The New York Times recently published an op-ed that offered defaulting on your loans as a viable way of escaping student debt. Pretty much everyone disagrees with that.
"It struck me as absurd that one could amass crippling debt as a result, not of drug addiction or reckless borrowing and spending, but of going to college," Lee Siegel, a journalist based out of New Jersie, wrote in an essay for The New York Times. "Having opened a new life to me beyond my modest origins, the education system was now going to call in its chits and prevent me from pursuing that new life, simply because I had the misfortune of coming from modest origins."
The best way to fight back, Siegel explained, was to simply default on his loans. Doing so was his way of discarding "a social arrangement that is legal, but not moral."
"When the fateful day comes and your credit looks like a war zone, don’t be afraid," he counseled. "The reported consequences of having no credit are scare talk, to some extent."
Not everyone's on board with Siegel's proposal, however (and he does indeed propose this to be a viable path for others, saying that "the millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans may want to consider my example"). Some believe Siegel's argument is disconnected from the economic realities of poor Americans.
"Much of his piece is basically a guide to life after defaulting, which he argues is less awful than many would have you think," Slate's Jordan Weissmann wrote in response. "Astoundingly, Siegel never mentions, nor demonstrates that he understands, the fact that in most cases of default the government can simply start garnishing up to 15 percent of borrowers’ disposable wages directly from their paychecks."
Siegel's op-ed, according to Weissmann, goes well beyond sloppy reasoning into "unethical" territory.
"The Times ... should consider apologizing for publishing this deeply irresponsible op-ed," Weissmann wrote early on in his critique. "He spends about a third of the column dispatching criminally negligent financial advice."
"For most people, Siegel's recommendations are dangerous," Vox's Libby Nelson wrote in her own critique. "They gloss over the serious, life-long consequences for defaulting on student debt. And they make one of the worst cases for student loan forgiveness imaginable."
According to Nelson, the reasoning in Siegel's op-ed may actually be contributing to the student loan crises.
"Students with federal loans have more options now than they did when Siegel graduated," Nelson explained, but Siegel is arguing for people to bypass those options in favor of an easier, and potentially more financially devastating, option.
"You are not going to save any money with default," Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of Edvisors.com, told The Deseret News National last year. "There is no strategic reason to default."
Editor's note: This article originally claimed, erroneously, that Lee Siegel is a journalist based out of Rhode Island. He actually resides in New Jersey.
JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: [email protected], Twitter: jjfeinauer.