ABC News’ John Kapetaneas reports:
About 20 million college students will begin classes nationwide this fall, with more than a few of them taking out federal and private loans to finance their education. Total U.S. student debt stands upwards of $1 trillion in 2014, outpacing even national consumer credit card debt, having risen 14 percent in the past year.
“How about we don’t have learning experiences that involve ruining our lives,” says Zac Bissonnette, a personal finance writer and author of the best-selling book “Debt Free U.”
Universities are not helping to lower students’ educational borrowing costs, as average tuition has risen 27 percent at public universities and 14 percent at private universities in the past five years, according to The College Board Annual Survey of Colleges. But whether you’re just starting college in the fall or already in, there are ways for you to lighten the financial burden, Bissonnette and others point out.
He advocates attending the most affordable school a student can, which may not always be the most prestigious school, while simultaneously minimizing any incurred debt by forgoing credit cards and working to pay off any accrued debt while in school.
“You can absolutely ruin your life with the decision about where you go to college when you’re 17 years old because you borrowed too much money,” Bissonnette says. “You’re not going to ruin your life by going to a less prestigious college than you could. The place where you ruin your life is by borrowing too much money.”
While such advice may be geared more toward helping high school students nationwide in preparing their future college decisions, current college students with existing debt may find themselves underserved, particularly if they have no desire to switch schools.
Meanwhile, Debt.org estimates that $3,000 of student loan debt accrues every second, while the average borrower in 2013 owes $32,500. While the old maxim may still hold true, school comes first, many students are finding they must work throughout the school year in order to bear the costs of their education.
A 2013 survey conducted by Citigroup and Seventeen Magazine found that nearly 80 percent of college students worked while attending school, with the average student working roughly 19 hours per week. With the pressures of schoolwork and consistent employment to contend with, often before their 21st birthday, a mounting debt burden adds another piece to a seemingly unsolvable puzzle for a generation looking for a learning experience.
“If you’re going back to school and you’re a junior or senior, it’s not too late to change the path that you’re on,” says Joe Mihalic, creator of the popular blog No More Harvard Debt, and author of “Destroy Student Debt: A Combat Guide to Freedom.”
Mihalic argues that students with more schooling to finance should not panic but, rather, should focus on getting a positive return on investment for their degree. “Some people bristle when they hear people say learning isn’t about return on investment,” Mihalic says. “And I agree, it’s not always about that. But if you are spending the money, then you’ve already invested. So you have to take responsibility for the amount of debt you’ve incurred, and you have to generate a return.”
Students with considerable loan burdens should utilize programs, courses and majors that have a track record of producing positive ROI for their graduate, Mihalic argues. “You can follow your passion and pursue something arts based, but you should have a plan to generate revenue for your work after you graduate. Whereas a business or engineering or technical degree can add value immediately.”
Regardless of a student’s ultimate choice of school, major or overall learning experience, both authors maintain the absolute need for financial education in young people, particularly where spending decisions are concerned. While the thought of making financial decisions may seem ominous to students disinterested in the topic, there are critical lessons that all students should know.
“You don’t have to know a lot about money to be good with money,” Bissonnette says. “Basically, having a lot in savings is good; debt’s usually bad. And you have to really believe that in order to not make stupid decisions.”