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10 Things That College Admission Counselors Won’t Tell You

student with a notebook and calculatorIf you’re a high school senior or even a junior the time is near – when you’ll need to apply for admission to the colleges or universities of your choice. You’ll also soon to need to fill out the dreaded FAFSA or Free Application For Federal Student Aid. While the deadline for submitting the FAFSA is not until June 1, the earlier you complete and submit it the better. And, yes, you need to fill it out and submit it even if you don’t intend to get any federal student aid. The reason for this is your FAFSA will be sent to all the schools where you apply for admission and it will be used in determining whether to award you a scholarship, a work-study grant or some other form of financial help.

There are other things you need to know besides the importance of filling out your FAFSA and here are XX that college admission departments just won’t tell you.

1. It pays to be nice to your teachers

Given today’s skepticism about the value of GPAs and test scores, there are admissions department that are weighing more heavily on the recommendations from high school teachers and counselors. And it when it comes to recommendations the most useful ones are the ones that show that you’re intellectually curious and that you contribute to class discussions.

2. We only sound as if we were exclusive

Admission was offered to less than one-third of the applicants in 2013 by 100 US colleges. This can make a school look “exclusive” and it is believed that some schools try to manipulate this rate. The way they do this is by encouraging high schoolers to apply for admission even though they have no intention of intending. In addition, some schools count incomplete applications to increase their applications-to-acceptances ratios.

3. Politics can play a role

Whether we like it or not, the NACAC says that about 33% of colleges and universities consider race as a factor in accepting students. Some of our states have banned racial admission preferences but their schools have been accused of using workarounds against those bans. Unfortunately or fortunately – depending on your parents – one practice that is usually considered legal is “legacy.” This is where the kids of wealthy alumni or powerful lawmakers get special considerations in the application process.

4. We don’t trust it

In this era of “helicoptering” parents, many schools worry that the essays submitted by some students weren’t written by them. The way they weed out ghost writing is by asking students to supply other pieces of school writing that were graded by a teacher. One retired dean of admissions said that “if the essay looks like it was written by Maia Angelou but the school work looks as if it came from Loman, this will definitely raise eyebrows.

5. We prefer students that can pay full price

How many college freshmen come from outside of the US? In 2013 it was 10%. Colleges love these people because most of them pay full tuition. At publicly funded state schools, the higher tuition charged out-of-state students often works to subsidize the education costs for those who live in the state. As an example of this, the in-state tuition at the University of California – Berkeley is $13,000 a year. But for an out-of-state student or foreign resident, tuition is about $36,000 a year.

6. We need you more than you need us

Would you like to do some negotiating when it comes your tuition? This year the number of high school graduates leveled off at 3.2 million. And it’s expected to stay at that level until about the year 2020. As a result, more colleges will be chasing fewer students. If you are accepted to more than one school, you may be able to do some horse-trading on the cost of your tuition. In fact, you could view it as about the same as if you were to go to an automobile dealer and try to negotiate a better rate for a new car.

7. We laugh that you obsess over class ranking

Less than 20% of admissions counselors think of class rank as being “considerably important.” However, it is more likely to come into play at larger schools where it’s just not possible to do detailed reviews of applicants.

8. You could be admitted but not stay admitted

One sad fact is that about 22% of colleges and universities revoked at least one admission offer in 2009, which is the most recent year that was studied. The most common reason for these were final grades followed by disciplinary issues and then lying about application information. For that matter, the postings put on social media have prompted some universities to reconsider their offers.

9. All grades are not equal

Have you taken college prep courses? If so, the grade you got in them will probably be given more weight than other grades. The reason why schools are becoming more skeptical is due to what’s known as “grade inflation.” The College Board, which is the organization that administers the SAT has research showing that the average GPA for all high school seniors increased from 2.64 in 1996 to 2.90 in 2006 despite the fact that SAT scores remained about flat. This was seen as proof that there are teachers using grades to reward good effort instead of achievement.

10. Were wondering about the SAT

For almost as long as anyone can remember the SAT has been the big benchmark in forecasting how students will handle college-level work. However, today many people argue that the SAT gives wealthier students an unfair advantage as they could afford those pricy test prep classes. In fact, around 800 of America’s 2800 four-year colleges now consider the SAT to be optional. The NACAC endorsed a study done recently that looked at the performance of 123,000 students that had been admitted to college between the years 2003 and 2010. What this study found is about 30% of the applicants had not taken either the SAT or ACT … and that there was no significant difference in college GPAs or graduation rates between those who took on of these tests and those that took neither.

Young black college graduate with tuition debt, horizontalTo borrow or not to borrow, that is the question

Another decision you’ll have to make besides choosing a college or university is how to fund your education. Generally speaking about 50% of students graduating from college needed to borrow money to pay for their educations. Of course, it’s much better if you don’t have to borrow the money and can start plus, life after college free of debt. If this is just not possible, be sure to get federal student loans and not private loans. Student loans have a number of advantages over private ones, such as the ability to change payment programs. For example, instead of staying in the Standard 10-year Repayment program you could switch to Graduated Repayment where your payments would start low and then gradually increase every two years. This can be a real boon if you’re just starting out in your career and are a low earner. Or you could choose one of the income-driven repayment plans such as Pay As You Earn that would tie your payments to your disposable income. Plus, federally backed student loans also offer options such as loan forgiveness, deferment and cancellation that are normally not available in private loans.

Study Shows: Student Loan Is Not The Main Reason For Delayed Homeownership

hand with keys and a house made of moneyThere are many reasons why you would want to demolish student loan debt. People believe that it is one of the reasons why a lot of young adults are struggling today. It is blamed for a lot of financial difficulties – not just for the new graduates but also for their families too.

We hear stories of parents sacrificing their retirement money just to help their children get a higher education. We hear of graduates who are forced into careers they do not want to pursue but has to because it has the salary that can help them afford their payments. There are also young adults who are forced to delay a lot of milestones in their lives like marriage and parenthood.

Despite everything that we read on the news, things seem to be getting worse. According to an article published on, the class of 2014 has the highest student loan debt compared to previous years. The average debt now stands at $33,000 per student. This report was taken from the government data about this particular loan. This is actually double the amount of what graduate from 20 years ago had to deal with.

College debt is a devastating situation for a lot of students and new graduates but you have to hold back on blaming it for a lot of financial difficulties today. For instance, student loans are blamed for the lack of young homeowners today. Well a recent study have proven that it is inaccurate to blame everything on student loans. While it is a contributor, it is not the whole reason why a lot of Americans are still struggling to regain what they lost after the Great Recession.

Study reveals that there is more to delayed homeownership than college debt

The study that we just mentioned is titled “Is Student Loan Debt Discouraging Home Buying Among Young Adult?” This study was conducted by Jason Houle of Dartmouth College and Lawrence Berger of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study published on mentioned two important trends that lead most people to blame college debt for the lack of interest in owning homes among young adults.

