Earlier this month, seven armed US Marshals knocked on the door of Houston resident Paul Aker.
They were there to arrest him. His crime? Failing to pay back a $1,500 federal student loan from 1987 (with interest, the cost of the loan is now $5,700).
“I was unaware of any outstanding debt,” Aker told CNN Money. “I paid two other student loans and thought I had consolidated everything and paid it all off.”
The ballooning cost of student debt has become a national crisis in recent years as students struggle to keep up with skyrocketing tuition costs. In 1993, less than half of college students left school with debt, and the average debt amount was just $9,450 per graduate. By 2012, the proportion of students graduating with debt had jumped to 71 percent, with the average debt amount more than tripling to $29,400.
The Marshals Service claims that its agents tried to notify Aker about his outstanding student loan on a number of occasions, including a phone call in 2013. Aker, for his part, says he doesn’t remember the call and hasn’t received notifications about the debt in years.
After being arrested by the Marshals, Aker was taken to a local courthouse, where he signed a debt repayment plan to resolve the issue. Still, he couldn’t help but feel that the whole operation was a bit of an overkill:
“All this fire power for a student loan?” he said in an interview with NBC News. “Send a summons, certified letter — not the marshals.”
Aker might be the first ever Houstonian to be arrested for unpaid student loans, but he probably won’t be the last.
A source within the US Marshal’s office told Fox26 that the agency has between 1,200 and 1,500 warrants to serve for unpaid federal student loans in Houston.