One Tweet Shows the Big Problem With This Student Debt Success Story

March 12th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A story about paying off thousands in student loans was intended to show that "anybody" can do it, but one tweet explains how it actually does the opposite.

A Business Insider story by Emmie Martin profiled a young professional named Ebony Horton and detailed her successful effort to pay off $220,000 in student loans from undergraduate and graduate studies — all in just three years. The 31-year-old was making $38,000 a year in Washington, D.C. and struggled to pay her bills, so she moved in with family, the story says, and then used rental properties — and she and her husband's combined income — to pay off the debt. 

Horton shared her story because she felt like it proved that anyone can pay off a large student loan debt with a little hard work and a lot of discipline. 

"I just want them to feel empowered that they can pay if off," she told Business Insider. "If I can do it, anybody can."

However, a tweet by @internet_seeker, whose Twitter profile says he's a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, shows why that's not true. 

The tweet points out three ways that Horton's economic privilege allowed her to pay off her student loan debt: 

1. Horton got a job as an operations manager at non-profit her mother runs. 

2. She received a condo as a wedding gift from her mother. 

3. Horton and her husband moved into her grandparents and started renting out the condo. 

Although Horton no doubt sacrificed luxuries and unnecessary expenses to pay off her massive debt, the majority of Americans do not have access to these kinds of resources. The story also reveals that Horton and her husband bought an additional rental property beside the gifted condo to supplement their income, not to to mention that Horton was able to attain an MBA. 

People on Twitter pointed out the flaws in Horton's "bootstraps" argument. 

The phrase "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is often used in the U.S. as a mantra for hard work and sacrifice to get ahead in society, but it ignores the significant obstacles to class mobility.

The U.S middle class continues to shrink in big metropolitan areas, according to Pew Research Center from 2014. And while the share of American adults in the middle class has shrunk, the number of adults in the upper and lower class has increased since 2000. A report released in June 2016 by the Economic Policy Institute found that income inequality has also risen in every state since the 1970s.

What that ultimately means is that it's not so easy to go from being relatively poor and in debt to being debt-free and middle class.


Professor Noliwe M. Rooks is an associate professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. She wrote an opinion piece for Time in 2012 that outlined the flaws in the "bootstraps" argument and it's use as a  political tool.

"Despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans see themselves as having competing views about America, the theme of bootstrapping, or lifting oneself up the social and economic ladder through individual effort, hard work and personal responsibility, have taken center stage for both parties," she wrote. However, income inequality extends to Capitol Hill as well, the same people voting on student loan policy. 


In 2013, Congress made history when, for the first time, more than half its members were millionaires. Indeed, in 2014 the median wealth of a member of Congress was $1.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rooks wrote that stories of hard work and sacrifice are great, but it doesn't mean everyone can do it given the systemic obstacles.

"While Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christies are all great examples of bootstrapping themselves to the Ivy League and political office, we do have to wonder what story they and their families could tell if they were growing up today," she wrote. 

RELATED: Here's How You Can Lower Your Monthly Student Loan Payment