It’s a humbling experience when you realize that, yes indeed, you are one of those over-educated Americans who can be taken in by an email that asks you for credit card information or by a telemarketing voice that promises to lower your interest rates if you will just provide them with your card number and zip code.
As I was hitting myself over the head this week after being seduced into giving out private information, I wondered, “How did I become so typical?”—a middle aged professional with no savings, two mortgages, equity lines, teenagers, loads of personal debt, and nothing that I truly own (except a car). I’m desperate to lower the interest rates on my debt, so I was (apparently) the perfect victim to answer the phone.
Besides paying off student loan debt until the age of 40, I share one other explanation with lots of other folks — I suffered a medical emergency that left me $30,000 in debt and borrowing from my retirement account. (And I was fully insured!)
Since I am starting to face the reality of my teenagers entering college in three years, I have begun to more seriously pay these cards down and only spend cash for goods, bills and the occasional vacation. But, like many Americans, the interest rates charged against my debt have put me into a situation where I am swimming against the tide. I am unable to save cash for emergencies because my debt is drowning me.
If I am in this financial situation after receiving $300,000 of excellent medical care (which insurance did cover), what about the accident victims who are uninsured? How many uninsured have lost their homes due to emergency medical costs that it takes a lifetime and a house to pay back? Is the health bill really lost after the Massachusetts election?
My quandary is that, unlike my Depression-era parents, I have chosen a lifestyle that does not allow me to save any money for medical emergencies. I don’t think it is unreasonable that I had to pay something for my excellent medical care, nor for my graduate education. As politicians debate the challenges of paying back student loans in an economy in which job availability and salary levels have not kept pace with college tuition costs, I recognize that the current cost of living is not in my favor, and that it’s not looking very good for my children either.
Here’s the good news: I’m being slammed over the head with the lesson to not say “yes” to every equity line that comes my way, which means, I hope, that I can now teach my teenagers and my college students something about life's economics. Of course, the Nanuet Union Free School district in New York teaches their 5th graders basic math skills by asking them to balance their hypothetical checkbooks. Young people may actually learn something about planning for the future when they witness their parents and their teachers face their own financial immaturity.
We're not in a 1930’s style Depression (yet), but it sure is time for a cold shower in Chicago.