College debt can be troubling

Ashton Kutchers’ New Series on Student Debt: Good Start

By Nicholas W. Stuller

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Ashton Kutcher’s new reality show called “Going from Broke” which takes aim at the problem of the extraordinary debt that college graduates have accumulated. The 10-episode series which is shown on Sony’s Crackle streaming service focuses on the personal financial struggles of 10 different groups of people. I saw the first episode about 23-year old entrepreneur Obi Nwankwo and came away with a number of observations.

First, and most important is that we should all congratulate Mr. Kutcher for getting involved in a topic that is of critical importance to society, but in all candor is a very difficult subject to make good television out of. I do hope he is able to get season two made, as financial literacy needs to be tackled from every conceivable angle.

I think the first episode is without question a net positive. It shares in a very relatable way how easy it is for a successful young person like Obi, a former student athlete who makes good money with his new business, to get off track fast by allowing peer pressure and a lack of personal finance counseling to get him into debt.

Valuable Lessons

The show’s host Dan Rosensweig, the CEO of Chegg (and show sponsor) and financial expert Danetha Doe offer different and useful advice to Obi. In some cases they are empathetic, sharing he is not alone in his financial plight with college debt that is substantive. In other cases giving incredulous looks at his rationale for spending $800 on sneakers that he originally thought was a good business investment for his fledgling sports representation firm.

The most impactful lesson to Obi was the humbling experience of selling his collection of expensive shoes to pay down debt, including selling the very shoes on his feet. The team of Dan and Danetha went through the process of analyzing his personal profit and loss statement and pointing out expenses that were bloated including his rent, entertainment and an assortment of other costs. One of Obi’s eye-popping moments was when Danetha showed exactly how much interest he would be paying on his college debt, well over $100,000 over the life of the loan, if he did not change his personal habits.

Room for Improvement

There were however some areas for improvement. First, there should be a licensed, tenured Financial Advisor, preferable a CFP that joins Dan and Danetha to advise these indebted students. Having someone who is licensed to give professional advice would improve the credibility of the advice given.

Second, the editors need to be mindful of what makes it to a final episode. For example, Dan when making the point that Obi’s rent is too high, states “you pay more in rent than most grads make in the first year in salary” His rent was $1,600 per month, annualized is $19,200 and less than half the average starting salary of today’s recent grads. These details matter after all we are talking money and moreover in this jaded environment, anything that diminishes trust in the content lessons the potency of the lesson being taught.

Another improvement would to be circumspect about the ads that are sold within the segment. When I watched the segment, multiple credit card company ads were shown and even a casino ad appeared. These are conflicting messages when speaking about personal finance and saving and today’s technology allows certain types of ads to be blocked by category. This would improve the impact of the content.

A Worthy Effort

In sum, I enjoyed the first episode, its message and how it was conveyed and look forward to viewing the next nine episodes in this first season and do hope they continue with future seasons. If you know anyone struggling with college debt, tell them about this new series.

Nicholas W. Stuller is the Founder and CEO of MyPerfectFinancialAdvisor.com, a 30-year veteran of the financial services industry and author of THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOUR WALLET FREE: Secrets to Finding the Perfect Financial Advisor, published in 2018 by Post Hill Press.

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