Debt and Murder

Recently I watched ‘The Green Mile’ staring Tom Hanks and based on a novel by Stephen King. It’s a great movie and I highly recommend it. One of the side stories is of a death-row inmate named Wild Bill who kidnaps two girls from their home and murders them in the woods. He is able to abduct them from their home without awakening the parents because he tells one of them, “If you scream, I’ll kill your sister.” Then he says the same thing to the other one. He used their love against them.

I recall hearing once that the concentration camps during the holocaust had a very low rate of escape attempts. The reason for this is because they would separate the men from the women and they were each told that if they tried to escape, their loved one would be killed.

Many a book and movie has made use of this effective tactic with their characters. How often has the scene played out for you where a heroic character with a cavalier attitude about his potential torture is brought to heel with the threat of violence against someone he cares about? It is a powerful and effective form of leverage and so it was with very little surprise when I realized that banks make use of this same tactic to prevent would-be defaulters from failing to pay their debts.

Right now there are millions of people struggling with student loan debt that was co-signed by their parents. Intelligent, capable people with college degrees suffer every day through mediocre jobs (or no jobs) because they know that if they default on their student debt, the bank will take it out on their loved ones. It’s not enough that this particular debt is impeachable via bankruptcy.

This is not just a societal nuisance. Student loan debt far exceeds the credit card debt now. The same credit card debt that was touted in the 90’s as a serious problem. Many economists point out that if the student debt ‘bubble’ burst it could be as catastrophic as the 2008 recession.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know I’ve seriously considered bankruptcy. I’ve worked hard to maintain good credit my entire life, and it was not lightly that I considered bankruptcy to be necessary. But if I defaulted on my credit card debt, my ex-wife would become a target. If she runs into financial difficulty with the house, they will come after me. If I defaulted on my student loan debt, my parents would be harassed until they paid it for me.

As we have been approaching the New Year, I have been preparing a budget to aggressively pay off my debt. I won’t have it all paid this year, but I should be able to knock out the majority of it.

Still, the experience has shown me the insidiousness of the policy of co-signing. Any loan represents a financial risk. Risk by definition contains the possibility of failure. If I choose to take a financial risk, I do not want my loved ones to be in the crosshairs of that possibility. I will never ask another person to co-sign a loan for me again.

Photo by LendingMemo.

Photo by LendingMemo.

I understand why I did it. As a naive, young adult with my role models encouraging me to take on the debt while chanting the importance of a college education, I went for it. As an ambitious, young engineer with thoughts of starting a family, I took the ‘long view’ and decided to get a house I couldn’t afford. Now that I am older, I understand the full ramifications of taking on debt and the threat it poses to my life and of those I love. I think there are many, many people in my generation undergoing this realization with me.

We are hard-wired to accumulate. Marketers play on this desire to accumulate and banks enable it with debt. Choosing to live simply and small is a serious rejection of societal norms. Fighting against the temptation to accumulate, acknowledging this predisposition in ourselves, and identifying how our culture exploits it is a powerful step in taking control of ones life. I plan to take more control of my life this year and I encourage you to do the same.

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The Future of Change
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Next Generation Journalist
7 Responses to “Debt and Murder”
  1. Alan says:

    I’m nit sure if I’m allowed to say the F word here but FUCK! I just finished the book you recommended to me and honestly I don’t know a single person under 65 who isn’t drowning in debt, I have a friend who is over 100K in student loans and making under 20k a year. My best advice is that the worst credit in the world is the best thing you can have. There is not a single thing in this world that should be purchased on time, not even a house. Beers?

    • Chris says:

      I hear that! I have a couple friends my age that don’t have debt, but most people I know have accrued serious debt either through bad business decisions, student debt, credit card debt, house mortgages, etc.

  2. Alan in PA says:

    Your right debt is the new slavery. I am one of the under 65s not in debt. It was a lesson I learned living on Orcas Island for 10 years. Most of us had no money but still lived like kings. Orcas showed me that true riches are the environment you lived in and the friends you have. I taught that to my son (your age) as well and he managed to graduate from the UW with almost no debt. Its criminal what society and congress did to enslave your generation. Sold a college education while raising interest rates on preditory loans and then making it impossible to get out from under them when in great need. Congress at the same time helped send all our jobs overseas all the while collecting payouts from their corporate sponsers. Its really good to see you and your friends work to get out from this burden. Next we need to vote with our cash and strangle the bstards. At some level they need us to consume, just don’t do it. Your going to make it and be stronger for the experience. Good luck and good sailing. Next we need to save our planet

  3. Gary says:

    Comparing someone who willingly assumes a debt or co-signs for one to a concentration camp prisoner is foolish and offensive. I am astounded you would do so. Yes, student loan debt is a large problem. Any debt can be a large problem. Most of us have taken on necessary debt at one time, made the best of it and worked our way past it. We were not beaten, tortured, and lined up for death. Shame on you.

    • Chris says:

      I’m sorry if you interpreted my article as a comparison of the suffering between the two. The point was that love, as a coercive force, was used in the concentration camps to prevent attempted escapes. This same form of leverage is used today by banks to prevent people from defaulting on loans.

    • summer says:

      Did you even read what he wrote?

    • summer says:

      I recall hearing once that the concentration camps during the holocaust had a very low rate of escape attempts. The reason for this is because they would separate the men from the women and they were each told that if they tried to escape, their loved one would be killed.

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