Several news outlets, including The Root, posted stories about Houston native Paul Aker, who claimed that U.S. marshals showed up at his doorstep and arrested him for unpaid student loan debt. The amount he claimed he owed was only $1,500, and the debt he claimed he borrowed was in 1987—29 years ago.
News of the story went viral and light hysteria ensued as people with outstanding student loan debt went into mild panic. Relax. The news isn't as bad as it first sounded, but here is what we know about Aker's case and student loan arrests nationwide.
Was Aker really arrested for student loan debt?
No. According to Yahoo! Finance, Aker was sued in November 2007 for failure to pay some $2,600 in unpaid federal student loan debt. Aker reportedly failed to show for court and was ordered to pay the full balance on April 17, 2007, according to court records viewed by the news site. Aker allegedly failed to show in court several times, and disobeying a court order is a criminal offense, according to Yahoo! Finance. A judge finally issued a warrant for his arrest on Dec. 14, 2012, according to the Washington Post. The U.S. marshals carried out this arrest warrant this past week. So Aker was arrested, but not for owing student loan debt—he was arrested for disobeying a court order.
Why did it take marshals so long to arrest Aker?
According to the Post, marshals attempted to serve Aker at several addresses and were unsuccessful. They caught up with Aker this past week, and after a brief standoff he was arrested and taken to court, where he had to make payment arrangements that include the initial $1,500 debt, plus 30 years of interest, which brings the new total to $3,800—plus an additional $1,258 to the federal government for the inconvenience his arrest caused.
Can you get arrested for student loan debt?
Technically, no, but lenders can obtain judgments against you for failure to pay. If you ignore court notices, then, as with Aker, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. "You should never ignore a court order," the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau told Business Insider.
So this isn't a national push to lock up college graduates who are struggling to pay back student loan debt?
No, there isn't a national push to lock up those who have unpaid student loan debt. But, New York magazine reports, "If your loan is placed with a collection agency, you will be responsible for costs incurred to get payment. The holder of your loan can take other actions to collect as well. Those 'other actions' involve withholding your tax refund or, in some cases, garnishing your wages."
Is there any truth to the myth that student loan debt doesn't stop even if you die?
Yes, but it depends on the type of student loan. If it's a federal student loan, then the debt is forgiven when the borrower dies. If it's a private loan, it depends on the terms of the agreement. "For most other private student loans, the lender will first attempt to collect from the borrower's estate. If there is no estate, it will attempt to collect from a co-signer if one exists, then it would fall to the spouse, but it will depend on the community property laws in your particular state," ABC News reports.