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Why Are Students Denied the Right to Bankruptcy?

It’s time to repeal the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005 and give US college graduates the chance to take risks.

(Photo: Empty Wallet via Shutterstock)

Donald Trump is wrong. We don’t need to “Make America Great Again.” We need to let Americans fail again. It all starts by solving our student loan crisis.

According to recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, the most recent graduating class, the class of 2015, was the most indebted in US history. Students who threw caps in celebration last May held, on average, $35,000 in debt.

While that’s only a few thousand dollars more than the average amount of debt held by students who graduated one year earlier in 2014, it’s over $20,000 more than the average amount of debt held by students who graduated 10 years earlier in 2005.

There’s absolutely no reason to expect that the class of 2016 won’t be in even more debt.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

The worst part of all, though, is that that there is no escape for the estimated 37 million Americans struggling to pay off their college loans.

Thanks to the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, it’s now illegal for them to get rid of their student loans through bankruptcy, something you can do with pretty much every other kind of debt.

Do you know what other types of payments are illegal to discharge through bankruptcy? Child support payments, criminal reparations and unpaid taxes.

That’s right, the US legal code treats college grads the same way it treats child-support-dodgers.

Pretty ridiculous, right? You bet.

There is absolutely no reason why student loan debt should be treated differently from any other kind of consumer debt. The banksters just wanted a little freebee from the government, and in 2005 Congress gave it to them.

And here’s the thing: This isn’t just a problem for all the $20,000-in-debt college graduates out there who now have the financial equivalent of a ball and chain strapped to them for the rest of the working lives. This is a problem for all of us.

Not only does it suck up thousands of dollars in demand that would otherwise be giving our economy a much-needed jolt, it also prevents college graduates from experiencing one of the most important tools for future success: failure.

David Akidjian talks about this in a recent piece for DailyKos. The shackles of student loans, he points out, prevent many young college grads from taking the risks that make the US way of doing business so vital. Stuck paying off a mountain of debt that in many cases is equal to the average entry level salary, they’re (understandably) unwilling to do what earlier generations did and a take out a line of credit and start a business. And because of this, they’ll never really know what it means to fail.

I do.

I failed in my very first foray into running a business, and it’s helped me more than any management seminar ever could. Back in the late 1960s, I started and ran a TV and stereo repair shop in East Lansing Michigan. We called it The Electronics Joint.

It did well for a while, growing to five full-time employees, but went under when I overinvested in repair technology that, it turned out, was unnecessary.

The new line of solid-state TV’s filling the marketplace failed much less frequently than the old tube-type TVs, but I borrowed and spent a pile of money on testing and repairing equipment for TVs and stereos that just weren’t breaking down.

I owed a bunch of money to the bank for that newfangled test equipment, so I ended up having to declare a bankruptcy.

I couldn’t get a credit card for a few years afterwards, but that was pretty much all that happened. No landlord or employer checked my credit, and I was able to easily move on with my life, starting another business the following year.

I learned a tremendous business lesson from that screw-up, and, like Henry Ford and Donald Trump, I was able to use bankruptcy to wipe my slate clean. That’s a privilege today’s college graduates just don’t have.

They’re too in debt to go out there and borrow money to start a business, and they’re barred by law from getting rid of the crushing loans they already have.

It’s time to once again make it safe in the US to fail. It’s time to make college free for everyone and it’s time to repeal the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, and give US college graduates the chance to take the risks that make this economy great.