Friday, April 27, 2012

My hated student loans

I was fortunate enough to have parents who footed the bill for me to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas.  At the time, I had no comprehension what kind of a gift that truly was, to escape with a BA degree in English with zero debt.  That was in May of 1995.  The rip-roaring 90's, when everyone was making boatloads of money and when the Most Important Happening in the World was OJ Simpson.  Why not go to law school, I told myself?

Fast forward to May of 1998.  Twenty-five years old, Juris Doctor degree in hand, pretty significant credit card debt ($10,000??)  and somewhere in the neighborhood of $42,000 in nondischargable student loan debt that, unbeknownst to me, should really be paid back sooner rather than later.  But hey, Clinton was still in office and the tech bubble hadn't burst -- things were still awesomely looking up!  I would be a full-fledged lawyer soon and lawyers made great money with terrific career!

Fast forward to today.  I still am a lawyer and in fact do have a terrific career, although the magnificent riches I imagined as a wide-eyed law school grad never quite materialized.  But I am supremely happy, with a wonderful wife and two fantastic kiddos, a nice, old house in the Greatest Neighborhood in Little Rock.  I even overcame my youthful, idiotic credit card spending frenzy as well as the poor economic and financial choices I made circa 1998-2003 (fun times to be sure, but completely irresponsible!).  My credit card balance now reaches into only the very low hundreds (currently around $250) on the worst days, and I actually have retirement savings and a Roth IRA and all that.

But man, those f*cking student loans.

Thirteen years after walking across that stage at the Walton Arts Center to grab my JD diploma from the meaty hand of Dean Strickland, I still owe just slightly more than $19,000 in student loans.  And while I'm on track to pay these off within the next twelve months due to my wife's and my decision to put everything else on the backburner to aggressively knock them out before next spring (which is only possible after previously knocking out all our other existing debt), it makes me sick to my stomach that I very likely will end up spending close to $70,000 to pay off the original $42,000 note. 

Granted, this is completely my fault given my spendthrift ways when I was a young, single man about town (again, circa 1998-2003 :)), running up consumer debt and not fully addressing -- or, really, appreciating -- the student loan debt that was piling up while I deferred payments for five years while I survived on a salary that started out at $25K/year in 1998 and was only at $43K/year in 2003.  But even while fully culpable for my own foibles, the fact that I could not discharge them in bankruptcy even if I wanted to, allowing them to follow you around well, forever...well, it just infuriates me.  And this doesn't even address what the costs of college and the rules regarding student loans are doing to this generation.  THAT is a crime. 

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