Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Joy and Horror of Student Loans

Like many people, at least those who aren't independently wealthy, whose parents are wealthy, or have a wealthy sugar daddy, I have to get financial aide to pay for school. At my age, and with a degree already, that amounts to student loans. Forget the Pell grant. I’m old, white, male, and underemployed. I have to borrow money.

I don’t like to borrow money. As a general rule, I hate debt. You wouldn’t know it, considering how much I’ve got, but I’ve learned over the years that earning interest is better than paying it.

There are three things I think it’s generally okay to go into debt for: a home, an education, and emergency medical treatment. The first two are nearly cost prohibitive without loans. The last can be unavoidable. When loss of life, limb or bodily function is concerned, you really don’t have many options.

There’s one or two more that some people might argue for: a car and vacations. I’m not a big fan of going into debt to take a vacation, although Richard Nixon was. Save up for it, and you’ll enjoy happy memories of a vacation, instead of cursing the fact you went as you make out each over-priced credit card bill.

Cars are trickier. I admit I’ve paid for card repairs with a credit card. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t feel I had a choice. I live in a car state. Public transportation is a pain, takes three times as long, and doesn’t go everywhere I need to go. Just to get to work, I need a car. It’s almost like an extension of a medical bill. Still, I’d rather not go into debt if I don’t have to.

The happy thing about student loans is that I get to go back to school. That means I can repurpose my life and create better employment opportunities leading to better ways to care for my family. I have a greater opportunity to pursue happiness in my life, instead of giving in to depression and hoping I get killed on the freeway so that my life insurance will pay for my wife and kid's livelihood.

The problem is that student loans add up fast, and are deferred. Don’t get me wrong, as a soon-to-be starving student one more bill is NOT what I need. But when I'm done, I've got pay them back. The payments come on fast and hard. Because the debt it high, they don’t get paid off very quickly, either. Not unless you suddenly become wealthy. That’s not a situation most college students find themselves right after graduation.

I didn’t go into debt lightly. It was a decision I thought quite a bit about, but the benefits seemed to outweigh the challenges. I will still be working as much as I can while going to school. I will still be supporting my family the best I can. I am sacrificing some things to try and create something better.

Now if I can just get my homework done.

Photo credit: Gabriella Fabbri

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