Most people know someone who’s been adversely affected by considerable student debt. Over 41 million Americans are, in total, carrying a crippling $1.4 trillion in student loans.

This burden is an obstruction for families, careers, employment, dreams, or retirement. On the other hand, Wall Street, together with Uncle Sam, have made huge lots of money off the student debt crisis.

So how did we get to this point? Who made the most profit and in what way did they do it?

Many investigative reporters have dug into this problem and profiled affected persons. Let’s see how it all started. Sallie Mae was originally a government-sponsored corporation, partly led by public officials. Initially, Sallie Mae was set up to help create a marketplace for federal-issued student debt.

After the organization was privatized, however, Sallie Mae turned into a for-profit, full-service corporation that got totally involved in the industry of student loans, from issuing student loans to operating debt-collection bureaus. So we replaced a well-functioning program that helped students get a college education with something that has that purpose only as a secondary goal. The most important goal for a for-profit institution is, understandably, the company’s bottom line.

Privatizing government-run Sallie Mae was an important victory for the financial industry at a time that Republicans were controlling Congress in the mid-’90s. President Bill Clinton was trying to stick to his direct-lending federal program, which would make Uncle Sam the lender and not just the insurer of student loans.

So Bill Clinton tried hard to bring back issuing federal student loans to the government, but eventually, he had to accept Sallie Mae’s privatization to achieve his goals so students had even more trouble living on a budget. With the Republicans, there existed a widespread suspicion that no government could do things in an efficient way and that the country needed the private sector to make things work. So that’s what we’re stuck with now.

All of a sudden, investors, hedge funds, and banks played more direct roles, not merely in lending out student loans, but also in services, fees, and collection. So Sallie Mae, like other financial institutions, started to market private study loans with higher fees, interest rates, and with only few relief options. It became harder to achieve your goals and the borrower became the SLAVE to the lender!

So originally, all aspects of the Federal student loan programs were administered by government agencies (or you could dismissively say bureaucrats) that were in no way motivated or targeted towards profit. They merely were employed to make the federal programs run. Privatizing the collection of loans led to more aggressive companies coming in to work hard to get back the money, which is fully understandable in the context of corporate business.

However, these programs were set up to help people get educated so they would become contributing workers who could get on to build up a good life. And now we’re stuck with tens of thousands of students who are falling behind on their student debt feeling harassed all day. They are pushed hard, hassled, try to lower their monthly bills, and sometimes have to cope with all sorts crazy stuff done in the name of federal programs.

In 2014, Sallie Mae set up a separate company (Navient Corp.) for a big chunk of its operations. Today, this company is the nation’s largest federal student loan service provider that also functions as U.S. Department of Education loan collector. Students (and former students) should really learn to question, and question to learn all about these collection tricks to be able to stand strong against malpractices. Talking of smelly memories

Between 2010 and 2013, when American students began to build up more and more student debt, the profits of Sallie Mae were more than $3.5 billion, and Sallie Mae’s former CEO (Albert Lord), was instrumental to reach that point. Lord said: Well, it wasn’t the private lending industry that got us in this mess, it was the universities together with the government. But the fact of the matter is that federal and state budget cuts were the cause for schools to raise their tuition fees, so the student debt burden only widened, and they had to look for a more frugal lifestyle as well. This really impacted the influence of gifted students on our society.

The real question here is how to help former students by forgiving part of their often huge student debt. There are many people in their 40s that already paid far more money back than they have ever borrowed. Why can’t we forgive part of that debt? Can we not think of education and retirement? The problem is the enormous expense that would be. Additionally, our government makes huge amounts of money off these student loans.