As I was growing up, I was taught there are certain things you don’t talk about outside your family, or if you do, you do so discreetly.
Probably the most significant of these subjects was money. My parents told my brother and me not to discuss with other people how much we paid for things (if we even knew), and if other people talked to us about things like that, to acknowledge same without comment.
It was not like we had anything to hide; it was simply, in their view, not in good taste to talk extensively about personal financial matters with other folks.
Of course I had friends who were only too happy to share with me how much their families spent on vacations, houses or cars, information I assume they had overheard (or made up). I think it was when I might have passed on some of that information to my parents that the lesson from them about not sharing was reinforced.
I still think it’s a good rule to follow. I might observe what I think is frugality or extravagance in others, but I don’t know their situation, and I don’t want to know. Neither do they know mine.
But some people choose to share more than I do, and some even do it in a public forum. Once they do that, they have to know they are opening themselves up to questions, if not outright judgment or criticism.
Which brings me to today’s topic: student loans.
A few days ago I read an opinion piece on one of the online news sites that I can’t stop thinking about. It was written by a man in his late twenties who has more than $200,000 in student debt (for a bachelor’s and master’s degree) and is now making a salary of $4,000 per month.
He is appalled that his lenders are now expecting him to pay that money back and he has decided he’ll do the best he can and pay the minimum he can get away with, but he simply can’t repay it all. He says he needs to do what everyone else is doing, and save for a down payment on a house. He says he can’t do that if he is paying back those loans.
His parents cosigned on his loans, so they are on the hook too, and he is also upset about that. They are a first-generation immigrant family (not that that really matters) and his parents moved to the U.S. for them to have a better life. Education was their dream for him and he is thrilled to have been able to fulfill it for them.
But now he is not happy about the cost.
The entire point of his piece is that he thinks the government should pass legislation to forgive all student debt, and then make college tuition-free for all. It has become too much of a burden for too many people, he says. He vaguely cites some studies that show how this will boost the economy.
Since this guy chose to share, he has opened himself up for comment.
I really don’t know where to start. Maybe it’s with his parents who had the dream for him to get an education. That is certainly a dream worth pursuing. But did they also encourage him to borrow all that money? Was it worth it?
Did they look into the type of job or career he would be pursuing post-college and do any type of cost-benefit analysis? Did he really need a master’s degree? Did they discuss his working a bit before he went to college or graduate school, or pursuing a work-study program while getting his education?
I would ask similar questions of him. In my hypothetical discussion, I would not get haughty or self-righteous. I would simply be curious as to how he reached the conclusion he should have his college education retroactively paid for by the government when he signed a legal document to borrow the money, promising to repay it.
I would not become indignant, because ludicrous as I think his argument might be, I would respect his right to state his opinion.
And I’m guessing, in this discussion in my mind, he and/or his parents might ask me about my own experience. And, as uncomfortable as I am discussing such matters, I would tell them my parents did in fact pay for my higher education and I was, blessedly, able to pay for that of my own three children – all without borrowing.
I am not necessarily opposed to borrowing money for education. But by its definition, the word borrow comes with a presumption that there will be repayment. Had I borrowed money for higher education for my children, I hope I would have presumed there would be a day of reckoning when I would have to be responsible for repayment.
Maybe the guy who wrote the piece might say it’s easy for me to question him since I had my college education paid for and paid for the college education for my children without borrowing, and maybe he would be right about that. But I can’t change my situation and I can’t change the fact that his position seems grossly illogical to me.
According to him, for those who have borrowed, it’s all just too much, and it is time for the government to step in and help all these people who have student debt – people who signed promissory notes. He says the government needs to have those notes declared null and void and he says this would help all of us.
I’m going to stop now, and perhaps revisit this another day. I’ll continue that respectful discussion with this writer and his parents in my mind. If you have anything to add, and/or you would like to tell me what I’m missing, I would love to hear from you.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.