I just discovered something new to worry about. The good news is it’s not a life-threatening kind of worry. The bad news is how could this worry not have ever crossed my mind? It was totally M.I.A. in my “things I might worry about someday” pile that ricochets around in my brain like a teaspoon stuck in a garbage disposal.
This new worry came about courtesy of some women who have older kids. They were sharing horror stories of their adult children having serious romances with or in some cases even marrying (and divorcing) people who are hauling around some pretty hefty personal baggage that has the power to not exactly ruin your child’s life, but certainly crush their credit score.
These credit-crushing young adults even have a not so nifty moniker. They’re called “FICO fiances/fiancees” or “Fiscal Drags” — college educated young men and women who are up to their still-unfurrowed brow in college debt. There are even levels of Fiscal Drags. The worst, according to the sisterhood of the traveling hormone creams, are the liberal arts majors with advanced degrees from “fancy East Coast” schools.
Mom A, whose son was smitten with a woman who has a degree from Vassar in Victorian Studies, says she was freaking out over the relationship. “You can’t tell me she’s ever going to be able to pay six figures in loans working retail at Anthropologie.”
Mom B did a one up and shared that her daughter was almost engaged to a “boy with more than $125,000 in college debt who never even graduated.” The parents had to go hard core with a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate to their daughter “the amount of debt she would be marrying.” The mother said her husband labeled the presentation “Attention Kmart Shoppers.” (Although that kind of dated shopping humor was lost on the Millennial.)
The STEM degrees also should be approached with caution. Mom C explained in detail how getting hitched to a doctor can be a nightmare. I learned from her that if your child falls in love with an aspiring M.D. going through school on loans, make sure it’s someone who wants to be a cutter.
That confused me. So, I asked for clarification on the term. Mom A quickly explained that if you’re not wielding a scalpel you’re not making the money. Mom C jumped in with, “That’s yes to the plastic surgeon and no to the family practice doctor.”
These women were scaring me. I was frightened by their frankness and their flippant ability to break down relationships based on credit scores and lifetime earning potential. Although I understand where they’re coming from. The stress of financial debt is a marriage killer.
They also pushed my panic button. With a child one day into the second semester of his sophomore year of college I’m constantly texting my son with grocery store coupons and money-saving tips. (I save my beloved Kohl’s cash for me. I’m afraid he’s just not Kohl’s cash worthy yet. Although I dare to dream of that day coming very soon.) I do all this because the price tag for a college education is beyond outrageous even at a state school.
How did we allow this happen? Since I graduated college in the ’80s some studies point to the cost of college increasing by 500 percent! And to circle back around to my friends’ FICO fiancee fears, all I have to say is good luck finding a future spouse who isn’t walking down the aisle with some sort of loan lodestone around his or her neck.
I believe I was blessed to go to college back in the day when my parents could, with a straight face, tell me to “major in what I loved and to do work that would make me smile every day.” And that was said with two kids already at the University of Texas. Of course that’s when a semester hour at U.T. was, and I’m not kidding here, $8! Yep, a semester hour of college then cost the same as a Gigi’s Red Velvet cupcake and a glass of milk today.
Fast forward a couple of decades and my sweet son had to get a cold, hard lesson on college costs from my husband and me. No sunshine and unicorns for him. With parents whose careers surfed the tech bubble bursting, the housing bust and the worst recession since the Great Depression, he got a sobering lesson about the American economy. And although my husband and I are footing the bill for college, my son was still strongly encouraged to select a major that would ensure him a job immediately after graduation and that has an earning scale that would outpace inflation. Do I feel badly that we never mentioned the word smile? You bet.