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10 Strategies to Reduce And Repay Your College Debt

10 Strategies to Reduce And Repay Your College Debt

When I finished college, I was lucky to find a great job in my field in less than a year. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had a lot of college debt. I had attended a wonderful, but pricey university. Because I was in an academically challenging program, there were several semesters where I opted to live on loans rather than working. That’s something I now look back on with regret.

I can now happily say that I am debt-free (at least as far as college loans go). It took a while to make it happen, and I learned a few tough lessons along the way. If I had to go back and do things over again, there are definitely some decisions I would reconsider.

Knowing what I know now, here are 10 strategies I would like to pass on to current and prospective college students to help you avoid my mistakes:

1. Apply For Scholarships

I was fortunate enough to receive a small scholarship through a foundation that my father’s employer started. It definitely helped. I wish that I had sought out more scholarship opportunities. Unfortunately, at the time I assumed that these were limited to academic superstars and athletes.

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What I know now is that there are thousands upon thousands of dollars in untapped scholarship funds. These funds are rewarded by a variety of groups and organizations. They are given to students who a pursuing specific career paths, who are able to write convincing essays, who have a history of community service – even students who are exceptionally tall. Do your research and you will likely find at least a handful of scholarships you qualify for to apply to.

Here are some sources to consider:

  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Fraternal organizations and charities
  • Your employer and your parents’ employers
  • Associations and trade unions in your field of choice
  • College and high school alumni associations

2. Seriously Consider Work-Study

This is where I made a big mistake. I didn’t want to work a part-time job off-campus because the standard 20 to 25 hours per week was just too much for my demanding schedule. However, if I had taken a work-study job for twelve to sixteen hours each week, I could have cut the amount of student loan funds that I allocated to personal, living expenses by about half. Considering the high amount of interest that student loan debt accrues, that can be pretty significant.

3. Trade Service for Tuition or Loan Forgiveness

In addition to offering scholarships, some companies will reward students, especially employees, with college funds if they participate in a minimal number of customer service hours. Students who are willing to really commit a significant chunk of time to serving others can participate in government programs that offer tuition payments or loan forgiveness in return for service. However, it is important to note that many of these programs require 10 to 12 months or more of service. Examples of service opportunities include: AmeriCorps, Fema Corps, Peace Corps, and Teach For America.

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4. Look Into More Interest-Friendly Options

Private student loans can be expensive. This is especially true because most college students have not established the credit-worthiness or accumulated assets that they can leverage to negotiate loans at better terms. One thing to consider is asking your parents or another supportive family member to help you to finance your education by co-signing or taking out loans in their names. For example, a personal loan that your parents secure with a certificate of deposit at their hometown bank may be half the interest of an unsecured student loan from a large bank.

5. Avoid For-Profit Schools

The two best ways to deal with student debt is to simply pay less tuition and attend a school with a great post-graduate employment rate. One of the best ways to make this happen is to steer clear of for-profit schools in favor of public and private colleges and universities. You will pay significantly lower tuition rates and increase your chances of obtaining a good job post-grad. If you choose to, you will also increase the likelihood that you will be accepted into a decent graduate program.

6. Cut Back on Spending and Delay Major Purchases

Once you have finished school, it is time to sit down and create a five-year financial plan. If you have a lot of debt coming out of school, this plan should focus on reducing spending and being conservative when it comes to taking on new debt.

It is also important to prioritize ensuring that your student loan payments are made without fail. This way, if there is ever a significant financial emergency in the future, you are in a better position to renegotiate terms. For some graduates, this may mean finding alternative ways to deal with emergency expenses. According to First Choice Title Pawn, there are easy ways to get quick cash in the case of emergencies, while still keeping up with your other financial obligations.

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7. Consider Community Colleges and Public Universities

If you are unsure about your major or the career you want to pursue, are you sure you want to go into thousands of dollars in debt to attend a private university? Many students opt to do this and end up owing banks and the federal government lots of money.

If you do have your heart set on attending a private college or your future goals require that you attend a four-year college, take a look at commuter schools and community colleges anyway. You may be able to earn credits during summer sessions by taking a couple of classes at the local community college that you can apply towards your degree.

8. Start Paying Down The Debt Immediately

Many students don’t realize this, but you don’t have to wait until graduation to begin making payments. Even small payments made while you are still in school can help you to reduce your overall debt. This is good information to pass onto your parents as well, if they have committed to helping you pay down your debt.

