Skip to comments."I, Breadwinner? - View of Debt from the Left"
Posted on 12/28/2004 3:03:45 AM PST by Woodworker
Your dad had a job, a wife, a house. You've got loans and fear of commitment. Hello, manhood. December 21st, 2004 11:55 AM.
Owe no man any thing. Romans 13:8
Don't worry about the loans. I'm doing good, Dad, and it's gonna stay that way. Bud Fox [Charlie Sheen] in Oliver Stone's Wall Street.
For me, it was all about easy money.
When I started college, I needed and wanted fundsfor an apartment, a car, a girlfriend, alcohol, and of course, tuition. Conveniently, the dorms and lecture halls were strewn with credit card applications, which are as much a part of the university experience as Wednesday-morning hangovers. The plastic loan sharks beckoned with low monthly payments and generous credit lines. It was an offer few of us could refuse.
Naturally, credit cards, with their usurious interest rates, were just the start. Student loans, a fact of life for nearly every red-blooded (as opposed to blue-blooded) American, were a much bigger deal. And the bonus was you could begin paying them back after graduation or, at any rate, in the distant future. It wasn't my problem, I reasoned. It was the problem of some future version of myself. Screw him.
Thus was a Matterhorn of debt created. But as I morphed from a twentysomething into a thirty-nothing, the realization began to dawn: Will the supersized student loans and maxed-out credit cards stay with me until the bitter end? Will I spend the rest of my life barely making rent, forever beholden to myriad creditors? Will I be able to purchase a home? Will I be solvent enough to provide, God help me, for a family? Will, in other words, there be consequences to an early life of profligate borrowing?
Well, yeah. "As a group, young adults underestimate how long it will take to repay the debt," said Jill Norvilitis, an associate professor of psychology at Buffalo State University, who has studied collegiate debt.
For many young men beginning their stroll through adulthood, debilitating indebtedness spawns a problem that goes beyond the figures on a bank statement. It's the growing sense that you won't be able to live the kind of life you hoped, the kind of life you grew up expecting. "It's incredibly depressing," said Paula Langguth Ryan, an author and lecturer on bankruptcy. "It's emasculating. They wonder, 'How did my parents do this? I can't possibly do this. How can I tell my father that I'm so far over my head I can't buy any presents this Christmas?'
"You get onto that roller coaster of paying off the debt, but it still keeps going up," Ryan added. "You're just spinning your wheels and huge frustration mounts. 'How can I tell the person I am dating that I am this far in debt?' "
Eric Heidt, 33, a Manhattan architect, just refinanced his student loans. Now the payments are manageable, but they're also eternal. "It's going to take me a lifetime to take care of it."
Heidt is living out an economic reality that his father might scarcely recognize. "Buying a house is pretty much out of reach," he said. "My parents had a bunch of kids, they bought houses, and here I am living in a 12-by-16 room with a stranger and I'm not saving any money. There's something wrong."
The lives of young adults, male and female, have changed over the past few decades. For one, fewer of us are getting married in our twenties and even thirties. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey show that, among 30- to 34-year-olds, the marriage rate in 2003 was four times lower than it was in 1970. Among 20- to 24-year-olds, 75 percent of women had never been marriedcompared to 36 percent in 1970and 86 percent of men had never been marriedcompared to 55 percent in 1970. It's just not an essential part of how young men see their post-graduation life these days.
According to a 2002 Rutgers University study, young men are reluctant to marry for several reasonsthey think it will require too many changes and compromises; they aren't confronted with social pressures to make the leap; they can just as easily live with a woman as marry her; and, to put it quite simply, they would rather enjoy the single life for as long as humanly possible. "Some of these men have spent a good part of their early adult years living with parents, roommates, or alone," the study's authors wrote. "They have become accustomed to their own space and routines. They enjoy the freedom of not having to be responsible to anyone else."
But the study also cites several financial reasons for putting off the marriage decision. Young men fear divorce and the financial risks it would bring, including child support. And most would like to purchase a house before taking the vows.
It's clear that young people aren't buying homes at the same rate as previous generations. Even though interest rates have plummeted to historic lows in recent years, causing a surge in home ownership across the country, the number of home buyers under 45 has remained steady nationwide since 1980. In New York City, only the lucky few can afford to purchase property. The white picket fence carries an entirely too costly price tag. We are a far more transitory generation, picking up and moving from apartment to apartment, job to job, relationship to relationship, city to cityall while being followed by the black cloud of the financial choices of our late teens and early twenties.
This wasn't what our parents had in mind for us. Many young men grew up hearing their fathers lecture on the importance of financial stability, business success, and home ownership. The thrust of these soliloquies was that if you make the right choices you won't have any problems. If I did it, so can you, son. But there was a caveat: Don't be stupid with your cash. (Also: You'll get none from me.) Implicit in all this was the suggestion that foolishness with money equals weakness. Debt was a moral deficiency. It's not the way a man conducts himself.
