NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
iPod's, Xbox's, Razr's, BlackBerries - in some respects, today's abundance of gadgets and access to information means that young people are richer than ever before. But that wealth comes at a cost. With wages stagnant and the cost of housing and education way up, many 20- or 30-somethings are piling on the debt. Roughly two-thirds of young people have some form of debt, mostly student loans and credit cards.
The extra financial burden makes it harder for young people to pursue additional education, to buy a house, to start a family, or to save for retirement. And boomers beware, this affects you too. Your debt-ridden 25-year-olds might want their old bedrooms back.
Later in the program, a Christmas fable from Kinky Friedman, the curly-haired Jewish guy who didn't win the governor's race in Texas.
But first, generation IOU. If you fall into the 18 to 34 age bracket, are you taking on more debt? How did it pile on? Does it worry you? If you're a parent with a child in debt, are you baring the brunt of the cost? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is email@example.com.
We begin with Tamara Draut who's the author of book "Strapped: Why 20- and 30-Something's Can't Get Ahead," and she joins us today from Splash Studios in New York City. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. TAMARA DRAUT (Author, "Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Something's Can't Get Ahead"): Hi, good to be with you.
CONAN: And what makes it - every generation seems to say that, you know, we've never had it so hard as before. What makes this generation different?
Ms. DRAUT: Well, I think a couple of things. One is just the amount of debt needed to get a college education today. In the last 10 years, the amount of the average student loan debt has grown from about $12,000 to - today the average being a little over $19,000 is what a college graduate can expect to leave the campus gates with.
And just to put that into perspective, that's about a $220 monthly payment over the next 10 years of that person's life. And what we know is that the earnings, the typical earnings for somebody with a college degree, adjusted for inflation, have not grown to meet that payment, nor to meet the rising cost of things like housing and healthcare.
CONAN: And a lot of a people say, well, you know, I had to work through school, too. Big deal.
Ms. DRAUT: Well, students are working through school and they're still having to take on enormous debt in order to pay for college. In fact, the overwhelming majority of students work, and half of them are now working - half of full-time college students are working more than 25 hours a week, which is one of the reasons why it now takes about six years to get a bachelor's degree.
But between working, working during school, working during summers, you know, a generation ago, you could work a full-time job during the summer and be set in terms of being able to pay for a year of college. That's just not the case today. It's a totally different ballgame.
CONAN: Now there is a profile of - I call them young people - kids who are in very serious trouble, who've really - would you tell us about some of the worst cases?
Ms. DRAUT: Well, you know, I think there's certainly always worst cases. You hear about people who have hundreds and thousands of dollars in student loan debt, mostly for graduate degrees, which, when you get to the graduate level, this generation faces a lot more pressure to sort of keep going up the credential ladder. But the problem is it doesn't always pay off. And let me give you an example.
I talked to a social worker, which now it is mandatory to get a master's degree, but that person has taken on an inordinate amount of debt, around $60,000, for a career that is just not going to command a big salary and provide that person with the ability to get ahead and pay off the investment needed to move up in that career.
And that's happening across the board, whether it's young people going on to get MBAs, which have become pretty standard for getting ahead in any business-related endeavor. And then we now know that college - or I'm sorry - law school grads are leaving with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
CONAN: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in new debt. That's - you know, obviously that affects you for years if not, as you're suggesting, a decade or more.
Ms. DRAUT: Absolutely, and it affects - the effects can be rather immediate. One is that the rise of student loan debt often now begets more debt. Because what happens is, let's say you just leave college, you - either - whether you're living with your mom and dad again, after - with your first job, after you pay the student loan bill of $220 a month, any car payment you have, any utilities you have, there's not going to be a lot left over.
And so what find is that there's a lot credit card debt that happens during the 25 to 34-year-old age group as well, because the car breaks down, they need to go to the doctor. Those kinds of things get put on credit cards because they're just no wiggle room, especially now that you have that $220 student loan payment.
CONAN: We're talking today about generation IOU. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's talk with Jennifer, Jennifer on the line with us from Tucson, Arizona.
JENNIFER (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.
