A primer on the albatross of the student loan

Writer Jay Gabler, who I’m happy to say is a public radio colleague, pretty well sums up the student loan situation, which generally gets very little sympathy from the older crowd for some reason.

He writes today on The Financial Diet that he has just turned 40 and he still owes $40,000 in student loans.

My mom still remembers looking with disbelief at my offer letter from Boston University. They promised substantial grants, to be supplemented by several thousand dollars in student loans as well as a parental contribution that was stiff but—well, not $20,000. “I think this means you can go to Boston,” my mom said with happy surprise.

And he did. And then he went to Harvard after that.

He recently found some of the old paperwork for those first student loans. “What, I wonder, did the 18-year-old me think my life would be like in 2015? Did I realize I would still owe that money?” he asks.

He’s not trying to get out of the loans. He acknowledges he took them on and it’s his responsibility to pay them off.

Writing from the perspective of my present self, I realize that I’m not really the one who the younger me expected to be making those loan payments. What I mean is that I don’t think I actually realized, when I was signing that promissory note at age 18, that the guy who would be paying that loan off in the 21st century would actually be me—the same guy, with the same Isaac Asimov paperbacks and the same birthmark on my chest and the same phobia about pens that aren’t clicked shut.

Whom, then, did I imagine would be making these payments? I think the answer is that I envisioned the payments being made by an adult: someone with such fantastic reserves of money that it would mean something totally different than it did to 19-year-old me. In short, I don’t think I realized that the $50,000 I was borrowing would ever feel real.

He got a lot for those loans. He learned what he didn’t want to be. He learned what makes him happy and, fortunately for us in public radio, music and radio is one of those things.

But he’s not a soapbox; he’s not lecturing us on changes to the education system that we all know aren’t going to happen. The drag on our economy is going to keep dragging it.

He simply wants today’s students to understand what they’re signing up for. And maybe lead the rest of us to understand why others are out of work because a generation doesn’t have the money to buy what they were selling.

(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)