If you’re on your way to college this fall so you can get a good job after graduating and become financially fit—listen up. Before accepting those loans commonly encouraged for incoming students, know that it’s possible to become buried in student loan debt before you even attend your first class.
With money stretched and college costs constantly rising, so many college-goers have signed on the dotted line that student loan debt in the United States now exceeds $1 trillion dollars. This is some heavy financial baggage for young people just starting out and means paying off loans for many years after you accept your diploma. If you think you have a financial parachute down the road to cling to when necessary by filing bankruptcy, cross that option off your list. Most student loans must be paid back, no matter your financial circumstances.
Of course, with the high cost of education, you may need some student loan money to graduate. Keep the following tips in mind for minimizing student loan debt so you can launch your career with the lightest debt load possible.
Devise a budget
The best place to start when it comes to determining how much you really need in loans is to look at your projected costs of attending college, and develop a budget. Besides tuition, determine what you’ll require for books and supplies, living expenses and incidentals. Be thorough when doing this inventory. Once you have a total, add 10 percent to cover the unexpected.
From your total monthly monetary requirements, subtract any grants and scholarships and income sources, such as a monthly stipend from your parents. This will give you the remaining amount of money you require.
Generate some income
To help narrow your budget deficit, get a job on or near campus. Many businesses that employ students are willing to work around schedules for good employees. Even if you only have a limited amount of time to dedicate to work and earn a small amount, remember that every dollar earned will save you from paying that dollar back with interest after graduation.
If your schedule is really crazy and you want to work for yourself from your dorm room, consider the many ways to earn money online, such as writing and selling articles, taking online surveys, becoming a virtual assistant and teaching a skill through an online school.
Just because you qualify for a $5,000 loan doesn’t mean you should borrow the entire amount. If you only really need $3,000, then only take out that much. Though the extra $2,000 may seem tempting, do the math to see how much the money will cost you in interest. You’re likely to discover that the cushion is not worth the cost.
Consider your re-payment prowess
Be realistic and take an honest look at your future earning potential in relation to the amount of money you’re considering borrowing. A good rule of thumb is to avoid borrowing more than your starting salary. So if the profession you plan to go into starts at $50,000 a year, keep your student loans under that amount. Also estimate how much your monthly payments will be for your student loans, which is another good indicator of the plausibility of paying off the loans.
Continuously seek grants and scholarships
Grants and scholarships are available throughout the year and don’t just apply to high school seniors. Literally millions of dollars in scholarships are given out each year to deserving students just like you. Keep your eyes open for college scholarship opportunities from local organizations, on educational sites such as College Board.org and Fastweb.com, and check regularly for opportunities with your college’s financial aid office.
Try these tactics for avoiding excess student loan debt, and you can graduate from college with a light debt load and a bright future.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.