Harvard MBA Joe Mihalic, in what is supposed to be an inspirational story for all Americans, especially in light of the current student loan crisis, has made headlines - most notably in the magazine of the Mecca of Greed – Wall Street Journal – for having paid $90,000 in student loans in seven months.
He accomplished this by getting a second job (in his case, landscaping), forgoing all restaurant dining (even McDonald’s), selling all unnecessary items around the house — and getting a flask.
Yes, a flask. Genius decided that one of the best and most effective ways to save money in this world is carrying your own booze around in a flask to bars rather than ordering drinks and shelling out $50 everytime.
Instead of the movies, he took dates out hiking, or for bagels and coffee. He ate protein bars packed from home and walked several miles to the city, to save a few bucks on transportation, during a trip to Michigan. He got two roommates to rent out his house. Mihalic also took steps that financial advisers typically say are a no-no: He liquidated his individual retirement account, drawing a tax penalty, and stopped contributing to his 401(k), even though his employer offers a matching contribution
Oh and yeah, did I mentioned one minor detail? The guy makes six figures working for Dell, Inc. As in $ 100,000 and above.
And therein lies the rub in this story of “inspiration” because pointing out the obvious, namely that having wealth makes it easier to reduce debt, is neither inspirational nor newsworthy.
So thanks Wall Street wizards and thanks to this guy. He did not go to Harvard for nothin’.
No Kids, no wife, no health-care bills making six figure income and able to pay off debt. Reminds one of wrinkle cream commercials starring a twenty year old.
Fact is, you can’t pay off 90 grand in student loans taking a flask to the bar and selling household junk on ebay and saving a few bucks on a bus pass every day. This is utterly ridiculous and insulting to the whole movement aimed at keeping student loans and interest rates in check and affordable.
While the frugality tips are good, the point of the student debt crisis is not Harvard Business School grads with six-figure incomes trying to pay down student loans by “slumming” it for a while. It’s people from middle-to bottom-tier schools with no jobs, or very little income, drowning in $100k or similar amount of debt with high interest rates.
With a six figure income, this guy is already six steps ahead of most students buried in debt; students who don’t have jobs and if they do have a job, they are lucky to be making 35k and rent a room somewhere or move back to live with their parents.
Beside the six figure income, the other major factor in his “accomplishment” is that he has a sizable amount of assets to slash his debt. According to his website, his after tax (i.e net) income was $85,000 per year. He immediately used around $27,500 in cash plus $14,000 from stocks, and $9,500 from his IRA. He also stated that his monthly entertainment expenses were $1,300… x 7 months= $9,100! He got two roommates bringing in $5,950 over seven months. He sold a bicycle for $900 and a motorcycle and his second vehicle for another $9,500. A also received a tax refund of almost $1,900. A work bonus of almost $14,000 and don’t forget that he was already paying $1,050+ each month to his loans so there’s almost $7,400 already. He banked $4,000 from stopping his 401k. He got a raise for $2,300 over 7 months.
That alone is over $106,000 available to him in either assets or funds that he was already receiving without even delving into his regular monthly expenses, i.e mortgage, utilities, cell phone, etc.
How in the world any of this is any kind of accomplishment that is news worthy is beyond me. I don’t need the WSJ telling me that having money greatly helps reducing your debt and improving your life.
Paying Off Student Loan Debt is Not Just a Matter of Discipline
This is not an inspirational story, it is a harrowing tale of a privileged man using his considerable financial resources to pay off his debt. The reality for over 90% of students coming out of colleges and grad schools, however, is more like they are buried in student loans at high interest rates and have either no job or a job that barely pays for the necessities, such as room and board and basic bills, much less for astronomically high student loans.
In other words, Mihalic’s situation is neither typical nor representative of the situation of college and grad school graduates in this country and it certainly does not provide a realistic template with which to to approach the student loan crisis.
When you come out of college or grad school and make around 40k – and if you are lucky maybe your employer also throws in a health plan - and after you paid your taxes and for your basic needs, there is not much room left to work with. And that is the issue. Mihalic had a lot of room to shuffle money around; he had options: top benefits, bonuses and promotions oh and yeah a six figure salary. The majority of grads don’t.
A young person having recently graduated from an institute of higher education should not have to suffer and subdue themselves with some minimum-wage paying slow death at all costs just to pay off student loans issued to them under draconian rates and conditions.
The point is to reform student loans and make college affordable so that people aren’t burdened and buried in debt just for getting an education.
Making it look like the problem was one of personal discipline alone as opposed to structural is what truly irks me about the press surrounding this guy’s alleged “accomplishment” because all it does is put a bandage – a very expensive one – on the issue saying “Hey kids, stop whining about student loans. Do what this guy did (never mind most of you cannot) and you will be fine.”
When you don’t have any or much money, you don’t have many options. That is, after all, what is so great about money: options. Mihalic, on the other hand, had options and he used those options to adjust his life such that it was possible for him to pay off his student loan debt quickly. Many graduates in his place don’t have these kinds of options.
File that under yet another rich privileged dude doing what all rich, privileged dudes would do in his place: spend his money to be better off.
This country has taken the notion of finding ever newer and more creative ways to make fools out of people and insulting their intelligence to new heights.