The growth of student loans in the past few years.

The first reason is the rise in student loans in the past few years. Not only has it grown, but it is noted to have grown substantially. The study revealed that both the proportion of young adults that have debt and the average debt per debtor is also increasing. According to the data gathered, it is revealed that student loans is the only consumer debt that grew during the Great Recession. This is attributed to the fact that the other type of debts can be discharged by bankruptcy. It also surpassed credit card debt – which consumers consciously did not use to keep their debts to a minimum. Now, college debt is already in second place when it comes to the most amount of debts – mortgage being the first on the list.

Decrease of home buyers among young adults.

The next reason why student loans are being blamed for delayed homeownership is the fact that young adults are not as aggressive in buying their first house. At least, they are not as aggressive as they used to. This decline happened just as the student loan debt increased. Since this is the main debt of young adults, a lot of people are assuming that the rise in this credit obligation keeps them from making investments – including buying a home.

The study revealed that these two reasons, while they may seem logical is not accurate. They pointed out that the downward spiral of homebuying among young adults came first – before the rise of the student loan debt.

The study also revealed that the New York Federal Reserve tried to analyze the link between the college debt and mortgage loans. The report used data from Equifax and was authored by Brown and Caldwell. This particular study reported three findings:

  1. Young adults with student loans are historically, more prone to own a home. It is assumed that this is the case because these are the people who got a college education – thus have the financial capabilities to get a home loan. A lot of those who do not have student loans are those who did not attend college.
  2. After the Great Recession, the reverse happened. More non-student loan debtors owned homes compared to those who owed college debts.
  3. Those with student loans during the post-recession period had lower credit scores – which contributed to their inability to qualify for a home loan.

Again, these findings sought to put the blame on student loan debt for the inability of young adults to own a home.

However, the study done by Houle and Berger mentioned that this conclusion is not as accurate as it should be – thus giving student loans the benefit of the doubt. First of all, it is pointed out that it is unclear if the difference between debtors and non-debtors only lies with their student loans. We think that Houle and Berger would like to point out that there are other factors differentiating these two – like lifestyle, employment, etc. These factors could also cause young adults to forego home ownership. They also noticed that the difference is mostly focused on characteristics – not the debt itself. The authors said that to make a more accurate comparison, all college graduates should be compared – those who got student loans vs those who did not. This apples to apples comparison could make for a more accurate connection between college debt and homeownership.

The latter, is what the authors of this study did. Although they acknowledge that their scope is limited, they did conclude that blaming student loans for the delayed homeownership of young adults is unjustly inaccurate. The authors did admit that there is a modest association but there are also other factors affecting the lack of homebuyers among young adults. For instance, a high percentage of Whites own homes while Blacks have a higher percentage of not owning homes. Not only that, the background of the respondents in their survey seem to have influences in their decision to own a home or not. Certainly, the economy also plays a role in hindering young adults in buying their own home.

So what does this study mean? Does it imply that student loans can still be considered as a good debt?

The student debt scenario is still a major concern

If you consider the fact that student loans can help young adults get a better earning opportunities, then yes, it is still a good debt. However, that does not mean student loan debt cannot jeopardize the future.

It is still a form of debt so it will have the power to ruin your financial future if you are not careful with it. Paying off your student loan debt is very important because it can destroy your future in ways that other debts cannot. Watch the video below to understand the costs of not paying this credit obligation.

If you need help in paying off your student loans, National Debt Relief can help you out. They offer a consultation service that will allow you to choose the right debt relief program that will help you pay off this debt. This service includes analyzing your type of student debt, employment history, etc. You will only be required to pay a one-time service fee – no maintenance fee or upfront costs will be charged to you. This fee will be placed in a secure escrow account and will only be released if you are satisfied with the paperwork done for you.

Common Misconceptions About College Without Student Loans

student loan and financial aidAre you trying to determine how to pay for your college education? This is one of the most controversial debts today because it is not only compromising the finances of the youth, it is also jeopardizing the future of the economy.

A lot of our youth are graduating from college with a lot of debts to their name. Student loans get most of the graduates through to college and that is one of the biggest debt problems that they are facing. They accumulated this debt even without a proper job yet. That is why their first decade of earnings will have to carry the burden of paying off these college debts.

With their money tied up with debt, they are unable to make investments early on in their life. It is difficult for them to buy a house, a new car and other things that will make their lives more comfortable. Some of them are even delaying life events like marriage or parenthood because they know that they have to prioritize paying off these student loans.

This is why a lot of incoming college students today are trying to find ways to go to college without having to apply for any college loan.

This issue came further into the limelight when Germany recently announced that all their universities will be free to all students – local and international. According to the article published on, higher education across the country is now free for all. The tuition fee was actually already low to begin with. But with this announcement, it is not more possible for financially struggling students to get an education.

Of course, not everybody is open to the idea of going to another country to get an education. Some parents are not ready to let their kids go too far while other kids are just too immature to be left alone in a new country.

That only means they must find a way to try to go to college without getting into any, if not a lot of student loans.

The good news is, there is a way to go to school without college debt – as long as you know the difference between fact from fiction.

Common myths for those who want a college degree without the debt

According to an article published on, the Class of 2014 is now the most indebted class. The average debt that a graduate has to pay off is at $33,000. This will take more than the standard decade to pay off for some graduates. If compared to the debt 20 years ago, this average debt is almost double than what they had to pay back then.

Getting into college without student loans is not impossible but you need to understand your options. Some incoming college students can actually qualify to get higher education without debt – but they failed getting it because they believed in a couple of misconceptions.

Misconception 1: Community colleges do not have scholarships.

Despite the fact that they charge really low tuition fees, that does not mean these colleges forego scholarships. They still give this away to qualified students. Even if it is a $1,000 scholarship, it will still help you spend on other expenses apart from your tuition fees and books. Anything that you save here can be put aside to grow in an investment fund for two years. That way, you can use the money to pay for your schooling once you enter into a state or for profit university.

Misconception 2: The only way to avoid student loans is to go to a community college first.

In truth, going to a community college will decrease the chances of you needing a student loan. However, this is not the only way. There are a lot of schools out there that offer scholarships to qualified students. State universities offer great scholarship programs if you have the talent and grades to qualify for it. You may want to ask your high school counselor to give you a list of scholarship programs that you can apply for so you can identify the schools that you can qualify to go to. If you do qualify, you do not have to go through the hassle of going to two schools just to complete your education without student loans.

Misconception 3: Students can only financially prepare for a debt free college education.

This is true – you need to be financially prepared to go to college without debt. However, that is not entirely true. There are students who can go to college even if they or their parents did not prepare financially for it. If they did good in school, it will be easier for them to get a college education without the need to borrow money.

Misconception 4: Filling out the FAFSA is only to get help for student loans.

