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Youth Is Fleeting, But Debt Isn't

• "Let's say that a college student went on a different vacation every year, at a rate of return of just one memory a day complemented by one cultural experience a year. . . . He would end up with something you can't put a dollar sign in front of. Sure, he might not have the down payment for a house, but at least he's interesting when you meet him at a party."

• "I graduated from college with $25,000 in loan debt. I am now completing law school. I will end up with almost $150,000 in debt by the time I finish. I spent one summer traveling abroad during law school and will spend another month doing so after I take the bar exam and before I start my job. These trips will cost me close to $10,000 -- none of which I have in cash to spend. Isn't the point of debt to smooth your consumption over your life? I have the time to vacation now but not the money. Later in life I expect to have the money but not the time. Financial wisdom is critical in life, but so is living life and remembering that income is earned to live."

_____Column Archive_____
Can't Be Sure of Credit Status, Even With a Scorecard (The Washington Post, Mar 24, 2005)
Mandatory Counseling, A Good Idea in Theory (The Washington Post, Mar 20, 2005)
Read Michelle's Past Columns

I wanted to bang my head on my desk after reading that last e-mail.

"Running up a credit card and spending what one does not have will surely be a hard habit to break," pointed out Diane Street of Dover, Del. "These young adults don't learn responsibility in one day or in one year. It is an ongoing process."

That's right. It's a process that should start long before you go off to college.

And this notion that reckless piling on of consumer debt is excusable because you're young and need to experience life is ludicrous.

Besides, as Teri Siber of Canton, Ohio, pointed out, "Your life doesn't end when you are no longer in college."

People who fell into the "you're only young once" camp act as if nary a single post-college adult has ever taken a vacation once they left school.

But I guess I can't argue with one Michigan college student who maintained that young people have a right to make their own mistakes. She wrote: "I'd just like to remind you that college students are also adults. If we don't know how to handle our finances (our business) then it's our own fault and in the end we'll suffer."

She's right (sigh). Young people do have the right to be as simple as they want to be.

Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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