9. Pay More Than The Minimum Payment Each Month

If it helps, think of your student loan payments like you would a mortgage payment. If you only pay the minimum, the terms of your loan could stretch for decades. However, if you double your payments, or make a second payment each month, you can significantly reduce the length of your loan. Just keep in mind that all loans vary, and ask your lender for information on their specific policies.

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10. Consider Career Paths That Earn Loan Forgiveness

If you are interested in a career that serves others, you may be qualified for full or partial student loan forgiveness. Students entering fields such as nursing, social work, and public education can often have their debt reduced or even eliminated altogether. Just be aware that there are restrictions. For example, a teacher willing to work for five years in the public school system is more likely to qualify than a teacher who goes to work for an elite private school.

Student loan debt is a real problem. It significantly impacts the quality of life of many college graduates, and has also become a matter of political concern. By using the tips outlined above, you may be able to reduce or even avoid taking on too much crushing debt.

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Last Updated on March 3, 2021

Top 6 Hacks on How To Build Credit Fast

Top 6 Hacks on How To Build Credit Fast

When done right, credit can open doors and provide a lifestyle that you never imagined possible. Anything from flying around the world in first-class and staying at 5-star hotels entirely for free to starting and scaling businesses. It’s also an area where it can be easy to make mistakes and hard to recover from without the right information. In this article, I will break down how you can build credit fast so you can open doors in your life!

When you start to think about improving your credit score, you have to answer three important questions first:

  1. What are you trying to achieve by having good credit?
  2. What really is your credit score?
  3. How is your credit score calculated?

What Are Your Credit Goals?

Having a high credit score is great, but ultimately, your credit score is a tool in your personal finance arsenal that you can use to open doors. The first question you should ask yourself is “what will a higher credit score do for me?”

I work with many clients directly at Freedom Travel Systems to help them fully leverage the power of their credit so they can enjoy free luxury travel and start or grow their business. For my clients and many others, here are a few common goals many credit-savvy individuals have:

  • Free Travel – getting access to travel rewards cards so you can get tons of free travel and even get first-class flights, hotel suites, and luxury amenities all for free
  • Start/Grow a Business – getting access to business credit so you can start and grow a business with 0% or low-interest financing that does not impact your personal credit
  • More Approvals – getting approved for credit cards, auto loans, or mortgages so you improve your lifestyle or build your personal wealth
  • Better Rates – getting better interest rates on any loans you get will save you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime

What Is Your Credit Score?

Your credit score is simply a 3-digit number that tells potential lenders how reliable of a borrower you are. Keep in mind that lenders, such as banks and credit issuers, stay in business by lending. Their goal is to find the people that have the highest probability of paying them back and they assess this primarily through your credit score.

What’s important to know is that there are two major scoring models used to create your scores. These scores are your FICO Score and your Vantage Score. More than 90% of lenders rely on your FICO score, so when you are checking your score, you want to make sure you see the actual score that the lenders use. And no, checking your own score does not hurt your credit!

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Then enters the 3 main credit bureaus, which are essentially agencies that collect credit information on you. These are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These bureaus then apply a scoring model to the information they have on you and voila, you now have a credit score! Bureaus sometimes have different information on your report, which is why you will see 3 different scores.

How Is Your Credit Score Calculated?

Next, you need to understand how the credit score is calculated. This will provide a high-level overview, but there is more detail to each of these factors alone.

There are 5 main factors in the calculation of your credit score:[1]

  1. Payment History (35%) – This refers to the amount and percentage of on-time payments you have.
  2. Utilization (30%) – This is how much revolving credit you use as a percentage of the total revolving credit issued to you. Note that installment loans like auto-loans or mortgages do not count towards this while credit cards do.
  3. Age of Credit (15%) – This refers to how long your credit history is, primarily your “average age.”
  4. Credit Mix (10%) – This is how many different types of credit you have. For example, there are credit cards, student loans, auto loans, mortgages, personal loans, and lines of credit.
  5. New Credit (10%) – This primarily refers to how many inquiries you have for new credit.

Top 6 Hacks on How to Build Credit Fast

Now that you’ve learned more about your credit score, here are the top 6 tips on how to build credit fast.