According to, the federal government’s student aid program offers financial aid in various forms. If the parents of the child serves in the military, he or she is qualified to get aid from the government. You can also apply for work study and tax benefits to lessen the load. If you get a grant, it will help you pay for your college education without borrowing money at all. So do not skip that FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Strengthen your financial position despite student debt

It is really a dream of high school students to go to college without student loans. However, the reality for some students is, they cannot escape borrowing money to go through college. Sad as it may seem, there are those who really have no choice about it. While a lot of scholarships and grants are there, not everyone qualifies for it.

So if you are one of these unlucky few, do not lose hope. There are still ways for you to demolish student loan debt – or at the very least, minimize the negative effects of the debt to your financial future. Here are some tips that we have for you.

  • Get a job. Believe it or not, you will not spend every waking moment of your college life studying. You will find a lot of free time that you can use to earn some decent money. You can use this money to help pay off some of your expenses. Or you can use it to grow your savings. If you borrowed money, you can pay it off while you are still in school. That should lessen the amount that you have to pay off when you graduate.
  • Do not accumulate more debt. Some college students get into trouble because not only do they have student loans, they also have credit card debts. There are many things that you can do to cut credit card debt but it all begins with you being wise about how you use it. We are not really saying that you do should not use your credit card. You can do so to help you build up your credit score. However, make sure that you can pay it off immediately so you do not accumulate a balance on it.
  • Budget your money. Whether your money is coming from student loans, your parents or your part-time job, make sure you learn how to budget it. That way, you can prioritize your payments and eliminate those that are unnecessary. It will also allow you to monitor if you are going beyond your means or you are doing alright with your money. Through your budget plan, you can see if your money is already running short. You can do something about it before you run out.

If you need help with your student loans, National Debt Relief offers counseling to those who want to solve their debts. The service includes helping the borrower find the best debt relief option that will help them pay off their student loans. The company will even help you with the documentation. This will only cost you a one time service fee that you do not have to repeat. It will be placed in an escrow account that will only be released when you are satisfied with the paperworks done by the company. There are no upfront or maintenance fees.

Borrowing Money For College Is A Bad Idea For A Reason You’ll Never Guess

Three tough decisionswoman thinking

If you or your son or daughter is nearing college-age, you have some difficult and confusing decisions ahead of you. Three of the most important are choosing a school, determining how to finance its cost and deciding on a field of study. These are difficult decisions to make because making the wrong ones could have a very negative affect on you or your child’s entire life.

Should you or your child even go to college?

We have heard it drummed into our heads over and over that every child should have a college education. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. We are all different, we all have different skill sets and we all have different abilities. So the first question you need to ask yourself or your child is whether she or he really needs to go to a four-year college. He or she might be better off in a two-year community college or in a trade school. You need to have a frank discussion with your child regarding his or her interest in college and whether or not they are committed enough to make it worth investing in what today’s four-year college education costs.

STEM or something softer

When choosing a college or helping your child choose a college you need to think about whether he or she would be best choosing a major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculums or in something softer. Study after study has shown that a STEM major will lead to a higher paying career than most other majors. However, again it’s important to factor in your interests, skills and abilities. Not everyone is cut out to be a math or engineering major regardless of potential earnings. On the other hand, if your child’s or your interest lies in areas such as photography and television arts, fine arts psychology or pre-K education you need to understand that he or she likely won’t be able to earn more than $25,000-$30,000 right out of school, which will make paying back any student loans very troublesome.

Food for thought

While this may not apply to psychology or social studies majors, a study of people in engineering and science and their earnings revealed some very interesting findings. What this research found is that the biggest single thing that has the most affect on salaries is variations in GPA or grade point average, And that students borrowing money for college generally end up with lower grades than those that didn’t have to borrow money and that this is the most important reason why they end up earning less. What this translates into is that borrowers don’t end up earning less due to financial restrictions or demographics that require them to go to inferior schools. In fact, students that are required to borrow money to finance their educations are 50% more likely to choose a more expensive program or a private school. This means they are betting more on the advantages they will benefit from these programs in their futures.

What are the results of this? It’s that non-borrowers that are disadvantaged and that attended lower-ranked schools leave schools with salaries that are more than 10% higher than those that were required to borrow money to finance their educations.

The reason for this

It all really boiled down to grade point average. Those that borrowed money had dramatically poorer grades than non-borrowers and this completely eliminated the positive advantages of attending a better school.

Why do the students that borrow money have lower grades?

The answer to this has been hotly debated. It could be due to the fact that there is the stress of debt that often requires them to get a job to help finance their educations. It’s also very possible that those who borrow money to finance their schooling are overestimating how important school quality is on their prospects for employment. Or it could be that borrowers faced more anxiety when they were trying to get a job and ended up taking one that paid less or was more secure instead of waiting for a better one.

Another possible explanation is that going into a very competitive program may not be in you or your child’s best interest. There is research showing that in the more competitive math, technology and science programs there is a higher dropout rate than those fields that are less competitive. The ugly truth is that the smarter are your peers, the dumber you may feel. And the dumber you feel the more likely you are to drop out.

man carrying dollar signThe moral: Reconsider borrowing money to finance your schooling

The net/net of all this is that when it comes to your future your grades are more important than where you went to school. For whatever reason, it’s clear that students that borrow money will end up with worse grades. So the best bet for you or your child is to avoid student loans like the plague and just do the very best you can do in your studies.

Student debt is like the Roach Motel

You’ve probably seen that advertisement for the Roach Motel where roaches check in but they never check out. Unfortunately, the same thing is true of borrowing money for college. It’s very easy to get into but virtually impossible to get out of. Our federal government in coordination with our colleges and universities has made taking out student loans so easy it’s very difficult to avoid taking them. But our government isn’t so nice when it comes to repaying those loans. Six months after you graduate from college you will be required to start paying them back no matter how painful it might be. You were automatically put into what’s called 10-Year Standard Repayment unless you were smart enough chose another program. If you are in 10-Year Repayment you will have a fixed monthly payment for 10 long years. And, of course, the more you borrowed the higher your monthly payments will be. For example if you borrowed $10,000 at 6% interest, your monthly payment would be $111.10. And if you were in debt to the tune of $20,000, your monthly payment would be $222.04 for those 10 long years. That could be enough to keep you from buying a car or putting together a down payment on a house.

Not even bankruptcy can save you

In 2005 our Congress in its infinite wisdom changed the bankruptcy code to make both federally backed and private student loans non-dischargeable in a bankruptcy. This means that student loans can’t be written off or forgiven unlike other private debts. This puts them on the same level as alimony and child support payments – totally non-negotiable so that they stick with you forever. For whatever it’s worth there is one exception to this, which is if you were able to prove to your bankruptcy judge that you had a severe financial hardship. You would need to be able to show and prove you can’t maintain even a minimal standard of living if you are forced to repay your student loans and that this problem is likely to continue for most of the repayment period of your student loans. You would also need to show the bankruptcy judge that you had made really good faith efforts to repay your loans. Barring this, you’re stuck and you will need to repay those loans whether it’s for 10 years or even longer.

