In Charles Dickens’s novel “David Copperfield,” Mr. Micawber, who has just been released from debtors’ prison, offers the hero a piece of advice: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness,” he says. “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene—and, in short, you are for ever floored. As I am!”

Mr. Micawber’s formula is simple; reality is more complex. This week, we’re bringing you pieces about the many facets of debt and the myriad ways it affects our lives. In “My Misspent Youth,” Meghan Daum explains how her dream of moving to Manhattan became a credit-card nightmare; in “A Student-Debt Revolt Begins,” Vauhini Vara meets the former students staging a “debt strike,” by refusing to repay the loans they took to attend failing for-profit colleges. Jake Halpern profiles a debt collector who is himself struggling to stay out of debt, in “Pay Up.” (“I do a job that’s hated by everybody and anybody on both sides of the fence, and it ain’t even doing that well,” the collector says.) In “The Scold,” Nick Paumgarten enters the world of Mr. Money Mustache, the thriftiness guru whose D.I.Y. ethos promises “financial freedom through badassity.” Finally, in “Killing It,” Jia Tolentino investigates the social and economic circumstances surrounding the widespread indebtedness of young people, and Nathan Heller, in “Take the Money and Run,” queries our redistributionist dreams. These pieces explore a phemonenon that touches us all.

—David Remnick


“My Misspent Youth”

“I’m twenty-nine years old, and I am completely over my head in debt. I have not made a life for myself; I have purchased a life for myself.” Read more.


“A Student-Debt Revolt Begins”

“Corinthian Colleges’ downfall has come to be seen as a symbol of the ills of for-profit higher education—the false promises of employment, the mounting student debt, the aggressive collection tactics.” Read more.


“Killing It”

“A generation has inherited a world without being able to live in it. A young college graduate might now find herself in a position akin to a homeowner with negative equity.” Read more.


“Pay Up”

“In the greater Buffalo metropolitan area, more than five thousand people earn a living as debt collectors. That’s more than the number of taxi-drivers, bakers, butchers, steelworkers, roofers, crane operators, hotel clerks, and brick masons combined.” Read more.


“The Scold”

“Mr. Money Mustache is the alias of a forty-one-year-old Canadian expatriate named Peter Adeney, who made or, more to the point, saved enough money in his twenties, working as a software engineer, to retire at age thirty.” Read more.


“Take the Money and Run”

“A universal basic income, or U.B.I., is a fixed income that every adult—rich or poor, working or idle—automatically receives from the government. Unlike today’s means-tested or earned benefits, payments are usually the same size, and arrive without request.” Read more.