Life is a struggle for everyone. Even the most privileged among us have hardships regardless of how wealthy or successful one is.
It’s hard enough to cope when you’re rich and comfortable, but if you’re in debt and hardly earn enough money to make ends meet, life can quickly become depressing.
For many Malaysians indebted to the PTPTN government student loan, life is a constant struggle. There’s never enough money, and they’re stuck for years trying to pay back their debt.
Jeremy falls into this category of people.
He hasn’t had a steady job, or had any jobs which paid well enough. He has never taken a holiday, simply because he can’t afford to.
All his spending is focused on surviving, yet there just isn’t enough to get by and repay the loan at the same time.
Also, Jeremy is somewhat disabled. He’s autistic, but so far he’s managed to live a normal life and even pursue higher education.
However, his inability to pay back his student loan has left him feeling nothing but despair and depression.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think shit, I need to really spend less and save up. With a little bit of a buffer, I can use my savings to pay back my loan.”
The problem is, spending less money will put him at risk of further dysfunction, he says.
“I’m already eating the cheapest food I can find while maintaining a balanced enough diet to keep myself healthy. I don’t shop much except for bare necessities. I wear my clothes till they have holes, I use my wallet, phone, shoes, etc. until they are worn beyond repair.
“In fact, I’m still wearing my spoiled shoes to work, so my new shoes have the longest lifespan possible.
“Till today, I have near zero savings. It will take only a minor issue, perhaps a small car accident, or my parents’ 15-year-old Proton breaking down to wipe it out. That’s how little I have. It’s all very terrifying.”
Jeremy said that when he voiced his fear on social media and tried to ask for help, all he got was blame.
He said people basically told him it was his fault for not being able to pay back the loan and that he was an ungrateful brat.
The harsh reality of the situation is that Jeremy desperately wants to pay back the loan, but he can’t. He feels depressed, anxious, and guilty because of it. He’s losing sleep and is unable to focus.
“I was almost homeless a few times. I can’t afford anything.”
“Can I hold on to this job? Currently yes, but there’s no guarantee for how long. Office politics is another major challenge I’m putting up with, at the expense of my mental health.
“Can I increase my income level? Not through my current job. And with all the mental health challenges I’m facing, doing a side job is doubly taxing. And yes, I have been doing side jobs whenever I can.
“I’m juggling everything, trying to manage and ignore my challenges at the same time. This has put a strain on me on various levels. I don’t know how long I can maintain this before I fall off.
“It really sucks because I’m functional enough to be commented as “you work just fine, stop giving excuses,” but I don’t function well enough to be able to take care of all the adult things.”
Jeremy is only one of the many people affected by the student loan. Sara is another victim too.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Sara had to drop out of university and was forced to work in low-paying jobs to repay the loan. Her mental health issues became worse as a result of being trapped in the student loan system.
Sara was prescribed psychiatric medication that made her brain foggy and slow, which made it even harder for her to function normally at a job.
She’s terrified of being in debt for the rest of her life. Like Jeremy, Sara’s also convinced that she will never be able to pay back the loan no matter how hard she tries.
Sara’s first student loan with PTPTN was in 1999.
“At that time I was enrolled in MMU (Multimedia University). This university is part public and partly privatised.
“I was given a loan of RM50k for foundation year + Bachelor degree. My second loan with PTPTN was around 2003. I failed some subjects, so I had to repeat classes and take another loan of RM 15k to 20k (I don’t remember the exact amount).
“I dropped out in the end.”
Sara only started repaying her loan in 2014. She should have started repaying her loan once she graduated and started her first job, but she was barely earning enough to pay rent and living costs.
After she dropped out of university, Sara struggled to hold down a regular job. She would work for a few months, be jobless for a few months, and then end up doing some odd jobs to survive.
“According to the first agreement, I needed to pay RM250 monthly, which I couldn’t afford to. So, I ended up in the PTPTN/Immigration blacklist.”
This basically meant that Sara was not allowed to leave the country.
In the new agreement, Sara managed to make an appeal to unblock her name from the Immigration blacklist. But her monthly repayment rates almost doubled to RM400 per month.
If she manages to pay back RM400 monthly, Sara says it will take her about 20 years to finish repaying the loan.
Sara currently works at a job which pays about RM1000 monthly. Paying back RM400 per month means that almost half of her salary is gone.
In 20 years’ time, Sara will be 57 years old and she would be lucky if she manages to pay back the loan by then.
For more articles like these read Homeless in Jogjakarta: One Woman’s Journey, and Breaking up Because of Money and Status – A Girl’s Story.