Who’s Really Responsible For the Student Debt Crisis?

graduate chained to student debtWe hear more and more about the student debt crisis. A few politicians argue that there is no student debt crisis though most others say there is. Whether this is a crisis or not, one thing can’t be argued. There is now more than $1 trillion outstanding in student debt. That makes student debt larger even than credit card debt. And it’s not going to get any better in the future, as the graduating class of 2013 owed an average of nearly $30,000

The real problem

The people that say there is not a student debt crisis point to the fact that most people will repay their debts though it may take them 10 to 20 years to do it. The real problem, these people believe is the escalating rate of default on student loans.

The US Department of Education recently released a report that the national two-year cohort default rate on student loans increased from 9.1% for FY 2010 to 10% for FY 2011 and that the three-year default rate increased from 13.4% in FY 2009 to 14.7% for FY 2110. Even worse, the average default per borrower was $16,697 and the total of outstanding loans in default as of the third quarter of this year is $95.9 billion. This, some experts contend, is the true crisis in that this is money that likely will never be repaid and it’s us, the taxpayers, that are on the hook for it.

Who’s to blame?

The easiest people to blame for these problems are, of course, the students. After all they are the ones that took out the loans. However, it’s not quite that simple. We here in the US have basically adopted the idea that everyone should have a college education. As a result, the vast majority of our high schools are dedicated to getting their students prepared for a college education whether they should have one or not. Forty-six percent of those that start college dropout before graduating and one of .the major reasons for this is undoubtedly the fact many of them shouldn’t have been in college in the first place.

Another part of the problem is that most 18-year-olds are not prepared to choose the right majors. Many choose majors that align with their passions such as film and video arts, pre-school education, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, fine arts and music that might be fun and rewarding but that don’t lead to well-paying careers. For that matter, many of the young people who choose these types of careers won’t even be able to find jobs. In fact, as of March 2012, 60% of college graduates were unable to find work in their fields of study.

The colleges and universities

Colleges and universities are also at least partially to blame for the student debt problem, especially the for-profit schools. They are in a competitive business and it’s clear that some of them have enticed students to take out loans they really couldn’t afford. As an example of this, students that borrow similar amounts to pay for their schooling end up defaulting at a much higher rate at for-profit institutions. In fact, 26% of for-profit students that took out loans between $5000 in $10,000 ended up defaulting versus the 10% of students at community colleges that defaulted and the 7% at four-year schools. Private schools are not immune to this either. They, too, must compete for students. The more aid they can offer prospective students, the more they are will attract. This puts pressure on them to accept “marginal” students and for their financial aid offices to promote federal student loans as a way to pay for their educations.

The federal government

It’s also clear that the federal government itself has played a part in creating the student debt crisis. It has not only helped fuel the idea that everyone should have a college education, it’s also made it very easy to get student loans. Every year high school seniors are encouraged by their guidance counselors to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form not only goes to the Department of Education (Ed) it goes to every school for which a student has applied. The process then becomes automatic and sometime in late spring each student receives a notice of the federal financial aid it will receive based on its family’s financial situation. In most cases a large part of this aid will be in the form of federal student loans, which the average family will have a very difficult time not taking.

Not even a chapter 7 bankruptcy can help

If you were to run up $30,000 in credit card and medical debts you would be able to get them discharged through a chapter 7 bankruptcy. In fact, this form of bankruptcy can get almost all unsecured debts discharged except for alimony, spousal support, child support and… student loan debts. That’s right. Our Congress rewrote the law several years ago making student debts “bankruptcy proof.” If you have $30,000 in student loan debts, you have only two choices – to default on the loans or to repay them. And defaulting on federal student loans is a very bad idea. Student loan debt collectors have powers that conventional debt collectors can only envy. They can garnish your wages without going to court, seize your income tax refunds or a part of your federal benefits, deny you eligibility for new loans or grants – or even put liens on your property and bank accounts.

What could helpYes, debt negotiation works

While you can’t get student loan debts discharged through a chapter 7 bankruptcy, the federal government does offer the equivalent of a chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you’re not familiar with this type of bankruptcy its purpose is one of reorganization – to give you time to reorganize your finances and pay off your debtors. The federal government’s equivalent of this are its increasingly liberal loan-modification plans. For example, one of these programs is called Pay As You Earn. You may have read about this program earlier this year when Pres. Obama signed an executive order making as many as 1.4 million more borrowers eligible. This plan permits borrowers who are financially distressed to cap monthly payments at just 10% of their discretionary income and gives them as many as 20 years to repay their loans. Unfortunately, many people who would be eligible for this program are unaware that it’s available to them. In addition, some are not eligible because of technicalities in the program such as past-due payments or loans that started into repayment mode too many years ago. In addition, the companies that service student loans have been less than forthright about discussing these options with their customers. And if you have private loans they are precluded from this program.

Determining your eligibility

If you’re carrying a load of federal student debt, don’t be turned off by the phrase “financially distressed.” What this really amounts to is that your payments will be based on 150% of the federal poverty guideline and your family size. In addition, you must have gotten your first federal student loan after October 1, 2007 and you need to have gotten a Direct Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan after October 1, 2011. Note: If you’re wondering whether or not you would qualify for this program, the government has a Pay-As-You-Earn calculator you could use to determine your eligibility.

If you are not eligible

If you determine you are not eligible for Pay As You Earn, there are two other income-driven programs available that could make it easier for you to repay your student loans. One of these, Income-based Repayment, would cap your monthly payments at 15% of your discretionary income and Income-contingent Repayment caps it at 20%. There is more information on these income-driven repayment programs available on the Federal Student Aid website.

It doesn’t have to be a personal crisis

While student debt may or may not be a crisis, it doesn’t have to be a crisis for you. As you have read, there are increasingly liberal loan modification programs available that could make it much easier for you to manage and pay off those burdensome student loans.

Are You Waiting For the Good Fairy Of Student Debt?

Young black college graduate with tuition debt, horizontalIt’s currently estimated that outstanding US student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion. Assuming this is true it would make student loan debt an even bigger issue than credit card debt. And depending on which source you believe this past June’s graduates owed an average of either $24,000 or $33,000 in student debt.

How did we get to this place?

Some people believe the problem began way back in the Reagan administration when Congress shifted funding from student aid to student loans. While this may be true it’s equally true that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. In fact, the cost of going to college has been increasing at about a 7% rate per year for decades. The overall consumer price index has risen 115% since 1985 while the college education inflation rate has grown nearly 500%. What this translates into is if college tuition cost $10,000 in 1986 and its cost had increased at the same rate as inflation, it would now cost $21,500. However, the average is now $59,800 or more than 2 1/2 times the rate of inflation. Given this, it’s fairly easy to see why most people end up having to get student loans to pay for their educations.

Is it worth it?

