On Monday, a Fox affiliate out of Houston broke news about a Texas man who was arrested for failure to pay his student loans. They featured an interview with the man, who claimed he was arrested by half a dozen U.S. Marshals armed with automatic weapons because he owed a mere $1,500 in student loans. In addition to a live interview with the man, the local Congressman, Gene Green, joined in on the conversation to share his outrage.
The accompanying article started off with the scary headline, “Believe it or not, the U.S. Marshals Service in Houston is arresting people for not paying their outstanding federal student loans.”
Predictably, the article went viral with lots of outrage and fear over possible arrests for delinquent student debt.
While fear and outrage are certainly justifiable reactions to student loan policy in the US, fear of arrest based on this “report” need not be added to the list of concerns.
Yahoo Finance took the time to actually do some research before publishing the story and found that the truth was much different than the headline. While the man was arrested by armed U.S. Marshals, the reason had very little to do with student loans.
Because the Texas man had failed to pay his federal student loans, he was sued in Federal Court. He further failed to show up at his hearing, so judgment was entered against him in the amount of $2,600. According to U.S. Marshals, the man continually refused to show up to Court. The judge in the case issued an arrest warrant after the man indicated via phone that he had no intention to honor the summons to appear in court.
Things escalated, according to a statement from the U.S. Marshals office, when the Texas man “resisted arrest and retreated back into his home” when agents arrived. “The situation escalated when [he] verbally said to the deputies that he had a gun. After [he] made the statement that he was armed, in order to protect everyone involved, the deputies requested additional law enforcement assistance. Additional deputy marshals and local law enforcement officers responded to the scene. After approximately two hours, the law enforcement officers convinced [the man] to peacefully exit his home, and he was arrested.”
Ultimately, the man did not even spend a night in jail. He was simply processed and taken to court.
The Bottom Line
There is no reason to freak out about half a dozen armed U.S. Marshals showing up on your front door because you are behind on your student loans. If you are ordered by a federal judge to show up in court, it is not a request or an invitation, it is a legal requirement. Refusing to do so can result in U.S. Marshals showing up on your door. If you tell them you are armed, they won’t just go home and call it a day. They will be back, and they will have big guns and backup.
It is a shame that a media outlet chose to run a story full of so many factual inaccuracies. Worse yet, others followed suit and reported it as news. It was the type of headline aimed at scaring people and generating attention. Fortunately, Yahoo Finance did some actual investigation prior to publication.
What about the Borrowers?
Perhaps the worst part of all the discussion of arrests from failure to pay student debt is the fact that it was a missed opportunity to share valuable information with borrowers who may be worried about the status of their student loans.
If you have federal student loans and don’t know where you stand with them, take a few minutes to check out the Federal Student Loan Database. Using this site you can find a list of all of your student loans as well as contact information for the lenders servicing the loans. If you fear that you cannot afford the monthly payments, be sure to check out programs like Income Based Repayment. Under this plan, borrowers are only required to pay a small portion of their income towards student loans. If you have no job, or don’t make much money, your payment can be as low as $0 per month. Your loans actually stay current, and your debt stays under control. Going this route also keeps the debt collectors, courts, and U.S. Marshals from getting involved.