Last week, seven deputy US Marshals arrested a man named Paul Aker in Houston, Texas over a student loan from nearly 30 years ago, Fox Houston reported.
The US Marshals were dressed in full combat gear and were carrying automatic weapons, Aker said. When they came to his door, he was confused.
“I was wondering, why are you here?” he told Fox.
The arrest was over a $1,500 student loan he received in 1987, Aker said. He says says he received no certified mail or notices about the outstanding debt in the past 29 years.
To be clear, you usually can’t be arrested simply for failing to pay debt in America. The US banned debtors’ prisons in 1833, and the US Supreme Court has ruled they’re unconstitutional.
However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has noted that lenders can obtain judgments against you if you fail to pay.
“[If] you ignore an order to appear in court, a judge may issue a warrant for your arrest,” the CFPB added. “You should never ignore a court order.”
In Houston, private debt collectors hired by the federal government are getting federal courts to issue judgments against student debtors, Texas Congressman Gene Green said on Fox.
“There’s bound to be a better way to collect on a student loan debt that’s so old,” Green said on Fox. Green noted while the original value of the loan was $1,500, interest has been accruing on the loan for the past nearly 30 years.
Student loan debt is notoriously hard to shake. Unlike consumer debt, it is extremely unlikely to have student loan debt discharged, even in cases of bankruptcy, meaning the government will follow you around your entire life until the debt is paid off.
“They can and do — literally do — pursue debtors to their graves,” Heather Jarvis, a student-loan expert who advises people on how to manage their debt, told Vice News last year.
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