Is a college education really worth paying $59,800 or more just for your tuition? The answer to that is a simple “maybe” because it will depend largely on your field of study. If you choose a STEM major (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) then borrowing money to help pay for your education will definitely be worth it. On the other hand, if your passion is preschool education, anthropology, archaeology, philosophy or fine arts then getting loans to finance your education may not pay off.

How to determine how much is too much

If you are in college there is a way to determine how much is too much. First, you will need to determine two things — how much your starting salary will be in your intended field and how much debt you will have when you graduate. If your total debt is less than your annual starting salary, you should be able to pay back your student loans comfortably in 10 years or less – if this is what you plan on doing.

Use a student loan calculator

Once you determine how much money you will need to finance your schooling, you could use a student loan calculator to determine what your payments will be. When you match them against your starting salary you should have an even better idea of how much is too much.

The gift that keeps on taking

Student loan debt is the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving as it keeps on taking. If when you graduate you are on the Standard Repayment program it will take you 10 years to repay your loans. This could force you to delay some of the most important things of life such as getting married, buying a house or having kids. While you could move to another repayment program such as Extended Repayment to get your monthly payments reduced, this could keep you in debt for as long as 25 years. You could still be repaying your student loan debts when your children are worrying about paying for their educations.

How to keep college debt under control

If you’re still in school there are some things you can do to keep your college debt from getting out of control. You should make sure you apply for scholarships through sites such as and and through your college or university. Second be sure to fill out your FAFSA as you might qualify for grants. If one of your parents belongs to a club or organization or if you are the member of a church, see if it offers scholarships or grants. Third, when you borrow money be sure to get federal student loans and not private student loans as private ones tend to have higher interest rates and are subject to change. Finally, pay as much out-of-pocket towards your college costs as you can by working part-time or try to graduate faster, which will mean fewer semester fees.

If you’ve already graduated

In the event you’ve already graduated and owe a ton of student debt the one thing you don’t want to do is default on your federal loans. The government actually has more power to come after you then does even the most aggressive debt collector. It can garnish your wages, take part of your income tax refunds or seize 15% of your Social Security payments. You can’t even get out from under student debt by filing for bankruptcy.

Don’t hold your breath

Believe it or not you can’t even refinance federal student loans. However, there have been several attempts made to change this. In the Senate, Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would make it possible for people to refinance their student loans at better interest rates and Rep. Mark Pocan did the same thing in the House. While these bills stalled in committee, both Warren and Pocan have said they will bring them up again in the next session of Congress.

Stop waiting for a good fairy

If you have student loans at 5% or 6% and could refinance them down to 2% or 3% this would certainly help with your monthly payments. But what many people are experiencing is buyers’ remorse. They wish they had never borrowed the money and what they really want is for a fairy to swoop down and forgive all their student debts. News swept the Internet a few months ago that Pres. Obama was going to issue an order forgiving all federal student loan debts. This, of course, was a false rumor. Pres. Obama really doesn’t have the authority to do thie and even if he did, it would likely send our economy into a tailspin.

two men shaking handsBuckle down and repay them

At least at this point the best answer to federal student loan debts is to buckle down and repay them. If you’re on the 10-Year Standard Repayment program and are having a tough time making your monthly payments, you could switch to another repayment program. One of the most popular of these is Graduated Repayment where your payments start low but then gradually increase every two years. This can be an excellent option if you’re just starting out in your career. There are also three different types of income-driven repayment programs where your monthly payments would be based on your income. If you were to qualify for one of them – Pay As You Earn – your monthly payments would be capped at just 10% of your discretionary income and you could earn forgiveness after 10 years.

Check out your options

What this means is that you need to check out your other options to see if there isn’t another repayment program that would be better for you given your circumstances. The government site has good information about the various repayment programs and how to know if you would be eligible for one or more of them.

Three Facts About Student Loan Debt That May Totally Surprise You

grandma looking shockedStudent loans have become a very hot topic even in politics. We read recently that there even being discussed in the Iowa Senate race where one candidate wants to increase the amount of money available in Pell Grants while the other wants to abolish the Department of Education and get the government totally out of the student loan business. It’s even been debated as to whether or not the student loan crisis is really a crisis though one thing is clear – outstanding student loans now total more than $1 trillion. This makes them bigger than even US credit card debt. But regardless of which side of the debate you come down on there are three surprising facts you need to know about student loans and student loan debt.

1. Your Social Security payments can be garnished

Are you aware of the fact that retirement isn’t going to get you out of repaying student loan debts? In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you’re disabled or retired, if you default on a student loan you can have 15% of your checks garnished. And this is an increasingly common problem. In fact, one leading non-profit group worked this year with more than 1000 Americans that had their Social Security payments garnished to repay their student loans. And for retirees any cuts in their social security benefits can really hurt.

Making matters even worse is the fact that these may have been small student loan debts to begin with but have grown much larger over the years because of compounding interest rates. The amounts taken out of these checks aren’t small either. Social Security monthly checks average $1200 and the amount taken out is typically $180. This can have a serious effect on a retiree’s food, shelter and medication.

Most of these loans are parent PLUS loans owed by a sizable number of boomers and others that were forced to retire earlier than they had anticipated because of the economic downturn.

Bankruptcy can’t help

While you can get unsecured debts such as credit card debts and medical debts discharged via a chapter 7 bankruptcy, the same is not true for student loan debts. Congress changed the law a few years ago making it very difficult to get student debts discharged through bankruptcy. This is only possible if you can convince a bankruptcy judge that you have a very serious financial hardship. In addition, most of these loans cannot be refinanced and are locked in at interest rates of 7% or even more – despite the fact that rates have fallen to below 3% in recent years.

If you have outstanding student loans

If you still have student debt you need to make sure the loan or loans don’t go into default. There are a number of repayment options available that would allow you to lower your monthly payments. If you have been impacted by student loans, the first thing you should do is contact your loan servicer to work out a more affordable repayment plan. In the event this doesn’t work, the US Department of Education has an ombudsman you could contact..

2. Student loan debt can affect your credit score – positively

Your credit score is based on five different components in your credit reports. These include payment history, age of credit, debt levels and get diversity. So if you have a well-managed student loan this can actually have a good impact on your credit scores – assuming you handle them correctly.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD) of 2009 specified that young people need to prove the financial ability to repay their debts to get a credit card. If you have student loans and manage them correctly this helps establish a credit history, which can help you access revolving credit, which usually means a credit card. If you have credit cards, a student loan can improve the diversity of your credit profiles, which will also help your credit score.

Finding the best deal

Whenever you apply for a new student loan it results in what’s called a hard inquiry, which can ding your credit score by a few points. Do this often enough and you could see your credit score lowered by 10 or even 20 points. However, student loan inquiries are “de-duplicated” on credit reports just as with mortgages and auto loans. This means you can shop for the best deal among private lenders without hurting your credit score. If you haven’t seen how your student loans are impacting your credit, you can get a free copy of your credit reports via or individually from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can also get your credit score free from the three credit bureaus or from independent sites such as and also offer free credit scores.

