Maurice Rowlin went to college more than 25 years ago, but his unpaid student loans continued to accrue interest.
He learned recently he must answer to that debt in federal court.
Rowlin studied management and economics at Charleston Southern University and made his career in the financial service industry.
"I should know better," he concedes. He now owes nearly $23,000, almost double the loan he started with.
A divorced father of two, Rowlin said he chose to make child support payments instead of student loan payments. Now, his is among several lawsuits recently filed in federal court locally.
Skip Martin, the Charleston-based attorney hired to represent the government on all outstanding South Carolina federal student loan debtors, wants Rowlin and others to know this: "Please let us hear from you."
But rarely does Martin hear from debtors. In most cases, they already have ignored six to eight letters from the U.S. Education Department before their loans land on his desk.
Of the 50 cases he has taken since the end of 2010, only five have responded to his correspondence.
Martin describes it as an ostrich with its head in the sand. And that, he says, is the biggest mistake.
The Project on Student Debt calculates the average debt in South Carolina comes in higher than $22,000 for public, four-year schools and private, nonprofit four-year schools. That ranks South Carolina at No. 24 in the country.
The Project on Student Debt also found that, across the country, the average debt for graduating seniors with student loans grew about 24 percent just between 2004 and 2008.
For the few debtors who do call, Martin takes a look at their past few years of tax returns, their pay stubs from work and their personal financial statements. He then asks what they can afford and puts them on a payment plan.
They avoid a court judgment against them, plus the court fees and the strike on their credit reports.
"We don't say you have to pay within 'X' months. We say, 'Let's do $75 a month for two years and see where you are in two years,' " Martin said. "The only way we get there is if they pick up the phone."