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Why People Without Student Debt Are Probably Keeping It A Secret

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 12.43.20 PMThere has been a lot of discussion on and around TFD the past few days about student debt, and more precisely how having it affects your ability to make other commitments as an adult, like getting married, owning property, or having children. We’ve heard from people who don’t have debt (and don’t want to marry into it), and people who have quite a lot of it, but have found that it hasn’t prevented them from doing any of the things they want to do. In commenting on the former article, I mentioned that I also don’t live with debt, and would also take marrying someone with significant amounts of it very seriously. As is often the case, the accusation was made that my parents essentially forbade debt because they had the “luxury” to do so, and that I lived a financially sheltered life.

Though this kind of response is pretty par for the course when you admit that you are not carrying your generationally-ubiquitious student debt, I admit that it still stings, and still inspires a desire to defend yourself, even when it’s just one comment (while the author in question was receiving dozens of similar accusations, in much less civil terms).

In my case, as many of you might know, the fact that I don’t have student debt didn’t come from any sort of luxury, but rather my parents forcing me to go to community college and then setting a very low limit on what they would pay (or sign on) per-year once I transferred, which made me choose to go to a very inexpensive school out of the country. (I ended up dropping out when I got a job, so I don’t even have a degree.) And while technically I am not debt-free, I have so little of it (in the range of several thousand dollars of government loans, which I stupidly used to finance my life while I went to CC), since they have little to no impact on my day-to-day life and financial future, I generally don’t consider them.

And while I admit that my family is middle-class, and that I have (and had) much opportunity in life, I have experienced financial insecurity several times in my life, both as a child and as an adult. I’ve ruined my own credit, gotten into and out of credit card debt, and drained my savings (including my emergency fund) several times over. While I am luckier than many, I also have not experienced a particularly sheltered life, financially, and have also not made most of my choices (or had them made for me) based on any idea of luxury. I have often made the choices that were unglamorous, or even openly mocked, in the interest of being more conservative with money, or fixing what I had managed to mess up.

The assumption that anyone without student debt is inherently more privileged is a particularly frustrating one then, because not only is it an inaccurate assumption for many people like myself who simply chose alternative educational paths, but it’s also inaccurate to the great number of middle (or even upper-middle) class young adults who simply chose expensive schools. Speaking personally, I could name nearly a dozen people off the top of my head who were as well or much better off than I, who simply attended very expensive programs. And even if you had a family with a truly exceptional amount of income to spend on education, very few people would be able to finance any of the many schools that come with 50k or more per-year price tags. Even someone whose family income is well into the six figures wouldn’t be able to finance that kind of education without at least some loans helping out.

And those same people who chose expensive schools — or, more often, the same parents who encouraged their children to attend them — looked down their nose at alternative options like community college or even technical schools, because they are simply much less prestigious and, to some degree, regarded as a failure. The cultural notion of “if you can get into a ‘good’ school, you should absolutely go to it” is still very much ingrained in all of us, and while I don’t blame anyone for choosing the path that society tells us all is the right one to take, I also think it’s unfair to cast a blanket distinction of “privileged people who are debt-free, and had the luxury to be so” and “unprivileged people who have to live with massive debt.” There are certainly rich people whose parents just cut a check for NYU or Oberlin or whatever, but there are also plenty of lower-middle class people who found alternative ways to get their education, as well as solidly upper-middle class people who needed some help financing their studies. It’s simply not a black and white dichotomy.

But these are the assumptions that people make, and the judgments they will throw your way when you make it known that you are (mostly) debt-free. Of the many people I know from community college who managed to finish with sub-10k in student loans, I can safely say that none of them came from particularly privileged backgrounds. They just went to CC, transferred to inexpensive state schools, and often lived at home while commuting to campus and working a job. It’s not something that everyone can do, and I fully admit that you do need some level of privilege to make it a possibility (even if that just means having a family house you can live at while going to school), but it’s certainly no more a feat of financial flexibility than partially funding an expensive private school education with loans.

