The student loan industrial complex is a burden, and possibly even a virus: an estimated 43 million people are carrying a collective $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, and a vast majority of those people took out such loans before they were even old enough to legally drink or rent a car, and often with a vague pretense that such an investment will result in a job lucrative enough to pay it off. (While plenty of college graduates make more money than high school graduates in the long run, that isn’t always the case.) And the horror stories of people saddled with such debt are everywhere — many put off accepting dream jobs, getting married, and starting their own businesses because of the money they owe.
But one person’s living nightmare can also be another person’s livelihood, and that gig can come with some serious perks. (Are those benefits justified or monstrous? Well, that likely depends on whether you’re the one receiving them.)
On Thursday (October 17), NBC News reported that the loan giant Sallie Mae paid for at least 100 of its employees to travel to Maui, Hawaii, in August; they stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani, where rooms begin at $500 a night, and some employees brought their families, though the company says they only paid for direct employees.
Ray Quinlan, the company’s CEO, told NBC News the summit was “a sales get-together for all of our salespeople. … We do it every year.”
He added that it was being held in “recognition of the hard work” of its sales force, which resulted in $5 billion in student loan debts brokered to 374,000 borrowers in the past year. That’s ostensibly on top of the $20.4 billion in outstanding student loans total the company noted in its fourth-quarter 2018 report, up 18 percent from 2017. (For context, that sum is the rough equivalent of 20 NBA teams, with about $1.4 billion left over, so yeah, it’s a lot of money.)
That “hard work” comes at a cost for the millions of Americans who default on their student loans, or whose quality of life suffers because of the payments they make every month. On average, it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 years for most borrowers to pay off their loans, and there are also plenty of risks involved with private loans, which are the only kinds of loans Sallie Mae currently offers. (In 2014 the company created an offshoot called Navient in light of 2010 legislation signed by President Barack Obama that revamped the student loan industry and specifically blocked private banks from receiving government funds and therefore benefitting from federal loans.)
What’s more, a number of people have alleged that they signed onto such loans without being fully aware or informed of the difference, and that has impacted everything from their interest rates to their ability to defer or forbear on loans in hard times. As Newsweek reported, 40 percent of people with student loan debt are expected to default on their payments by 2023. Meanwhile, none of the four Presidential primary debates have featured a sustained conversation about student loans, even though the third and fourth debates were held at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, and Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, respectively.