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Thanks to all posters here, lots of great info. In my new Foolish wisdom I am budgeting and getting out of bad CC debt, but after getting my rates lowered, I have 9,000 at 3.9% and 2000 at 6.9%. I also have a school loan of 15,000 at 9.4%. Now when the low CC rates expire, I am going to try to surf to good rates on other cards. While I really think the right thing to do is pay off the CCs, the 9.4% loan is the highest rate. I suppose in worst case scenario the CC companies could shut the door and then I would have 20% rates, but Ive never had that and get so many promo rate offers. So should I keep the CC debt and pay off the school loan? Do I feel lucky today?

waiting for a major happy dance when I am broke! (0 balance).
Speedsurfer
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<<While I really think the right thing to do is pay off the CCs, the 9.4% loan is the highest rate. >>


Speedsurfer, your reasoning is good except for one thing. Credit cards compound more often than school loans. I'm no mathemetician, but I'm sure someone here knows how to translate the rates. It's the daily compounding that makes credit card debt so "bad."

Good luck with the paydown project!

-RepoWoman
...who isn't even bothering to think about paying her six figure school debt down any time soon, and struggling to keep paying down credit card debt while a full time student.
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No answers, but some thoughts...

Are the rates you are quoting all APR? (APR, in theory, is one way one can compare different debts, even if they have different compounding methods.)

Are you able to deduct some or all of the interest on the student loan from your taxes (Form 1040)? If so, that will reduce the effective cost of that loan.

Student loans are usually not so quick to punish someone by rate jacking, but many credit card issuers seem to be eager to find any excuse to jack up the rates, sometimes it just takes a misdelivered statement or a delayed payment.
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>...who isn't even bothering to think about paying her six figure school debt down any time soon, and struggling to keep paying down credit card debt while a full time student.

Oh thank goodness I'm not alone, RepoWoman!! I *only* have $60,000 in student loan debt, but I can't even think about paying that down right now! I may not be too Foolish in my planning, but my (our) priorities are:

1. Pay off credit card debt
2. Save for an emergency fund
3. Save for a down payment on a house
4. Pay off my car loan

And THEN

5. Pay down student loans

An IRA for me may even come before paying down the student loans. Dunno. I'm not in a field that's going to make me a ton of money, either, so right now I'm just hoping that when I get out, I'll make enough to pay the student loan payment every month! Ugh!

Are your loans in deferrment while you're in school?

neenieca

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<<Oh thank goodness I'm not alone, RepoWoman!! I *only* have $60,000 in student loan debt, but I can't even think about paying that down right now! I may not be too Foolish in my planning, but my (our) priorities are:

1. Pay off credit card debt
2. Save for an emergency fund
3. Save for a down payment on a house
4. Pay off my car loan

And THEN

5. Pay down student loans

An IRA for me may even come before paying down the student loans. Dunno. I'm not in a field that's going to make me a ton of money, either, so right now I'm just hoping that when I get out, I'll make enough to pay the student loan payment every month! Ugh!

>>


I noticed Repo Woman was in law school according to her bio ---and accumulating $100K in student loans is probably not that much to worry about when you can reasonably anticipate a well paid career.

But $60K owed when you are are in a field that you don't anticipate will compensate you well, I'd worry plenty about that debt, and particularly accumulating more of it.

While your list of saving prorities is fine, you note that you may find it difficult merely to make payments on the student loan debt. A high debt load may in fact blight your life --- a potential mate might reasonably decide not to marry into that kind of debt, you may find it impossible to get a home loan and you may not have the funds available to fund that 401K.


So --- I'd look very carefully at how you can minimize any more debt accumulation. While Repo woman may not need to worry about her debt, it sounds like you need to worry about yours.




Seattle Pioneer
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You are very much not alone, I have high 6 figure school loans that have been collecting interest for the past 7 years of post-doctorate training. The opportunity cost of higher education is immense, but if you like what you do, its worth it.
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Warning! Very long post! (Regarding prioritizing payoff of student loans.)

<<Oh thank goodness I'm not alone, RepoWoman!! I *only* have $60,000 in student loan debt, but I can't even think about paying that down right now! I may not be too Foolish in my planning, but my (our) priorities are:

1. Pay off credit card debt
2. Save for an emergency fund
3. Save for a down payment on a house
4. Pay off my car loan

And THEN

5. Pay down student loans

....
Are your loans in deferrment while you're in school?

neenieca>>

They are in deferrment in the sense that I don't have to make payments, but they are accruing interest. I don't like the fact that I am going to be deep in debt for a long time, but I subscribe to the school of thought that there is good debt and bad debt, and that my school debt is good debt, relatively speaking. I plan to just make regular monthly payments. I would rather have money available for investing than hurry to get out of my school debt. Credit card debt and car debt are different; those I plan to get out of ASAP. I may have to finance a car in the near future, but I plan to do so as inexpensively and as short term as possible.

My priorities are similar to yours:
1. Pay off credit cards while saving up E-fund.

2. Pay off car debt (there's a long story behind this one; the car's in my name, we're paying for it with DH's salary, and it's being driven by a close relative who needs it more than we do; it is essentially his car now as our contribution to a family effort too complicated and personal to go into here; that's why I said I may have to finance another car in the future, after I graduate)

3. Save for downpayment on a house and look for low-down "creative" financing situation.

4. Save and invest in real estate, stocks, and tax deferred retirement investment vehicle (whatever my employer offers).

5. ...if I have money sitting around and can't find any more places to put it......*then* pay off my student loans!


Unfortunately, by the time I graduate my school debt will be about three times yours. Fortunately, I will be making a very high salary to help out with my payments. Unfortunately, I will be working hellishly long hours to earn that high salary. Fortunately, I will be living below my means and investing as foolishly as I possibly can. I don't want to be killing myself to work 80 hour weeks to pay for my big home, vacation home, fancy car, etc, in my twilight years! My plan is to live frugally, build up passive income, and pay for any luxuries out of passive income. My husband and I have been brainstorming and self-educating for about a year now trying to figure out the best way to work toward those goals.
For now we're just focusing on getting away from plastic!!