In rushing to defend people from financially unstable backgrounds who need to take on loans to further their education and, therefore, attempt to escape the cycle of poverty, we often forget that many of the loan-signers are in no way part of this demographic. And in doing so, we often pass judgment on the people who managed to avoid debt, even if it was done through a series of pleasure-deferring, unglamorous choices. Many of the people I knew at community college would have loved to sign on for a few years of The College Experience, but knew that it would cost them too greatly in the future. That they receive the double judgment of having chosen an alternative education, and in being perceived, after the fact, as an oblivious child of privilege, is pretty frustrating. It’s enough to keep the fact that you don’t have debt a secret.

Among my friends who don’t have debt, I can safely say that only one or two are that way because of, simply, rich families. But even amongst the people who simply did things like get scholarships or get in-state tuition at a super-affordable school because of a specialized major, being open about the fact that you have no debt is simply not desirable. You know what people will think of you, regardless. And while it would be stupid to deny the ramifications that come in adult life from starting five or six figures in the negative, it’s also not universally something that was undertaken by the poor to give themselves a shot at a better life, nor is it always in the pursuit of a degree that essentially guarantees them a high-paying job. Sometimes people just chose pricey schools, majored in something not career-oriented, and live with debt. And I don’t know where we’re measuring the privilege scale, but I would imagine a situation like that definitely falls on it.

At the end of the day, if we want to meaningfully reduce the stigma around either having debt or not having it, we have to start being honest about the diversity within the narratives of how we accrue it. The longer we pretend that college is a necessity for everyone — regardless of what you study — and that everyone who took money to pay for it was doing so to make a better life from humble backgrounds, the longer we’re going to stay in this cycle, and encourage more people to take on unnecessary debt. Being open about the very practical ways to avoid debt, and de-stigmatizing the choices every student can actively make to help that, might eventually lead to a world where we don’t feel obligated to take on loans, and then ashamed for having them. College is valuable, and serves a huge purpose in society — and everyone’s story about how they navigate it is unique. It’s probably best, if you don’t know that story, not to judge.

  • nya

    ‘It’s probably best, if you don’t know that story, not to judge.’

    That’s funny, coming from a person who have repeatedly made snarky comments about people who seem to be ‘financially sponsored’. Maybe you should take your own advice.

    The piece a few days ago had a point, but was executed badly. If this site wants to be taken seriously as a personal finance site, then maybe it should review the type of content it is releasing.

  • Lea Augustine

    Hi Chelsea, THANKS YOU for sharing your college story with us. Reading this story really resonated with me because I too am debt free but by no means of luxury like you state. I went to a community college like you and transferred to a state university after. And did so by working my way through and living with roommates in a very small apartment and limiting my expenditure. I have not finished my bachelor’s yet but since I have a regular entry level job in the corporate world (just like my coworkers who ALL have bachelor’s degree) I always wonder if it actually is worth it.

    “And those same people who chose expensive schools — or, more often, the same parents who encouraged their children to attend them — looked down their nose at alternative options like community college or even technical schools, because they are simply much less prestigious and, to some degree, regarded as a failure.” Honestly this sums up so much of the depression I would feel when talking to people and saying that I went to a cc and transferred to a state but didn’t finish… I inevitably get he “sigh” and shameful well at least you got some education response from my prestigiously schooled friends and their families. So reading his was so enlightening because nobody ever really discusses this much. So thanks again for sharing your story with us.

    • chelseafagan

      So glad it resonated, and congrats on your awesome college path! (I know it’s hard to ignore “the sigh,” but try to remember that those judgments are ultimately meaningless — your path is your own. :))

  • Roselyne

    And just to bring politics into the discussion, because that’s always fun: “College is valuable, and serves a huge purpose in society” is why here in Quebec college is subsidized. AKA: a semester at an excellent university costs under 1500$ if you’re a Quebec resident.

    Even people who take out student loans finish school with less than 10K in loans, mostly, and that’s MUCH less of a burden than what US students can face.

  • Banyan

    Will SOMEONE please think of the poor souls who don’t have student debt?

    (It’s not about passing judgment on those without debt, because it’s not about them at all.)

