Have you ever been sitting down watching TV or reading a book, and a fly starts buzzing around you and won't go away?
That's what student loans feel like. Only instead of a fly, it's more like a 50-pound pit bull that bites you on the leg and doesn't let go for years. In a way, these are the worst types of debt because you can't sell them to get rid of them, like a house or a car. Once you've gone on a date with Sallie Mae, you'll get stuck with a check that usually takes years to pay off.
A good example is a recent New York Times story that follows Michael Wallerstein, who graduated from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. The job market for lawyers isn't too hot right now, and he's surviving with on-and-off jobs as a legal temp. In the meantime, he has $250,000 in student loans, collectors calling at all hours, and no real money-making prospects on the horizon.
"It could be worse," he says. "It's not like they can put me in jail." Indeed.
We're not saying that you should give up your dream career. It's great if you want to be a lawyer, doctor, pastor or some other field that requires a lot of education. It's awesome if you want to run a small business. What you need to do is make that dream fit within your parameters. If you can't afford what you want to do, either find a creative way to make it happen, or put it off until a time when you can.
Another reason you should avoid huge student loan debt is that there is no guarantee of employment or huge income once you graduate. You might spend $60,000 getting some sort of specialized degree, but if you are unable to land a job right away and have to wait tables, you'll end up with no money and angry collectors calling you. Along with several years of payments that will cripple your ability to build wealth or have a life.
Don't pay too much or go into debt to get an education, start a small business, or find your calling. You can have it. Just have it the right way.