-RepoWoman
...who thinks if she had known three years ago what she knows now she might not have signed on for all that school debt, but realizes now she is in for the long haul. ;-)
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<<But $60K owed when you are are in a field that you don't anticipate will compensate you well, I'd worry plenty about that debt, and particularly accumulating more of it.

While your list of saving prorities is fine, you note that you may find it difficult merely to make payments on the student loan debt. A high debt load may in fact blight your life --- a potential mate might reasonably decide not to marry into that kind of debt, you may find it impossible to get a home loan and you may not have the funds available to fund that 401K.

Seattle Pioneer >>

That's true, Seattle, I am in law school. I'm also already married, so don't have to worry about that one! (But I've always had a hard time believing someone would decide not to marry someone they are in love with just because that person has alot of debt...provided that debt-ridden individual is willing to make the sacrifices needed to stick to a financial plan!)
The other concerns are serious though. But I still think paying down student debt is fairly low priority. I've heard lenders call it "good debt" too, and the terms are usually flexible enough that it doesn't blight the debtor's life (financial hardship deferrals are usually pretty easy to get).
Anyway, opinions obviously differ on this one, and you make some good points.
-RW
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Nice thread. I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone in the debt club. However, my 60K is on cc's, all at <9.9%. And, I rationalize that, because I own a house, and have contributed the full 20% to my 401k/403b's all my working life....so, I've got a backup.

And....my freshman year was a very large $3/credit hour.<G>


>>>Do I feel lucky today?<<< --Speedsurfer

I have felt lucky on my BTs, and have been very fortunate. However, I think they've finally figured out that I've got way too much debt, so, I'm going to retire a good portion of it with a refi or HEL.

Only in America.....ain't it good to know that we can have so much debt accumulated.....and, still get more????
--Randy
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RepoWoman writes:
Fortunately, I will be making a very high salary to help out with my payments. Unfortunately, I will be working hellishly long hours to earn that high salary.

Can you count on that?

You can make good money as an attorney, but most law school graduates don't. To make good money, you have to:

* Graduate near the top of your class from a good school.

...OR...

* Graduate in the top third or so of your class from a big, well-known school.

...OR...

* Know somebody (usually through family) who will give you a job when you graduate.

...OR...

* Get damn lucky in the job interview process to land a job that pays peanuts. Slave away at 60-80 hours a week until you build up enough experience. I do mean "lucky". The usual strategy for law firms seems to be to throw out resumes without calling back the applicants. The applications just mysteriously disappear into a void.... Transfer to a big firm after you've slaved away for five years or so.

Knowing somebody is the usual choice. Law firms are the original "old boys network".

You just can't count on it. Most people with law degrees are not working as attorneys. A lot of people who are attorneys aren't making that much money at it.

Sorry to be so pessimistic. It sounds like you may already have a job lined up (my guess: you know somebody). If not, make sure that you have contigency plans.
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RepoWoman writes:
<<Fortunately, I will be making a very high salary to help out with my payments. Unfortunately, I will be working hellishly long hours to earn that high salary.

Can you count on that?

You can make good money as an attorney, but most law school graduates don't. To make good money, you have to:

* Graduate near the top of your class from a good school.

...OR...

* Graduate in the top third or so of your class from a big, well-known school.

...OR...

* Know somebody (usually through family) who will give you a job when you graduate.

...OR...

* Get damn lucky in the job interview process to land a job that pays peanuts. Slave away at 60-80 hours a week until you build up enough experience. I do mean "lucky". The usual strategy for law firms seems to be to throw out resumes without calling back the applicants. The applications just mysteriously disappear into a void.... Transfer to a big firm after you've slaved away for five years or so.

Knowing somebody is the usual choice. Law firms are the original "old boys network".

You just can't count on it. Most people with law degrees are not working as attorneys. A lot of people who are attorneys aren't making that much money at it.

Sorry to be so pessimistic. It sounds like you may already have a job lined up (my guess: you know somebody). If not, make sure that you have contigency plans>>

I am a new attorney- I just graduated in 1999. This is a broad overgeneralization. I graduted from a state law school and finished near the middle of my class. I have absoultely no contacts as both of my parents were deceased and the rest of my family lived in other states. In addition, no one in my family were attorneys. I basically pounded the pavement during law school and found a job clerking at a very good plaintiff's personal injury firm. Through that experience, I received a job offer doing plaintiff's personal injury work at a big regional tort lawfirm that just opened a Memphis law office. This year I will make over 100,000, far more than my friends that most of my friends working for "presitigious" firms who had better grades!

Grades and especially who you know are important, but you can certainly succeed without, you just have to show you have a lot of common sense, are agressive and are willing to work hard.
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<<You are very much not alone, I have high 6 figure school loans that have been collecting interest for the past 7 years of post-doctorate training. The opportunity cost of higher education is immense, but if you like what you do, its worth it. >>


High six figures? What, $800,000 or so? To make that worthwhile, academia must leave you in a perpetual orgasmic state.



Seattle Pioneer
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<<I have felt lucky on my BTs, and have been very fortunate. However, I think they've finally figured out that I've got way too much debt, so, I'm going to retire a good portion of it with a refi or HEL.

Only in America.....ain't it good to know that we can have so much debt accumulated.....and, still get more????
>>



Refinancing a home mortgage doesn't retire any debt. It just moves the debt around. If you have decided you have too much debt you have to figure out a way to pay it off.



Seattle Pioneer
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<<I am a new attorney- I just graduated in 1999. This is a broad overgeneralization. I graduted from a state law school and finished near the middle of my class. I have absoultely no contacts as both of my parents were deceased and the rest of my family lived in other states. In addition, no one in my family were attorneys. I basically pounded the pavement during law school and found a job clerking at a very good plaintiff's personal injury firm. Through that experience, I received a job offer doing plaintiff's personal injury work at a big regional tort lawfirm that just opened a Memphis law office. This year I will make over 100,000, far more than my friends that most of my friends working for "presitigious" firms who had better grades!
>>


Wait a minute --- you took this out of a John Grisham novel, right?