    • chelseafagan

      I would argue that flippantly judging people who don’t have it is a great way to continue ignoring and stigmatizing the real, practical ways we can avoid or significantly reduce debt ourselves. It’s easy to say “Oh, they were rich,” instead of “Maybe I could do something like this, or encourage the new batch of college freshmen to do so.”

      • Banyan

        The fact that I have a lot of student debt is not commentary on you. The fact that I want the huge problem of lots of people feeling stuck with a lot of student debt to be acknowledged as a huge problem is not about you. There is a systemic problem; acknowledging it is not the same as judging people who managed to avoid it. No one is judging you. It’s not about you. Stop making it about you.

        • chelseafagan

          I disagree, but as we come from entirely opposite points of view and backgrounds on the issue, that’s not surprising. I don’t think it’s “about me,” but rather about systems and cultural norms. None of it is mutually exclusive, and just because the subject of an article does not apply to you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed.

  • jemz

    i find this reasoning really weird. so you do have student loans, they’re just in the ballpark of 10k or so? but because repaying them doesn’t meaningfully affect your financial life, you sort of discount them and also say you don’t have student loans? maybe it’s just the quirks in terminology but i think what this piece and maya’s piece from a few days ago miss is that– yes, paying back student loans sucks. but it doesn’t need to be a drain on your lifeblood or limit you from what you want to do– as long as you handle paying them back reasonably? that might mean taking on low debt to begin with, that might mean signing up for PAYE afterwards… it might mean going into finance or biglaw out of college/professional school…whatever. the last few posts on TFD seem to equate student debt (without really differentiating on the amount) with bad financial planning/constraints on future life.

    personally, here’s how i handled my student debt to give a different perspective. i chose to go to a really expensive ivy league because between the scholarships i applied to and the aid they gave me, it was the best place financially for me to go to. it would have cost me approx $15,000 a year more to go to my state school (berkeley). i had to take on about $15,000 in loans cumulatively to patch up the difference between financial aid and COA. that balance is now down to around $4500 because I worked abroad in the middle east for two years afterwards, made a much higher salary than my COL, and spent all the difference on my loans. going to that particular college has given me more resources, opportunities, and skills than going anywhere else, because of the name. so yeah, prestige helps, sometimes, and its impact shouldn’t just be discounted– particularly when you come from a LMI background like mine, i wouldn’t be where i was if i hadn’t gone to the university i went to.

    though i was able to mostly escape taking on massive loans as an undergrad, next up i plan on going to law school. law schools are not nearly as generous with aid as most undergrad places are, and i want to go to the very best law school i can get into. that will prob mean attending somewhere and taking on around $250,000 in loans. this is a huge decision and not one that i take lightly. however, i also plan on going to a law school with an excellent Loan Repayment Assistance Program. This basically means that if you go into public interest work, and make below a certain salary (which I absolutely will be doing, given my field of work) the law school consolidates all your federal loans into one bundle, then puts you on a repayment plan where basically each month, they give you an amount of money (dependent on income) that pays off your loans. so if your monthly loan repayment is say, $700, and you’re at the right income level (generally below $80,000) the school will actually cut you a $700 check each month to pay your loans for you. after 10 years, your loan is completely paid off, and you can continue doing the public interest work you want to do without loans weighing you down. so yeah, i’ll be one of those people taking on a massive amount of debt, but i also know how i’m going to pay those loans back. i don’t expect it to significantly impact my, or my partner’s quality of life. and that’s why it bugs me so much to see TFD staff sort of relying on this perspective that student debt=bad and avoidable. it’s often not. and yes of course there are people who struggle to pay back their loans, but that’s also true of people with credit car debt, or car payments. that, to me, is a struggle generally of being in debt and not having a financial plan to get out of it. it isn’t exclusive to student loan borrowers.