JENNIFER: I was noticing - I'm 27 years old, and my husband and I graduated with bachelor's degrees in May. And I realized just as you were speaking about this that I have $35,000 in student loan debt. And I noticed that, you know, thinking about it, if I had $35,000 in credit card debt, I'd want to crawl under a rock and die.
JENNIFER: But for some reason the student loan debt doesn't seem to affect me that much. And I'm wondering if there's a different mindset as far as student loan debt is.
Ms. DRAUT: Well, that's a really interesting question. Well, one, student loans debt is cheaper debt. A credit card debt is going to, you know, cost you around probably anywhere from 15 percent APR to 29 percent APR, where a student loan debt - at least federal student loans - are going to max out at around eight percent interest rate.
But I will tell you that surveys done of people who are in the process of paying back their student loans, after they've been paying back the student loans for about - for several years, three, four years, they actually say that it's more burdensome - more of a burden to them at that point than it was when they first started making those payments.
And I think what happens is fatigue sets in, you know, and it's sort of like buying a new car. You know, as soon as the new-car smell wears off, so does the joy of kind of owning and paying for the car, and the same goes with student loans. The further and further you get away from actually having that sort of sheepskin in hand and celebrating that you accomplished getting a college degree, you know, you're on year three of 10 years of student loan payments, and it starts to become less and less apparent and feels more burdensome to still be paying down this debt.
CONAN: Nevertheless, Jennifer, congratulations on both you and your husband getting ready to graduate.
JENNIFER: Well, thank you. I'm looking forward to it.
CONAN: All right. Good luck getting work, too.
CONAN: Bye-bye. If you're a recent college grad, still haven't landed that first real job and have thousands of dollars in debt, what do you do? To help answer that question, we turn to Liz Pulliam Weston. She writes a column twice a week for MSN Money, and she joins us today from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California.
Liz, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. LIZ PULLIAM WESTON (Columnist, MSN Money): Great to be here, Neal.
CONAN: And I was wondering just the reaction to what you're hearing Tamara Draut talking about, and that last caller, particularly, the distinction between that loan debt and credit card debt.
Ms. WESTON: Well, student loan is actually an investment in your future. And as long as you don't overdose and take on too much of it, it's actually a very good move. The other thing, as Tamara pointed out, it's very cheap debt and most people can deduct the interest. So I wouldn't be in any hurry, frankly, to pay off my student loans unless, as I said, you really overdid it and you're looking at six-figure debts and a five-figure income.
CONAN: Is there any way out of those debts?
Ms. WESTON: Basically, the answer is no. I mean death and total physical disability are two of the ways that you can get out. The student lenders in Congress have made it very, very difficult to wiggle out from your debts. It's very different from the '80s, when I think about 20 percent of people simply walked away from their student loan debts.
Now they follow you for life. The Department of Education has enormous powers to collect, to garnish your wages to get their money back, and you can't discharge student loans typically in bankruptcy court. So this is an albatross you could carry for the rest of your life.
CONAN: And I want to bring Tamara in on this as well, but aren't you sort of caught if, like a typical person, you have your credit card debt and your student loan debt. I mean that's the Scylla and Charybdis of modern finance for 20-somethings isn't it?
Ms. DRAUT: Well it is, and I want to underscore and point that student loan debt is an investment. That being said, we know that we have real affordability issues, and not only is it problematic that we have someone who's 27 taking out $35,000 in student loans to get a bachelor's degree, but behind that person is a lot of really smart kids from low-income backgrounds that can't afford to go to college and are afraid to take on that debt as a first generation college student. And we know that every year we're losing about half million really bright kids who can't get together enough cash/grant aid or even loan aid to complete their education.
CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is Tim. Tim is with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.
TIM (Caller): Hi. How is it going?
TIM: I'm a 26-year-old male and I've got a house and it seems like the new American dream is to be debt free, not necessarily to own a home, because getting a home is easy but becoming debt free is hard. I went to - got a job right on the high school and I've got, you know, seven years of experience now. And my job pays for my schooling, so I can actually get my schooling from my job instead of doing it the other way around. It seems as the generation go forward, we tack on another level of learning and expense to get to the top level of jobs, and that limits the people. It keeps the upper class on that level above everybody else.
CONAN: But you definitely see this as an investment in your future, Tim, to go to school?
