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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 September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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