    • chelseafagan

      That sounds like a great plan, but I think it’s important to note that your plan (law school, a top program, etc), and the repayment plan you laid out is not the route of everyone with significant debt. And you also went to an Ivy League school with scholarships and aid for undergrad, which means your chances of getting a good job after graduation were strong already (to say nothing of law school). While it would be an exaggeration to say that most people are taking on similar sums of debt for much less “certain” paths, it’s also not universal that everyone borrowing six figures is doing so to become a doctor or lawyer, or going to a top Ivy League program. I don’t disagree that there can be great and intelligent ways to use student debt to your advantage, I just dislike the cultural idea that we need to take it on, regardless of what our plan is for paying it back (or even landing a job at graduation). You are obviously doing it wisely, but that doesn’t mean everyone is — or even that most people are.

      And yes, I technically have a few thousand dollars that I took out as a student (though they didn’t pay for my schooling), and defaulted on when I was younger, so I pay in an extremely low sum to repay them. I suppose a clearer way to say this would be that “I don’t live with student debt,” in the sense that it is not any significant consideration in my monthly bills or my future, and when I was saying that on Maya’s article, it was only to clarify that, because of my situation, I knew that I couldn’t fully empathize with the perspective of someone living with enormous debt.

      • jemz

        right. my point was not to tell people they should just do what i do and everything will be okay. but i do feel like there’s a lot of hate and judgment directed from TFD at people who did go to fancy private schools without really considering how people might have paid their way through those schools– so the “judgment” really goes both ways. likewise, i also sense a lot of judgment at people who incur debt. i mean, yeah, culturally, a lot of people *do* need to take it on– including you. you may look back and feel like it isn’t a lot of money or wasn’t necessary at the time, but you still did, as an 18yo, take loans. the reality is that there’s barely anyone who, considering what college costs, can afford to get out from college completely debt free. my point is– you and i, it seems like, have the same amount of “manageable” debt coming out of college, even though our paths through college are very different. but yet, i feel like pieces on TFD lately have been like “well i stayed home and went to community college/my parents paid the gap in my college tuition” without recognizing that a. it takes a lot of privilege to be in either of those situations and b. people can go to fancy private schools and graduate with manageable amounts of debt too.
        i mean, the blanket assumption when i come out and say that i went to an ivy for free is that my parents are loaded. that couldn’t be farther from the truth. so yeah, we’re essentially in the same situation– except i feel like the way this piece is directed, it somehow assumes that kids who graduate from NYU or Oberlin, if they don’t have debt, their parents must have just “signed a check”. and that, in my opinion, is as much of the judgment you’re asking people not to cast on you.

        • chelseafagan

          I really disagree that TFD judges people with significant debt, or who attended private schools, as we post tons of articles all the time from people who fit into those perspectives, and even have people on staff that fit into them. As far as posts lately being smug about going to community college or commuting to campus, I really am not sure which ones you might be referring to, other than my article about my experience in CC, which I posted earlier this summer.

          In this article, I do acknowledge that even taking the commuter/2-year plan takes an amount of privilege. And I don’t believe that NYU or Oberlin students (two schools I named off the top of my head only as examples of very expensive institutions) are uniformly rich. My point was (and is) that there are tons of really unproductive, unhealthy stigmas around nearly every way people navigate college and money (or don’t). This was just my example of that, like yesterday’s article from the girl who took on six figures for International Relations degrees is another one.

    • Lea Augustine

      What is LMI?

      Also I find this interesting too because it is amazing that you did go to an Ivy League school and received scholarships and aid to minimize your debt and worked abroad as a way to decrease your debt but, most people don’t have the opportunity to get scholarships to a Ivy to begin with in order to plan so well as you did. Life happens along the way, so, if you did not do well in high school to show your academic promise or you are a foreigner or you drop out of high school and got a GED or you had to go to community college in the first year or two not many people can plan so well to handle the finances of going to college yet alone IF they ever got accepted to an IVY. And with the prestige of the Ivy, I do believe that is somewhat true however I feel (imo) that the prestige of the once prided prestigious school is slightly dying only because of the online opportunities that any one in the world can have access too via open source courses from many top universities. Yes, one would say they are not truly receiving an Ivy education and an alumni of the school. But it gives access to knowledge for people like us that had life happen to them and didn’t get the opportunity to partake of the prestigious education.

      • jemz

        actually i am international– my parents currently live abroad, are considered lower-middle-class (LMI) in their country or origin, and therefore i qualified for both need-based and merit-based aid at the college i went to.

