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Student Loan Debt — Don't Be Fooled Into Thinking This is Good Debt

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: October 3, 2017

Recent statistics released show the average student loan debt for the class of 2016 was $37,172 — up 6 percent from the previous year. The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year was $37,200 at private collages, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $27,437 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Soaring student loan debt is not really a great way to start off a seemingly bright college graduate future. A lot of families sign whatever kind of loan is put in front of them just so they can get their child a college education, without thinking about how in the world they are going to pay it back. But don't worry, a student loan is "good debt" — right? Not really.

If you are a parent reading this article, you need to seriously think about how you are going to pay off this student loan which could amount to $10,000, $50,000 or even as much as $100,000 by the time your child graduates. If you are a student thinking about taking out a student loan, are you prepared to be paying on this loan when you are well into your 40's? Below are some suggestions which may help both parties and give you some ideas on how you can forgo or minimize the amount of debt you will incur in student loans.

Attend Community College First

Ok, so all your friends are heading off to an out-of-state college this fall and you don't want to be left out. You also don't want to keep living with your parents knowing all of your friends will be living on some campus, enjoying the freedom of dorm life. But think of all the money you will be able to save living at home and attending a local college for the first two years. Take all of those basic requirements at half the cost and then transfer to a larger university to complete your degree. This can save upwards of $50,000 in tuition and room and board. You will be further ahead of your classmates when you graduate from college.

Plan Ahead Before Taking Out a Loan

Prior to taking out a student loan, think about how long you are going to be paying on this loan and how much it is going to cost you per month in payments. Let's say you graduate from that prestigious college at the age of 21 with a student loan hanging over your head for $100,000. You can count on paying at least $1,000 a month toward that loan. If your starting salary at your new job is $30,000 a year, once you make your student loan payment, that does not leave you a lot left for living expenses. On top of that, think about all the interest you are paying — you are paying back a lot more than you borrowed — lots more!

Besides the amount you will be paying back each month, think about how long you are going to be making these payments. You could be almost into your 40s before you have paid off your student loan. That is a long time to be making monthly payments on a student loan.

Supplement Your Education

You don't have to be in college — or even physically on campus — to earn college credits. You can take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, such as AP exams, and community college classes while you are still in high school. By doing this, you might be able to complete your undergraduate degree in three years saving a whole year of tuition. You can also take online courses and exams from many colleges. This may lower your per-credit cost and reduce your tuition dramatically.

As stated before, living at home while you are going to college, instead of on campus, can save a lot of money. Room and board can typically add up to about half of your yearly tuition so why pay for this expense years down the road when you can live at home for free. Living at home may also facilitate getting a part-time job to supplement your college expenses. Earning a few hundred dollars a week and putting that into a savings account, can help pay off that student loan after you graduate.

Make Smart Choices

Imagine you are holding two college acceptance letters, and one of them if offering you a full ride. Which one do you choose? This may go without saying but let's hope you go to the school offering the full ride. Maybe it is not the college you were hoping to attend, but, in the long run will it really matter? You can graduate debt-free or graduate $100,000 in debt, which scenario sounds better - that is a no brainer!

Probably one of the most important things to consider prior to heading off to college is, "What kind of degree am I going to pursue" and "Will there be jobs for me once I do graduate from college?" Be prepared prior to entering college so you won't waste time and money taking classes you won't need or pursuing a degree where there are not going to be many jobs available once you get out. Of course nothing is for sure, but you can at least do some research on a vocation so you can be reasonably sure there are going to be jobs available. No sense spending four years in college and getting $75,000 in debt to find out there is no demand in the market for your type of degree. It is always a good idea to talk to a job counselor or read a few articles relating to job trends.

In this tight economy, you have to make sure you make smart choices, understand what you are getting into when taking out a student loan, and plan ahead by doing some research on the job market before you head off to undergraduate or graduate school. A little due diligence will pay off in spades.