Easy for them to say, we thought. They didn't grow up in the age of easy credit. The credit card is just 40 years old, and it wasn't until the 1980s that a young person could get one without a signature from a parent. They didn't have to struggle to pay for an education. College is now hugely expensiveand a required step on the pathway of American citizenship. Avoid the university, we are told, and you'll wind up as a telemarketer. (You probably will anyway.) They didn't have to carry debt. We do. It's part of our life today.
"You have to remember, in the past, credit wasn't in common use," said Ryan. "You didn't have people slipping a credit application into the books you are buying at the college bookstore. Back then, nobody borrowed on credit. Bankruptcy carried a huge stigma. You would literally sell everything you had of value to repay your debts. You often knew your creditorit was the butcher or the plumber. Now creditors are faceless."
The average man doesn't think about the problems of debt until the first bad credit report prevents him from buying a car or obtaining a mortgage (both of which, of course, would grant him the luxury of more debt). That's when he feels the sting. That's when his life begins to feel ill-considered and wasteful. He curses himself for taking that trip to Jim Morrison's grave on collegiate plastic. He kicks himself for enrolling in two semesters of Hungarian instruction, a beautiful language no doubt, but about as useful to him today as a hole in the cranium. Indeed, at times like these his entire college education looks like a waste of money.
"It's painful," said Barry Glassman, a certified financial planner who counsels law students. "If you don't make those monthly interest payments, you get a horrible credit rating and it goes on your permanent record. It's part of that anchor that is dragging you down. I see it with law students who I think would be great in the public sector. But they can't afford it. As a financial planner I can't see the numbers working. It forces people to take jobs they wouldn't normally take.
"It's tough to think long-term when there are so many pressing issues month to month," he said. "You cannot fathom buying a house when you are trying to make a $400 payment every month."
The problem is heightened if you have trouble finding a job in this time of fewer opportunities. "It's especially hard on people who are trying to get established, trying to get their foot in the door," said Gregory Kuhlman, director of the personal counseling program at Brooklyn College. "If you already have a decent job, you might be nervous, but it doesn't hit you like it does if you are pounding the pavement for six months."
At this point in the saga, the typical young person might feel a little resentment, particularly when he reviews his parents' history and decides that they had it easy. They had no trouble finding decent work and buying that first home. The system then in place was designed to give them a good chance to achieve a chunk of the American dream, however they defined it. The system now in place rewards those wise folks among us who at age 19 had the foresight to worry about how their financial statement would look at age 30. All 10 of them.
The solution is to begin chipping away at your debt burden. "The only way to empower yourself and take the power away from the debt is to face up to it," said Ryan. And quit charginganything. Chuck your cards out the window, she suggested. Detach yourself from a way of living that depends on the "drug" of easy credit, said Ryan.
In my experience, I saw that things have a way of improving over time. I slowly dug myself out of the hole. I was aided by the fact that I wasn't able to accumulate more debt, even if I wanted to. Incremental increases in my salary enabled me to pay off my early-college credit cards. I made peace with the banks that issued my student loans and began paying restitution to them. In short, I figured out a way to manage my debt, which is, after all, the most any of us can hope for in the worker's paradise of 21st-century America. Like Michael Jordan on the basketball court, the average American's debt cannot be stopped; it can only, with luck and fortitude, be contained.
As long as you stay out of graduate school.
For more good advise on living debt-free see:
What an irritating article.
Of course, you could go into the military to help pay for college (as I did), but I'm sure THAT option would not be preferred by most of the readers of the Village Voice.
And what ever happened to living within your means? My wife and I could have bought a house twice as expensive as the one we live in, but we bought a small ranch instead of piling into unneccesary deep debt.
People don't realize that their parent's first house was a 400 square foot box with no central heating, single pane glass, a stove, one bathroom and nothing else. No TV in every room (if you had a TV it was probably B&W), No VCR's, no video games, no CD's, no computers, no cell phones, no microwave ovens, no VCR's, no DVD players, no pagers, no dishwashers, no cloths dryers, the list goes on and on.
That was normal.
Now if you don't have all those things you're abnormal, and if you do, you're in debt up to your neck...
"I'm in debt up to my eyeballs!" ;)
LOL! I know that ad, it's very funny.
I'm rather immune from ads, but the look on that actors face when he says that line makes me howl.
So much so, that the wife dreads it coming on the tube. ;)
Not living within one's means is the problem: now beginning with the choice to attend a college or university well outside your (and your family's) ability to pay (taking your scholarship aid into account). For those with ordinary middle or lower middle class means, 40 years ago, college meant two years living at home and going to the local community college, then transfering to the best public school one could get into in one's home state. That's still the route sensible people take.
