Student loans will undoubtedly go down as the worst financial advice of a generation. A great lie perpetrated by the government, parents and the institutions themselves. Go deep into debt, they said. It will be worth it, they said.
“The fastest way out of student loan debt is to avoid it altogether.” - Nick French
Going into debt is rarely a good decision. As a society, we look the other way when it comes to a home mortgage because the shelter is a basic need and “everyone else does it.”
A college education is not a basic need. In fact, for the vast majority of college graduates, it’s pretty useless. Yet, the average student loan debt in America is $32,731 (according to Credit.com).
I have zero intentions of making anyone feel bad. Instead, I want to paint a sobering picture of what student loans have done to a generation so that we can stop the cycle with the next wave of youth.
If you have a college destined young person in your life, please consider sharing some of these ideas with them. I think college is great, my wife and I will soon have 5 college degrees between the two of us.
I just don’t believe you need to flush your financial future down the drain to achieve an education.
Student Loans are Bad Debt
There are very few situations in life when it’s a good idea to take on debt. I’m not going to shout that all debt is bad debt, but in the case of a college education, it’s mostly bad debt.
The reason it’s bad debt is because you don’t need to take on student loan debt in order to get an education. Check out this comparison of Community College vs State University vs Online School (I actually have a degree from all three).
There are several paths to a college degree that don’t require taking on student loan debt.
Student Loan Debt Alternatives:
Joining the military
Branch university campus
Live at home or with roommates
Go at a slower pace
Tuition assistance through employer
Side hustle to pay for it
Some of these solutions will greatly reduce your overall tuition bill, pay for entire terms, or even pay you to go to school (GI Bill).
Wouldn’t you have rather cash flowed more school, gone slower (maybe 6-years) to earn the degree and be debt free? Or finish in 4-years and pay $500 a month for the next 20 years?
The primary reason why student loans are bad debt is because there’s many ways to get to the same finish line without them.
Opportunity Cost of Student Loans
The opportunity cost of student loan debt should get you fired up. Opportunity cost is defined as “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”
When you sign up for student loans, you’re committing to a monthly payment for a set amount of time with an interest rate. Much like an investment except you don’t get anything at the end.
Average student loan debt total per person: $31,172
Average monthly student loan payment for graduates: $393
Time to pay off student debt: 10 to 30 years
according to Credit.com
Imagine if you could complete your education with little to no student loan debt. The average person would free up $393 a month that could be used for other purposes.
Below are some ideas that $393 could be used for. This is a good section if you want a young adult in your life to better understand what they’re up against.
$393 per month is $4,716 per year. Invested at an average return of 7% for 10-years would yield about $70,000. Invested for 30-years would yield about $475,000.
Use this compound interest calculator to see how your monthly student load payment would translate if it had been invested instead.
Simply saving $393 a month in cash is a better choice than paying a student loan. In just 3-years you would have almost $15,000 in the bank.
Paying Off Debt
$393 a month could be going to other debts you may have like a car payment, credit card debt, medical bills, etc…
Not only will you have a degree, but you’re reducing your overall debt and increasing your net worth!
Kids College Fund
$393 in a 529 college fund wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s definitely an option if you want to break the cycle of toxic education financing.
Imagine not only taking care of your own education through being resourceful and utilizing all the options available to you, but you can set your kids up for success as well.
Literally Anything Else
There’s an indeterminable number of things that $393 a month could go towards that are better than student loans.
Why? Because student loans aren’t necessary in order to earn an education!
When I was in high school (2009), everyone wanted to know what college you were going to go to. The general feeling was that anything but going away to a university was stigmatic.
Staying at home while attending community college to earn a direct transfer associate’s (DTA) to transfer to a local university branch campus definitely wasn’t the route the popular kids were taking.
If you or someone close to you are considering college right after high school, it’s important to look inside yourself for the driving force.
Are you choosing a school for status among your peers? For opportunity? What’s your intrinsic why to going to college, and to the college you’re choosing to go to?
The truth is, very few people care what college the average person attended. They don’t care the location, the experience you had, the amount of money you spent or even what you learned (in some cases).
Start With the End in Mind
Ask yourself, can you get to the same destination while spending less? Why are you going to college? What kind of job do you expect to get as a result?
If you can’t answer those questions, you shouldn’t be taking out student loans to go to school. The one certainty is that your student loan bill will come due upon graduation. You’re not guaranteed a career.
I’m a big fan of SMART goals. An example of my SMART educational goal I set when I was 19 was, “I want to earn an MBA degree by the age of 30 to eventually become a business consultant without taking out student loans.”
Specific - Specific degree that matches specific career field
Measurable - Degree (check), No Student Loans (check)
Achievable - Very achievable
Relevant - degree is relevant to desired job
Time Bound - “by the age of 30.”
This is the exact path I took:
Community college (1-year baseball scholarship)
Air Force (earned A.A.S in Aviation Maintenance)
Bachelors degree (B.S. using 9/11 GI Bill & worked)
Started working full-time
Masters Degree (WGU Online MBA)
I never took out any student loans to earn my education and now am able to invest a decent chunk of income each and every month. Oh, we also had 3 kids during this time from the age of 21-27.
Do Student Loans Fit Your Budget?
Does the job you’ll eventually get pay enough to cover the student loan bill your signing up for? Create a mock budget using the pay you expect to earn, your rent payment (and other bills) and your student loan bill.
Does your $800 a month student loan bill fit your monthly budget with your new income upon graduation? Do you realize that even with a degree you’re likely going to be working in an entry-level position?
If your eventual student loan payment can fit into your future budget, then it’s your choice if that’s something you want to do or not.
Student loans are one of the worst financial decisions people have made in their lives. Unfortunately, it has been perpetuated by all of the people and institutions that should be educating their young adults.
The result? The largest consumer debt load in the history of the country. over $1 trillion dollars is currently owed by college graduates.
This is completely unnecessary and avoidable for the majority of Americans. Before committing your financial future to student loan repayment please take some time to determine an alternate path to achieving the same desired result.
If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it with a family member or friend. At the very least, leave a comment below or connect with me on Instagram.