TIM: Definitely. But it gets harder and harder you get to that top echelon of education.
CONAN: And was there ever, you know, you're saving to go to school; you're saving for a house. I mean these are difficult decisions.
TIM: The house I consider a good debt; and education, that is good debt. But other than that I've kept myself debt free.
CONAN: Okay. Liz Pulliam Weston, is he right? Good debt?
Ms. WESTON: Yes. There is such a thing as good debt, but again you can overdose on anything. And if you are spending more than, say, 25 percent of your gross on housing expenses, you're spending more than 10 percent of your income on student loan payments, you'll probably overdose.
I generally tell people that if they're getting student loans, try to limit the total amount to no more than you expect to make in your first year out of school. So if you expect to earn $40,000, that should be your total borrowing.
When people get into trouble is when they take out, you know, two or three times that amount and go to Harvard to get an education, borrow all this money and wind up teaching. You know. That's a disconnect, and that's happening because this money is so readily available and so pushed by lenders to people who aren't even old enough to drink. They're making, you know, decisions that are going to affect the rest of their financial life.
CONAN: And they're getting marketed by credit card companies as well. Tim, thanks very much. Good luck in school.
TIM: Thank you.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, more of your calls about generation IOU, the massive amount of debt weighing on many 20- and 30-somethings. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. E-mail email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about generation IOU, the 20- and 30-somethings, many fresh out of college, hamstrung by debt to the point where they default on student loans and credit card payments or even move back in with mom and dad.
For some tips on how to pay for college without going broke, you can check out the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. Our guests are Tamara Draut, the author of “Strapped: Why America's 20 and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.” Also, Liz Pulliam Weston who writes a twice-weekly column for MSN Money and is the author of the books “Your Credit Score” and “Deal With Your Debt.”
And, of course, we invite you to join us. If you fall into the 18 to 34 age bracket, are you taking on more debt? And how did all add up? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an e-mail we got from Jonathan(ph) in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm 24 years old and have approximately $20,000 in debt. I worked two jobs during college and spent five and a half years in school. The incredible thing about this is that I had a substantial college fund before entering school. Now I work in politics, which is not a career that pays well in the early years. I live with my parents, and every month my entire paycheck goes to bills, and some months it does not cover all my expenses. I'm considering graduate school and my question is, should I? Approximately how much more debt might I incurred in getting a doctorate. And what do your guests suggest is the best way to go about applying for loans for graduate school.
And, let me begin by asking Tamara Draut. This is one of those questions when you pile on debt, you're intimidated or you have to certainly think twice before pursuing additional education.
Ms. DRAUT: Yeah. You definitely have to think twice, but this generation is also under a lot more pressure to do so. It's a difficult decision to make. Depending - you know, my advice to him is that I don't know what field of politics he's thinking about going into, but that should really probably make the decision. I work in sort of a political arena. I work in public policy and I can tell you that I myself face the decision of having to go on to graduate school in order to get into this profession and move up in that profession, and politics is very much the same way.
CONAN: And you made the decision. Was it a wise one?
Ms. DRAUT: It was a wise one. But I do still have the student loan debts and, as many young people do, I live with it by joking about it that I'll be 65 and heading into retirement when I make that final payment on my student loan debt.
CONAN: And as an expert in politics, you of course know that Social Security will be there complete for you. Anyway, let me ask…
Ms. DRAUT: Fingers crossed.
CONAN: Yeah. Let me ask Liz Pulliam Weston the financial side of that e-mail question. About how much more, I mean it obviously depends where he's going to school, but it sounds like that he can rack up a lot more in debt getting a doctorate.
Ms. WESTON: I'm actually not so worried about that. You now. His student loan debt right now is 20,000, which is fairly manageable. But he says all of his income is going to bills, which tells me there's something else going on -there's a too-big car payment, there's credit card debt, there's other debt he probably should take care of before he even thinks about going back to school again.
CONAN: All right. Let's go to Monica. Monica's with us from Kansas City.
MONICA (Caller): Hi. I'm calling to comment actually because I've set the exact examples that you were giving earlier. I'm a social worker, have been out of grad school for almost 10 years, and I have about the exact same amount of - I came out with the same amount of student loan debt that you gave the example in for the social work. I have a master's degree.