  • Ris

    I don’t have student loan debt (or any debt, for that matter) because I paid of $30K of debt in 3 years while not spending a single unnecessary cent. It’s not because I didn’t go to an expensive school (I did), it’s not because my parents helped me (they didn’t), it’s not even because I majored in something lucrative (English and Cultural Anthropology, sigh), it’s because I wanted to get out from under that feeling of someone else owning me as soon as humanely possible. So I did. The reason I don’t usually publicize it is because people have a whole host of reasons why they’re in debt, including but not limited to not being willing to do everything in their power to pay it off as soon as possible. The fact that I was so extreme in my quest to be debt-free sometimes makes people uncomfortable, because they can’t/won’t/don’t do what I did to get there.

    • Lea Augustine

      Truly, Amazing you did that in 3 years!

  • Natalie

    I have a pretty similar story to you; but instead of community college I went to the four-year school where my mother worked because I got free tuition there. I have about 4,000 in loans that I used for cost of living, and like you I don’t really consider myself “in debt” like a lot of people in my generation. But I also hesitate to tell people that, and just kind of nod along in conversations about debt, because like you said people will just think you are rich and judge you. It’s especially bad in work environments, where you don’t want to come across like you don’t “need money” as much as your coworkers.

    I come from a middle-class household and if I had chosen to go to my dream school, I would be in a lot of debt right now. I live a freer life because of these choices, and I don’t judge people who didn’t, but I also know it didn’t happen by luck.

  • ” The longer we pretend that college is a necessity for everyone — regardless of what you study — and that everyone who took money to pay for it was doing so to make a better life from humble backgrounds, the longer we’re going to stay in this cycle, and encourage more people to take on unnecessary debt.”

    ^^^^This.

    Hopefully millennials are so jaded by the post-secondary industrial complex, we discourage our children from chasing their dreams at for-profit institutions. As someone that has a graduate degree and spent nearly $100,000 on tuition in her 20s, I don’t even think it was a “great” use of my time & money even if it’s all worked out in the end. I’d rather give my kid (yet unborn, this is all hypothetical) $100K to start a company than get a degree.

    • Cecily

      I agree. But I also think that we as a society should look to Europe and Canada and make the cost of higher education more reasonable. The reason why our parents pushed us to go college is because it cost them a fraction of what it did today.

  • Leslie

    I’ll be graduating debt free from a private liberal arts school because of my scholarship; but I want to kick myself when I think about all the state schools I turned my nose up at when I was applying in the first place. I worked hard to earn this scholarship, but it easily could have gone to someone else, and I would have been stuck going to one of the seven private universities to which I applied with a guaranteed debt over 50k.

    That said, it is an awkward subject with my roommates, who, at this point, joke about their already-accrued 60k they have after two years of school. While they don’t judge me, they certainly never forget to remind me how “lucky” I am for having this scholarship. I almost groan when a student at school learns I’m one of the five scholarship kids in my year–there is immediately a divide, like I can never appreciate what they are going through, and am somehow less appreciative of my education overall because I don’t have to pay for it. I’m certainly not privileged, as I pay for all of my housing (and study abroad this semester), but I am likely to keep my lack of future debt to myself, lest I be outed as one of the “lucky” ones.

  • C K

    I really appreciated this perspective. Personally, I’m slowly chipping away at a rather large mountain of both student loan debt and consumer debt that I accrued in my late teens and early twenties, before I started really thinking about where money comes from and what financial health means. And I will admit that a lot of the time, if I hear that someone I know isn’t carrying debt (specifically someone who doesn’t give of the outward appearance of frugality) I get a little miffed about it and think something along the lines of “oh, you fancy, huh?”

    But this post (and the vibrant comments below) is (are) a good reminder that there are LOTS of different factors involved in how people get into or out of debt, and that a simple yes/no factoid about whether someone is carrying debt is NOT the whole picture. These days, I’m trying to concern myself much more with how people manage their finances (not in a nosy way – it’s just an interest of mine) rather than the details of how they got to the situation they’re currently in. I don’t care how much debt my good friends are in, but i DO care about what sort of financial goals they are setting, and what plans they have to achieve those goals.

