Feelings about Student Loan Forgiveness are Complicated

by | Oct 2, 2023 | *Financial Awakenings, Education, In The News, Life Aspiration Planning, Money Psychology, Weekly Column

I appear monthly on South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “In The Moment” program, hosted by Lori Walsh. In a recent segment, she asked me to address the emotions around student loan forgiveness, especially for those who had no debt or did not qualify for such programs.

For someone who never borrowed money for college, who paid off their student loans, or whose education debt was not eligible for loan forgiveness, what might it feel like to witness others having a portion or all of their college loan debt forgiven? These emotions are shaped by personal experiences, beliefs, and circumstances, and the range of possible responses may surprise you.

1. Happiness: Witnessing debt forgiveness can evoke genuine happiness for those who believe it’s a positive step towards reducing financial burdens and improving the well-being of others. Someone may see it as a societal win even if it is not a personal one.

2. Generosity: Some individuals may feel inspired to help others in need, whether through personal acts of kindness or support for policies aimed at alleviating the financial struggles of others.

3. Empathy: Even if someone has never faced student loan debt, empathy can lead to a deep understanding and compassion for those benefiting from forgiveness. They may grasp the immense relief it brings to individuals and their families.

4. Sympathy: Those who feel sympathy recognize the challenges people faced around accumulating debt. They empathize with the hurdles and may want to see others’ hardships eased.

5. Insecurity: Debt forgiveness can stir feelings of insecurity, especially if someone made different financial choices or had fewer opportunities. They may second-guess their own decisions or circumstances, wondering if they missed out. It is important to note that these are valid emotions, even if others don’t feel the same way. It is perfectly normal to feel a sense of unfairness when we see others receive assistance that we did not receive ourselves.

6. Indifference: Not everyone has a strong emotional reaction. Some may really not care, especially if they haven’t been personally touched by student loan debt or don’t know the individuals benefiting from forgiveness.

7. Resentment: For those who managed to avoid or repay debt through hard work or sacrifices, there can be a sense of resentment or perceived unfairness. They might believe others are getting a “free pass.” While this resentment can be normal, it may be helpful to consider that loan forgiveness is a well-intentioned policy designed to help those who have been overburdened by student loan debt for many years.

8. Jealousy and Envy: Jealousy can arise when individuals compare their own financial struggles or decisions to those benefiting from debt forgiveness. They may envy those who received assistance and wish they could have received similar help.

9. Confusion: Someone may not know how they feel. People may struggle to process complex or mixed emotions around debt cancellation, especially if they’ve never encountered a similar situation before.

10. Political or Ideological Alignment: Reactions can also align with one’s political or ideological beliefs. Some people may support student loan forgiveness because they believe it is a necessary step to address economic inequality. Others may oppose it because they believe it is unfair to taxpayers or that it will encourage more people to take on student loan debt in the future.

As with so many other financial matters, the varying opinions around student loan debt forgiveness are more about emotions than dollars. They intersect with our experiences, values, and money scripts. Understanding the wide range of possible emotions can be crucial to having a civil debate and productive discussions around this topic.


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