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Ask Dave

Student Loans Are a Parenting Problem

Tim's daughter is studying to become a pilot. If something should happen to her, would he be responsible for the student loans they co-signed for? Should they get a life insurance policy on her?

QUESTION: Tim says his daughter is studying to become a pilot. If something should happen to her, would he and his wife be responsible for the student loans they co-signed for? Should they get a life insurance policy on her?

ANSWER: Yes, you’re responsible for a loan you co-signed for, and yes, it would be wise to get a life insurance policy on her. Going into debt to get any kind of designation or degree is a dumb idea. It’s particularly true in the world of pilots. Most pilots starting out don’t make much money—like almost none. It is amazing what it costs to get your pilot’s license, especially if you’re going to get a degree in it.

I have run into a lot—a lot—of pilots with $200,000 in debt making $25,000 a year. A lot. It’s just really sad. The weird thing about flying is—as a pilot—it’s addictive. The people who are pilots—most of them would fly for free. They just love to fly. More than anything else, they love to fly. What happens when you find something that does that to your brain, it causes your brain to unplug, meaning that you quit doing math and you say, “Yeah! I’ll go $200,000 in debt to get a $25,000-a-year job.” This is dumb.

On top of that, in your case, Tim, you co-signed for it, so you co-signed for dumb. If that’s what’s going on here, dude, you’ve got a mess on your hands, and it’s going to be years before she clears this up.

Oh! And then she gets married and doesn’t want to fly anymore. She wants to be home with the kids. Then there’s that. Yeah.

See, this is why this stupid idea that borrowing for education is just always brilliant. “Because you can’t make it without an education!” This is what people say.

Listen, I’m all about education. I don’t believe in being dumb. I mean, read, study, take a course, take a class, get a degree. I’m all about it. But as if the need for education to win in the marketplace is so high that it supersedes your need to do mathematics. That’s what drives me nuts. It just drives me crazy. And so we get people with $220,000 in student loan debt with a Ph.D. in German polka history and no marketable skills. None, with the possible exception of being a professor of German polka history. That’s your only option. And other than that, you’re just screwed.

Parents, not only do you not co-sign, not only do you not endorse, not only do you not embrace them chasing their passion off a cliff, you stop them from doing it because you’re their parent. “Well, they’re 18.” Which means they’re not smart yet. That’s what that means.

Looking back, how many of you old people like me—I’m 53—go, “When I was 18, I was a freaking genius”? None of us say that. None of us say that. “I was prepared to make all my life decisions with no counsel at all from older, wiser people when I was 18.” I can’t even say that today! And that’s after 35 years in the marketplace.

You’re not prepared to make decisions by yourself, so Mom and Dad still need to be Mom and Dad. I know they’re walking around in semi-adult-looking bodies, and that makes you think they’re grown, but they’re not. They still need you to look at them and go, “Hello, doofus! Don’t do that. Bridge out! Bridge out! Bridge out! You’re going to run the thing into the dirt. You’re going to go into the drink.” You’ve got to love them enough to stop them, and if they won’t stop, they’ve got to go do it on their own without your embracing it, your endorsement, and certainly your co-signature.

I don’t know how much debt your daughter went into to get her pilot’s license, but I’ve got to tell you it’s a dumb idea. “Well, becoming a pilot’s just really expensive!” I know. I know. And if you’ve got the money to go to pilot school and you want to go do that, I’ve got no problem with it. I’m not mad at all you pilots. That’s not the point. And I don’t think it’s a bad career, but I do think it’s a career that starts really low. The entry level in that industry—because you don’t get a corporate jet gig straight out of your pilot school. You get to go fly regional for Delta or Delta three times removed, depending on what they call it this week. The next time you’re getting on one of those little regional Canadian planes—you know, the ones that hold about 30 people—next time you’re getting on one of those, you people riding around, look at the age of your pilot. I’ve got socks older than these people. And let me just tell you, they’re not paid much. They’re not making the big bucks.

Some of the guys and gals flying the 747s and have been doing it for 30 years, and they’re making some bank. They’re six figures and some change. But you don’t start when you’re 20-something years old in the cockpit of the 747 doing a transatlantic flight. You don’t get that gig. They don’t put you in charge of machinery that size. They put you in the little puddle-jumper. That’s what you’re in.

You’ve got to look at—all of you—your careers this way and what your kids are going into. And if they don’t know what they’re going to do and you believe in education, which I do and I do believe most people don’t know what they’re going to do at that age, then go get a good, solid degree—something like a communications degree, maybe even an English degree. That’s fine, but don’t go into debt to do it. Get a basic business degree. Get a marketing degree or a management degree. Get something that has some application in the marketplace where you have some skills and you can walk in and actually apply them today.

Certainly, if you know you want to be an engineer, you know you want to be an architect, you know you want to be a lawyer, you know you want to be a doctor, you know you want to be a veterinarian, you’ve got a direct field of study and you do know those fields that I just named generally pay very well, and so spending some money on those degrees makes a lot more sense. But this general thing that says a degree is always valuable—we’ve got to stop it. It’s a lie. It’s mythology, and it’s leading to a complete generation that is overburdened and can’t breathe.

It’s not unusual for me to talk to a couple that between them has $200,000 in student loan debt now. It’s not unusual at all. I talk to them almost every day on this show. And they’re 32 years old, they’ve been out of school for four, five or six years and they’re just treading water. They’re stuck because no one in their life—no supposed high school counselor, no parent, no financial-aid officer—smack you silly. Financial aid is $200,000 in student loan debt. Give me a break. Nobody looked at you and said, “You know, when you bring that baby home from the hospital, there’s a possibility you may want to use your education to raise your children.”

It might be that your mom gets cancer and you want to take care of her for two years. You won’t have those options because the borrower is slave to the lender. You may want to go on the mission field. God may call you to do something special with your life that doesn’t involve a lot of pay, but you won’t have that as an option because you are a slave because no one loved you enough to smack you silly when you got into these things.

This is a problem. I’m telling you. I am convinced the more thought I put into this and the more that Rachel Cruze—my daughter—and I work on this whole student loan debacle, I’m convinced more than anything that it’s as much a parenting problem as it is anything. Mom and Dad aren’t standing up. Well, a lot of parents quit parenting when the kid’s 13. But they’re not standing up when they’re 18 and going, “Yo, doofus, don’t do it. It’s a car wreck. It’s a train wreck. Don’t do it.” And that’s a mom and dad who loves their kid right there.

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