Film tells the story of Americans shackled by school debt
In the wake of the financial crisis, spurred in part by a melting real estate market and mortgages losses, programs emerged to help homeowners face the daunting uphill battle to overcome financial mistakes and misfortunes. While the effectiveness of those programs are debatable, with it's massive bureaucratic maze and contradicting advice, here it was for the taking; a small glimmer of hope (if you qualified) for homeowners dealing with the consequences of regrettable financial decisions. We recognized the faces affected by the mortgage meltdown, they are our neighbors, our colleagues, our family. We knew their stories and never wished to walk in their shoes. But at least these consumers had options; government relief, loan modifications and even bankruptcy. America's college graduates are not so fortunate. Default: The Student Loan Documentary tells the story of a generation of Americans dealing with a set of unfortunate circumstances: an unemployment rate hovering around 9%, rising tuition costs across the country and an unforgiving private student loan on their back. The film documents the harsh reality these young graduates face, many first-generation college students, as they deal with these large financial burdens with no way out. Some were saddled with illness while others had their professional and personal life choices drastically limited. According to the Initiative for College Access & Success, student loans make up the largest single source for tuition in America yet there is little information on the potential burden different types of student loans carry. The fact that Default looks at the private student loan industry is especially important since most financial aid stories and advice tends to only examine only federal financial aid. For example, federal student loans are the type of aid that could eventually be forgiven or even bankrupt. While private student loans are another monster entirely. One that few media outlets bother to examine because well, to make it Facebook friendly, it's complicated. Student's receiving private student aid essentially sign away basic consumer protections and it is virtually impossible to forgive, modify or bankrupt these loans. According to Moody's, American student debt now exceeds total credit card debt and is likely to reach $1 trillion this year, with the average debt for a bachelor's degree at around $24,000. The film profiles some of the activists that are at work trying to fix this and there is also a bill sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Steve Cohen that would eliminate the unfair protections for private student lenders. There is a chance to add your story on Senator Durbin's website here. Unlike the banks receiving bailouts, young people do not finance their education out of greed. It is a decision usually reached through poor information, haste and youthful optimism. Education is sought to create opportunities. Yet so many young graduates, the same generation expected to carry the country into economic recovery, face financial ruin because of this broken system. One thing is clear: we can do better than this.