  • I’ve read all three articles now and have been following most of the discussion in the comments. Lots of participants have made valid points, but personally I’m finding it difficult to glean a singular “message” from this conversation (apart from what you said in your last paragraph, Chelsea). We all want our voices and stories to be heard and for them to mean something in the grand scheme of the problems our generation faces. But even though my experience might be vastly different from yours or anyone else’s, that doesn’t mean I have it hardest or that I was somehow uniquely sold short compared to my peers. My parents have faced enormous struggles to send me to school, from struggling to sell our old house to accepting personal loans from family members (and this is just the beginning for them, as I have four younger siblings). BUT — and that’s a big “but” — compared to some people I know, I have it pretty good. One of my close friends has a full ride to an amazing school but has had to work multiple jobs to support her family almost entirely by herself. Another friend was forced to drop out of the pre-med program halfway through because she was about to lose her scholarship and couldn’t afford tuition without it.

    Witnessing what others have endured in their college experience makes me extremely hesitant to claim a special struggle or lack of privilege in my life. If we want to put an end to harmful stigmas and society’s unreasonable expectations when it comes to college, we have to be unselfish in the way we talk about financial struggles. Focusing on ourselves means we don’t even acknowledge what it’s like to be at the bottom. That’s not to say all of us don’t have unique difficulties, but we have to realize that not all of them are equally significant.

  • I kind of feel like you flip flop on the whole community college thing. Sometimes you say “I was irresponsible in high school so it was my only choice”, but today you’re behaving as if the choice was entirely financially motivated, which is confusing. Also, I think a better discussion about finances is that they are not ‘one size fits all’, neither are choices about where someone decides to go to college. You’ve said judgmental things in the past about people who have parents who help them out financially, now you’re saying judgmental thing about people who go to expensive colleges and take on debt. It makes me as a reader feel like unless I did things your way, you’re going to try to put me on the defensive about it.

    • Kaci

      I agree completely with all of this. It feels like whatever option you took regarding higher education will get you judged on this site anymore, and feeling judged is off-putting to readers.

    • chelseafagan

      It was definitely not entirely financially motivated, but as I’ve mentioned in other articles, even if I had gotten into better schools, my parents were not willing to pay for it. I would have definitely taken on a lot of debt if I had the opportunity to, because I was obsessed with having what I perceived to be the “college experience.” (It’s why I am always clear that my parents forced me — I would not have had the foresight to make that decision myself, and I don’t deserve the credit.) I don’t think I’m judging people who went to expensive colleges, but I do think it’s important to be lucid about the choices we make, and really assess whether or not they were “worth it” — be it college, or anything else financially-related. I think part of what I dislike in relation to finances is the lack of transparency, and the lack of openness about being able to say “I could have done this differently, here, learn from my mistakes” (which is what I try to do with my terrible academic history, and credit history).

      I never want anyone to feel like I am judging their amount of privilege, as it were, because I am not under any illusions that I am not a very privileged person myself. What I “judge,” if anything, is a lack of honesty about the realities of our lives, which lead to a false sense of pressure for everyone to appear a certain way.

  • Cecily

    This is definitely a fascination discussion. Have any of you guys read this article that was recently posted in the NYTimes? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/were-making-life-too-hard-for-millennials.html
    I think it’s important to mention in discussions on student loans that this is a problem that’s bigger than just individuals. As millennials, yes maybe/maybe not there are things individuals can do to avoid student loans, but if you take a macroeconomic look at these things, we’re facing stagnant wages, high unemployment, rising tuition, and a slow economy. All this to say that, in these discussions, we should give everyone a benefit of the doubt and be kind to each other because a lot of this mess we inherited from previous generations.

  • Lil25

    Okay. We will alter our sentiments a bit then: Anyone without student debt is either privileged OR their credit and finances are ruined because they were too stupid and/or incompetent to make it through college. We may be drowning in student loan debt, but at least we can qualify for a mortgage with our 800+ FICOs. Granted, we can’t actually afford a house and, at the rate the home prices and interest rates are rising, we won’t ever be able to afford them if we don’t buy now….. But, at least our student loans will be paid off in less time than it takes you to repair your credit.

