College Graduates Feel “Empowered” by Debt

I was surprised by the New York Times headline “College Students Don’t View Debt as a Burden.” Of course I had to read the article to see what was up. Then surprise turned to shock.  According to the article, the average student loan debt for college graduates in 2008 was more than $23,000. Add to that the fact that students with at least one credit card were carrying an average of more than $4,000 worth of debt on it. That’s heading toward $30,000 of debt! Putting it in perspective, the average salary of someone graduating this year is $46,000—that is if they can find a job, with the unemployment rate hovering near double digits.

But that’s not what shocked me. Many students need loans to afford college. No loans would mean no education. I get that. It’s what they said next that lead me to think that I’m living in a parallel universe. Instead of feeling burdened or stressed by that debt, they feel “empowered.” Yes, you read that right. According to a study by Ohio State University, many students feel empowered by owing that money.

The article goes on to say, “The more college loans and credit-card debt that young adults 18 to 27 have, the higher their self-esteem—and the more control they feel they have over their lives. They tend to view debt positively, rather than as a burden.”

Where is the reality check? Where have their parents been through all of this? Where did they get the message that debt, especially credit-card debt, is a self-esteem boost?

While it seems strange to be teaching college graduate something so fundamental, they need to understand these three basic principles—and hopefully start practicing them:

  1. Get debt under control
  2. Start saving
  3. Protect your assets

This page for singles, and this page for those with young families can help with information and links. The bottom line: There is no financial security in debt.

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