Before you Start Whining about the Size of Your College Loan

I need to say, after hearing about the crushing debt with which today’s graduates are exiting college, I’m sick.  No, I don’t feel sick because of their plight.  I don’t worry about how they’ll pay back those hundreds of thousands of dollars with which they have been saddled.  I’m not going to worry about whether they will be able to buy a house soon, or start a family with all of that debt strapped around their necks. I don’t think that they were tricked into signing up by unscrupulous lenders in wide-brimmed hats and handlebar mustaches.  I certainly don’t think that the debt should be forgiven after a period of time, even if they are entering retirement.

I’m sick of hearing all of the whining about student loan debt.  I certainly want them to get out of debt, but I don’t feel any more sorry for most of them than I would feel about someone who came back from a lavish vacation and put it all on credit cards despite not having a job or the money to pay for their trip.  The reason is that both were enjoying luxuries they were not able to afford.  Now before you start to comment about how college is just really expensive and most families can’t afford to pay for college without student loans and that there is no other way, tell me, did you:

Select a reasonable school for your budget?  If you have a half million dollars sitting in the bank doing nothing, there is nothing wrong with going to Harvard or Yale and paying full rates.  Otherwise, you should have chosen a much less expensive school for which you could pay cash.

Look for scholarships?  And no, I don’t mean did you just apply for a couple of full-ride scholarships that would have covered your entire tuition for four years.  I mean did you apply for every $100 and $500 scholarship you could find?  Many of these go unfilled and a few hours spent filling out an application can reduce you college debt by a few hundred dollars if you get one of these.  Spend a summer piecing them together, and you could have college covered.  That’s a much better rate of pay than a minimum wage job.

Minimize living expenses?  OK now, be honest – a lot of people are just taking a class or two so that they can use student loans to finance their living expenses.  But even if you are seriously going to school, are you using loans to finance a two bedroom apartment with a pool and a weight room, or are you paying for a room over the garage of an old lady with six cats and helping with yard work to reduce the rent?  Before you say you can’t live like that, remember, you’re the one with no money for college.

Minimize time in school?  If you can’t afford to pay for tuition, why are you taking six years and dropping classes because you don’t feel like getting up early on Mondays?  Tuition is the same whether you take 12 hours or 21 hours.  If you’re taking out loans, get through as fast as you can.  3 1/2 years sounds good to me.

Work summers?  Unless you are carrying a full load in the summers to get out quick, you need to be working if you’re using student loans.  No lounging around the pool or heading home to live as a perpetual teenager.  It is best if you can get something related to your education or better yet, an internship.  If not, get what you can and save up some money for books.

Use community colleges?  The basic classes, like calculus one and remedial English can be had at community colleges.  Sure, a four-year college would be nice for the social life and to get away from Mom and Dad, but if you can’t afford to pay cash, you can save a lot of money by going to a community college for a year or two.

Pick a major based on ROI?  The worst thing to see is someone come out of college with $100,000 in student loan debt with a degree that leads to a $30,000 job.  If you are studying to be a youth minister, you don’t need a $20,000 per year tuition bill.  Figure out how much you’ll earn a year and don’t get more debt that you can pay off in 2 years with half of your salary.

Really learn things?  People don’t hire you and keep paying you just because you have a slip of paper in a frame on your wall,  They pay you for the skills you have and what you can produce for them.  Learn all that you can while you’re in college and make that degree mean something.

If you have done all of these things and still have some student loan debt, then I understand and don’t fault you.  But if you partied your way through five or six years at an expensive college, taking minimal numbers of hours, save me your complaints.  You were enjoying a luxury you couldn’t afford and now you need to pay for it.

Unfortunately, using student loans to go to college people can’t afford has become the new norm for the middle class.   Families who have dined out several times a week, remodeled their homes several times, driven new cars, and gone on lavish vacations have no money for college.  Then, despite there being no money available, the children decide to go to an expensive college and are in no hurry to graduate.  It is time to start getting real about what you can and what you can’t afford.  College can help you get a better paying job, but graduating with the equivalent of a house payment in student loans is a bad way to start your working life unless you are going into a very lucrative career.  Remember, however, that if you are becoming a doctor but don’t make it through school somehow, you’ll still need to pay the loans back.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.


  1. Outstanding, I could not agree more. This country has become so soft, we expect to be given everything because we are owed happiness. Not sure what it is going to take to turn things around, but it needs to start soon…..very soon.


    • I think the biggest problem is that we’ve become an enabling society that turns everyone into helpless victims. It is easy to say there is nothing that you can do, and everyone has myriad excuses, but there are a few who find a way. If people were challenged more, more people would find a way.

  2. To assume as you have that this generation of college students didn’t follow any of these steps when applying for and paying for college is shameful.

    While there are many financially unaware young people who haven’t followed these steps, there are also many that have and are still faced with a more reasonable amount of debt in a job market that has offered few opportunities since 2007.

    It should also be noted that the complaints have largely come from the same media that over reacts to the majority of news that gets over publicized based on the whim of a few wealthy individuals from an dee generation who I am sure has never combined about anything.

    • There’s plenty of shame to go around. It is the children of the media’s generation who are racking up these loans because their parents found plenty of money for $6 lattes every day and Club Med vacations but who somehow didn’t have the money to send their children to college.

      You’re absolutely right that many students have done all that they can and followed many of these steps and as a result are coming out of college with little or no debt. There may be others who did all of these steps and still have a lot of debt (not very likely, but maybe). If they want to complain about about their debt (for something they wanted and freely purchased), I’ll listen to a point.

      There are many others, however, who have taken none of these steps who are now coming out with mountains of debt ($35000 is the average I’ve heard, with some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) who are complaining that it “isn’t fair” and that they “should not have to pay it back.” I’m tired of hearing that there was “nothing they could do” and that they were victims of the system. There are plenty of things that they could have done and I’ve listed many of them. If this makes them mad and they work three jobs to pay off their debt before they buy a house just to show me, I’ll take that risk. I’m also hoping some people who haven’t started college yet will take some or all of these steps and not put themselves in a position to complain.

  3. Great article. This is something that, in hindsight, I realize now and wish I would have done. I don’t want anyone to forgive my loans because I dug that hole myself.

    Although, I do believe that something must be done to educate teenagers in matters of finance. At 18, I know I didn’t fully grasp how deep that hole was that I was digging. Would I have listened if I had required classes that taught me about money, the weight of investments, debt, etc…? Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know but it wouldn’t have hurt. It does amaze me that money is such an integral part of our society yet we don’t provide financial education to kids, especially before they commit to a huge investment like college.

    I do believe it will get better with the following generations because so many of us have come away from college with debt and now have a better understanding of how it works.

    • Thanks for the comment. A big reason for this blog is to do my part to better educate people financially. It’s amazing though that I’ll write something like “limit your home loan payment to 25% of your take-home pay” and get all sorts of comments on how it just isn’t possible for this reason or that. Ditto for saying “you should avoid student loans.” I’m afraid many people have bought into the lie that you can’t function without loans. Hopefully we can change a few minds and help them avoid the fool’s choice.

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