Seattle Pioneer
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But I still think paying down student debt is fairly low priority. I've heard lenders call it "good debt" too, and the terms are usually flexible enough that it doesn't blight the debtor's life (financial hardship deferrals are usually pretty easy to get).

Greetings, RepoWoman, as a medical resident with my own debt approaching $90K I do want to suggest a caution. It may pay off handsomely to pay accruing interest even if you are not ready to service the debt, because if you are facing capitalization of that interest, you may find that your principal balance skyrockets. In my case, the principal balance on my loans at the end of medical school in 1998 was $74K. Today, with capitalization, the principal balance is $86K - just from capitalization ALONE. These loans are in deferment and I don't have to pay against them until I run out of deferments and forebearances (one more year of residency when I enter repayment) but until then, I am servicing other debt and am not able to pay off the entire accrued interest so I will suffer one more round of capitalization before I can begin to attack the student loans. Just to say that even though student loan debt is seen as "good" debt does not mean that it will not grow alarmingly. Had I known then what I know now, I would have paid off interest as it accrued and NEVER allowed it to be added back to principal. This may be a consideration for you as you are paying on other debt - if there is any way to keep the interest at bay on your student loans it may benefit your overall profile best. Good luck!

xraymd
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<<Wait a minute- you took this out of a John Grisham novel, right?>>

LOL, I forgot to mention that I got a free Mercedes and they paid off my student loans. I also make frequent trips to the Cayman Islands. <VBG>

Go Vols
MemphisVOL
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>While your list of saving prorities is fine, you note that you may find it difficult merely to make payments on the student loan debt. A high debt load may in fact blight your life --- a potential mate might reasonably decide not to marry into that kind of debt, you may find it impossible to get a home loan and you may not have the funds available to fund that 401K.

Seattle Pioneer,
It was grad student anxiety talking when I mentioned my fear that I might not be able to pay back the debt. I don't know if you've been there, but we all worry about where we'll end up after working so hard for so many years. But I know that while I may never make 6 figures in my field, I will always be able to pay the bills. It is just the prospect of entering the job market and finding said job that is a little scary to me right now. The intention of my post was to indicate that unlike several people who have posted here, I don't think I will be able to accelerate my payments on the student loans. They will have to be paid in the same monthly installment over 10 years due to the priorities I mentioned.

I want to add that, based on what you wrote, I guess I am fortunate that I have a husband who married someone with $60K of student loans to pay back. I married him with about equal that in car loans and credit card debt, and we will have all of his paid off in about a year. Frankly, I'm glad he decided to marry someone he loved, and not just someone who had an excellent credit rating. I am on this board because we are trying to live Foolishly, and because we are doing a good job at paying down our debt...but also because so many people here realize and support the fact that we have to be able to live our lives at the same time. I will never regret borrowing the money for my education, which, besides my love for my husband and family, is the most important and most fulfilling thing in my life. It has been worth every penny.

But I do agree with your advice about not taking on new debt. I have departmental aid for the next four years, and if I didn't, we would just pay for it ourselves. My husband makes a good living, and even on his salary alone, we would be able to live comfortably and pay down debt at the same time.

Sorry this was so long, but I felt that your admonishment that "it sounds like you need to worry about your [debt]" was a bit uninformed. I appreciate your input though.


neenieca

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Excuse the flake out of me. OK....how bout if I'm moving it from non-deductible to deductible? Paying a lesser effective interest rate.
--Randy
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I agree with xraymd, any med students or aspiring doctors listen up. If I had known the amount of capitalization that would have taken place on my loans when I was in school, I would certainly tried to take less out, budget better, and PAY OFF ALL INTEREST during training. Yea you say 1000-2000/year is too much to pay when you are a resident, but wait 4-7 years and see how much that added on to your principle. Then put that on a 10 year plan and see how much interest you will be paying for the next 10 years. Its not very pretty. Do you really need to lease that new BMW right out of school?
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I forgot to mention that I got a free Mercedes and they paid off my student loans. I also make frequent trips to the Cayman Islands.

Personally, I am far more impressed by those who work hard and achieve something than with those who have it handed to them.

Beth
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how bout if I'm moving it from non-deductible to deductible? Paying a lesser effective interest rate.

There are several considerations here:

1. If you have unsecured debt and the account becomes deliquent, the creditor can make your life miserable, sue you in court and have your wages garnished, but cannot take away your home. Secure the debt with your home, and your home becomes fair game for foreclosure for satisfying the debts that use the home as collateral (such as the primary mortgage and the second mortgage or home equity loan).

2. Only the interest on the part of the loan that is secured by the equity on your place (the fair market value minus the current balance of all debts) at the time the loan is taken out is potentially tax deductable, and then only if all of the collateralized loans except the primary mortgage total $100,000 or less. (They can go into more detail on the Tax Strategies board.)

3. Just because one can itemize the interest on a home equity loan (with certain restrictions), it doesn't necessarily follow that one would benefit from doing so. If you are benefitting already by itemizing your current mortgage interest, you will probably reduce your taxes by the interest on the home equity loan. However, if your standard deductions are greater than your current itemized deductions, you will have to run through the numbers to see if the home equity loan interest would really be of benefit, and by how much. Remember, itemized deductions in excess of your standard deductions would reduce taxes by your marginal tax rates, e.g., someone in the 28% marginal tax rate would pay $3.57 in interest for every $1 reduction in taxes.

4. If one cannot get a good home equity loan interest rate, the tax deductability may end up turning a bad rate into a slightly-less-bad rate, it doesn't magically change it to a good rate.

