For the Love of Education Debt: It’s Not Just the Money

The New York Times recently reported on two young women whose educational debt was affecting their romantic relationships.  In one case, the relationship ended once it became clear exactly how much debt the woman had.  For the second woman, who has incurred over $250,000 in educational debt (including for medical school), the question has become how to manage the debt with her partner.

On this blog, I’ve talked a lot about being aware of the debt you’re likely to incur to attend law school, how that should affect your decision about whether—and when—to go to law school and, if you do decide to attend, debt’s effect on your decision-making about which school to attend.  Most important, your likely debt load has to be calibrated with your desire to be a lawyer—not just your desire for the assumed monetary and prestige perks of being a lawyer, but the extent of the real satisfaction you’ll get by actually being a lawyer, day in and day out.

The two women in the Times article demonstrate two distinct approaches to debt.  The first took the ostrich approach, not knowing even how much debt she’d incurred until it reached crisis proportions in her relationship.  The second, Kerrie Tidwell, is acutely aware of the possible ramifications of her debt but incurred it because she views it as an investment in a career she’ll love.  She understands the limitations that her debt has established, not just for her but for her partner, and they appear to have vetted those implications admirably.

For both women, it’s clear that debt isn’t just about the money.  High, difficult-to-manage debt has implications for the kind of job the debtor is able to take, how long she or he needs to keep it, career flexibility, other things one can (and cannot) purchase, psychological stress and, yes, how smooth romantic and other personal relationships are likely to be.  In an ideal world, relationships might be walled off from mere money but they’re not.

As the two stories show, you’re likely to be much better off if you’re fully informed and think through as many implications of the debt you’ll hold well before actually incurring it.  Like the first woman (and lots of other people), I have a tendency to shield myself from bad news.  I check my 401(k) a lot more frequently when the market’s doing well than when it’s not, for example.  But I do check in all markets.  It’s important to face facts and make decisions on a current basis, even when it’s a little unpleasant.  Kerrie Tidwell deserves a lot of credit for being an example of how to do that.  Similarly, anyone considering law school owes themselves frank and fair projections of where they’re likely to be when they emerge from law school with an education that (I hope) they’ll value for the rest of their lives, but also likely with a high debt burden.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on September 7, 2010.

3 Responses to “For the Love of Education Debt: It’s Not Just the Money”

  1. […] school.  And your financial future affects a lot more than just your cash in the bank; it has the potential to strain or destroy relationships and what is best about life, particularly if worse-than-expected future is a […]

  2. […] well-being by several dollars.  At some point, for many the debt becomes unmanageable, affecting not only financial well-being but also psychological health and relationships.  The loss of federal subsidies may or may not have been a wise choice in setting our national […]

  3. […] and affordability. After all, graduates with crushing debt might feel their investment detracts (in more ways than one) from, rather than enriches, their […]

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