Faced with crippling student loan debt, a Pennslyvania man chose to leave the United States to avoid paying on his balance.
Chad Albright told the York Daily Record that America had become a prison and that he felt he had no choice but to leave in 2011. At the time, Albright said, he had been searching for a job for two years but was never hired.
Albright graduated in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession, and was often told in interviews that companies were going with an individual with more experience who had been recently laid off from another job.
“But the last thing they would say to me. ‘Don’t worry, your day will come,'” Albright told the Record.
Alright said he worked full-time at a local pizza place after high school in order to save up to go to college and, at age 25, he enrolled at Millersville University in Millersville, Pennslyvania. Being older than most students, Albright said he was ostracized by his classmates and found it difficult to balance coursework and continuing to work full-time.
Once the bills began piling up, he took out student loans and thought he would find a job after graduation and be able to pay the loans back.
“I wanted that diploma, and I was willing to work for it. Everyone always told me it would be worth it,” Albright told the Record.
Instead, Albright said he continued delivering pizzas and applying for jobs in public relations. He moved back in with his parents and fell behind on student loan payments.
“I was expected to make a $400 loan payment every month, but I had no money, no sustainable income. College ruined my life,” Albright told the newspaper.
His choice to leave the country came after he saw an interview with a woman who was teaching English in China. With support from his parents, Albright bought a one-way ticket and took a job teaching in Zhongshan, China where he made $1,000 a month.
With his rent paid for by his employer, and the cost of living considerably lower in China, Albright said he was able to enjoy things he couldn’t in America.
“My life was so much better once I left. Why would I ever go back?,” Albright said.
When he graduated, Albright estimated he owed $30,000 in student loans. According to Forbes, the average student from the Class of 2017 graduated with $37,172 in loan debt.
Student loan debt statistics, reported in the first quarter of 2018 by the Federal Reserve, indicate that $1.52 trillion is owed from individuals who borrowed money for college. Over 44 million people owe money on their student loans and 10.7 percent are in default on their loans, meaning payments are over 90 days late.
Albright isn’t alone in leaving the U.S. to avoid his debt, a CNBC report highlighted three college graduates, Albright being one of them, who chose to move to other countries as the cost of living in the U.S., combined with student debt, proved too much.
“I have a higher standard of living in a Third World country than I would in America, because of my student loans,” Chad Haag, a Colorado native who moved to India, said.
Haag graduated in 2011 with $20,000 in debt. Though he told CNBC he knows his debt is less than most Americans, being unable to make a living wage meant that the debt he accrued is “devastating.”
Katrina Williams, another graduate who currently lives in Japan, said her $700 a month student loan bill required her to take on multiple jobs.
“I was working every day. I had enough money left over to put gas in the car,” Williams told CNBC, adding that she lived with her mother and couldn’t afford health insurance.
Williams moved to Japan to teach English in 2015 and said that she has considered moving back home, but knows that if she does she will be hit with wage garnishment and collection calls. Her student loan debt is now over $100,000.
Albright, who now lives in Ukraine, said he doesn’t think about his student loan debt and told the Record he hasn’t checked his loan balance in eight years.
“I miss a lot of things. Of course I miss my family, I miss the country I grew up in, I miss watching football with friends. Everything American, you know, I miss,” Albright told CNBC, “The only thing I don’t miss is our stupid educational system.”
Like Williams, Albright said he is afraid to return to the U.S. because of his debt.
Student loan debt has become a focus of Congress with the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holding hearings on Tuesday regarding so-called predatory behavior from student loan servicers.
Democrats are hoping Congress will enact laws that provide protection to student loan borrowers, who sometimes aren’t informed about loan repayment plans that are the best option for their circumstances, The Hill said.
“You want your degree at the end, and that’s really the focus when young people get in there. Then afterwards they expect the government and the quasi-governmental relationship they might have with private companies to do what’s in the best interest of their future,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said during the hearing.
Republicans have hesitated to impose any new regulations on loan servicers.
Student loan debt has become a focus of some 2020 presidential candidates with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposing a policy that would eliminate up to $50,000 in debt for most Americans. While South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg has called for debt-free college for low-income students through expanding Pell Grants.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has suggested making college free for all Americans, while Sens. Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have prompted allowing borrowers to refinance federal loans at lower interest rates.
Still, while it might seem a good idea to leave the country to escape student loan debt, financial experts warn against the practice as the debt will only grow over time. And while the U.S. government cannot usually garnish wages from an individual who lives and works in another country, it can withhold up to 15 percent of social security benefits, CNBC said.