5. If the debt being refinancied (not retired) is credit card debt, and the problem that lead to the amount of debt has not been fixed, it is likely that the cards will be used again to drive credit card debt back up, leaving one both with the debt now on the home in addition to the new credit card debt, leaving one even deeper in debt. Even if the deficit spending has been stopped, some people will pay down credit card debt more zealously than an amortized home equity loan so that, even if the interest rate is less, one may end up paying it down over a longer period of time and potentially paying more dollars of interest over the lifetime of the debt.
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dzerkle wrote: <<Sorry to be so pessimistic. It sounds like you may already have a job lined up (my guess: you know somebody). If not, make sure that you have contigency plans. >>

I realize that having a law degree doesn't guarantee you a job (especially in the current market slow-down). If I were truly unemployed after graduation, school loans would be the least of my worries (think financial hardship deferral).

...no, I'm not connected to the old boy network. But I do have halfway decent grades from a respected school and a good second summer job lined up (which I got without knowing anybody, although I don't claim I wasn't lucky).

We never know our future for certain; a sudden accident could leave most any of us unable to perform our current job. I think I'll probably have a job at graduation ... but thanks for the vote of confidence. ;-)
-RepoWoman
(knocking wood)
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<<Greetings, RepoWoman, as a medical resident with my own debt approaching $90K I do want to suggest a caution. It may pay off handsomely to pay accruing
interest even if you are not ready to service the debt, because if you are facing capitalization of that interest, you may find that your principal balance skyrockets.>>

I couldn't agree more, xraymd. I was paying off the interest at first but things got a little tighter and I have prioritized other debts. I'm not 100% sure this was the best move, but then, I *am* 100% sure it was the *worst* move to allow myself to get this much CC debt in the first place.
akk... this is getting a little depressing. I think I'll go lick my wounds... still recovering from the post telling me not to count on having a job at graduation...
rw
<:(

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Oh, and one other thing, dzerkle --

<<(my guess: you know somebody)>>

I don't mean to lash out here, but I guess I'm still a little stung from your post. Would you mind telling me why that was your guess? I mean, you know a few things about me, and I was just wondering what it was that led you to this guess.
>>ouch<<
rw

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Mark0Young,

Excellent points all. You said it much more eloquently than I could have.

I have resolved the problem that lead to the debt, and am also paying it down with ~ an extra $1K/month.

Fortunately, since I have contributed the full boat to my 401k/403b all my working life, I have several times the amount of my cc debt and home loan in IRA monies. However, after considering tax, penalties, and before tax growth, I realize that paying any of the debt from these monies would not be the best use of my funds.

(ballparking figures) A refi or HEL would bring my effective tax rate to ~4% to 6.5%, which, is less than the 8.9% to 9.9% that the credit cards are at. You are correct, that I risk hanging my home out to foreclosure. But, before it got that bad, I would dig into my IRA monies. I am hoping I can eliminate the cc debt, and begin aggresive payment on my mortgage/HEL within 3 to 4 years.
--Randy
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<<Had I known then what I know now, I would have paid off interest as it accrued and NEVER allowed it to be added back to principal. This may be a consideration for you as you are paying on other debt - if there is any way to keep the interest at bay on your student loans it may benefit your overall profile best. Good luck!
>>


Can you be a bit more specific about what you know now that you didn't know then? I'm presuming that you underestimated the impact that accumulating interest would have on the balance that would need to be repaid.


Also, you say you would have paid off the interest charges as they accrued. This implies that you had choices that you could have made to avoid accumulating these additional charges. I'm presuming that you are saying that you might have either worked more to bring in additional income or lived more frugally to economize and avoid additional debt.

Can you describe more clearly the choices that would have been worthwhile to reduce the student debt and interest charges that you accumulated?

I see a pattern of people underestimating the impact of student loan debt on their lives. And I see people regretting some of the decisions they made and seeing better choices that they might have made. This might help others avoid problems and make better choices.


Thanks for any comments.



Seattle Pioneer
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<<akk... this is getting a little depressing. I think I'll go lick my wounds... still recovering from the post telling me not to count on having a job at graduation...
>>


One of the difficulties of this medium is that it's hard not to make assumptions and interpretations based on what people write, and it's very easy for those guesses to be wrong, even if made in good faith.

So please don't be put off by such remarks. In my view it is extremely valuable for undergrads to get an earful of the consequences of student loan debt on people's lives. Learning of the problems can help people make better decisions for themselves.


So---

Thanks for you recent grads who've shared your experiences with managing debt while going through school.




Seattle Pioneer
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Can you be a bit more specific about what you know now that you didn't know then? [re: student loan obligations] I'm presuming that you underestimated the impact that accumulating interest would have on the balance that would need to be repaid.

Greetings, you are right on - what I know now is the speed at which accrued interest turns into principal. In retrospect, I COULD have known it then but I will only offer the lame excuse that I was waaaay too busy in medical school to pay sufficient attention to the acceleration - mainly because the bulk of the acceleration took place when my grace period was up. The interest during in-school and grace periods was lower than afterwards.

Also, you say you would have paid off the interest charges as they accrued. This implies that you had choices that you could have made to avoid accumulating these additional charges. I'm presuming that you are saying that you might have either worked more to bring in additional income or lived more frugally to economize and avoid additional debt.

Hindsight is 20-20! In medical school there was simply put NO WAY to earn extra money - for the first two years, I was in class daily from 8am to 4pm and spent the bulk of my evening studying. For the second two years, I was on clinical rotations in the hospital, on call overnight every 4th night - or else I was off-campus doing electives in hospitals far away which required expenditures for living accomodations. Then there were interviewing expenses of 4th year which required me to fly around the country, sometimes at short notice, over a 3 month period. It really is like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose! I knew of a very, very few students who did try to do some kind of work study or part-time job but still marvel that they were able to try at all. Perhaps there are some who are gifted enough at (or exposed enough to) the study of medicine but that was not me. Could I have lived more frugally? Certainly I think so now! But I don't truly regret how I did live - I was careful in my spending but still think the few small luxuries I allowed myself kept me sane and focused.

Can you describe more clearly the choices that would have been worthwhile to reduce the student debt and interest charges that you accumulated?

