The Burden of Doing What's Right

Over the weekend in the New York Times, author Lee Siegel admits to proudly being a deadbeat and he thinks you should be one too. He stopped paying back his student loans and has no regrets.

In fact, he says he “chose life” instead of paying back his student loans.

I turned forty this past week. I last practiced law in any form in 2006. I am still paying on my student loans and I will be for another ten years. Until four years ago, my student loan payments exceeded my mortgage payment.

When I started practicing law, I had to seek forbearance from paying my student loans twice. I started practicing law in 2000 and was making $45,000.00 a year. By the time I left the law firm where I was at, I had crossed over to 50,000.00. That year, had I stayed, I would have made partner. That sounds glorious, but I would have had to pay for my own health insurance, rent on my office, and shared overheard. In other words, I’d have made no more and probably a lot less.

At the same time, my wife could not be on my insurance, was paying COBRA temporarily, had her own student loans, and had to have a mastectomy. With medical bills, we struggled mightily, paying out over $1200.00 a month in student loan payments. Right now, I still pay $810.00 a month in student loan payments.

I chose life too. It was more of a struggle, probably, than what Lee Siegel had to deal with. But it was also the right thing to do. I got a great education. I knew going into it, though I mostly had scholarships for college, I had to foot the bill for law school.

Had I to do it again, I’d probably have gone to a state school instead of private school. But I would not have met my wife had I done that. I would not have had the stories to tell that I do now.

No one said life was fair. No one said it wouldn’t be a struggle. In fact, we struggle as we’re pushed out the birth canal into a world in which we struggle in various ways until they box us up and put us in the ground.

But here is the part Lee Siegel misses. I started making $45,000.00 a year out of law school. But my income has gone up ever since. My student loans payments have become less and less of a burden. And when they were a true burden, I was easily able to stop paying for a time or work to reduce my payment. Sure, I’ll be paying on them longer now, but I was able to get to a point where I could pay them more easily.

Certainly I had to make some decisions I wish I did not have to make. Certainly there are things I could not do because money had to go to pay back student loans. But I entered into the obligation.

The best things in life are not free. That includes education. Lee Siegel could have met his obligations. He could do so now. He did not chose life. He chose, essentially, to steal and now to brag about it. Not only that, he chose Columbia. He could have gone somewhere else as millions of other American do because of cost.

Thankfully, my parents taught me better than that. If you have an obligation, you honor it. Bragging about being a proud deadbeat is a sign of bad character. Lee Siegel noted that his mother is deceased. Were she alive, she’d be stuck with his student loan debt as his co-signer. But she’d probably be more upset seeing her son bragging in the New York Times about being a deadbeat.