A Modern Concept of “Morality”

Leaving aside what led these folks to take on such debt in the first place, what a difference in the concepts of honor and morality is displayed below, both across generations and within the newer generation.  Think about what values were being taught….

On the one hand, we have these two examples [emphasis added].

Ms Cyndee Marcoux, a Massachusetts librarian, says she feels trapped.  She co-signed student loans for two of her three children—and both of them are struggling.  One, Jocelyn Marcoux, 30, says she has given up on paying back the loans that allowed her to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2005.  An import-export agent for a freight company, she says she struggled to pay for child care and medical expenses for an autoimmune disease she developed.  “If I had known the amount of money I would have to pay a month, I wouldn’t have gone,” she says.

The younger Ms Marcoux feels she is taking a calculated risk, because her husband owns their home and she has little savings. “If they sue us, they can’t get anything,” she says.  But her mother sees things differently; she even moved in with her 83-year-old mother to pare expenses and make payments on Jocelyn’s loans.  “I have to,” she says. “I co-signed them.

So, the child quit and dumped the whole obligation onto her mother.  Having little of present value other than her income stream that can be taken by creditors, Marcoux the Younger feels no obligation to do the right thing, solely because it’s the right thing to do.  Yet her mother hasn’t quit, isn’t “taking a calculated risk,” and isn’t reneging on the joint obligation.  The mother understands the nature of commitment: “I have to.”  Even when there are no material consequences for not honoring it.

I also have to wonder two things: what was the mother teaching the daughter early on, and what prompted the daughter (and mother) to sign loans that they did not understand?


[G]randparents are getting pulled into the debt morass too; some of them co-signed when a student’s own parents didn’t qualify to help out.  Pam Gerke, a 49-year-old divorced fourth-grade teacher in Davison, MI, owes $98,000 on her own student loans—too much, she says, for her to co-sign her daughter’s loans for beauty school.  So Ms. Gerke’s mother, Darlene Kuhn, did so instead.

After the daughter dropped out and quit making the $200-a-month payments on her debt in 2010, the 72-year-old Ms. Kuhn took over. She says she fears her credit rating will fall, so she draws from the $1,400 a month she collects in Social Security—her only income since retiring.  “I tried to do a good deed,” she says.  Indeed, both Ms. Kuhn and Ms. Gerke say they are bitter about the whole experience. (The daughter declined to return phone messages.)  “My mother would rather not eat than not pay her bills,” Ms. Gerke says.  “I’m mortified as a mother and a daughter.”

Once again, the child feels no obligation to honor her commitments.  It’s too hard, apparently.  But morality and integrity aren’t too hard for her grandmother.

I have to wonder here, too, what values were being taught.  Also, how did the loan of the mother-between-the-grandmother-and-granddaughter get so large?

On the other hand, we have these [emphasis added].

Bob Stinson, 65, retired from his job as a FedEx Corp plane-maintenance scheduler in 2003.  Two years later, he co-signed for the first chunk of about $50,000 in student loans for his daughter Tiffany, a dental assistant with an associate degree.  Although Mr Stinson had stopped working due to degenerative arthritis, he and his wife were enjoying a comfortable retirement at their home outside Michigan City, MS, he says.

But after getting her bachelor’s degree, Tiffany Stinson had to sidetrack her plans to go to dental school to help her mom recover from serious surgery.  She says she stopped making her $1,200 monthly student loan payments when “I couldn’t pay for stuff right then.”  She has since resumed making partial payments….

A family emergency—not a personal convenience emergency—caused an interruption, but now the child, the primary borrower, is trying to catch up, instead of walking away and dumping it all on the co-signer.


[S]ome borrowers are simply working on paying off their debt faster—in part, to help get co-signers off the hook.  Valentina Fleer, a 29-year-old opera singer in New York, faithfully has made $864 monthly payments on about $90,000 in private student loans that helped her graduate from Barnard College and Manhattan School of Music in New York.  She says her father co-signed for some of the loans because “it was only way I could get the money.”

But her parents are Russian immigrants, and Ms Fleer says she didn’t feel that she or her parents fully understood their commitment when they applied for the loans.

“Today, she says, the debt “just hangs over me.  I make those payments because I don’t want any backlash hanging over them.

As before, I have to wonder why they made the loan commitments if they didn’t understand what they were doing.  But, more importantly, Ms Fleer is honoring her commitment and actively declining to dump it onto her co-signer.

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