There are many kinds of freedom, but very few of them are possible to achieve without financial dignity.

Maybe it’s not surprising that scientists have spent time studying the impact of various kinds of debt on the human psyche. Buying, selling and managing debt is, after all, a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. It’s a huge cornerstone of the world economy. Don’t we deserve to fully understand the influence it wields over our lives?

The rate at which college students are graduating with debt today is literally approaching crisis levels. Unsurprisingly, not all of the long-term costs are about money.

Students Debt And The Real Costs Of College

Recent psychological research into how earnings and debt influence our waking minds reveals that the size of our paychecks is, practically speaking, immaterial if we’re not already on sound financial footing. In other words: Debt is a happiness killer. None of us can be truly happy if we’re saddled with debt.

Additional research and polling reveal that the specter of student loan debt nearly extinguishes the joy we associate with graduating from college in the first place. When Gallup administered this poll and published the subsequent findings, they discovered something else: a kind of “tipping point” where the accrual of personal debt shifts from “acceptable investment” to “source of existential dread.” According to the pollsters, that point is around the $25,000-mark.

At the present time, the average American household with student debt owes about $49,000. Graduates in their twenties spend more than $350 per month, on average, on student loan payments and interest. Since the average “entry-level” job was worth about $50,000 a year in 2016 for new graduates, “truly average” college grads in America can expect to see their earnings garnished by between eight and 10% for roughly ten to twelve years after they graduate.

That’s a lot of averages and assumptions, but it’s still instructive. It tells us that the problem is not necessarily about debt itself, but rather the proportion of our earnings it represents, the size it takes on in our imaginations and, therefore, the toll it takes on our mental health. All valuable things in life are worth paying for in some fashion, but the place student loan occupies in society at the present moment is beginning to feel like a cascade failure.

It all begins with a pretty simple but ultimately false assumption: College is valuable and must, therefore, cost a lot of money.

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