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He may be a genius, but this law school graduate has to pay back his debts like everyone else

By Ronald D. White

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 3:18 p.m. MDT

At 13, when most boys are fretting about the perils of girls and middle school, Carmichael Post was attending California State University-Los Angeles, working on degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. At 18, Post was entering the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law (pictured). At 22, Post became a member of the State Bar of California. Now, he's paying off his debts.

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Andrew Carmichael Post is used to fast-tracking his way through life.

At 13, when most boys are fretting about the perils of girls and middle school, Post was attending California State University-Los Angeles, working on degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. At 18, Post was entering the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. At 22, Post became a member of the State Bar of California.

Along the way, the U.S. economy took to the slow track. Like many in his generation facing the worst job market in decades, Post opted to stay in school.

The Altadena, Calif., resident is now 24 and has landed well-paying work as a programmer for a website operator. But he also faces $215,000 in student loans, with a minimum monthly payment of $2,756.

“It’s like some sort of nightmare where someone gave me a bank mortgage but forgot to add the deed to the house,” Post quipped.

To save money, Post has moved back into his boyhood bedroom, putting him among the 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 31 who still live with their parents. That’s the highest percentage in four decades, according to the Pew Research Institute.

Although Post’s debt is higher than average, it underscores a growing problem that has begun to affect how quickly young adults are able to contribute to the U.S. economy, said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit.

“It used to be that people with student debt were more likely to have a home mortgage,” Asher said. “Now, they are less likely to have one.”

Other experts have called millennials the “failure to launch” generation. There was nothing wrong with Post’s launch; it just was just ill-timed.

In 2009, one year before Post would seek a full-time job, “141 employers had attended (on-campus interviews) at USC law school,” he said. “The following summer, I competed with 300 people in my year for the attention of only seven private employers and a handful of government agencies.”

Unable to secure full-time employment, Post put out his legal shingle. He took on small-business clients with limited budgets. He also fell back on his programming skills for other clients. The pay was difficult to predict.

“I was never really impoverished,” Post said, “just terribly inconvenienced by not being able to collect on a legal bill or a programming bill I’d sent out two months earlier. What little stable income I had wasn’t enough to get by on. There were times when I had to decide on whether to buy enough gas to get back to court or buy lunch.”

Post struggled to avoid feeling discouraged.

“The last time I went into court, I was wearing something that I got at Goodwill,” Post said. “The two lawyers on the other side were each wearing suits worth more than my car.”

Things are looking up for Post, who estimates his annual income has risen to between $80,000 and $96,000, cobbled together from four sources, including a part-time teaching gig and the new full-time programming job with a 401(k) matching plan.

But he still needs to make the right financial choices to reach his short-term goals: new shoes, his own apartment, a later-model used car rather than his 187,000-mile mid-1990s Toyota sedan, a gym membership, his first smartphone.

Longer term, he’s eager to avoid his worst fear: “reaching my 30s, wanting to get married, buy a house, start a family, with bad credit and a lot of this debt still hanging over me.”

To fee-only advisor Lara Lamb, director of financial planning for Abacus Wealth Partners, Post is at a crucial phase.

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