  • Mackenzie Warren

    I come from a lower middle class family and was able to go to an expensive private college and graduate debt free because I worked my ass off in high school to get into top schools with good need-based financial aid packages and some merit-based scholarships. I have literally been at a table of coworkers talking about their college debt & been asked “what about you?”. I hesitate to volunteer the information that I’m debt free because people assume that means I come from a rich family. And even if there are other reasons for being debt free people usually don’t want to hear them. They’re usually just looking for someone to commiserate about their debt with.

  • Erika Grant

    I’ve been a loyal reader from the launch of TFD, and I recommend it to people all the time. When I’m doing so, the main things I use to sell the site are:
    1. The discussions on having explicit financial conversations with the people in your field and in your life, especially for women who are socialized not to talk about things like finance, and
    2. The attitude towards debt and debt management that is much more, “Here are the mistakes I’ve made, it’s not the end of the world that they happened, if I could have done it differently I would’ve done X, but I didn’t so here’s how I’m living with Y.” Because the vast majority of finance articles for young people are either “DON’T GET INTO DEBT WHATEVER YOU DO,” or “YOUR GENERATION IS STACKED WITH SO MUCH DEBT YOU’RE SCREWED FOREVER” that felt like a very happy medium and a productive way of looking at the conversation.
    I think Maya’s article hit a very sensitive nerve for a lot of readers because she was looking at a problem that doesn’t affect her day-to-day life (but that DOES affect the day-to-day of most of your readers) and determining that she doesn’t want it to, because having debt sucks. That’s a fine conversation to have, but not necessarily the best thing on a financial health website unless you’re really going to get into the nitty gritty of the different kinds of debt, what kind of debt repayment programs are out there, and the caveats to her blanket “I wouldn’t marry anyone with student loans, period, the end” statement. This article really follows the same pattern.
    If you’re truly of the mind that high school grads need to have (more) advice that encourages them to be debt free and shows them how to do that, this article would not be effective at accomplishing that goal. For one thing, you’d need a different title. For another, you have the resources and the writer pool to put out something like, “Here’s how these five college grads did it without incurring any debt” or “Here’s how to decipher that student loan offer in your financial aid package” if that’s truly the audience you’re aiming at with this piece. But, let’s all be honest now, it’s not. The article itself is very much directed at people who already have student loans, and is trying to show a perspective on not having student loans in a society in which most of our generation is struggling frantically to either find a way around them or stay afloat with what we have. It’s not that that perspective doesn’t exist, it’s just…is it important to write about the woes of not having debt? I would argue that it’s not really, and furthermore, that it’s kind of contradictory to the big things I thought TFD was doing well in the past. I’ll still be reading, but I probably won’t be recommending anymore.

    • chelseafagan

      I’m really saddened to hear that you won’t be recommending our site anymore, but I understand your perspective. My goal was to discuss that there are many paths to being debt-free, and it’s not something relegated to the rich. I talk about community college and alternative education all the time because it was so heavily (and embarrassingly) stigmatized when I did it, and I hope to be a small part of the conversation making it less so. The execution might not always be perfect, but the intention is there.

  • Zeyzey

    So TFD is now a blog for Chelsea to make sure everybody agrees with her financial choices in life and argue with and judge anyone who doesn’t. You should probably change the blog name.

  • LauraLynn

    I quite enjoyed this article and wanted to share that I was very fortunate to have come out of school with a degree and with zero student debt, but not because of a rich family. I went to cc for a long time before switching to a university and was able to get fee waivers and grants along the way due to my parents being split up and none of us making very much money. I don’t keep it quiet, I just tell people to do their FASFA form and also try for scholarships, but a lot of people just don’t want to do the work, which is unfortunate.

