In the media

The Real Reason People Would Rather Eat a Tarantula than Pay Off Their Student Loans

MarketWatch

Like teens gathered around a slumber party campfire, pollsters and news outlets appear to be turning toward a giant game of “would you rather” to help understand the student debt mess.

Every several months, I come across a survey touting the latest extreme measure millennials would take to get rid of their student loans. Some would apparently eat tarantulas, and others might give up birth control. I’ve been skeptical of these exercises -- chalking them up to other generations’ fascination with the strange millennial breed and more simply, a desire for clickbait.

The questions offer hypothetical choices with no bearing in the real world. They also appear to get us nowhere closer to understanding the complicated interplay between policy decisions, personal financial choices and the pre-existing circumstances underpinning the growth in student loan debt over the past several years.

But with evidence building that student debt, even when manageable, can be a real source of pain for millennials and others, I’ve begrudgingly admitted to myself that the questions -- if not taken literally -- can offer a window into the way borrowers think about their loans.

“I would not from a personal finance standpoint necessarily recommend drastic action, like embarrassing yourself or selling an organ” to address student debt, said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a left-leaning think tank. But the questions “illustrate that the more ubiquitous we’ve made student debt, the more people are going to be annoyed at best and facing crisis at worst in repaying them,” he added.[...]