What I would have done differently would have been to start earlier at making even token payments towards my student loan debts - even if they only covered a fraction of the interest - because during the in-school and grace period status, every dollar paid goes further to defray the costs: interest accrues at a lower rate and the ultimate amount of capitalized interest would have been held down. Most people who take out student loans are likely to need them for tuition, books and living expenses so there truly are not many extra dollars to fling back at the loans while a student, but I think now that even if I could have paid back on average $10 to $25 a week in school, I would have knocked off AT LEAST a couple of thousand dollars from my ultimate principal. Even if my payments would not have touched the original principal balance, the interest generated becomes principal at some point anyway, so truly every dollar paid back towards the loans does help. I don't regret taking out the student loans - they allowed me to reach my goal of training as a physician - but what would have helped me most of all would have been a black and white illustration of where I would be debtwise 5 years hence if I had chosen to pay part or all of the accruing interest earlier than later. I needed the original loan of $74K to fund medical school but surely I did not need to allow it to balloon up to $86K strictly from capitalized interest before commencing repayments. And at least with medical school which runs at a furious pace, I would have been better off to have thought this through before I began, while I could still think clearly! What I would try to do differently is put an equal amount of time into understanding student loan mechanics as I did into completing a multitude of medical school applications and preparing a cogent personal statement, BEFORE the firestorm of a medical student's schedule could overtake me. And now that I am a medical resident, I have gotten far smarter and am living on a strict budget (allowing for a scattering of tiny luxuries - can you say "ice cream" :-) ?) while putting at least one entire biweekly (modest) paycheck towards debt retirement. I am happy that I have no hankering for a fancy lifestyle and it is no hardship to me now to pay down debt. I LOVE to make payments! It is such a kick to see those balances go down, down, down. It would have helped to develop this kind of attitude during medical school but frankly it would have been tougher to reckon with watching the balances inevitably go up because I would have to borrow biannually to cover tuition and living expenses. Still, though, it would have helped to see penny-pinching then in the positive light I see it in now. I might have eaten sushi a few times less often and ramen noodles a few times more often - and liked it.

I see a pattern of people underestimating the impact of student loan debt on their lives. And I see people regretting some of the decisions they made and seeing better choices that they might have made. This might help others avoid problems and make better choices.

Thanks for asking for specifics. I hope this helped a little bit!

xraymd







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In my view it is extremely valuable for undergrads to get an earful of the consequences of student loan debt on people's lives. Learning of the problems can help people make better decisions for themselves.

Greetings, just another few thoughts on this topic. Student loans have an interest rate cap. Figure out the accrued interest against your principal at this cap, which will be a maximum. Decide if the resulting figure is one you are willing to owe at the time repayment starts. If not, determine how much you will have to pay back towards your loan WHILE IN SCHOOL to reach the figure at which you would be comfortable owing. But guard against getting depressed that the loans are a moving target you may not be able to hit 100% - after all, you are taking out only the amount you REALLY NEED to borrow to get through school, right? Don't depend on having a lucrative job at graduation to cover your loan costs (especially if you will enter medical residency which is an apprenticeship but really resembles indentured servitude - your take-home wages amount to about $3.50 an hour when you consider the 100-115 hour weeks you must put in) so plan on servicing the loan amount (principal plus capitalized accrued interest) you have decided you can live with. Be aware that the size of student loans for some training (MD, atty) can resemble a mortgage, so go in with your eyes wide open. That way, if your interest has not hit the cap, you have LESS to pay back than you'd budgeted for. But at least you figured out your maximum so you don't have to be rudely surprised. Good luck!

xraymd


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<<Hindsight is 20-20! In medical school there was simply put NO WAY to earn extra money - for the first two years, I was in class daily from 8am to 4pm and spent the bulk of my evening studying. For the second two years, I was on clinical rotations in the hospital, on call overnight every 4th night - or else I was off-campus doing electives in hospitals far away which required expenditures for living accomodations. Then there were interviewing expenses of 4th year which required me to fly around the country, sometimes at short notice, over a 3 month period. It really is like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose! I knew of a very, very few students who did try to do some kind of work study or part-time job but still marvel that they were able to try at all. Perhaps there are some who are gifted enough at (or exposed enough to) the study of medicine but that was not me. Could I have lived more frugally? Certainly I think so now! But I don't truly regret how I did live - I was careful in my spending but still think the few small luxuries I allowed myself kept me sane and focused.
>>


Wow, I'm impressed. The key for me is you comment that the few luxuries you bought were important to keeping you sane and focussed. That comment to me indicates that these were really needs rather than luxuries, and that you made the right choice in spending for them.

Congratulations on completing a demanding program. It sounds like you used your loans wisely to accomplish a valuable purpose.


<<Can you describe more clearly the choices that would have been worthwhile to reduce the student debt and interest charges that you accumulated?

What I would have done differently would have been to start earlier at making even token payments towards my student loan debts - even if they only covered a fraction of the interest - because during the in-school and grace period status, every dollar paid goes further to defray the costs: interest accrues at a lower rate and the ultimate amount of capitalized interest would have been held down. Most people who take out student loans are likely to need them for tuition, books and living expenses so there truly are not many extra dollars to fling back at the loans while a student, but I think now that even if I could have paid back on average $10 to $25 a week in school, I would have knocked off AT LEAST a couple of thousand dollars from my ultimate principal. >>



I appreciate your candor in deciding that there were some small improvements you might have made in financing your education. But based on your comments, it sounds like you did very well indeed in the choices you made. It further seems that you intend to use the same wisdom in paying down that debt as soon as you have the opportunity to do so.

If you are half as good a physician as you are at financial planning, I'd bet you are a very good physician indeed. It's great to see someone who has used debt as wisely as you have in funding your education.

It was a real pleasure to read and recommend your posts.



Seattle Pioneer
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Thanks, Seattle and xraymd for the enlightening posts on student loan debt. I have been feeling a little dismal about my debt ever since I stopped paying off the interest each month. When I did that I felt it was truly necessity [I think it was the day my husband and I faced the music about the fact that our CC debt was 34,000 ***and rising**] but it still doesn't feel good.
I realize I took dzerkle's post too personally; I guess the post awakened some of my own demons.