  • Cliff Murdock

    I have been looking for financial blogs to recommend to my young adult children, and this one certainly fits the bill. Love seeing you young folks discussing the financial issues of the day, and planning for your financial future. Most young adults are oblivious to financial matters. My oldest daughter studied hard in high school, got some limited scholarships, and graduated nearly debt-free from a reputable state university. My middle child did not do quite as well as the oldest, just HAD to go to an out-of-state school, and graduated with a degree that will ensure she is paying student loans off for most of the rest of her life. Point being, for those of you that have incurred student debt, what’s done is done. Now you have to deal with it.

    Most of you know student debt almost never gets discharged. In other words, you can declare bankruptcy and you student loans still don’t go away. They will garnish any government benefit you are ever entitled to to get that money back. Student loan debt is among the most secure loans a bank or the government can give out. They KNOW they are getting their money back eventually. This is why I find 5-8% and higher interest rates on these loans to be such a scam. Here are young people trying to better themselves, which betters society as a whole, and you have the government and bankers basically preying on them financially. Some fatcat banker is making hundreds of millions of dollars off of you, while many of you are struggling to pay the debt off. There is no reason these loans should EVER be charged more than 2-3% interest. Like I said, some people are getting filthy rich off your misery.

    The other factor that is killing many of you is out-of-control educational costs. I graduated in 1986 with zero debt. My parents were lower middle-class. I worked part-time, and they pitched in the rest. The reason we could do that was it wasn’t so freaking expensive back then. Again, this relates to the financial and political interests in this country. There is no reason education should be that expensive. It is that expensive because we as a country allow it to happen.

    The worst thing kicking your butts is that the age 40 and younger crowd is NOT politcally organized or active, or they vote for candidates that do not prioritize the student debt crisis as they should. Honestly, there should be a million-student debt holders march on Washington to protest the scam our eduational system has become. But you are not organized enough to make that happen. Maybe you are too busy working trying to pay off that debt to realize how badly you are being ripped off.

    The best way to resolve this problem is to realize that in politics, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. How many of you that are saddled with debt have ever written your Congressman/woman? Left a message on the whitehouse.gov web site? My guess is not many. If you have time to read or respond to a blog, you have time to do this. Here is a link to find your congressperson and their contact information: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ Write a letter or email. Be respectful and concise. Tell them you are a registered voter. Make it personal. Tell your story and how much student debt load is impacting your life. Plead for their assistance in reducing interest rates. Here’s the trick. It only works if A LOT of you do it. Also, if you are NOT a registered voter, go register. Seriously, if you don’t vote, you have ZERO voice. Research the candidates. See who even mentions this issue. Consider voting for those that pledge to address it. Because nothing is going to change until enough of you stand up and say enough is enough.

  • I managed to make it out of college with only $3000 of debt, working my tail-end off to do so. My fiancee did exactly the same thing, but came out with $5000.

    Now we both have awesome full-time jobs straight out of college and are excited to pay off the loan in full as soon as the grace period is up.

    Seriously people. It seems fun to party it up and live crazily at college instead of working, but I know people who will be regretting that debt for decades to come.

    They’ll be living paycheck to paycheck, I will be investing 10-20% of my income and donating 10% of it because me and my fiancee are both willing to be frugal for a few years in order to secure our finances for the long-term and still be generous and help other people.

    They had their fun in college, I’ll have my fun the rest of my life.

    Note: Neither of our parents helped with our college.

  • Gail

    I took out a $100 loan to buy books. That was the only debt I had. College was not as expensive as it is today. I did everything I could to avoid debt. I did not take vacations during semester breaks. I worked while going to college. I bought clothes at a thrift store. I went to the movies on campus, which were about one fourth the cost at a movie theater. I bought very little junk food. I had roommates spend a lot of money on new clothes. A lot of them had cars. I got around on my bike or on the bus or I walked. I had a roommate spend some of her loan money on skiing equipment. My mother paid about 40-50 percent of my college. I paid a fair amount. When I was 9 my mother opened an account for me to pay for my college. It grew to several thousand dollars but I lost that account when she got divorced so at age 14 I opened a new account on $10 to fund my college. I did not want to come out of college deeply in debt. I thought that was a terrible way to begin my adult life. I did all I could to stay out of debt. I had $600 in the bank when I graduated.