If you’re a parent, you probably dream of the day you send your child off to school. With 18 years of hard work in the rearview mirror, you may have plans to convert bedrooms to home offices, book a well-deserved vacation, and consider the job of parenting as over.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you need to rethink your plans.

The average college graduate leaves school with $30,000 or more in student loan debt, and over 6% of all student loan borrowers owe more than $100,000 for an undergraduate degree. The average salary for an early-career, college-educated worker, however, is only $50,556. This is to say nothing of the fact that many college graduates end up going back to school for advanced degrees in pursuit of a living wage, racking up even more debt along the way.

In short, your kids aren’t entitled – they’re dealing with a reality unlike the one you faced.

So you’ve got a few choices. You can let them flounder until they figure it out, or you can choose to fund them until you’re either broke or dead. Neither makes for a good outcome.

Thankfully, there’s another option. Take these steps to help your kids take control over their financial lives.

How parents of student loan borrowers can help their kids

Map out all student debt. Most new graduates have no idea how much they owe in student loans, and the terms of each of those obligations. Sit down with your child and create a list of each loan, including not only the balance but also the interest rate, monthly payment and name and address of each servicer. This helps your child understand who needs to be paid, how much, and on what date.

Create a list of monthly income and expenses. When your child gets their first job, it’s easy to lose a little control. For many, this is the first time they have their own money; without a solid understanding of the expenses that come along with adulthood, your graduate is unlikely to manage their money effectively. Helping them document it all provides context for their spending and lifestyle choices.

Consider the “wants” and the “needs.” Sacrifice in never easy, particularly when you’re just coming into adulthood. For many children, this is the first time they don’t have to ask permission to buy something; that freedom can be intoxicating, particularly as they see others around them spending money. There’s nothing wrong with spending money, but it’s your role to help your new graduate understand the limits of their spending power as they dig out of their student loan debt.

Review all available federal student loan repayment options. Federal student loans come with numerous Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans that adjust monthly payments according to taxable income, employment-based forgiveness opportunities, and a host of options to ease the burden of repayment. By considering every opportunity, your child can begin to make smarter long-term financial plans.

Establish a system of rewarding “future you”. When you’re young, you think you’ll be youthful forever. You’ll never get old, sick or just plain tired of working every day. As the years roll by, however, you come to understand the error of your ways. Help your child start to fund a retirement account so their future self can reap the benefits of what are sure to be decades of hard work.

Make a strategy for tackling the private student loans. Though federal student loans provide flexibility, the same can’t be said of private student loans. Variable interest rates, the lack of options such as forbearance, forgiveness and IDR plans, and the absence of federal oversight make private student debt some of the most onerous financial obligations that student loan borrowers will face in their lives. Whether your child can pay those loans or defaults because their income isn’t enough to cover the payments, having a plan in place to deal with the fallout is critical.

Provide the emotional support your child needs to handle student loan debt

When your child finishes school and enters the “real world,” they’re entering a realm of new experiences – navigating the world of work, managing new relationships and living arrangements, and operating for the first time without the safety net often provided by living under your roof. It’s exciting and liberating, but also involves a level of uncertainty and self-doubt that’s unlike anything they’ve experienced int he past.

People struggling with student loans are more than twice as likely to experience a multitude of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

More than half of student loan borrowers lose sleep worrying how to pay their student loans, and many report that their educational debt has interfered with self-care. Add the stress your kids experience as they try to find their place in the world, and it’s easy to see why 15% of student loan borrowers end up seeking a mental health professional to deal with the stress of their student debt.

Don’t equate your life with theirs

Always remember that the world you entered after graduation is long gone.

In 1988, the average tuition for a private nonprofit four-year institution was $15,160. If you graduated in 1988, your average starting salary was $49,406. The price of a new car was $27,918 (adjusted for inflation), and the price of a home was $110,000.

In 2016, the average tuition for a private nonprofit four-year institution was over $34,000. The average salary for an early-career, college-educated worker was about $50,500 for those lucky enough to get a full-time position in an economy increasingly dependent on part-time workers, independent contractors, and the gig economy. The median home price was $295,200, but that doesn’t account for the fact that many of the areas with lower-priced housing were also those with lower-paying jobs.

In 1988, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff told the world that parents just don’t understand. Though that’s always been the case, the stakes have never been higher.

1 in 15 student loan borrowers have considered suicide because of the educational debts.

Don’t let your kids flounder, don’t call them entitled, and don’t turn a blind eye. You signed up to be a parent, and that’s a forever job.

As you might be inclined to tell the younger generation, go out and do your job.


Meet Jay

Since I became a lawyer in 1995, I’ve represented people with problems involving student loans, consumer debts, mortgage foreclosures, collection abuse, and credit reports. Instead of gatekeeping my knowledge, I make as much of it available at no cost as possible on this site and my other social channels. I wrote every word on this site.

I’ve helped thousands of federal and private student loan borrowers lower their payments, negotiate settlements, get out of default and qualify for loan forgiveness programs. My practice includes defending student loan lawsuits filed by companies such as Navient and National Collegiate Student Loan Trust. In addition, I’ve represented thousands of individuals and families in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases. I currently focus my law practice solely on student loan issues.

I played a central role in developing the Student Loan Law Workshop, where I helped to train over 350 lawyers on how to help people with student loan problems. I’ve spoken at events held by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and bar associations around the country. National news outlets regularly look to me for my insights on student loans and consumer debt issues.

I’m licensed to practice law in New York and California and advise federal student loan borrowers nationwide.