Counting the Cost of Student Loans


Unlike borrowing for housing, transportation, and cash needs, the benefit of a student loan is intangible. Although it may assist in strengthening income over time, that gradual strengthening of income is contingent upon many factors such as type of degree, finishing the degree, health, aptitude for degree specific work, ability to market oneself at a job interview, and local market demand for that skill set.  Large debt for a house or a car gives an immediate tangible result, but  large debt for college does not give one a place to sleep or means to get to work. In that sense, its value cannot be measured in the immediate present.

Normally when a consumer makes mistakes and struggles with too much debt, he can use bankruptcy to adjust his lifestyle and debt. This is not so with student loans, unless a bankruptcy “adversary complaint” is used, which may be uncertain as to result. Thus this consumer debt does not allow for mistakes!

In the worst of nightmares, the student signs on for large private loans, while attending “for profit” schools, if he does not graduate money-dice.jpgand does not advance economically due to education/skills acquired in college, this is bad news.  Without the hoped for benefits of job advancement,  the financed education can assist in creating an onerous burden of debt perhaps too heavy to carry.  Credit report damage and economic pressures can lead to lifelong financial disorientation. Obviously, one is now hampered in other investments such as buying a home, starting a business, making a career change, having children, or marriage to a spouse who chooses to stay at home with the kids.

Regardless of the fact that education is always enriching and worthwhile, the student today is wise to “count the cost”. As a rule of thumb the prospective student loan borrower must ask: “will I make enough in the 10 years after graduation to amortize (and pay off completely in level payments) the entire student loan debt at 7% interest?

To “break it on down”, $50,000 of student loan debt would pay off at $580.54 per month, twice that amount will pay off at twice that amount, 1/2 of that amount will be paid off at 1/2 that amount.  See the chart below.  The big catch is, whatever that amount is, it must be paid every month (on time) for 120 months, no exceptions.  Of course this long term commitment does not take into account job loss or underemployment, divorce, sickness of children or spouse, or one’s own health issues.

And what will it take each month to pay off that $50,000 student loan?  The math says $580.54 per month AFTER that tax man is paid. That means the aftertax dollar must be “bulked up” by 1/3, or $193.51, to $774.06 to be earned each month, so the monies can be taxed by $193.51 and the student lender can be paid $580.54.  And this plan must be steadily carried out each month, on time, for 10 years.

Loan Amount Payment Income needed/month (before taxes) Income needed/year

(before taxes)

25,000 $290.27/mo.

x 10 years


x 10 years

$50,000 $580.54/mo.

x 10 years


x 10 years

$100,000 $1,161.08/mo.

x 10 years


x 10 years


So one must “count the cost”.  If not, student loans are a serious dilemma, and caution is advised.

When it comes to timely payment on any financial arrangement, the ability to pay is critical.  In coming months, I will be commenting on this thorny issue of student loans and the cost of college, in the hope of shedding some light on student loan pitfalls.  Of course, I am in the business of providing practical solutions in financial matters, and I welcome your questions as we explore this topic in coming updates.