Also, it has been interesting considering some of the differences between MD and JD debt, the primary one being the length of time the loan has to sit there before you (hopefully) start earning "real" money -- three years for JDs, 4-7 for MDs.

I've mentioned this before, but there are times when I feel really stupid for going to professional school at all. If I had continued to climb the ladder at my previous job, it never would have made me rich, but then neither will my law job. I believe now that it's not how much you earn that matters but how you direct your cashflow...and I see my JD program as an extremely expensive employee training program that will keep me in indentured servitude for years to come.
I don't mean to sound like I expect to hate my work; of course I find the law interesting or I wouldn't have gone into this field. But it would have to be pretty darn exciting to be worth $120,000 and tons of time away from my family, wouldn't it?
Well, I'm off to class now. ;-) See you all later when I'm procrastinating studying my worst subject, in which the exam is two weeks away.
RW
{wishing she could snap her fingers and have it be June already}
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Personally, I am far more impressed by those who work hard and achieve something than with those who have it handed to them.>>

Beth, please read the orinigal post I was repsonding too, about how my story seemed like a Grisham novel. It was in reference to the Firm, and if you haven't read the book, you need too (don't watch the movie).
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To Repowoman, yes the the time the interest accruing is significantly larger for MDs then JDs. This is important in both opportunity cost, the interest accumulation as well as the ability to pay down debt and accumulate wealth. When I mentioned 4-7 years, that did not include medical school. Add another 4 years so now we are talking 11 years since graduating from college. Thats where I am now, yes I will be a super specialist, but I really feel like XRAYMD that at least the habit of paying something to the interest every month would have really been a great thing. It is this habit of making regular payments/saving that is important for professionals to learn, recently out of school. I guess 3 years of law school doesnt seem so bad to me.
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<<...Add another 4 years so now we are
talking 11 years since graduating from college. ...I guess 3 years of law school doesnt seem so bad to me. >>

Speedsurfer,
I am thankful that my school debt will "only" sit for three years, instead of 11. But on my way home from class today I was thinking about this conversation and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that after medical training the skill you have is something with a higher value than any dollar amount. What I will have at the end of my (albeit shorter) training is something really only of simple economic value. (Justice is a higher value, but I'm in a corporate program, so the value is more economic than human.
Before law school I was a medical malpractice defense investigator -- Gained a huge respect for all those good docs out there, whom I met only when they faced a lawsuit. Basically what I'm saying is that I think med school is one of those times when non-economic factors come into the cost-benefit analysis. Thanks for taking on all those loans and doing all that hard work so you can heal the rest of us!!
-rw
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MemphisVol,

My apologies. I have not read the book, and didn't catch your humor there. I had read the original post, but didn't catch that you were actually referring to the Grisham novel.
I will read the book (they are always better anyway).
Didn't mean to dis' ya.

Beth
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You really should get a chance to read it. A most wonderful book.

Catleen
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<<I've mentioned this before, but there are times when I feel really stupid for going to professional school at all. If I had continued to climb the ladder at my previous job, it never would have made me rich, but then neither will my law job. I believe now that it's not how much you earn that matters but how you direct your cashflow...and I see my JD program as an extremely expensive employee training program that will keep me in indentured servitude for years to come.
>>


Thanks for the comments. It doesn't seem that the decision for a profession is the slam dunk that it used to be. I'm curious if you have an opinion on whether student loan availability and the increased access to such programs that it provides has helped glut or flood the market with additional labor supplies, which may have bid down wage rates and working conditions such as the hours of work expected.


I understand this is asking for a subjective opinion, but are such things a topic of discussion among new people to your profession? Also, if this seems to be the case, who benefits? Do partners tend to soak up additional revenue? (I don't seem to notice fire sale price on legal services, so at least run of the mill consumers don't seem to benefit).



Seattle Pioneer



Seattle Pioneer
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<<To Repowoman, yes the the time the interest accruing is significantly larger for MDs then JDs. This is important in both opportunity cost, the interest accumulation as well as the ability to pay down debt and accumulate wealth. When I mentioned 4-7 years, that did not include medical school. Add another 4 years so now we are talking 11 years since graduating from college. Thats where I am now, yes I will be a super specialist, but I really feel like XRAYMD that at least the habit of paying something to the interest every month would have really been a great thing. It is this habit of making regular payments/saving that is important for professionals to learn, recently out of school. I guess 3 years of law school doesnt seem so bad to me. >>


I'd be interested in how you evaluate the opportunities and compensation you can expect after completing such a demanding program. Do you expect that current reimbursement levels will be adequate to allow you to retire this debt load in a reasonable way and still lead the upper middle class lifestyle such a commitment might reasonably expect to provide?

Also, I'm hearing increasingly of physicians in their early 50s choosing to retire rather than continue providing services. I'm wondering if you see this as a real trend, and what factors you see contributing to this phenomena (I'd guess a combination of reimbursement levels, high marginal tax rates on income vs no taxes on time taken as leisure, and increased bureaucratic control and legal exposure, but what do I know?)


Thanks for any comments.



Seattle Pioneer
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Repowoman writes:
I don't mean to lash out here, but I guess I'm still a little stung from your post.

Sorry. I can see how that might happen.

Would you mind telling me why that was your guess? I mean, you know a few things about me, and I was just wondering what it was that led you to this guess.

It was your confidence in the fact that you'd be making a lot of money. Given the screwiness of the attorney job market, this was the only way I thought you could have such confidence. It had nothing to do with any thoughts about your talents.

I knew that you might very well have something lined up due to interviews and such. However, the jobs that you can line up earlier in your educational career (i.e., before your last year), tend not to pay extremely well. Those offers come in at the end. Since you expected to be paid well, I figured that wasn't it.

I have known talented, hard-working law school graduates who couldn't get an attorney job, even though they'd be great at it and they answered dozens and dozens of ads. I've known well-connected law-school students who had jobs lined up years in advance. I find it rather discouraging.

