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Young and in Debt: Five Twenty-Somethings Share Stories

This article was written by in Debt Reduction. 13 comments.


U.S.A. Today is featuring a six-week series following five twenty-somethings and their adventures in debt. Debt seems to be the primary concern of most people as they emerge from their undergraduate education and begin working or continue onto graduate education.

One of the first articles in the series, Young People Struggle With the Kiss of Debt, provides a number of statistics pointing to the higher debt (from tuition and credit cards), lower starting salaries, and highest cost of living, adjusted for inflation, that people in this age bracket are facing. The article also points out misconceptions older individuals have of twenty-somethings.

” ‘Quit whining’ — I’ve heard that a lot,” says Tamara Draut, who is director of the economic opportunity program at Demos, a public-policy research group. “Someone sees a 25-year-old buy a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy, and they think every 25-year-old is buying a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy.”

“There’s the common misconception that they have these debts because they’re buying iPods or cable TV,” [William] Strauss says. “It’s not that. It’s student loans and housing.”

Who are buying all the plasma-screen TVs? Obvisouly, I cannot speak for entire cross-sections of the population, only what I see. The only people I know who own large, wide-format televisions, whether plasma, LCD, or otherwise, are people much older than twenty-something, retired or coming close to retirement. I do have a friend with a projection screen in his basement, but he’s an enthusiast in the audio/visual business.

However, almost all of my friends have iPods, while I do not. I don’t think that the purchase of an iPod, the most expensive at $350, would put any of my friends into debt. If they were twenty-somethings still in college, then perhaps it would. I would buy an iPod if it weren’t tied to a proprietary format and store. I’ll only buy an MP3 player that plays any MP3 or flac file, regardless of “digital rights.”

I’ll write about more of the U.S.A. Today series as I find interesting tidbits.

Published or updated November 21, 2006. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar samerwriter

The article acknowledges that average tuition at a public 4-year university averages about $6000.

I don’t personally find that too draconian. Certainly choosing to attend school far from home, or at a private school, will increase costs considerably.

But if one lives at home, or lives in otherwise affordable housing, it should be possible to pay for a large part of school through part-time jobs and summer work.

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avatar Jeremy

I stumbled on this article earlier and posted a few comments about the second half of the article that focuses on the generation gap and how they view the situation differently.

For the most part I agree, young adults should “quit whining”, things aren’t as bad as many make it out to seem, and most of us simply bring upon our debt problems ourselves (although the ease of obtaining credit and media has contributed as well).

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avatar Russell Bailyn

The whole concept of taking on debt is different with kids growing up today. Younger people are making more money and people are less scared of taking on risk. I indeed bought a plasma television for my apartment in Manhattan before paying off my $21,000 student loan to NYU. I had to balance my quality of life (and watching Jim Cramer) with the prospect of paying $161/month for the next 15 years. Turns out the loan becomes a ritual and I don’t worry too mcuh about. The reality is, you gotta raise your revenues or lower your expenses. Nobody I know is looking to do the latter.

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avatar Karin Dalziel

I keep going back and forth about this. Schools are much more expensive than they used to be, and kids are less likely to have parents footing the bill. Some college kids graduate with enormous debt even after working through school and living frugally.

However, other kids graduate with a huge debt because they spent way too much, ate out, and drank. A lot.

I feel for the kids that graduate with debt through no fault of their own. I minimized debt by going to community college first, living with my parents part of the time, and working throughout college. However, I also got married before I graduated, which made a huge difference in the amount I could put towards school rather than living expenses – in that respect, I am extremely lucky.

I hate it when people say “well, if they can afford an iPod, they shouldn’t whine” – an iPod (or any MP3 player) is a useful study aid these days. You can download podcasts of classes, use it as a portable drive to store files between computer labs, or use it to drown out a too loud roommate so one can study.

