20,000 Dollars Under the Sea

More Monday-morning controversy for y’all. Dig in.

“…and how they’re going to pay their rent with her in college and him in kollel I don’t know. And pay off those loans. I love my son-in-law to pieces, but next time we’re going to ask about student debt in the research stage.”

I overheard this line many many years ago at a friend’s sheva brochos. It brought to my attention a potential Big Issue. You know, the kind of thing you red flag in a Potential from the start, along with his/her attending 4+ high schools  or collecting shoulder-mounted SAM launchers as a hobby.

Yeah, I’m talking about those student loans.

Maybe this is not the place to go into Bad4’s Theory on Borrowing, but I’ll sketch it out in brief. There are two types of investments. There’s the gamble investment, like the stock market. You only put in money that you don’t really need. Then there’s insurable investments, like a house or car, that have some intrisic value (they keep you warm and dry). You can borrow against their value, which can also be insured.

College, imho, falls into the gamble investment category. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a job simply because you’ve got that piece of paper with the synthetic parchment grain. (Ask everyone who has gone on to graduate school [more debt] because they couldn’t find a job.) The knowledge is worthless without many other qualities that make you hireable. And it has no intrinsic value; try burning it for warmth or holding it between you and the rain. Try buying insurance for it. For what?

(I make a small exception for doctors, surgeons, and anasthesiologists, for whom unemployment exists only as the sort of fairy tale old nurses tell young interns to scare them.)

Yet, many people go fathoms deep in debt for a college degree. Debt that could take them years and years and year to pay off, especially if they have a home and family to support. (And car payments and a mortgage.)

Which brings me ’round to the question: should student debt be up there in the FBI question list? One of those things you ought to know before you go (out)? Is it a Fourth Date Question – for when  the skeletons start coming out of the closet?

Me: “Well I’ve got a blog.”

Him: “I’ve got six digits of students debt.”

Me: “Take me home now.”

Him: “Hey, I was okay with your blog!”

I thought it was just me who has a pathological fear of debt. Certainly everyone seems to think I’m completely nuts for avoiding it like chopped liver. Rationalizations I’ve gotten range from “Well what can you do?” to “It’s the cheapest loan you’re ever going to get! Enjoy it!” So I kept my distates for things with APRs under wraps, along with all my other weirdnesses, like my preference for warm winter jackets and life without a cell phone.

Then I saw this NYTimes article, linked through Orthonomics. Discovery: there are others like me! Someone even broke up over it! I’m out of the closet, folks.

Hi, my name is Bad4, and I have a pathological fear of irrational debt.

When I hear that someone has racked up $50k+ in student loans, I automatically place their IQ a standard deviation left of the mean. Perhaps it’s unfair, but I’d probably need to rack up $50,000 in psychologist bills to eradicate the creepy-crawly, raised-hairs-on-back-of-neck feeling it gives me, and that’s definitely not an investment worth making.

So, is this a serious shidduch issue, or should couples just bite the bullet and figure it out post-chupah?