My conclusion is that it's best to start networking as soon as possible, so you know people. I guess that if you're starting from zero, the best way to do this is to do an internship (or whatever it's called) over the summer. Of course, I've already had one bad guess on this topic already....
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Mark0Young wrote "If you have unsecured debt and the account becomes deliquent, the creditor can make your life miserable, sue you in court and have your wages garnished, but cannot take away your home."

This usually is not true. Unsecured creditors can obtain liens and eventually force a judicial sale of a home in most states. However, secured creditors are in an even stronger position since secured debt generally can't be discharged in bankruptcy (assuming equity in the collateral exists) and has priority over unsecured debt. So the point that unsecured debt is often preferrable to secured debt, all other factors being equal, remains valid.

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<<...I'm curious if you have an opinion on whether student
loan availability and the increased access to such programs that it provides has helped glut or flood the market with additional labor supplies, which may have bid
down wage rates and working conditions such as the hours of work expected.


I understand this is asking for a subjective opinion, but are such things a topic of discussion among new people to your profession? Also, if this seems to be the case,
who benefits? Do partners tend to soak up additional revenue? (I don't seem to notice fire sale price on legal services, so at least run of the mill consumers don't
seem to benefit).



Seattle Pioneer >>

I guess we're getting slightly OT here but I'm happy to indulge. (I'm also back at my real username, Yay!) IMHO, increased loan availability for professional school is a net positive, because it brings the professional advancement opportunity to people who don't come from rich families. It also benefits the profession by bringing in people of more varied socio-economic backgrounds. This is especially important for areas like civil rights, etc, more so than my field (corporate).

That said, there is a problem of glut to the legal labor market. However, like lots of other fields these days, there is still high demand for those at the "top" (i.e. from prestigious schools and or with high grades, regardless of whether those are good indicators, and who are willing to do the kind of work big business needs done). Who benefits? Possibly the newer, often non-accredited or barely accredited private schools that charge kids an arm and a leg to go to school, work towards a virtually worthless degree, and face a high chance of getting weeded out. On the other hand, those schools sometimes provide the launching pad to the occasional low LSAT, low college GPA student who goes on to do great work as a professional.
-RW
Teach a parrot the words "supply and demand" and you've got an economist.
Teach a parrot the words "on the one hand...on the other hand" and you've got a lawyer.
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<<Also, I'm hearing increasingly of physicians in their early 50s choosing to retire rather than continue providing services. I'm wondering if you see this as a real trend, and what factors you see contributing to this phenomena (I'd guess a combination of reimbursement levels, high marginal tax rates on income vs no taxes on time
taken as leisure, and increased bureaucratic control and legal exposure, but what do I know?)
...Seattle Pioneer >>

Three letters: HMO
rw
who has listened in on many a medical society board rant about the above
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dzerkle,
I know the intent behind your post was good, so I'm not offended. And I agree with your observation about talented hard-working law grads not finding good jobs, being passed over for well-connected ones. Even though I don't have personal connections, I do have probably the most valuable connection a law student can have: a prestigious JD school. I don't necessarily think the quality of the education is better than that of a lower-ranked school, nor do I think the work is necessarily more rigorous. The sad fact is that in this profession, prestige matters, *alot*. I knew this going in, which is why took on massive debt to go to the highest ranked school that would have me. (This also meant I had to shot-gun my applications and get alot of rejection letters!)

and yes, the market is screwy right now. I've got a great internship (we usually call them Summer Associate positions) for this year, but that's not a guarantee of a job after graduation. fingers crossed, I'll just try to work hard and not get on anyone's nerves...
rw
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But $60K owed when you are are in a field that you don't anticipate will compensate you well, I'd worry plenty about that debt, and particularly accumulating more of it.


Seattle,

You are exactly right. I have 50K in school loans for my MSW. That is why I want to go to B-School. It is ridiculous to go to grad school and incur that type of debt for a low paying career.

My prioties

1. Pay off all unsecured debt
2. Save for an E-Fund
3. Save for a home and investments.


Sean
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You know I can see where this thread is going. I dont think we all need to talk about salaries and money prospects. All Esq's dont make good money. Just like al MD's or any other profession dont make good money. But you do have people in those careers who do. Let's all appreciate any one person's ability to work hard an be rewarded. But we are here to help one another and not get into who has the bigger ball cat fight.

Slovell
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You also forgot to mention that you are arrogant and no one is really interested in what you have but if you are willing to help.

Slovell
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Nene,

Good post. Just keep working on your studd girl.. You and the DH will be having happy dances all over the place. I understand what you are going through so dont be disheartened. Just remain humble and walk forward.

Sloevll
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I've mentioned this before, but there are times when I feel really stupid for going to professional school at all. If I had continued to climb the ladder at my previous job, it never would have made me rich, but then neither will my law job.

Greetings, RepoWoman, I am writing to empathize. Before going to medical school I held a career position in pharmaceutical research for nearly 13 years - I was a graphics software designer, also known as a computational chemist - my domain was the mainframe (if that doesn't date me too much!) vs. the lab bench. As one of my then colleagues liked to say that he preferred being a computational chemist to being a laboratory chemist because "a piece of paper doesn't blow up in your face!" And can I ever relate to this - I used to spend my days in front of a computer terminal where the most dangerous risk I took was in exposing myself to (imagined) radiation from my monitor. And what do I do now, as a middle aged medical resident? I restart people's hearts and make snap decisions about how to treat their dropping blood pressure and failing lungs. Every day I work, I worry! What am I forgetting? Or not thinking of? How can I make this patient more comfortable, more optimally treated? How can I sympathetically speak with their families and offer realistic yet reassuring assessments of their diagnoses and prognoses?

And how did I get to be doing this anyway! Especially having had a secure and well-paying career. I realized when I entered medicine that I would never make up the difference in my net worth and that I would have to work easily twice as hard as I was accustomed to. And, believe me, there are plenty of days where I wonder whether I was out of my mind to switch.