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avatar dimes

Young single military guys are big fans of plasma TVs. Aside from that my parents have one (early 50s) and that’s everyone I know who has one.
I had to borrow 25% of my schooling, and it was around $26,500. I wish someone had told me at age 18 how much I was really ending up borrowing. They give it to you in such small, harmless increments, and the amounts definitely increased from year to year. I didn’t know until the beginning of my final semester exactly how much I’d borrowed, which is definitely my fault, but I didn’t know as an 18-year-old how much I’d need to borrow.

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avatar SCapitalist

Many people are very critical of twenty-somethings today because we take on debt. There is a stereotype that these high levels of debt are fueling Starbucks binges and plasma TV’s. Truth is, the world is changing. Todays economy requires young people to make an INVESTMENT in their selves. Debt is not bad IF it leads to higher income potential. There are many PF bloggers that are very critical of ANY debt. While I try to minimize my debt, I also acknowledge that the money I took out towards my education will be returned many times over. In reality, most twenty-somethings I know are pretty damn broke. Low wages and high tuition is a pressing problem for many young people. It takes education and strategy not to remain broke.

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avatar amy

i went to a state university and just got my first repayment letter, I never realized i had racked up $30k in debt, and that was just for tuition, books and housing. I worked 3 out of 4 years for food, utility and misc. expenses. I never went to starbucks, drank, ate out all the time or bought a plasma screen tv. I think the problem is more college students are doing it completely on their own, because their parents cant afford to send their kids to college, but a college degree is becoming mandatory for a decently paying job.

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avatar Wittgenstein

Umm, iPods do play any mp3 file, because the mp3 specification doesn’t have anything to do with DRM. Additionally, with appropriate software, iPods are perfectly capable of playing flac.

If your objection is that Apple also happens to sell DRM-encumbered files in AAC format you should be more specific about that.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

I was unaware iPods could play flac, and I probably don’t have all the details about DRM. I’ll have to look into the flac compatibility, because that might change my outlook.

Apple can go ahead and sell DRM music, I have no objection in theory, but I won’t buy it.

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avatar Karen

I am 52 and relatively well off.

I blame a lot of this on the guidance conselors in high schools. They are so anxious (or stupid) to have students listing name (or even quasi name) colleges they will be attending, and have no concept of the debt these students will incur. They should be encouraging children to attend local public schools, especially for the first two years.

Yes, if you are accepted by MIT or an Ivy School, beg or borrow the money to go. But otherwise, unless your parents will pay, and maybe even then, think long and hard.

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avatar Terry Piatt

Has anyone considered the scenario of having to pay off student loan debt on a minimum wage income? That’s where I ended up, graduated with a liberal arts degree and a minor in comp sci taken entirely on mainframes. The IT world changed and my skills became obsolete. Five rent increases in five years stretched my finances too thin and I defaulted on my student loans. I am now paying $100/mo on the student loans but they are still in default so I am unable to borrow to go back to school to acquire a marketable skill. I have a dead-end (no internal advancement opps) menial job in a convenience store, ten more years of student loan payments, and no hope of getting out of debt, buying a home, or ever retiring.

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avatar Dennis Teel

The twenty somethings that i see living in my area here in Dallas,don’t attend college and don’t seemt o be headed that direction. Most work for low pay,such as working at Walmart,Fry’s electronics and other such places,including fast food restaurants.I believe it’s those particular twenty somethings that reflect mostly how that generation is affected by the current economy.And unfortunately what i see is that their spending foolishly.While alcohol and weed might be considered stress relieveing by many(even though there’s other mental drawbacks to consider regarding each),they both fall in the catagory of non necessary.fun is fun is fun,but i see these 20 somethings today putting substances as a priority. that tends to make me wonder just how messed up they’re priorities real are. if i’m in debt or have a hard time paying my bills ,then the liquor and the pot can be put on the standstill til i’m all good again with my debts.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Older people need big screens. We can’t see worth sh*t!

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