A young Malaysian laments on the vicious cycle of survival young adults are caught in and the slim, dim chances of getting out to lead a life more meaningful.

The typical Malaysian student
The typical Malaysian student

Here’s a brief introduction to my (young) adult life. I went to university at the age of 18, right after my SPM. Dad scraped some cash to put me through foundation studies. I started my degree course at the age of 19. I then took a PTPTN loan and completed my degree at the age of 22. I got a job, moved up the ladder a couple of times, and here I am four years later.

Here I am, in debt.

I’ve been in debt since I was 19. So are most Malaysian teens who try to pursue their tertiary education upon leaving public school. I’m the average Malaysian youth from the average middle income family with average savings. I drive a second-hand national car with problematic automatic-windows which also increased my debt. I have an insurance policy that I pay monthly to ensure that I die in a warm bed in the event of any mishap; although it chips away at my savings account at the moment.

Now comes the interesting part. I plan to get married in a couple of years, so I obviously am going to need more cash. Then as the family grows, I need to buy a house to live in with my wife, kids and parents. Obviously I can’t find a decent home that’s cheap as most houses around the Klang Valley are priced in excess of RM350,000.

Assuming I manage to scrape RM50,000 from somewhere, I would still have to be gloriously chained to a bank with a debt of RM300,000 that would take 30 years to pay off while eating away half of my salary. Then of course I have to buy a brand new (and reputable) car as my current one will probably break down one day, which would easily set me back with another RM50,000 loan at the very least. Now add all that to my PTPTN loan – that is probably another thousand ringgit a month heading to the banks.

Where does this leave me? Dead broke – that’s where.

Lack of value

For a progressive and modern country, is this how our youths’ future will be? I’m sure many youths out there will find similarities to my situation here. I got into debt before I reached the age of 20, and it’s likely that I will be in credit until my 50s. What lingers in my mind is whether will I ever be able to enjoy the fruits of my labour and I spend my earnings on myself, rather than throw it all away to the banks?

The government may measure our success by the number of people being able to afford a home and how many of us actually own a vehicle, but did they include a “happiness quotient” in its statistics? I feel burdened of all this debt that I have to incur, and it seems like there isn’t a way out of this. I certainly am not happy nor do I feel that everything is a-okay.

Let’s look at things from the beginning. Many amongst us cannot get into public universities. Many of those who opt for private higher learning institutions have to borrow money from somewhere to get their education. You borrow money to study, and then work your bottom off to pay off the loan. If you don’t borrow, you can’t study, and your best bet for a job is at the city council, doing menial jobs. A vicious cycle.

What about housing and property? I earn twice the amount that my dad earned at my age, yet I cannot purchase my own property as he did 30 years ago. He bought a property with 11% bank repayment interest rate and I can’t buy one with even 4% repayment interest rate. Why? The property prices are inflated beyond comprehension. A good example (that I know of) is a property development in Klang along the KESAS highway. Upon launching early this year, it was priced at RM338,000. Last month it was RM374,000. At the time of writing this article, it’s RM389,000. I do not need anyone to lecture me about property valuation because I certainly don’t need statistics and technical jargons to try to justify the meteoric rise of property prices.

How many of us are free from debt? Forget about credit card debts or personal loans that people take to fulfill superficial materialistic wishes. I am talking about the basic needs in society: education, housing, healthcare and transport.

Is our nation so broken until a youth in his 20s has to be burdened by thought of how is he going to carefully plan his finances for the next 30 years? I agree that financial planning is an integral part of modern life, but to push it to this level where you are burdened by the simple idea of surviving in your homeland is absolute madness.

Life is meant to be lived. How many of us can claim that we work because we want to, not because we have to? Where is the quality in your life – if you have to spend ungodly hours at work, then braving the traffic jams, only to come home to work on your “side gig” to earn that little bit more to pay for the domestic help service that cleans your home while you and your partner are at work?

How many hours are we able to sit down and chat with loved ones without being distracted on matters that are supposed to be trivial?

The fact is, most of us are caught in this cycle. We sit down to think about this yet we seem so helpless. Scrap that. We are more prone to arguing about who gets to call god what and who gets to enter houses of worship. We prefer to picket about artistes’ “inappropriate dressing” and love to create badly photoshopped images of politicians. Our debates are on racial rights and how the press misquoted our words.

Naysayers will accuse me of not doing enough research and coming out with statistics and jargon. They will say that I should work hard to break free and attain my own freedom. God knows I do try as hard as I possibly can. And I don’t want to research on loan statistics and banking regulations as I speak from my heart. So too, do many Malaysians. For most of us, there is simply no time to look for answers because that time is needed to keep moving to stay afloat in life.