It's just those other days when I feel like some effort or decision I've made, no matter how small it may seem to me, seems to be enormous to the patients and their families and I'm glad my training has brought me to the point where I can have often such a positive impact on people's lives. I don't seek nor do I require adulation or gratitude but I definitely feel proud to offer comfort and hope. As one of my favorite attendings (physician teachers) likes to say, "If you ACT like you care, it really helps your patients. If you ACTUALLY care, it really helps you!" And so I have concluded that I must be doing something I was meant to do (even if I am often tired and basically broke!) because the life I used to lead, though comfortable, felt undirected compared to the life I now lead. Perhaps there is something similar for you in having taken on law school. The doubts about the sacrifices are legitimate but the work you do for your clients may reward you in ways that go beyond money and time off. And I do trust that eventually as all debts get paid, there will be intrinsic value to the work that even being well-paid is secondary to. Good luck!

xraymd
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It's just those other days when I feel like some effort or decision I've made, no matter how small it may seem to me, seems to be enormous to the patients and their families and I'm glad my training has brought me to the point where I can have often such a positive impact on people's lives. I don't seek nor do I require adulation or gratitude but I definitely feel proud to offer comfort and hope. As one of my favorite attendings (physician teachers) likes to say, "If you ACT like you care, it really helps your patients. If you ACTUALLY care, it really helps you!" And so I have concluded that I must be doing something I was meant to do (even if I am often tired and basically broke!) because the life I used to lead, though comfortable, felt undirected compared to the life I now lead. Perhaps there is something similar for you in having taken on law school. The doubts about the sacrifices are legitimate but the work you do for your clients may reward you in ways that go beyond money and time off. And I do trust that eventually as all debts get paid, there will be intrinsic value to the work that even being well-paid is secondary to. Good luck!

xraymd,

Thanks for posting this. My profession is not as stressful as medicine or law, I'm sure, but I often feel the same -- I'm a tenure-track (but untenured) college professor.

I spent 8 years in school AFTER college and 2 years in a temporary job with 10-month pay and no retirement benefits to get where I am today (now in my 3rd year of a tenure track job), so it often feels like I am in the same financial position as a 24 year old that just graduated college, except that I'm 34 and I've lost those ten years of saving & compounding. Meanwhile, I'm paying off 10K in debt that was largely acquired during my job search (thank God I have no student loan debt as such).

My salary is pretty good for a starting academic, I think, but the prospects for raises over time are very limited unless I become famous & lots of schools try to lure me away (I'm working on it!). If I'm very lucky, I might reach 80K by the time I'm ready to retire. That's a good salary, but sometimes I wonder if it's commensurate with all the time I spent in school.

Meanwhile, though I love many things about my job, I drag myself home bone-exhausted every day that I teach and struggle with guilt & anxiety about not getting enough research done every other waking hour (when I'm not grading or preparing for the next class).

I frequently find myself wondering if my life would be much happier if I were working in the computer industry (my other talent, and one which I'm sure would pay a heck of a lot better over the length of my career & allow me to move back to my beloved California & long distance SO to boot).

All things considered, though, I think I'm lucky. I notice that most people seem envious when I tell them that I get to spend my working days teaching Greek, Latin & Roman civilization, and doing research on Jewish fictions & apocalyptic oracles.

We ought to start a whole board on "Why I hate my job so the grass definitely isn't greener over here, but here's the good part that keeps me in this field."

Tanaquil
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xraymd:

I must admit that I have really enjoyed your posts of late. Especially the debt load and consequences thereof.

I would have to agree that being a doctor is really what you were meant to be, especially the way you impact other's lives. I am not sure which area you are in but your patients are blessed to have you and you are blessed to have them. I would kill for a doctor like yourself.

Catleen
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I frequently find myself wondering if my life would be much happier if I were working in the computer industry (my other talent, and one which I'm sure would pay a heck of a lot better over the length of my career & allow me to move back to my beloved California & long distance SO to boot).

::sigh:: the grass ... it's so much greener ...

Tanaquil,

I work in the computer/telecom industry. Indeed, it pays well. But there's very little that's, um, soul-filling about it. Right now I'm working to pay off my debts, save a little bit, and then go work in the wilds of Utah ... and hopefully spend more time with my dear, sweet SO who also happens to be in California. Just a few more years ...

Hugs!
t.
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xraymd, thanks for your great post. Loved yours too, Tanaquil -- and hey, I almost did a PhD program in your area! (undergrad major: Classical Languages -- proposed PhD: Greco-Roman mystery cults in the context of Ancient Christianity and Judaism.) I left for some of the reasons you complain of, but have occassional regrets for some of the same reasons you are happy!
Hey, let me know when you start that new greener grass board!!
RW
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xraymd, thanks for your great post. Loved yours too, Tanaquil -- and hey, I almost did a PhD program in your area! (undergrad major: Classical Languages -- proposed PhD: Greco-Roman mystery cults in the context of Ancient Christianity and Judaism.) I left for some of the reasons you complain of, but have occassional regrets for some of the same reasons you are happy!

Hi RepoWoman, glad to see you got your Fool handle back!

Wow, we are in the same academic neighborhood. where did you do your undergrad, & what grad schools did you look at (idle curiosity)? Hope you continue to be happy with your chosen career!

Tanaquil
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Undergrad at Berkeley, Grad at Princeton (briefly!). I also thought seriously about Penn, and in hindsight I probably would have been happier there. Then again, maybe it was better that I figured out sooner rather than later that I wasn't cut out for a life in academia!
-rw
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<<xraymd, thanks for your great post. Loved yours too, Tanaquil -- and hey, I almost did a PhD program in your area! (undergrad major: Classical Languages -- proposed PhD: Greco-Roman mystery cults in the context of Ancient Christianity and Judaism.) I left for some of the reasons you complain of, but have occassional regrets for some of the same reasons you are happy!

Hi RepoWoman, glad to see you got your Fool handle back!

Wow, we are in the same academic neighborhood. where did you do your undergrad, & what grad schools did you look at (idle curiosity)? Hope you continue to be happy with your chosen career!

Tanaquil >>


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Sometimes you can get a more personal discussion going with someone who shares an interest of yours.



Seattle Pioneer
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