Monday, March 10, 2008

Debt: The Big Dream Killer

Want to hear something scary? My fiance and I together owe over $120,000 in school loan debt, and we haven't even come close to entering the collapsing housing market yet. So if we were to buy a house here in Massachusetts, where it's unlikely we'd find even a fixer-upper for less than $200,000 any reasonable distance from our jobs, we're likely looking at over $300,000 in debt to start our lives together. Together, we bring in about $83,000 a year (which sounds like so much to me), so we'd owe over 3.5 times what we make in a year. That's not to mention any credit card or auto debt. No wonder we're scared to buy a house, even though we're pitching money down the toilet in rent. And children? Forget it. Can't afford them.

Compare that to my parents, who, when starting out in the mid 70s, had to pay back my dad's student loan of $3000. They bought a starter home that cost about $30,000, and my dad's starting salary as a teacher was about $15,000. They owed about twice what they were bringing in, without counting any money my mom earned before she got pregnant.

It feels unfair. We've gone farther than our parents in education, but we're wallowing under more debt than we can handle. We had more opportunity, more time to dream big, yet many of us are struggling in jobs we don't like to pay for the education that was supposed to make our dreams realities.

I don't regret going to college, but it was so easy to think of those loans like monopoly money. I just wish someone had sat me down when I was choosing paths like English and writing and said, hey, it's great to do what you love, but don't forget this isn't free. You have to pay it back. So if you aren't going down a path that will definitely lead you to a job that will pay for what you love, think about switching majors.

The irony is that you need the degree (and its debt) to get the job to buy the house that will put you in further debt. Oh, and did I mention our dollar isn't even worth as much as it used to be? But luckily, all that writing training comes in handy - I can write all my thoughts here for free, whether anyone reads or not.

5 comments:

Jill said...

I'm right there with you Sarah...the thought of my debt keeps me up at night more than any other fear (and I've got plenty, let me tell you!).

I guess we just have to believe that it will pay off eventually...if we can hang on long enough to reach that time.

Joanna said...

Personally, I don’t want to just hope. I want action. I want debate. I want to see the issue of student loans and the cost of education continually discussed in the presidential debate.

One great resource for activists out there is studentloanjustice.org. Like the activist website proclaims, “student loans have become the most profitable, uncompetitive, oppressive, and predatory type of debt of any in the nation.” Lenders are completely unchecked; well, I want that to change!

carriekosicki said...

I graduate on Sunday with an english/creative writing degree and $40,000 of debt, and no job. I hear you.

Sarah said...

Yes, you're right, the student loan business is totally opaque in its practices, and its often unethical in its relationships with schools. But more than that, we have to say no to the high cost of education. Schools are making tons of money and sitting on huge endowments. Or we have to go to school for some practical thing we can be sure to get a job in.

Maybe I should go to trade school...

Brian said...

My partner and I have twice your debt and make less combined, and we live in a housing market that's nearly as inflated, so I can certainly understand where you're coming from.

The current economy, however, can actually be beneficial in the long run, assuming you've consolidated those loans. If inflation surpasses your interest rate, and it certainly is for me right now, your debt becomes worth less in the long run, because eventually, wages have to chase inflation, and when things even out again, as they generally, do, you're making way more, but your debt has stayed largely the same.