For us youths, we are just starting our lives. And boy, the burden is already feeling heavy.

LB: Kavilan Nakaswaram works with computers, has a penchant of looking at things from a different angle and believes that Bruce Wayne should be elected as PM of Malaysia. He has done his small share of blogging and usually puts out a point laden with sarcasm and humour . He currently blogs satire and parody at My Seed Stories and tweets nonsense as @kavilan

Kavilan works with computers, has a penchant of looking at things from a different angle and believe that Malaysia should be ruled by Bruce Wayne. He has done his small share of blogging and usually puts...

25 replies on “A Young Malaysian’s Dilemma”

  1. Dear Sir / Madam,

    Ref: Credit card dilemma (The Star, 15 Feb 2013, p. 37)

    The son/daughter of a man who had passed away 2 months ago gets a letter from the bank asking him/her to pay the father's outstanding balance when the credit card and death certificate was surrendered to the bank.

    Can a bank do this? Is it legal for the bank to "go after" the dead man's children to recover the outstanding credit card balance assuming none of the children are guarantors?

  2. I agree with you. However, it is not only the youth who are not able to afford properties, there are many middle aged people who are still struggling to make ends meet and living in rented houses.The reason being that salaries are so low and prices of everything keeps going up every month. Go to giant or carrefour and you will find that every month they increase the prices of groceries and food stuff, then they claim that they are the cheapers. In fact it is the big supermarkets that cheat the public while the smaller supermarkets such as Big sell groceries for a much lower price. Going back to the prices of properties, as you said it is rediculous and the goverment had better do something to bring the prices down. Currently, developers are only interested in building houses for foreigners who can afford such expensive living while malaysians have to struggle to even own an apartment. I think we just need a change of goverment. We need a more caring goverment, one who is not corrupted and not racist and one who will do what is best for the people and not for themselves.

  3. I am not from Malaysia and don't even know anything about it. I am form Portugal, a country on the far west corner of Europe.

    Some 5 years I was failing most courses in university so, I started a full time job that summer. After 6 months working and studying I was getting worse results in school, so I started to search for some part-time work on the campus.

    I was lucky to get a small research grant to do some work. During one year the grant and some odd jobs on the side allowed to live in a rented room in Lisbon. The grant covered the room rent food and transport, my balance was always close to zero. The grant ended and I considered the student loan option. Again I was lucky enough that a small company was interested to pay me to research a new subject for another year. However I could no longer afford a room in Lisbon and started to commute between my parents house and the university, about three and a half hours using train, bus and subway.

    I've been doing this for 2 years and just now I will earn my masters degree at the end of the year. Btw I'm 28 and living with my parents.

    You can work and study at the same time, but it takes longer to get your degree and get that increase in pay. I really don't advise it!

    In Portugal, for the last 15 years, it has been cheaper to take a loan and pay the interest, than to rent.

    Due to the global economy the house prices have stabilized a bit and maybe in two years it will be good to rent again. However, it's very hard to find a house to rent anywhere in the country even right now.

    A new Peugeot 206 is 20 000 euro in Portugal. In France is about 12 000 euro.

    It would take me 5 years to repay the loan, and by then the car would be worth 6000.

    It seems to me, after reading your replies that a similar, but worst future prospective than I (as younths). I'm considering emigration to work somewhere else, why don't you?

  4. renting or buying a property is no right or wrong, pretty subjective. If one has a very good eye sight for other form of investment, then rent & invest the rest. Else, it's better to buy an affordable apartment and start off small.

    I have been renting houses for almost 8 years before i got my own apartment 3 years back, at the age of 27. Before i got my apartment, i rented a master bedroom in Bandar Sunway for RM430 a month! With some luck, i managed to purchase my currently apartment for only RM120K back in 2007 & my monthly installment is only RM565. It comes with 3 rooms, i rented out 2 rooms to my friends, which provides me the rental income of RM550. So now i have my own comfy place & only having to pay not more than RM250 a month for my own house. In my case, i would say buying a property is obviously a better option. Now, my currently unit has appreciated up to RM180K with semi-furnish.

    Just settle for a less expensive or less impressive property to start off with. I was actually looking for a landed property to purchase and intend to rent out my apartment. 6 months back i went to Setia Alam to check out the link house prices, it was RM425K. It was over my budget so i dropped the idea. Just now my friend told me the current new price for a newly launched link houses in Setia Alam (20×70), has already crossed 500K! This is really way too ridiculous, and i'm thankful that i have made the right decision to purchase my current apartment 3 years back, else i will not be able to even afford a property. So after much calculation, i have decided to be contented & continue to stay in my small apartment & invest my money.