Make your payments on time

If you make your student loan payments on time this can strengthen your payment history. On the other had, late payments will damage your credit scores. As you might guess, your goal should be to have a sterling credit history and this should provide you with the necessary motivation to avoid making any late payments or, worse yet defaulting on a loan.

The amount you owe doesn’t matter much

This may seem odd but the amount that you owe on student loans has very little of an impact on your credit score. What really matters is your payment history, which is why it’s critical that you take on a manageable amount of debt and then take advantage of loan repayment assistance when available and necessary.

3. You can get student loans forgivenwoman taking money out of wallet

In the event you have a massive amount of student loan debt it’s possible to get some of it forgiven by doing good. If you volunteer or choose to work in a service-oriented professional job in a lower income community you could see a huge chunk of your federal student loans cancel. In fact, you could knock off thousands and thousands of dollars after just a few years of service. The fact is that programs for loan forgiveness are available to everyone from the Piece Core and America corps volunteers to teachers, nurses, doctors and other young professionals that serve in communities that are in need. You may have to take home lower salaries but you could get some serious help in repaying your student loans.

National Health Service Corps

If you are a nurse practitioner, Dr., dentist, physician assistant, dental hygienist or a mental health professional you could get a big chunk of your educational debt wiped out by choosing to work for two years in an underserved community. In fact, you could get up to $25,000 in student loans repaid each year in exchange for two years of full-time employment. If you choose to serve beyond the two-year contract, you can earn even further loan repayment. And if you are a healthcare professional with really heavy student debt, you could pay down as much as $50,000 in just two years and as much as $85,000 of student loan debt in three years.

Nursing Education Loan Repayment

If you are a registered nurse and agree to work full time (32 hours or more each week) for two years in a non-profit facility that’s in need of nurses, this program repays up to 60% of your student loans. If you choose to work a third-year, you would have the opportunity to repay an extra 25% of your student loans. Just think about this. If you can repay 85% of your student loan debts after just three years, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Teacher loan forgiveness

When you’re a teacher and make a five-year commitment to teach in a school that’s in need you will get some help with your student loans. However, the best rewards are reserved for those who teach science, math and special education. In fact, if you teach science or math in a low-income high school, you could get as much as $17,500 of your federal Stafford loans canceled. However, again you will need to teach for five years in a designated low-income school.

If you are a special education teacher that works in a designated low-income school for five years you will be eligible for as much as $17,500 in loan forgiveness for your federal Stafford loans. And other teachers who work full time in a designated low-income elementary or high school for five years might be able to get as much as $5000 of your federal Stafford loans canceled.

Public service loan forgiveness

In 2007 Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act that created a new student loan forgiveness program for public service employees. This program does require something of a commitment as you must work for 10 years as a public service professional. However, the payoff is big – you get all remaining federal direct loans canceled. The public service jobs eligible for this plan include everything from public health and safety to emergency management and from social of law enforcement. To be eligible you will need to have made 10 years of consecutive, on-time repayments of your federal direct loans. This includes Federal direc and then get your remaining loan debt canceled after 10 years of service. So one good strategy would be to consolidate your federal Stafford loans into a new direct consolidation loan and get your remaining loan debt canceled after 10 years of service.

Volunteer program loan forgiveness

If you volunteer for the Peace Corps you can get as much as 70% of your debt canceled after four years of service. If four years seems like too much of a stretch, you could complete a two-year term, which would wipe out 30% of your Perkins loans’ balance. Plus, your payments will be deferred while you are in the Peace Corps. If you volunteer for AmeriCorps you will receive education awards of $4725 for each year you serve. These awards can be used to pay down student loans or for future educational expenses. Even better, some 78 colleges and universities will match AmeriCorps education awards for their students. This means and if you continue your education after you complete your AmeriCorps service, you could see as much as $9450 available to pay your tuition.

Headed For College? Here’s What You Need To Do Beginning Your Sophomore Year Of High School

woman looking at billsYes, you read that right. If you believe you’ll be going to college there are things you should do beginning your sophomore or at the very least your junior year of high school. We know this sounds a bit early but as the saying goes, “the early bird gets the worm.” If you want to get in and then out of college with the least amount of student loan debt, you need to start by beginning a search for scholarships. There are some very good databases of college scholarships you should explore including, and

Does your Mom or Dad work for a good-sized company? If so, have him or her ask if it has scholarships for the children of its employees. There are also social organizations such as the Elks, IOOF and Moose that provide scholarships to the children of their members. If your parent does belong to one of these fraternal organizations be sure to check into this.

As you find scholarships you think you might qualify for, create a spreadsheet with the dates that applications become available and when they are due.

Next, draft a list of schools that you think you would like to visit. Use a net-price calculator tool such as the one available on on each of the school’s websites to get an idea of what each school might cost your family per year. Don’t forget to make sure that your travel plans fit your budget. For example, if you live in California but would like to attend school on the East Coast you will need to check out travel costs and whether or not your family’s budget could handle them.

Your senior year

In September of your senior year you will need to make a timeline of admission application deadlines and financial aid deadlines. Be sure to include all early-decision or early-action dates. Bear down now and concentrate on researching the college-specific scholarships available for the schools on your list. You also need to begin putting together documents such as bank statements, tax returns, your Social Security card and income tax forms including W-2s and 1099s that you will need when it comes time to fill out the dreaded FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Depending on which schools you would like to attend, you may need to fill out the CSS profile that becomes available October 1 on the website. This is the form used by almost 400 private schools throughout the US. It’s a much lengthier document then the FAFSA and will take you more time and effort to complete.

In December you’ll need to complete your applications and apply for your FAFSA PIN (personal identification number) at You and your parents will need to have separate PINs in order to complete the form. You should have your tax return information ready as early in February as possible. This is because some schools require you to submit your tax forms very early. Be sure to check each school’s due dates.

Note: If you are interested in federal student aid you must complete a FAFSA form. The deadline for submitting this form online is June of next year. However, each college and each state may have different deadlines. Be sure to check with the colleges on your list and go to for your state’s deadline.

If you complete and submit your FAFSA form in January, you should receive your Student Aid Report in March from the Department of Education. This will summarize your eligibility for federal aid.

Then, hold your breath, in April the admissions notifications will begin to roll in. Be sure to check for “unofficial” financial-aid awards in the student portals on the websites of the colleges you’ve chosen. You may also need to submit additional documents requested by a school such as tax returns.

When you have selected a school, be sure to keep submitting signed and dated documents and forms for financial-aid verification. Then check back for your official award letter.

The deadline for committing to a school is generally May 1. Make sure you notify any school where you’re declining an offer.

Finally, comes graduation and summer. In August you will probably receive your bill and this is when you’ll complete any loan documents required.