And looking back I feel really disappointed in the lack of guidance in college or anywhere else in making those kinds of decisions. And I kind of regret my decisions, actually, if I'd seen what the career has to offer and just financially making those student loans debts and the income that I‘m able to make with that degree.
CONAN: And obviously you made those choices with your eyes open, knowing that society, you know, may have made the unfortunate decision not to value social work as much as it does, for example, doctors but…
MONICA: Of course, and that's very disappointing too. And I work in a hospital, so I see that all the time. Yeah.
CONAN: And, nevertheless, that's what you wanted to do.
MONICA: It's what I wanted to do. I was very young and naïve. I went straight from high school and got my - and then to undergraduate, and then straight on to grad school. And I was naïve and just felt like I would feel very rewarded by doing something that I felt like was helping people and, you know, money wouldn't matter. And I also had a naïve idea that if I went and got a graduate degree that certainly the money would follow. And that has not been the case.
CONAN: Tamara, was that you snickering there in the background?
Ms. DRAUT: No. That was actually Liz.
Ms. WESTON: No.
CONAN: Ah, okay. I apologize. But let me ask Tamara, this story must sound familiar to you - Monica's story.
Ms. DRAUT: Well, it absolutely does sound familiar. And she should know that she's not alone. One of the things that happens is today's young people after they - if they're lucky enough, you know, we have to remember that only about 30 percent of young people have bachelor's degrees. You know. The majority of young people and the majority of the people in this country do not attain a college degree, and many of them have student loan debt but no diploma.
Anyway, there are just so much pressures to keep going on and getting more education, and unfortunately the way to finance your education today is through debts. And I don't think we're sending the right signals to young people when they feel like their choice is to leave with student loan debt right after undergrad and scrape by in a job that's not going to pay very much, or stay in school and take on a lot of debt not knowing exactly what their earnings trajectory is going to be like when they finally get those advanced degrees.
CONAN: Monica, obviously one of the ways out of your plight is to go back to school and earn a degree in something else.
MONICA: And you know, I've looked into several options with that but, you know, it's really difficult when you have children and family responsibilities at that point. So, yeah, you feel kind of stuck once you get to a certain point.
CONAN: Well, good luck.
MONICA: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. And, Tamara Draut, we wanted to thank you for your time.
Ms. DRAUT: My pleasure. Thank you.
CONAN: Tamara Draut is the author of the book “Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.” She's also the director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos, a public policy center in New York and joined us today from Splash Studios in New York City.
Here's another e-mail. We got this one from Jackie(ph) in Buffalo, New York. It's been my experience that many people my age in college are in enormous amounts of debt - myself included - between tuition, housing, food, car expenses and maybe, gasp, having a life. There's just not enough time to work so that we can afford these things and go to school. In my case, it came down to quitting school to pay my debts or filing for bankruptcy. I chose bankruptcy.
So now I'm 22 with two bachelor's degrees and a bankruptcy ruling. If your parents can't support, then you have an amazingly hard time paying for everything without resorting to credit cards, inevitably leading to my situation. So I have no credit, two jobs, no car. When compared to my friends who did not go to college, I often wonder what I was thinking. The degrees seem hardly worth the debt.
And, Liz Pulliam Weston, is that cycle of debt that seems to pile on and that crushing mountain that seems there's no escape.
Ms. WESTON: Well, we obviously have to take personal responsibility for our choices because debt is not inevitable. We do make choices that lead us there. But we also have to understand that the amount of credit available has exploded in the last generation. So these kids are coming out of school with access to debt that their parents never had. You know, lenders used to be fairly careful about who they extended money to and how much. That is no longer true. So, you know, like Jackie, they can sink themselves very quickly if they're not careful.
We do need to be teaching kids about how much debt they should be taking on, how much they should be spending on certain things. Because the, you know, the first impulse when you get out of college is to go for the best department you can, to finally get some wheels that don't, you know, rattle and fall apart, to really make up for the time that you spent being a poor college student, when the best solution really is to continue living like a broke college student for a few years.
CONAN: Angela Nissel is a successful author and a producer for the NBC show “Scrubs,” but she remembers what it was like to be an impoverished college student. In fact, she wrote a whole book about it called aptly “The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke.” And Angela Nissel joins us now from our studios at NPR West.
Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. ANGELA NISSEL (Author, “The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke”): Hi. Thanks.
CONAN: So how broke were you?
Ms. NISSEL: Oh, I was so broke. I'm listening to Liz, and talk about overdosing. I had a full-time job. I graduated in '98 with about $40,000 in debt. And I was the first in line at 18 to get those credit cards so I could charge some of my tuition also. I didn't have anyone to explain certain things to me, and once you get a certain - once you get to a certain place in college, I mean you're a junior, you're not going to stop signing those student loan documents. So they just keep adding up. And I thought about going back to grad school just to run away from my debt and put it off.
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CONAN: There's an interesting place to go. But I understand along the way you developed some creative ways to stretch your dollars.
Ms. NISSEL: Yes. Once of the things about being 18 to 34 is that a lot of businesses think we have a lot of money for some reason.
Ms. NISSEL: And I would go to places - there's a lot of places that will pay you to give your opinion. I made $300 in one hour sitting there and giving my opinion on what I hated about bra shopping. And they consistently invited me back. That's my student loan payment - one hour. And you can sign up on their Web sites. There's tons of places to sign up for this. Also, I would take…
CONAN: This is the modern equivalent of giving blood or selling your selling your blood, isn't it?
Ms. NISSEL: You know. And no pain involved. It was actually quite fun, and you get food too. And I mean I really have to learn how to hustle. I wasn't -didn't come from a family where I could go back there and live, certain day-to-day things.
Once you get out of college, you're like, how in the world did my mother figure out how to buy a laundry detergent and toilet paper? And what I did one day is those 1-800 numbers on the back of laundry detergent and everything else, I go like, I don't have any questions about my laundry detergent. Who calls these numbers? I would just calling and chat with the ladies, and I got free detergent for a year, free toilet paper. I think they're bored, you know.
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Ms. NISSEL: Just call those 800 numbers and talk. You don't have to complain about the product, talk about how much you like it. I have coupons for diapers now, for free diapers. I don't even have kids. I mean really, I kept myself stocked with the basic needs just by calling those 1-800 numbers.
CONAN: Did you try it with how's my driving - 1-800?
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Ms. NISSEL: If they were giving away cars I would have been on that line.
CONAN: How did you eat?
Ms. NISSEL: Oh, eating. Now this is interesting, because I recently got married and I was looking at my budget for food from before I got married and a lot of it was dating. Thank god a lot of guys insist on paying for meals. And when I was young and single I had a subscription to an online dating service and I didn't want to pay the $15 a month, but I look back and I saved hundreds a month by having someone else pay for the meals.
And happy hours - you don't have to go and drink. There's always food out there because they're trying to keep the people there who do want to drink. You can eat for free at a happy hour forever.
CONAN: So Vienna sausages, that's what you ate.
Ms. NISSEL: Yes. Oh and you can do so many things with hot dogs.
CONAN: And now that you're a big successful TV producer, I assume you have a -one of those Lexus's that parks itself.
Ms. NISSEL: No, they saw me coming into the…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NISSEL: I refuse to take on a car payment. The only debt I want - I don't even want it, but I have now is the house and that's only because I finally started paying my student loans on time and checked my credit score and kept at it. But no, I still live very frugally. I'm the last person at the yard sale, so that I assume that they're giving away things for free because they're so tired of them and lots of times they do.
CONAN: So hang around for the end of the - I hadn't thought of that.
Ms. NISSEL: Oh, I got my kitchen table - I've gotten so many books. The husband and wife will be outside arguing about we can't bring this thing back in the house, they just give it up. It's great.
CONAN: So that probably saved you what five bucks on the kitchen table?
Ms. NISSEL: It's a really nice hand-carved kitchen table, actually.
CONAN: Wow. That's not so bad.
Ms. NISSEL: I'm really happy.
CONAN: And you had a pickup truck there ready to move it?
Ms. NISSEL: The husband for the table wanted it so bad he drove it to my house. It seemed like - it was a gift from one of their relatives that he simply hated.
CONAN: Ah-ha. So Aunt Mitsy(ph) came to your rescue?
Ms. NISSEL: Yes.