    My 2 cents, buy a cheap property to start off with.

    Yes, the system in this country su*Ks! Our income growth can never cope with inflation rate. Taxes are way too high, car prices are crazy! SG is a far better country to live in & standard of living is way lower. At least the citizens have an option not to purchase vehicle. Comparing dollar to dollar, SG has a better quality of life, Mixed rice for only $2.50 & kopi ice for only $0.80. Over in Klang Valley? Mixed rice is not less than RM5 & kopi ice is currently at RM1.60!! You judge!

  5. Kavilan,

    I applaud your effort to raise the awareness of the importance of the people purchasing power. A lot of the government policy is not aimed to raise people purchasing power but to raise GDP. Which is very different, we can have very high GDP but low people purchasing power like what is happening in M'sia today. That is why the people are suffering and live in perpetual debt. High income economy means nothing if the purchasing power of the people is not raised. Our income may rise 100% but it would have no effect on our standard of living if the prices of goods also rises 100%.

  6. Cheese,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Whining I am not. Purchasing power is a major problem here. Being in debt is no problem if your purchasing power is strong. Other country citizens do not take housing loans or car loans as long as we do.

    My problem here is not with debt. It's about the system. The system that allows for artificial inflation of property prices that enslaves you for the rest of your working life. The broken system that provides APs and shoots up our car prices to 2-3 times it's original price.

    If the cost of living is equal to the purchasing power in this country, I wouldn't have written this.

    Good day.

  7. Cheese?

    I disagree with your points. I can't demy that the rat race & getting into debts are something normal these days but to advise our friend to resign to the fact that all the above is acceptable a little too short sighted. Kavilan has aimed for a better lif, with less financial burden & you tell him to count his blessings for merely having the oppourtunity for education, work, family & food? How about giving him a better advise on how to work his finances to reach his dreams?

    Point 2. To own a house is a materialistic luxury these days? What's wrong with you man? Have you never dream of getting your own place? To own a house (regardless of how big or small they are) is everyone's right. Renting a place to stay is very different to owning your own. Ever heard of the word "There's no place like home"?


    I am in my early 30s & will pay off all my financial debts (house, car & credit cards) by end of this year. Yes I am lucky to make my way through early, but don't you wish you are in my position right now? Your solution to our youth's dilemma is just not acceptable.

    Btw, I am in Kavilan's position 10 years ago (minus the student loan) & have seen the problem that he pointed out then. It is the fear of the inability to repay these financial debts that made me & my wife work hard for 10 years of hard work (with almost no holidays at all) to reach where we are today.

  8. I'm definitely in the same shoes as you, kavilan. Neither I nor my parents have saved enough. I can't seem to depend on them or help them with their predicament. It rough & tough.

    If God or a Genie grants me a wish…money is all I ask for. Enough money to pay off my PTPTN loan, a Proton Saga, and in 3 years down the road – my wedding expenses.

    Unfortunately, God looks at my Karma…& Genie exist only in Aladdin. Then I guess I've got no way out but to "live like a miser for a decent life". What an irony.

  9. Did you want some cheese with that WHINE????

    You are not the only youths in the world that are in debt after university. Look at Australia and NZ. Buying a house isn't actually easy anywhere in the world.

    Lets look at the positives though, you have an education. So technically speaking your earning capacity is already greater than most. You talk about those that have to work, 'menial' jobs. No job is menial, its a means to an end.

    At the end of the day, if you can go home to some food and family, I would say that you are doing well. If you put yourself in the rat race, you will always feel like you have nothing. Debt is normal, everyone has some form of debt. The goal is to manage it and have a greater plan to have very little down the track.

    You're only 26… there are plenty of years left in you. And in terms of marriage, if you can't afford a massive one, just do the registry thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Getting married is about telling your wife you'll love her for the rest of your lives.

    And like Jitzy says in the posts above, rent, don't buy. Buy when you figure out the means to do so. Nothing wrong with not owning a house. Plenty of people all over the world do it. Owning a house can be considered materialistic too.

    Try not have domestic help and clean your own house instead of working an extra GIG on the side. Think about your 'domestic slaves' I mean help. Think about how much you pay them, think about the fact that they live away from their families just to earn some money and miss out on seeing their children grow up.

    I think this article is insane and insensitive in all manners. You can't say that you are hard done by and not mention how hard it is for your 'help'. I say be thankful you have an education, and a job and some money.

    You have the opportunity to get married, have a wife, live in a rented house if you choose and perhaps have 1 – 2 kids… see them grow up. At least be around.

    Bottom line, get over it.

