In response to this article on CNBC today:
Let’s review a few of the important points of our main character, Scott:
1.) Scott graduated with $35,000 in total debt. OK! NOT BAD.
2.) Scott made payments for 10 years, but the balance went up to $55k. NOT GREAT, BOB.
3.) Scott couldn’t make payments for a while, then “rehabilitated” his loan. MAKES SENSE.
4.) Scott now pays $6,300 a year, the balance is going UP every month, owes $130k, and declared bankruptcy which will not help his loan situation at all. WTF!
This story highlights the massive scam of income based repayment. We’ve looked at this problem before:
In that last linked article I said:
These plans often have payments lower than the interest accruing, so the balance on your student loans can actually GO UP over time. This essentially makes you dependent on loan forgiveness as your only way out of debt.
This was one reason why these student loans reminded me of the “negative amortization loans” of the mortgage meltdown.
Even if Scott gets his loans forgiven, he will have paid many multiples of his original borrowed amount ($6k a year x 10 or 20 years, plus the payments he made for 10 years, plus the income tax hit). And again, there isn’t any way out. If you default, the government will withhold basic social safety nets designed for the poor.
This is the payday lending industry re-imagined.
This is indentured servitude.
Please be careful out there.
From time to time students will ask me for direction about doing personal fundraising or crowdsourcing. Here are a couple of resources if you are curious about the crowdsourcing landscape. As always, feel free to reach out with questions or to talk through what you are thinking.
Two thoughts from Seth Godin on this topic:
A question to help me think about the way I feel about money and bad financial choices:
When I lose money, does it feel more like a bad haircut (it stinks but it will grow back) or losing a limb?
“There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.” – Martin Luther
via the outstanding book by Richard Foster: Money, Sex, & Power
One thing we’ve noticed is that grad students are often bifurcated into students recently out of undergrad (in their early/mid 20’s) and second career students that are typically 15-20 years older. This is one reason the average age of a Denver Seminary student is 32 years old.
This segment of “Adult Students” is getting more attention then they have in the past, including an article in the Wall Street Journal, for a couple of reasons:
- We’ve documented that older students are more vulnerable to high levels of student loan debt: Students over 31 years of age are significantly (almost 3x) more likely to borrow high levels of debt (over $50k)
- It’s a larger pool then we thought: Some 41% of students enrolled in higher education are 25 or older.
- 38% of these older students drop out in their first year. Students that borrow money then fail to earn their degree are among the biggest fatalities of the student loan programs.
Goldie Blumenstyk is a leading voice in this area. A couple of her resources to highlight:
Jordan Peterson is having “a moment”. A widely circulated interview brought his considerable platform into the spotlight with a variety of articles including this David Brooks piece which summarizes things nicely.
In the aforementioned interview, he uses a word I hadn’t fully considered: Competent.
“Competency is power”
I bounced that idea off my kids around the dinner table last night. I do want them to marry someone who is competent. Competent at cleaning the kitchen, competent at raising children, competent at balancing a checkbook, competent at managing conflict in a healthy way, competent at managing the many problems life brings.
When my wife and I started dating, my roommate and I were not competent at lots of things, not the least of which was cleaning. We once went an entire year without cleaning the kitchen. Don’t ask. The bathroom was worse, so it took most of the attention away from the kitchen. People would just leave rather then use the bathroom.
We aren’t born competent. We have to learn, and most learning comes from Someone who already knows how to do it.
It’s ok if we aren’t competent in our personal finances yet. It’s not ok for us to stay that way. We, our (future) spouse, our business partners, our children, and our parents deserve better. Have you ever had a friend (usually when you were younger) that always was asking to borrow money? It’s hard to be friends with that guy.
It’s important to develop competencies at:
No judgement. I doesn’t matter when we find ourselves today. I’m much better at cleaning my kitchen these days. Let’s pick one area, talk to someone who knows that area, and start making small actions.
You and I have the capacity to be financially competent.
Creating a little extra margin in our financial lives will radically change our relationship with money. Saving or earning an extra $1,000 would make a big difference in all of our lives. We can do it in 2018.
A spark of Hope let’s us Believe it’s possible. A little Belief starts our brains looking for Opportunities. An Opportunity seized creates an Action. Action leads to the physical changing of our circumstances.
Changing our physical conditions is “work” in all its forms. The work of creating order from chaos. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
Here is an article link to get your brain working and create some hope. Hope in this case being the persistent belief that its possible to change our physical circumstances through “work”.
The basics of personal finance are pretty straightforward, but it’s easy for us to think that because we’re in a specific season of life, like graduate school, they don’t all apply. Here is a basic list of finance fundamentals as discovered through extensive research for books like The Millionaire Next Door:
Those are pretty basic fundamentals – the only one I would quibble with is following financial markets, which many experts say is a waste of time. The reality is that following the market is probably an indicator of overall financial diligence. It’s correlation not causation.
It is easy to think that while we’re in a very tight season of life, as grad school is, that basics like spending less then we earn and savings aren’t possible.
While I would be the first to agree that it is very difficult, I would set it as a practice to live on a budget (spend what you earn) and save, even if it is a very small (almost token) amount. The point is that these practices will carry over into our future when our financial picture changes.
I’m continually challenged that to be “faithful with the little things” isn’t primarily a promise of future blessing, it is a promise that I will be changed. I continually screw it up, but let’s try again today.
“Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden
I believe one of the most important ideas in understanding debt is what we call “Layers of Risk”. One layer that I have not taken the time to fully consider was brought to my attention in an article today. That layer of risk is student borrowers with children, and specifically single parents:
- Nearly 50% of undergrad students borrowers defaulted
- Of those, 70% were single parents
- 10% of borrowers are single parents, but they represent 40% of all defaults
These stats also include additional factors and layers of risk. For example, as the article points out if you’re a parent of a child under 3, a person of color, or enrolled in a for-profit school your default rates are even higher.
Additionally, many of these defaulted loans are for students that were unable to complete their degree so they are stuck with a non-bankruptable debt and no degree with which to increase their earning potential.
Any system that disproportionately penalizes the most vulnerable needs to be reformed.
From a Charles Schwab survey of Chicago residents.