Military, a way out of debt?
June 3, 2006 9:48 AM   Subscribe

College student in debt, looking for a way out.

I finaced a laptop over the summer for roughly $2000, my intent was to pay it off with my scholarship money. My parents got divorced and I was forced to move out on my own. Now with a house payment, food, gas, and everything else I am barely skimming by. Also due to irresponsibilty I loss both my scholarships and now im taking out student loans. I hate the feeling of barely getting by every month and always worrying what unexpected bill might show up. I've been considering the Air Force Reserve, my main fear though is deployment. I really do not want to get deployed while in college, after that though I have no problem with it. Any advice?
posted by isopropyl to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't consider a career in the military if you're only in it for the money. If you are interested in serving, that's different. But my family members in the forces tell me that the people who sign up for college money (or other financial reasons) are the ones who have the hardest time, especially during deployment. The law has been changed now so that you can be deployed at the end of a semester, as opposed to the end of your degree. (As I understand current regulations, not being from the US.)

Can you get a part-time job? Is there work on campus? Can you pull up your grades and qualify for scholarships again? Student loans are not bad debt, although you should avoid racking up debt for beer and coffee. This is a short period in your life and you will have a good job in a few years. You can do it. You can get through and you'll be okay in the long run.
posted by acoutu at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2006

If you can get by with student loans and part-time work, I wouldn't enlist for financial purposes only. A military career seems like more of an end than a means to an end.
posted by Behemoth at 10:11 AM on June 3, 2006

Absolutely do not enlist in any branch of the military for financial reasons. I'll second what Acoutu said based on direct experience:

People who signed up for college money or because they imagined they'd stabilize their finances thanks to clean living and newfound discipline had a miserable time.

"Not having a problem" with military service just isn't a good enough reason to enlist. In fact, it's a terrible reason. End up in the wrong unit, or with the wrong supervisor, and you'll find all sorts of problems you never imagined, with a hell of a lot less recourse than even the worst civilian jobs.
posted by mph at 10:26 AM on June 3, 2006

Depending on how irresponsible you've been, (i.e. whether your GPA is salvageable or not) you might consider either (a) taking time off from school or (b) accepting the debt until you get out of college by rolling it around from credit card to credit card and gradually moving it to lower interest student loans. The American university experience is increasingly a debt-riddden one; we've gamed the system so that people like you must work hard once you leave school. Since you're willing to join the military, an arduous proposition, would you also be willing to major in accounting? You can do just fine for youself in one of the practical disciplines. On the other hand, if you're a budding poet, and the only gainful employment you can imagine is in the military... you need a fallback position.

One last thing: don't leave school unless you are absolutely committed to going back. The debt you've already shouldered will be prohibitively expensive if you cannot justify it with a degree. It's a sunk cost, yes, but so will be the rest of your student loans. And the jobs available to practically-minded college grads are head-and-shoulders better than those you'll be forced to work as a dropout.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:34 AM on June 3, 2006

PS. If you're serious about the military, you should read Chris Hedges' book, What Every Person Should Know About War. He's a war correspondant, and he's got a very no-nonsense approach to what a solider's life is like. He also wrote War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:43 AM on June 3, 2006

It looks like things are hard, now, but they'll get better. Work hard at what you're doing now, try to enjoy life as it is, without worrying too much about how you wish things were. This is just a brief period in your life that will soon pass. I'd hate for you to make a decision that could lead to years of misery just because things seem a little dark now.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:39 AM on June 3, 2006

I don't know what it takes to get scholarships back, or to get new ones, but if you haven't exhausted that, it should be your priority. Does your college have any kind of hardship help available? Even a small interest free loan?

I second what was said about "What Every Person Should Know About War". Personally, I'd consider sex work before I'd consider the military, I'm not suggesting sex work, but I really think the military is that bad of an idea.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2006

I want to give you a bit of advice about debt unrelated to military service. Stay in touch with the people you owe money to.

It's just that you say you lost your scholarships through "irresponsibility" and you're young and so on.

The main thing a bank or other lending institution needs from you is a response when they send a letter or call or whatever. The worst thing you can do is ignore them or run away from your debts.

They've come across people who can't pay before, that's no big deal to them. They have procedures for that.

So long as you're honest and stay in communication with them and say "I fucked up. I don't have your money, what should I do?" (perhaps not those exact words) you'll be a lot better off than if you chuck their letters in the bin, move without leaving a forwarding address and so on. They have procedures for people who do that too, but you won't like them.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:52 PM on June 3, 2006

When you say "house payment", what do you mean? Do you have a mortgage payment, or are you renting?

Your first step isn't to join the military; it's to stop spending money. Sell the laptop. Get a job bussing tables. By simply reversing your cash flow from negative to positive, you'll work a world of difference.

Stop spending money.

When you're tempted to spend money, ask yourself: "Is this a want or a need?" Only spend money on what you need. You don't need a laptop. When you go out with friends, you don't need to spend a lot.

Stop spending money.

If you can learn now to spend less than you earn, you'll be good for life. I know this advice sounds boring, but it's good. Heed it.

Joining the military isn't going to help you get out of debt if you continue to have bad personal finance habits.
posted by jdroth at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2006

As someone who owes a lot more money than you do (and yet is obviously much happier), I second AmbroseChapel's advice. Call the collection agency and tell them that you're on hard times and that you can only pay X per month. They will work with you.

I'd also add that we don't have debtor's prisons in the United States, and a $2000 debt isn't worth risking your life for. Being in college, taking out loans, and financing a computer is not exactly an unusal situation, nor is it drastic. Get a part-time job and curb your spending.
posted by bingo at 3:03 PM on June 3, 2006

If the student loans are government (Stafford, Ford, Pell, etc.), not private, those rates are much better than what you can hope to get on any credit card or bank link of credit. Cut your expenses to the bone, pay off the remaining debt with the student loan, live on the student loans and a P/T job.

Call your financial aid counselor first thing Monday to find out whether you're eligible to consolidate the loans you've already taken out. If so, file IMMEDIATELY. It takes several weeks to process the application, but if you do it now, you still have a short opportunity left to permantly lock in a low rate before it takes a big jump up this July 1st.

Gov't student loans also have an important other advantage over private financing: flexible repayment. Get unemployed for a while? One phone call, and payments are automatically suspended for 6 months. Fall on hard times and just have no money? One call suspends the payments again. It's still money you have to pay back, but at a reasonable interest rate and without worrying about goons knocking on your door to collect.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:35 PM on June 3, 2006

find out whether you're eligible to consolidate the loans you've already taken out.

As I understand it, one shouldn't consolidate until the end of your education.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:29 AM on June 4, 2006

If you don't have one already, get a part-time job.

I got a job bussing tables on top of my 40-hour a week job after incurring some debt, and it's brought in a pretty comfortable $200/week just from working weekends. Of course, I don't have my weekends free, but I'm out of debt and I've got a little extra cash. Or you could try being a waiter. The important thing is picking an upscale restaurant--the tips are likely to be higher.
posted by Anonymous at 10:50 PM on June 4, 2006

Don't blow your money on coke
posted by edgeways at 10:14 AM on August 8, 2006

« Older Looking to bond with Smokey the Bear   |   Becoming a switch hitter... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.