No sooner had I read that Americans 60 and older are still $36 billion in student loan debt (10 percent are having their Social Security checks garnished because they are so far behind) than the following question popped up on our Debt-Proof Living Facebook page:
Dear Mary: How do you finance your education without taking out loans? I need to get a master's degree, as I have hit a career ceiling, but I don't have $40,000 and don't want to take out loans. Will colleges allow me to move slowly and pay as I go? I just don't feel think there is a choice, and it's stopping me from getting my education.
-- Ana via Facebook
Dear Ana: Do you need a master's degree or want one? Here's the difference:
Let's say you are a teacher under contract in a school district that gives an automatic pay increase once you receive your master's degree. In that case, I would have no problem with you taking on student loans because you have a realistic expectation that you will be able to repay that loan with the increase in your paycheck (which, by the way, is Rule No. 7 in my book, 7 Money Rules for Life). In that case, I would agree that you need a master's degree.
If, on the other hand, you want to get a master's degree on "spec" with student loans -- hoping that it will help you get a promotion or make you more competitive in your field -- I would caution you against doing that.
In these difficult times, when there are so many people vying for so few jobs,
What would it take for you to save $40,000? Yes, I'm serious. Is there a reason you can't do that? Or save enough to pay for one semester at a time, as you go?
If you say you don't have four years to wait while you save the money, let me suggest that you don't have 15 or 20 years to pay for the degree after you get it.
I think you can save that money over the next four years if you really buckle down and stop all wasteful spending, quit feeling that you're entitled to every cool thing that comes along and pick up additional work and employment wherever you can find it.
You must change your mindset that says it is not possible to pay as you go. It is possible.
I spoke with a regretful graduate the other day. His debt exceeds $200,000. It must have been nice to get his Ph.D. without having to worry about an annoying job. But soon he will have to pay the piper. I don't know of an entry-level job in any field that pays enough to cover those huge payments with anything left over for food and rent.
I wish you well as you make this very important and life-changing decision.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.