A hard working young family member recently went off to college. Before doing so there was a choice to make. Should they go to the fancy college and stack up $300,000 in student loans. Or go another, excellent school – but with a less known name – and get a decent education  free and clear of debt?

They chose the lower cost school thus proving they were qualified for either place.

How wise were they?

Assuming a $300,000 loan and using this helpful loan estimator calculator and the lower end of current rates (5%) for student loans after graduation the monthly re-payment would $1980 a month.  For 20 years. Yikes. Hope  students at the fancy school really like the job they get as they will need to work at it for a really long time. That payment schedule is the original $300,000 paid back plus and additional $175,000.

So they saved a lot of future hassle by avoiding the massive loan to fill their head with fancy thoughts. So very wise!

But wait, there is more!

As a thought exercise lets pretend that upon graduation that same amount is contributed to a retirement account instead of repaying a loan. How would they be doing after 20 years?

According to this investment return calculator  the same $300,000 plus $175,000 is dumped in an account over 20 years. That is $475,000 in contributions. And that yields $328,000 in interest over the two post school decades. So by avoiding the large loan and investing the difference this student would end up with $803,492.

Want to be a millionaire? It’s easy.  Pretend like you took out a huge student loan and go to a lower cost college instead. Invest the different and then decide if you still want to keep working or retire at a fairly early age.

The actual decision

It is easy to imagine stacks of cash with some high paying job from the prestigious university. Well, if it works out. What is easy to forget about really large student loans is that they are loans and must be paid back. * And that money means other options (a car, a house, medical expenses investment) are already spoken for right out of the gate. And you might change your mind next year. Or ten year from now.

So the decision is not “should I take out a $300,000” loan. The decision is actually “Is this school’s tuition worth $803,492 and much of my future income”?


* The idea of planning on loan forgivness or defaulting on it, means a contract signed with no intention to pay it back. Maybe that appears clever. Another more way to look at it as proof that one either does not make and keep promises, lies or took extra risk  (or all three). Doesn’t seem worth trading one’s options and good will for bunch of lectures you can get at other places.
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