1. Don’t Close Your Cards

Many of us are taught that getting a new credit card is bad and having too many will hurt your score. In fact, the opposite is true. You want to have many positive accounts reporting to your credit report. Logically, this makes sense because having more accounts with more on-time payments shows that you are a more reliable borrower. You just don’t want to open too many accounts too quickly since that can hurt your “new credit” factor.

Instead of closing a card, what you should do is simply keep the card open and put a small subscription service on it monthly. Why? Because each time you have an on-time payment, it helps build your payment history, the largest factor of credit.

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If you close a card, you are missing on potential on-time payments, age of credit, credit mix, and also lowering the total credit lent to you so your utilization percentage may go up. If you have an annual fee on a card you don’t like, see if there is a “no-fee” version of the card and downgrade it to that card rather than close it.

2. Use Autopay to Never Miss a Payment

This one is easy to do and easy not to do. Go into your credit card account and set up auto-pay. You can choose to either pay the full amount, the statement balance, or the minimum payment. Personally, I like to set up autopay to pay the minimum payment so that I never get a late payment. Then, I go in and manually pay the statement balance each month by the payment due date.

This helps me personally see my spending and have a manual review of my charges while ensuring, not have to pay interest, and still get the benefit of making sure that I never miss a payment if something goes wrong. Think about it, if you were to have a medical or family emergency, the last thing you want to experience on the back end of that is a late payment and a drop in your credit score. So, set up autopay.

A pro tip is to update your payment due dates across all bills and accounts to be the same so that you can “time batch” the process and have one time a month where you sit down and handle your payments. You can do this by simply contacting the credit card company or doing it online.

3. Get a Credit Limit Increase to Lower Your Utilization

One of the factors that get most people into trouble is using too much of their allotted total credit. Their utilization, which is the percentage of revolving credit they use, goes up, and their score tanks. You should aim for less than 30%, and in an ideal world, less than 10%.

To help drive this down, call your credit issuer and ask for a credit limit increase. This will help increase the total amount of credit extended to you and drop your utilization. Oftentimes, they will only give it to you when your utilization is fairly decent (less than 50%), so work to pay it down as best as possible before doing this. You should ask if the credit limit increase will give you an inquiry as some banks do a hard inquiry while some do not. If they do a hard inquiry, it is often better to just get a new card altogether or pass.

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4. Add Authorized Users to Increase Your Age, Add History, and Decrease Utilization

This is one of the best hacks out there as it helps with the 3 biggest factors of improving your credit: payment history, utilization, and age. This concept is also called “credit piggybacking” where someone with great credit history on a card adds an authorized user (AU) to the card. When the AU gets added, the credit history and information from that card are added to the AU’s report!

This is extremely helpful for people with young credit because it can drastically increase your age of accounts. It can also help many people with limited payment history or high utilization.

Please be aware that anything good or bad on that account you are added to will show up on your report. So, you want to avoid any cards with negative marks or high utilization. That being said, it is a one-way street, so nothing that you do with your credit can impact the primary account holder.

This is so valuable that there are companies that sell AU accounts. I always suggest starting with your family and/or personal network first as there are likely people in your network that can help!

5. Space Out Your Application Strategy

New credit is the smallest factor of credit, but it still matters! If you are looking to build up your credit, you should space out your applications. If you apply for too much credit in a short period, it looks very needy in the eyes of the lenders. For this reason, it is safest to apply for cards slowly over time unless you have really studied more in-depth how this works. A good rule of thumb is once every few months.

If you are in the credit game for the hopes of getting tons of credit card points for free travel, which is what I personally take full advantage of, you will want to familiarize yourself with the different bank rules and card promotions to put together the right application strategy. Applying blindly will waste inquiries and leave tons of benefits on the table!

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6. Review Your Report for Negatives

If you have any negative or “derogatory” marks on your credit report, this will hurt you drastically. They do impact you less as they age, however, you should review your credit report to ensure that everything on your report is 100% accurate and actually yours. Wrong information ends up on credit reports all the time and you will want to take personal responsibility for making sure it is accurate.

The “burden of proof” is on the credit bureau to confirm that any information on your report is in fact accurate. If you find inaccuracies, you can dispute that with them, or you could consider getting a credible credit repair company to help you.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the top 6 tips on how to build credit fast so you can get closer to reaching your goals. Now that you’ve learned more about how credit score works and how you can improve yours, you’ll hopefully be able to make better financial decisions and achieve your financial goals quicker.

More Tips on How to Build Credit Fast

Featured photo credit: CardMapr via unsplash.com

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