  10. Our ringgit is having less purchasing power. Guess ordinary working folks already find hard to make end meet.So what lies in the future for all. Day in day out you hear only one kind talking.

    What we want to know is the plan forward. At least Dr M have vision 2020 during his time.. Now nobody mention about it. Look likes alot of U turn.Apa sudah jadi?

  11. I have always rented. Its pretty okay.

    Not having money though prevents me from helping others like you.

    And unfortunately being divided by ethnic lines one waits for the rich in your ethnic group to help the poor. But that does not happen.

    I wonder if Bank Islam and Tabung Haji advisers could come out with a plan to help all Malaysian students repay their student loans? This is a trust that these Muslim institutions should actually look into.

    I hear you bro.

  12. Kavilan,

    Only got a house when I turned 32. Stayed with my parents until then. Drove Satria with spoilt windows for at least 10 years. After I got married, we continued to stay in our parents' home. One week at my parents' place, the other week, my hubby's parents' place. I did rent a place when I first started my career at age 23. Starting pay RM1200 (at first Boss wanted to give me RM850 only!!!) I realise that this is a decade ago or so, and cost of living has risen while salaries have not improved. I didn't have student loan to complicate matters so I can imagine your problem. I do have a young friend who is still paying for those loans and has a 2-year-old daughter. I don't know how she does it but she's definitely in a dilemma as she feels she needs to spend more time with her only child but cannot give up her job.

    I'd say stay with your parents as long as you can. Given the conditions of this country, and your predicament, it's not a bad thing, nothing to be shameful about. I'd also say consider living further away as there ARE homes around the RM250-RM350K bracket. But time your buying with your career move. Make sure you have an understanding wife. Plan for a kid later when your job's more secure.

    Having said all this, I'm not saying Malaysian youths should compromise their life they want to live because of the way things are at the moment. This is just an interim suggestion until we have a government that actually manages the economy for its people, which hopefully will be soon. :)

    PS: The insurance is not a bad thing. It's forced savings if you look at it positively. At least, it's not being used to build THAT tower.

  13. But instead of spending $$$ to improve the rakyat's quality of life, they are now spending money to build another Mega building that "all malaysians can be proud of". ha ha hardee f**king ha…

  14. oh yeah, i forgot to add, dirty pipe water. Don't even have clean water to drink or wash clothes and they want to talk about developed nation status ah? Bluff the kampung people can lah…

  15. the average rakyat is getting f**ked by the gomen. high taxed cars, toll charges, high medical bills (unless u go to gomen hospital and hope u don't get poisoned by the trainee doctor), service charge coming, incredibly high house prices, lower purchasing power, terrible public transport, increased duties on beer etc etc. What has the BN gomen done???

  16. Jitzy, I used to think like you. But now, I believe you have made a right decision in buying the house. Why? You'd know the answer when you finished paying off your house, or 20 years later. Whichever come first.

    On a long term view, you have done something right, because you have secured your money to something that would eventually become your asset. If you have rented you would end up with nothing.

  17. trust me renting is still better. i'm paying RM1254 for my current home, if I rented, it would only be RM650 or so. I could invest the the extra cash and enjoy a better quality life.

  18. Hi Jitzy, buying a home may have a different purpose. Two types: Investment(rent or long term invest) or personal stay. Just make sure the purpose of the property.

  19. I'm in my 40s and I am still working hard to pay off my debts. To the ones in your 20s now, dont buy a home. No need for that. Renting is way cheaper.

  20. Most of us are in this doldrums of perpetual debt because the BN Federal Government had never bothered to improve and protect our purchasing power.

    Even the so-called "High Income Economy" touted by Najib is completely void of any policy and concrete steps in improving the people purchasing power.

    What is the point of increasing our income by 100% when the prices of all things also increase with the same if not bigger margin?

    In the 80s, before Proton was set up, the top range full spec Toyota Corolla cost less than RM 20,000. Now, 20 plus years after Proton was set up, a strip down basic spec Toyota Altis (Corolla) cost more than RM 105,000. If you want the top range full spec version, it would cost you more than RM 130,000. That is a more than 6 times increase in the short span of 20 years. Whereas wages remain largely the same (with a slight increase of about 63%, from an average of about RM 1,600 to an average of about RM 2,600 per month for a university fresh graduate over the same period of time).

    BN Government have failed us and that is why we have to take 20 to 30 years loan for a house, 9 years for a car and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for the average men and women on the street to stay afloat.

  21. Nice work Kavilan, its a real issue. I dont know stats etc.. but i know too many people in the same situation (myself included). I suppose problems like this is the difference between a developed nation and a nation who want to be developed.

    Its not tall buildings, its mindset amongst the many that needs a huge wake up call

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