Increasingly, however, there is huge pressure to attend a residential college/university for all four years and, especially in the eastern US, to attend a private college or university. (Admittedly, the eastern state universities don't have the prestige of some of those in the midwest or far west (or Virginia and North Carolina) that rank among the top 50 research universities nationwide, but still....)
While there is an argument to be made for paying the cost (even by borrowing) of elite colleges and universities -- mostly because of the contacts you can make and the opportunities they provide -- I have always thought that below that top tier of some 50 universities and 50 odd national liberal arts colleges, it made little sense to go to a private college or university rather than a public university. While I think that the many many smaller private colleges are run by sincere people who are doing the best they know how, I honestly believe that they do their students a disservice when they are priced at or just below the level of the top tier institutions without being able to provde the benefits.
Here lies much of the fear of commitment of young men today, I believe. Divorce seems inevitable, and the obligation it leaves is nearly unbearable. Its aftermath is a sentence of poverty to both parties.
"Here lies much of the fear of commitment of young men today, I believe. Divorce seems inevitable, and the obligation it leaves is nearly unbearable. Its aftermath is a sentence of poverty to both parties."
I disagree. In general, it's a sentence of indentured servitude to the man, and an eternal source of funds for the woman. That's the way the laws work today, at least here in New Jersey.
Excuse me, but I'm really getting tired of listening to how much "easier" your parents had it then you. That is, quite frankly, a crock of you know what. Neither I or my husband were college educated, and we managed TOGETHER by being careful with our money and working about five jobs between the two of us to have a home, children, cars and vacations. Now the home wasn't over 200 thousand and was quite modest even by 1978 standards. Our cars also, neither even had air. We managed to "manage" our debt and keep a perfect credit rating for 30 years. Our children wanted for nothing.
Now of course we have two sons who are 23 and 24 and they, much like the rest of their generation, thinks the world owes them a living, and if they need something (or want something) and they don't have it, it's ok to just "take" it somehow or sit around and whine that someone should give it to them.
Now one of them dropped out of high school, and he had a job last year working for a sprinkler company, $12.00 an hour, HEALTH BENEFITS, vacation, sick leave, and his boss even drove here and picked him up and dropped him off everyday for $25 a week (he got a DUI and has no license). Want to know what happened? He got fired. Couldn't get his butt up in the morning.
This particular son is being tossed from our home after the first of the year.
So when I read stuff like this, it really kind ticks me off. I have no sympathy for ANYONE who credit cards themselves into slavery. It's not the fault of soceity. GROW UP.
I have many female friends and acquitances who are divorced, with children, and all of them found, or continue to find, it difficult to make ends meet, at least until they remarry or the children are no longer dependent on them. Some of the ex-husbands simply refuse to pay child support. I also know of a few cases of good, responsible men who were hosed by vindictive ex-wives. Good men and women suffer because of bad men and women.
Were they John Kerry supporters? I certainly hope that they didn't vote. I'm sorry to say this about your children, but they are spoiled brats, which is what modern-day liberalism is all about -- the outlook on life, and demands of, a spoiled selfish brat.
"Easy for them to say, we thought. They didn't grow up in the age of easy credit. The credit card is just 40 years old, and it wasn't until the 1980s that a young person could get one without a signature from a parent."
Responsibility changed. My parents didn't allow me to have a credit card because they thought I was not responsible enough. And they were right.
I had 50k in school loans. My wife also had school loans. The people here who are whining probably decided to go to college and get educated on French Impressionism and other liberal arts degrees. A real good choice in the open market for these people. /sarcasm off
If you look at professionals, we had loans upwards of 100k or more and managed to pay them back based on the jobs we got. We may not have bought our homes until our mid to late 30's(I bought my first home, a townhouse for 130k in 1991, I was 31)but eventually we did.
I am now 44, my loans are paid off and I have the home and family of my dreams. I worked hard, took responsibility for my own actions and made a go of it without complaining or whining.
My reccomendation for all these college kids is to forget liberal arts as a major. If they want to do this, go to community college. Take a major that will enhance your life and reward you financially and emotionally. If you want to carry a 50k loan for majoring in dead French artists, quit whining and deal with it. It was your choice and you are responsible.
"among 30- to 34-year-olds, the marriage rate in 2003 was four times lower than it was in 1970."
Here is a large part of the problem, if people with degrees are so uneducated as to believe that something can be four times lower then they have no hope of coping with money management. My parents knew better than that by the eigth grade. My father never even started his freshman year in high school and he had a better understanding of fractions than this writer!
Dig it. I'm 54, in a three bedroom condo, no debt. No mortgage, no car payments. Only "current charges" on the credit cards. If I get laid off, I'll sell the condo, join the exodus south and out, cash my 401k and go fishin' for the rest of my life. I have 0.00 sympathy for folks who run up huge debts and start sobbing about how hard their lives are.
Really? I had student loans for several years after graduation. I also went to grad school while holding down a full time job.
What makes them different than me?
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