Student loans have been reaching an all-time high, but student loan debt isn’t the only financial problem weighing on people, especially in Merced, California. Personal finance website ValuePenguin stated the average household credit card debt in Merced is $7,714, about 13% of each household’s total income. Is having debt viewed as a choice, or a requirement when entering the adult world? Student loans and owning credit cards can put people into more debt than they have ever known. Below, I discuss with Mercedians how their experiences with loans shape their lives.
Daniel Renteria is attending UC San Diego in the fall.
How do you feel about student loan debt when it comes to college? Do you expect it?
I don’t really expect it personally because I’m very fortunate to have a frugal family and education comes first. I don’t really expect to have student loans. We don’t really spend much money besides [on] education.
How do you feel about credit cards? Are they a necessity? Why do you think so many people have credit cards?
They could be good if used properly. If you’re using credit cards for money you don’t have, then that’s stupid. But if you’re using credit cards with good intentions, then it’s good because you get your own points back. At the same time, you spend more money with credit cards compared to when it’s your own money because it doesn’t feel the same way.
What has made you feel this way? Has your family had an influence in the way you feel?
My dad was a very poor immigrant. I saw him struggle and I saw how he endeavoured through years and years of [having a] low-income. After that, I decided for myself that I’m not going to be like other people, I’m going to be frugal and live a good life by saving money and not going into debt.
Has anything in Merced happened that has influenced your opinion on money or debt in general?
When you look around, you see people with iPhones and expensive products that [they] don’t need… What’s the point of spending so much on stuff you don’t need and live a terrible life? You could save up money and live a good life.
Brandon Baldomero graduated from college four years ago and now works as a teacher.
Can you share how much money you have to pay off in loans?
If you could take one thing back from your college life involving money, what would you do?
I would have taken the UC health insurance instead of attempting to scoot by [without] it because health insurance is important and when you go to the hospital and don’t have health insurance, that’s more expensive.
Why did you decide to attend UC Merced? Did you think about money when considering this decision?
I decided to attend UC Merced because they accepted me. UC Merced is one of the top schools for financial aid packages so that was a really big plus. I really enjoyed that.
Do you own a credit card? How often do you use it?
I own two credit cards and I use them all the time. You’re building your credit, it’s easy to have recurring payments on them. I have one credit card with my bank and another credit card with Target.
Can you describe your experience with taking out loans, owning credit cards and buying things with money not in your pocket at UC Merced.
I think the whole thing around loans at UC Merced… People are super excited about it because loans tend to be bigger dollar amounts. So, if you take out extra loans [that] you need to pay your tuition, you actually get that money back in a [refund] check. People love refund checks. Those refund checks could be anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand [dollars] that a lot of people just blow through without thinking about it because it’s a big dollar amount so you are less inclined to be like “Ooo, I need to save it.” When it’s not cash money in your pocket, it seems fake. “Ooo I have all these numbers in my bank account!” That’s the culture around refund checks at UC Merced.
How much do you consider paying off debt when it comes to making money decisions and budgeting?
Prior to four days ago, I didn’t because the loans I tended to take out at UC Merced were subsidized loans, so they didn’t start accruing interest until after you graduate. You have a six month grace period before they start accruing interest. Now, they’re going to be a big part of how I budget myself.
How much does your debt influence your career decisions?
It doesn’t. It didn’t at all because if I wanted a career that was going to help me pay off my debt, I wouldn’t try to be a teacher. There are loan forgiveness programs for teachers but that isn’t the main reason why I chose to be a teacher. I want to make sure that I’m stable in my career first before I start worrying about a lot of those other things. I need to get a disposable income before I can start paying off debt.
Calafia is yli’s statewide youth policy journal that amplifies the narratives of young people on topics and issues important to us and our communities. As we prepare our final print publication, the Calafia fellows are proud to present The Story of My City series as a way to bring you closer to the worlds we live in. Stay tuned for our publication later this year!