Financing college

When you compare the financial aid award letter you received against your estimated out-of-pocket costs you may find a shortfall or that amount of money you or your parents will need to come up with to pay for a year of school. Depending on your family’s financial circumstances this may not be a problem. Maybe your parents will be able to just write checks to make up the difference. However, if you’re like the 50% to 60% of students that don’t have parents this well off, you may have to borrow the money in the form of student loans. This is an area where less is definitely more. The less money you have to borrow the more better off you will be. Student debt has become a huge problem here in the US as outstanding loans now total more than $1 trillion. Seven in 10 college seniors or 71% that graduated this past year had student loan debts and they averaged $29,400 per borrower.

Too easy to get

One of the biggest problems with student loans is that they are just so easy to get. In most cases all you have to do is sign a promissory note and off you go. It’s sort of like writing a check that you may not have to cash for two or even three years. But the day will come when you will have to start repaying those loans, which can be a big drag on your life – especially when you’re just starting out in your career. Of course, this assumes you will be able to start out in your career, as according to one study, some 47% of recent college graduates were unable to find their first jobs in fields related to their majors. This could at least partially explain why about one in seven people default on their student loans within three years after graduation.

graduate chained to student debtHow to avoid student loan debt

Fortunately there are things you can do to either avoid having to take out student loans or at least minimize the amount of money you have to borrow. What many students now do is go to a community college for the first two years and then transfer to a more prestigious school. Regardless of where you go to school, you will probably be required to take about the same basic courses those first two years so you basically have nothing to lose except maybe $40,000. This is the difference between going to a community school for two years and then our state university for two years vs. going to that same state university for four years.

A second alternative is to choose a cheaper school. If you shop around you might find a school in your state that would be cheaper to attend then either your state’s university or a private college. As an example of this, it costs $26,933 for an in-state student to attend our state university but only $18,743 a year to attend a smaller university located in the western part of our state. For that matter, you could attend that school for two years and then transfer to our state university, graduate with a degree from it and save some money in the bargain.

Third, you could live at home – assuming you choose a college or university in your city or town. This might not sound like much fun but it would slash your college costs dramatically. As you have read, it costs $26,933 for an in-state student to attend our state university, which of course includes room and board and incidentals. If you were to live at home you would pay only the cost of tuition, which is $10,240 a year. Even when you add incidentals and textbooks to this, you’d be cutting the cost of your education by nearly 50%.

Finally, work part-time. Almost all college and university towns have an ongoing need for part-time workers. If you land the right kind of job you might earn enough to make up the gap between your financial aid and you’re out-of-pocket costs to graduate debt-free. And as Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing”.

5 Financial Moves For Students Entering College

student with a notebook and calculatorWhen you are going into college, there are a lot of financial moves for students that you need to do. There is no such thing as being too young to implement the right financial habits that will set you up for a debt free future.

It is a sad scenario that most students feel like they need to borrow high student loans to get a job in the future. That is not true. You need a college education. That is the truth. But you do not have to borrow a lot of money just to get the higher education that will qualify you to earn a higher income.

Our students are mostly misinformed or completely ignorant of what they are facing before going to college. This is why they can easily be encouraged to sign in on those student loans that will keep them in debt for the next decade or so. It is very important that we educate these students or that they seek out on their own certain financial lessons that can set up their future correctly.

While the student loan debt scenario should raise some concerns about the nation’s future, there are efforts to help steer the next batch of students from the same fate. According to the data published on the website of the Council for Economic Education (, 17 states have already added personal finance in their course requirements. High school students are encouraged to take these personal finances lessons before graduating so they are educated on financial moves for students entering into college. Not only that, economics courses are also being set as a requirement before graduation in 22 states.

The data showed that only 6 of the 50 states implement testing the knowledge of students when it comes to personal finance. Somehow, this might help students be more aware of how they should manage their finances when they get into college. It might even help if they have specific lessons about student loans and their options to minimize the load of this debt.

5 moves you must make before going to college

While it is difficult to demolish student loan debt this is not impossible to do so. Some students have actually graduated without getting any debt at all. It is mostly a combination of their parent’s planning and preparation but the student themselves also did their part by learning how to manage their money wisely.

You may feel overwhelmed when your parents are not able to help you pay for college but do not be discouraged. Although you will need to borrow student loans, it does not have to ruin your financial future. You just have to make these 5 financial moves for students so you can head off any potential financial problems while you are getting your degree.

  1. Plan your finances. Everything should start with a plan. And take note, you should not stop with just one plan. The first that you need to create is a budget plan. This will help you identify how much money you have – whether it will be coming from your student loan or the funds that your parents have saved up for you. You need to determine the expenses that you will be making on a daily or weekly basis when you get to college. This will help you estimate how much you can afford to spend. You should also make a spending plan so you are guided on where your money should go to on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Comparing it with your budget plan will help you decide if you need to add more money or cut back on some of your expenses. Lastly, for those who borrowed student loans, you may want to create a plan that will help you pay it off in the future. You can start paying off the interest on your student loans while you are still in school. That will help keep your debt payments to a minimum when you graduate.
  2. Build up your emergency fund. Nobody is exempt from emergency situations. Even if you are still young, you should be prepared to finance any unexpected event while you are still in school. It may be a sickness or a sudden expense that you have to make in the house where you are living. It can even be car repairs or the delayed release of your funds. It is always best to have an emergency fund so you will not be too stressed when something happens. Start with a small amount and gradually build it up as you get extra money.
  3. Apply for an account in a local credit union. Given your lack of credit history, it may be difficult for you to enjoy the products and services that traditional banks offer. But joining a credit union may be more beneficial for you. They are more customer oriented and do not usually ask for fees to maintain your checking account. They also have higher interest rates for savings accounts and lower rates for borrowers. Check out the local credit union near the school you will go to and see if their products are something that you can maximize.
  4. Work on your credit. It is a great idea to start developing your credit management while in school. If your parents helped you apply for a credit card, or you applied for a student or secured card, use it wisely and pay it off immediately. That way, you can build a strong credit history that will allow you to borrow money in the future with very low interest rates.
  5. Get a side job. One of the most common financial moves for students is getting a part time job. You may want to see if you can get a job waiting tables or in the retail industry as a sales crew. You can tutor or get work in the campus where you study. There are so many options for you to get the extra finances that you can utilize while you are still studying. Not only will this be beneficial in your finances, it is also something that you can put in your resume. According to an article published on, some college students have graduated without any student debt because they worked while in college. Some started their own business after high school while others entered paid internships. These students got their degree without incurring debt and were offered jobs immediately after graduating – no doubt because of their work experience in school.

Financial habits to develop while in college

As you work on these financial moves for students, you should also think about developing certain habits while you are at it. There are various habits that you can form while in college that will help set up your financial future. These habits will not only help you stay away from student and credit card debts, it will also train you to make smart financial choices all your life.

Here are some of the habits that you may want to form while you are in college.

