrounded by hot doctors in a nursing home, I want those hot doctors to be well-rested. I want them to have good work-life balances, I don’t want them to be stressed about money, and I want them to be the best doctors possible because they weren’t excluded from their education by lack of means.
I want talented doctors looking after my desiccated husk because they did not have to worry about the cost of education.
Just like I want talented transportation officials and architects and judges and—
Civic engineers.FDA workers. Food inspectors!
God, like literally it is to everyone’s benefit.
I just want them all to be educated and I want them to be not distracted by by financial problems.
Like that is what I want for my own personal selfish safety. And I’ve heard a lot in the debate, and I’m reading into our anonymous question asker’s, I’m reading between the lines of their question a little bit. But I’ve heard a lot in this debate over student loan forgiveness of people being like, well, I worked hard to pay off my student loans.
Ughhh. [simulates jerking off]
Exactly. And like I’m going to say it. I worked hard to pay off my student loans.
And my great-grandmothers worked hard so that I, a woman, could have the right to vote. And people of my grandparent’s generation worked hard so that there was a polio vaccine. And am I expecting them to begrudge me my right to vote? my polio-free existence? No! Shit gets better. We should not scoff in the face of progress, even when it means that—especially when it means that those who come after us will have a better time.
I could not agree more. Education makes the world better, like period, end of discussion. Makes people happier, makes the world better. We should remove or at least minimize the barriers to obtaining it, and we should get it on sale whenever possible.
And I hope that if anyone else is struggling with the feelings of our anonymous asker today, like I hope they go to their friends and they say, you know what, I signed a Faustian bargain with an immoral system and I am not ashamed to say that I’m going to play within the rules of that game to minimize the cost to me. The cost of my stress, the cost of my dollars, the cost of my hard work. I’m going to minimize that as much as possible because the system was rigged against me and I am not going to feel bad about that. And then I want you to take a nice long, drink of whatever cheap beer you’re drinking because you’re trying to pay off your student loans and just wait for the penny todrop.
I love it and I love you.
I love you too. Are you good with that?
Yeah, I’m good with that.
Listeners, if you want us to answer your question, go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click “Ask the Bitches.” Our goal here at Bitches Get Riches is to help people, but we want to make a living wage for ourselves and our assistant doing so without being like a total piece of shit sellout. So if you believe in that mission and you want to help us achieve it, the easiest way to do that is to go to patreon.com/bitchesgetriches. We also accept one time donations through paypal.com/paypalme/bitchesgetriches.And if you need more of our spicy, spicy wisdom, you can read our articles and follow us on social media, and you can do all that stuff at BitchesGetRiches.com.
Alright, is there anything else that they should know?
Yes. There is a correct way to put a fresh roll of toilet paper on the toilet paper roll spindle. And I’m going to say it. And in real time, you’re going to react and I’m going to be able to tell if you are wrong or if you are right. The correct way is to put it so that the paper comes over the top of the roll.
Correct. That is correct.
Right? God, I was so worried we’d have to get work divorced.
Oh, no, absolutely. This is correct. It makes it much easier to grab. You don’t have to like be reaching under it in the shadows going where is it, where is it? It’s right before your eyes. No, I as a former UX professional put my stamp of approval upon this. I will do you one better though. A more universal rule. I would rather you do it incorrectly than to leave me without toilet paper.
That is fair.
Then you’re a bad person and you should pay your student loan debt in full. Fuck off.
Use that money to wipe your ass and then ship it right over to the Department of Education.
Wipe your ass with it.
Good to know.
Kitty& Piggy 27:58