“They bought a car without a break”


ALBANY – Is the country’s student debt crisis the result of a bad borrower problem or a bad lending system?

It was the question that animated the last project of the filmmaker Albany Mike Camoin.

“Sallie Mae Not” will premiere on July 26 at 1 p.m. at the Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival. This is the first chapter of Camoin’s six-part “Scared to Debt” series, which explores how US student loan debt rose from $ 10 billion in 1986 to $ 1.6 trillion.

The film festival, which this year is a “Tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Pentagon Papers and the Rise of Investigative Journalism,” is hosted by ACORN 8 and the Society of Professional Journalists, Washington DC Chapter. ACORN 8 is a watchdog organization of former insiders of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and members of the National Board of Directors who attempted to reform ACORN after the discovery of a multi-million dollar embezzlement. dollars.

The film festival runs from July 23 to August 1.

For Camoin, his documentary is personal. Next year, her 17-year-old daughter will be in her final year of high school and will start applying for universities. He also has a 15-year-old son who is entering grade 10.

“I started talking to some of my friends about student loans and realized that it really had an impact on so many people I know. As a parent, I would soon be faced with this terrible choice for financing. university, he said. I don’t want to sign these loans; I know too much. “

A graduate of St. Bonaventure University and the University of Albany, the former Slingerlands social worker started his company Videos For Change Productions 25 years ago and has made documentary filmmaking a full-time career. His 1998 production “Inside The Blue Line: Leadley’s Legacy,” a series centered around an Adirondack lumberjack’s quest to save the wilderness, aired on PBS and Canadian television.

SALLIE MAE NOT | Mike Camoin official trailer on Vimeo.

Camoin’s latest film brings together the voices of student borrowers, financial experts and early whistleblowers who say they were not taken seriously when they warned of a systematic dismantling of basic consumer protections for student loan borrowers, which started in 1998. The result is a predatory loan system that exploits millions of young people and their families.

It features Rolling Stones columnist Matt Taibbi, who sounded the alarm bells on the student loan industry in 2013 when Sallie Mae Bank, a formerly federally backed lender, went fully private.

“Everyone in the education sector recognizes the misery of young people making catastrophic financial decisions when they are just teenagers,” Taibbi said in the trailer.

The series targets banks, governments and college executives. It ties the under-regulated student loan system to soaring tuition fees at institutions across the United States. The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year was $ 41,411 at private colleges, $ 11,171 for state residents at public colleges, and $ 26,809 for public colleges. foreign students in public schools, according to data from US News & World Report.

Camoin also chats with Catherine Fitts, a former housing manager for President George HW Bush who spent years working in finance. She served on the board of directors of Sallie Mae from 1991 to 1993, before its privatization. Most recently, she has been a frequent guest on shows focusing on conspiracy theories of all kinds.

She describes a concerted effort by banks to remove basic protections for student borrowers, which effectively created a credit bubble.

“From an ethical standpoint and a societal standpoint, you are going from a legitimate operation or business to a scam,” Fitts said.

The voice of Alan Collinge, founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org and author of “The Student Loan Scam”. Collinge is a scientist-turned-activist who said he was wrongly put down by Sallie Mae. Collinge warned of the 2006 60 Minutes loan “program”, which he said took students and their families to a financial cliff.

Camoin is interviewing borrowers who have been making regular payments for decades, but due to interest rates and fees – which start to add up the day they sign the papers – have barely reduced the principal. Many people in their 30s find that they will not meet the loan principal in their lifetime, Camoin said.

“Who warned them what they were getting into? Each time they get very little or no financial advice,” he said. “It’s the costliest decision of their lives.”

Through an online fundraiser, Camoin has already raised about half of his goal of $ 350,000, funds that will help him complete the series.

The film stops before recommending a solution. Advocates like Collinge are calling on the federal government to cancel all federal student loans and restore bankruptcy protections for student borrowers.

Camoin said his approach is to “give voice to those who don’t have a voice” and encourage the discovery of non-partisan solutions. He warns that when students find out they have been “scammed” by private lenders, it will spark a “debt revolt.”

“Once they find out that they have bought a car continuously, they will not want to pay off those loans anymore,” Camoin said.

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