CONAN: All right. We're talking with Liz Pulliam Weston and Angela Nissel - who you just heard - she's the author of the book, “The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke.” Liz Pulliam Weston writes a twice-weekly column for MSN Money.
If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get another caller on the line. This is Melissa. Melissa calling us from Oakland, California.
MELISSA (Caller): Hi. This is Melissa.
CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, please.
MELISSA: Hi. Yeah. I am somebody with a lot of education that I paid for myself and so I really do believe in the idea of good debt as well. But recently I left a high paying career as biotech to teach college. And I got involved with a for-profit college industry. I actually had never made much of a distinction about this before.
And what I found - and actually after choosing to leave it as well and doing some research on it - it's a really rapidly growing industry. It approaches education like a business and the problem is although some students really do get a good education for their top dollar premium that they're paying for it, you know, each student's dollar is just as green as the next.
And they'll take that money from anyone that can pay for it whether or not they really belong in the program and whether or not they're really getting the education that they're promised. And it seemed like, you know, there were a lot of incredibly naïve students who had very little educational background and very little financial background who were being horrible exploited through this industry.
CONAN: We have nobody on to defend the current for-profit university industry, but Liz Pulliam Weston, again yes there are people who will make a buck but isn't it an individual's responsibility to investigate and find out what's going on?
Ms. WESTON: It is, but we're talking about people -
MELISSA: Well, this is where I feel like the students were - the naïve students were being exploited because the promises are made. I mean here we're talking about students - and I'm not exaggerating - who can't add and subtract, who can't read, who are being granted admissions to these $100,000 programs. I mean they're really that expensive.
CONAN: Yeah. Let's give Liz Pulliam Weston a chance to talk.
Ms. WESTON: Yeah, there's an ongoing issue and it has been for a long time with vocational and trade schools and, you know, for-profit schools, either not delivering, not screening the students adequately. Some of these programs are just fine.
Others are like Melissa described. They, you know, they're basically diploma mills or debt mills. And it's really scary, because, again, we're talking about kids that are too young to have much financial acumen or experience, parents who often have even less or don't know how to cope with today's realities of what school costs and how to look into an education to see if it's worthwhile.
And I don't know what the solution is to it. I do think, again, that we need to take responsibility for our own choices, but we are talking about 18 and 19-year-olds, you know. And I don't know what the last time you talked to one, but, you know, maybe their world experience isn't up to the task.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. I wonder - we just have a couple minutes left - but is there reason to think that things are going to improve do you think?
Ms. WESTON: I think one thing that's happened with the Democrats in control is there might be some curbs placed on student lenders. Student lenders have basically gotten everything they wanted for the past ten years or so. So there might be - oh, I think, Senator Kennedy mentioned throwing the moneychangers out of the temple, I don't know if we'll go that far, but there may be -
CONAN: He also talked about an increase in Pell Grants as well, so.
Ms. WESTON: Yeah. Some help so we can change this situation where people have to get loans just to get an education.
CONAN: And I wonder, just before we leave, Angela Nissel, after all of this experience and your continued tightwaddedness, when do you think you're going to get rid of all of your student loans?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NISSEL: They're actually the last thing that I'm going to pay off. I believe they end in 2013. So I'm paying everything else off first and those are the last to go.
CONAN: And there's not many of us who can look forward to that day and have it written down in black and white, is it?
Ms. NISSEL: No, not at all. I actually have it in polka dots in a different font on my computer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Well, when the party comes, be sure to invite us.
Ms. NISSEL: I sure will.
CONAN: Angela Nissel is the author most recently of “Mixed: Life in Black and White.” She joined us today from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. And we thank her for her time.
As always Liz Pulliam Weston, appreciate your coming in to speak with us.
Ms. WESTON: My pleasure Neal.
CONAN: Liz Pulliam Weston writes a twice-weekly column for MSN Money and author of the books “Your Credit Score” and “Deal with Your Debt.” And she joined us today also from the studios of NPR West.
When we come back from a short break Kinky Friedman joins us to talk about his unusual campaign for governor of Texas and his new Christmas fable, “The Christmas Pig.” If you have questions for Kinky Friedman you can call us now, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Or send us questions by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.