If I take out more student loans for a better education, won’t I get a higher salary and be able to pay them off?

No.

This isn’t exactly a bankruptcy question, but I see the results of this question every day.  Our common thought here in the U.S. has been that you must get more education, a better degree,  maybe an advanced degree, and a higher starting salary.  This isn’t necessarily true.  In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that your B.A. in Communications will land you a lower starting salary than an underwater welding certification.

I file bankruptcy for too many clients with $40,000 to $210,000 in student loan debt.  Their income is low enough to qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy, but since they can work, those student loans are nondischargeable, meaning that they will survive the bankruptcy.  I recently filed a case for a client with 3 masters degrees, two education-related and one in gender studies.  She has been unable to find a job to match her student loans of well over $100,000.

I don’t do financial planning for clients, but in an attempt to stave off more business for myself and my competitors, I recommend getting your education without taking out student loans.  If you need student loans, then keep them as minimal as possible.  And yes, I understand that there are a million exceptions to this, but in general, student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and will haunt you for the rest of your adult life.

Additionally, I work over the budget and paystubs of clients every day and have compared incomes of literally thousands of people.  Having a college degree doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make more money than a tech worker or blue collar Joe.  A little focus on your career path at the outset will go a long way for you.

This all came home in a recent cartoon my brother-in-law posted on Facebook.  He teaches at a tech school, and his students get their hands dirty in school, get their hands dirty at work, and then put those filthy hands on the steering wheels of their brand-spanking new over-sized pickup trucks to drive back to their families in their clean new homes.

starting salary

If the cartoon offends you, then you’ll probably hate the Mike Rowe Works Foundation as well, which “promotes hard work and supports the skilled trades in a variety of areas.”  An education with no focus really won’t get you  very far.  You need to combine hard work with training in something, but you don’t need school just for school’s sake.

Don’t forget, all of this comes from a guy with a Bachelor’s in English Lit, a minor in Political Science, a year of Master’s work in English Lit, another year of Master’s work in Public Administration, and three more years of a law degree.  A little more focus and a few less student loans would not have hurt me one bit.