  • Budgeting. This is something that you can practice if you implement the first of the financial moves for students that we discussed earlier in this article. You can apply this all throughout your life to ensure that you have full control over your finances.
  • Saving. This includes saving for your emergency fund and any expensive item that you want to buy. Make it a habit to pay for your expenses in cash. That way, you will not be working to pay for past expenses. You will be working to pay for future expenses. It will be a less stressful life.
  • Setting financial goals. Setting goals is a great way for you to make the right decisions because you know where you want to take your finances. It should be easy to make your decisions aligned.
  • Spending wisely. You have to understand that being a smart spender does not only mean you are saying no to the expenses that you cannot afford. It also means saying no to the expenses that you do not need – even if you can afford to pay for it in cash.
  • Investing. You do not have to be old to learn how to invest. The earlier you start, the more gains you will have in the future. When you have your emergency fund in place, put your extra money into investment funds.

Financial moves for students will help you set up for a wealthy future. Don’t you want to look back in your college years as something that helped propel you towards a better life? After all, a college degree will help you earn more as compared to those who skipped getting a higher education. According to, The value of getting a college degree is rising each year. Although the cost is also rising, your ability to get a high paying job can compensate for that. Even if you had to go through college through student loans, it is possible for you to minimize that debt and get more out of it through the development of proper financial management skills.

If you need help with any of your student loans, National Debt Relief can help. Their consultancy service will assist you in choosing and applying for the right student loan debt relief program. The service also includes helping out with the documentation. The consultation involves a one time service fee that will be put in an escrow account. If you are satisfied with the paperworks, that is the only time this payment will be released. There are is no upfront or maintenance fees.

How To Keep Student Debt From Ruining Your Life

graduate chained to student debtIt is estimated that some 20 million students are going to college this fall and that unfortunately some 12 million of them will be required to take out student loans to pay for their educations. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably already know that student debt stands above $1 trillion making it even larger than our national credit card debt. Colleges and universities are not making things any easier either. The average tuition has increased 27% at public universities and 14% at private schools in the past five years, which would help explain why people are graduating owing an average of $25,000 or more.

But regardless of whether you’re just starting college or are already in school, there are things you can do to keep student debt from ruining your life.

Choose the most affordable school you can

In the event you’ve already started college this advice may come too late. But if you’re still a high school senior you should try to choose the most affordable school you can. This may not be the most prestigious of colleges but what many people have found is the secret is to go to an affordable school for four years and then get their graduate degrees at a more prestigious college or university.

Another way to keep from piling on so much debt it would ruin your life is to go to a community college for two years and then transfer to a more prestigious school. Whether you start at a two- or four-year college you’ll probably be required to take basically the same courses for the first two years so you really have nothing to lose by starting at a local community college. As an example of what this can mean, the cost to attend one of our local community colleges for a year is $6832 while the cost for an in-state student to attend our state university is $26,933. Do the math and you’ll see you would save approximately $40,000 by doing your first two years at the community college.

Choose your major carefully

Even if you’re already in college it’s not too late to consider changing majors if you’ve chosen one that would doom you to being a low earner for years. Recent studies have shown that if you get a degree in child and family studies, elementary education, exercise science, broadcast journalism or animal science you will be a low earner for life. For example, even the mid-career salary for a person with a major in child and family studies is just $37,200 and for elementary education it’s $45,300. The starting salary for a person with a major in exercise science is $32,600 with an estimated mid-career salary of $51,000 while the mid-career salary for a broadcast journalism major is just $68,800. Now compare this with the $100,000 or so that you will spend on your education and ask yourself the question would one of these majors be a good investment.

Also be careful about the college you choose

Believe it or not there are colleges that offer better values just as there are automobiles that are better values and the names of some of the schools might astonish you. For example, Harvard University is considered to be a good value because nearly 60% of its students receive need-based grants so that the average cost to them is just $15,486 a year. Brigham Young University is also considered to be a good value because the average cost of attending there for a year if you receive need-based grants is just $12,367. And the cost to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year averages just $19,957 assuming you qualify for need-based grants. Now compare this to the cost of attending our state university for a year of $26,933 with little or no opportunity to get grants and you should be able to see why it’s important to be careful about which school you choose.

Score some scholarships

Fortunately, scholarship money being handed out by foundations, corporations and other private-sector benefactors has also risen as has tuition at universities and colleges. There are websites available that can help you and your family find scholarships for which you might qualify. However, it’s important to search early. If you’re a student your parents should check with their employers to see if maybe they offer its employees’ children scholarships. Don’t be afraid to aim high. Even though the competition for big scholarships can be very tough, you should give it a shot. They payoff can make it worth the effort. This is also an area where choosing a private school could be better than a public university. While it’s very difficult to score a scholarship from a public school it should be easier to get one from a private institution – just as it’s easier to get needs-based grants. As an example of this, the small private college I attended now costs – at least theoretically – a little more than $37,000 a year. However, 100% of its students receive scholarships or grants so that the true cost of attending it is clearly much less than the $37,000.

What to do if you’re already deep in student loan debt

If you owe $20,000, $30,000 or more in student debt you can still keep this from ruining your life. For one thing, you could get a federal Direct Consolidation loan, which could lower your monthly payments dramatically by giving you more time to pay off your debt. The other advantage of this is that you would have just one monthly payment to make a month versus the multiple payments you’re currently making. The interest rate on these loans is computed as the weighted average of the loans you’re consolidating rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of a percent. The simplest way to think of this is that if you get a Direct Consolidation loan, your interest rate will be higher than the lowest interest rate you’re currently paying but lower than the loan with the highest interest rate.

Choose a different repayment program

You might also be able to make your life easier by changing repayment plans. There are six available in addition to the 10-Year Standard Repayment program. Three of these are income-based meaning that your monthly payments would be based on your income and family size. One of these is Pay As You Earn, which would cap your monthly payments at 10% of your discretionary income. Pres. Obama recently signed an executive order that makes about 1.6 million more people eligible for this program and you might be one of them – if you got your first federal student loan after October 1, 2007 and it was a Direct Loan or a Direct Consolidation loan you received after October 1 of 2011. The eligibility requirements for Pay As You Earn can be a bit confusing so be sure to watch this short video to learn more about them,

Other repayment options

In the event you aren’t eligible for Pay As View Earn, there are other options that could keep your student debt from ruining your life. The Income-based Repayment program would cap your monthly payments at 15% of your discretionary income or if you just recently graduated you might choose Graduated Repayment. This is where the payments start smaller but then gradually increase every two years.

The long and short of it is that you can get a good college education without it ruining your life. However, you will need to make some smart decisions when it comes to choosing a school and choosing a major. There are also options available that can make things easier in the event you have a considerable amount of student debt. As the old saying goes, “you don’t need to know a lot about money to be good with money.” The important thing is to think things through and make decisions that will enhance your life and not ruin it.

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