Story: The Hidden Costs of Student Loans No One Told You About

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It’s no secret that getting married is becoming increasingly difficult for young Muslims. But when it does work out, it’s an unbelievably happy occasion. Two people have finally found the one they want to spend their life with. They’ve found someone to start a family with and embark on sharing all of life’s adventures.

What’s this got to do with student loans?

I want you to picture two people [the following is based on a true story we have come across in the course of doing this project]. One is in graduate school, and one just recently started working full time. They met 2 years ago, and got engaged a year ago. Not only are they both excited about getting married, but their families are also head over heels happy. Everything is a perfect fit – religious, cultural, education – all the normal variables.

As they inch closer and closer to their wedding date, they have one of those “uncomfortable” conversations that each had been putting off. After all, when you’re in love, what need is there for uncomfortable conversations – love conquers all. The young Muslim couple to be decides that they should quickly talk about finances, just to make sure they haven’t missed anything.

We have to pause here for a second and understand their backgrounds. Let’s call the one in grad school ‘Person A’ and the one working ‘Person B’ – these are intentionally being kept gender neutral. While the two people were very much compatible, and very much in love (all Bollywood style and everything), they had never actually discussed the financial aspects of their upbringing. Perhaps it was because they’d taken it for granted, assumed others had the same experience, or it just wasn’t as important as the other things they stayed up all night talking to each other about for the past few months. But as they would soon learn, part of what makes opposites attract also includes finances.

They started talking about their views on finances and how they were each raised. In the course of 2 years, this topic had never once come up.

Person A grew up very spoiled. Their parents never said no to anything. If they wanted it, they got it one way or another. It helped that their family was fairly well to do, but they never really talked about managing money. So it’s no surprise that Person A went to their dream school, and then progressed on to law school – sitting one year away from graduation with a tidy $107,450 in student loan debts (and counting). In fact, aside from a part time campus job to provide some extra spending money, Person A had never even really held a job.

Person B grew up being taught to value every single dollar. Their father had unfortunately been laid off a few times during their childhood, so they were very familiar with what it meant to have to worry about the lights and water being turned off. They had been working evenings and weekends since they were 16. This wasn’t just spending money, but this was the only way to survive. All the siblings in the family worked. That’s how they were able to afford buying extra cars, paying the insurance, and just simply covering the other day to day expenses of the household. All the extra money leftover didn’t go to fun – it went to saving for education. Debt was not an option, and the family didn’t have much saved. But both parents were working extra hours to help save tuition money to provide their children with better opportunities. When Person B finally got that first job, it was at an entry level salary but still a call for enjoyment. They sent their first paycheck to their parents, and diligently started saving money to get married and start their new married life.

During the course of this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation , Person B casually mentioned to A that while they appreciated the ethic of hard work, they couldn’t but help admire the fact that Person A’s parents were able to put them through college. “What do you mean, put me through college? The government put me through college!” LOL. Person A chuckled, while Person B was nervously laughing. Finally it came out that Person A not only had racked up 6 figures of student loan debt, but they had no plans of slowing down. They were going to finish out grad school and then “figure it out later, cross that bridge when I get to it.”

Person B went quiet and told Person A that they needed to think about some things and they would talk later.

Person B did some contemplation and came to realize a few things. The first was that at their expected (not guaranteed) incomes, the minimum student loan payments would eat up a huge percentage of their income. In fact, the expected $1200 a month for the next 10 years was about the same as they were going to spend on rent. Person B deeply loved Person A. In fact, Person B had been struggling to get married and had gone through a number of potential suitors until finding a soulmate in Person B. This made it even more agonizing.

The student loan payment would effectively inhibit their ability to do any of the things they had been dreaming about. The way they wanted to furnish their house, where they wanted to live, going on Hajj/Umrah, going on vacations, saving up a downpayment for a house, or even take care of their elderly parents. But thinking ahead, Person B also realized that while $1,200 might be doable on a double income, they had both discussed the mom wanting to stay home with the kids once they started a family. That meant that they’d either have to delay having kids until paying off the student loans, or start a family knowing full well they would have extreme difficulty making ends meet.

After a lifetime of living with a certain set of financial values, Person B realized that this marriage was going to be a set up for financial failure, and they just couldn’t deal with it. So they took the very difficult decision of calling the wedding off. Person A was not only heartbroken, but just couldn’t understand why. So what if there’s a student loan? Who cares? They loved each other and that’s all that mattered, things would work out somehow. But it wasn’t enough to convince Person B in the end.

This is not to say that debt should prevent two people from getting married – but it’s to understand the human and emotional element that gets affected by these decisions. In this case, one person decided it was too much to overcome and a marriage was called off as a result.

In the Muslim community we have a lot of discourse about student loans. A lot of people are focused in on just talking about why they feel they are halal, and how scholars have allowed them due to necessity. If we want to succeed as an ummah, we need to raise our discourse. There’s a lot of impact to life beyond the technicality of a particular fatwa. In this case, neither party was prepared for the emotional aspects of the decision. No one taught them to evaluate the fact that every decision has ramifications outside of its particular sphere (in this case a loan will impact parts of life outside your finances as well).

No one warned Person A when they were an impressionable 18 year old that while taking these student loans would let them live one dream, it would have to be by quickly destroying another.

See Also: Should I Take A Quarter Of A Million Dollars On Interest For Medical School Or Live A Terrible Life With Crushed Dreams Forever?

 

Omar Usman

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow him on Google+ or on Twitter @ibnabeeomar. Check out his latest project at Fiqh of Social Media.

2 Comments

  1. Nihal Khan
    October 7, 2013

    Great post, Omar.

    Islam recognizes the concept of كفائة–one’s socioeconomic status as a pillar of picking out your spouse after one’s deen has been outlined. It’s mind boggling how two people from can get into a binding contract for the rest of their lives without examining how they each grew up according to their own culture, spending habits, and the like. This is another issue which definitely needs outlining.

    Reply
  2. hafsa and maleeha
    November 12, 2013

    We think this is a really good post, and an amazing example of knowing where you stand and what you’re values are. Although it was an insanely cute and sad story, its the reality of what life really holds. It also shows what kind of reality lots of people turn a blind eye to, and that you are going to have to make sacrifices and big decisions, even though they seem like big sacrifices. Like everything in this world though, it is temporary, and it will, if done with the right intention and sincerity, be worth it in the end InshAllah.
    JAK for the great article 🙂

    Reply

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