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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017


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How to Be Financially Literate While You’re in College

You might be physically fit while you’re young and in college, but staying in good financial shape is another matter. Being solvent is easily one of the hardest of accomplishments because there are a lot of other things to focus on: the effort to get good grades, your social life, your love life, and your health. Most students eschew financial considerations in hopes that they’ll make good money with a decent job after college.

Statistically speaking, counting on your postgraduate job does make some sense. In terms of college degree earnings, college grads make $549 per week more than high school grads on average. And, nearly 15 percent more college grads are employed. Yet, student loan debt provides a stark contrast to these numbers. The average class of 2016 grad owes $37,172, and the grand total of nationwide debt is $1.31 trillion (yeah that’s 1.31 with ten zeros after it).

No one would blame you for wanting to keep from apart of that stat. To avoid looming student loan debt, consider the following:

Take Online Courses

Why online courses? To avoid student loan debt, you should work while in college, and online classes allow you more flexibility so you can tailor your schedule accordingly.

Here’s how it works

You have some great options in terms of paying for college:

  • Find an employer who offers tuition assistance: For example, Starbucks will pay for your tuition at Arizona State University, and there are other companies that will help you pay for college as well
  • Apply for federal grants: A grant is basically sponsorship money for your education
  • Apply for scholarships: There are a great many scholarships available from private and public organizations
  • Join the military: A tough pill to swallow for some, but the G.I. Bill can help pay your way through college

Noticing a common trend with all of the above? They require extra legwork, but don’t fret; if you work hard to pay your way through college with all the available options, your time after school will be much more enjoyable.

Student Loan Debt Is Like a Steel Trap

Here’s how it works

You’re not required to begin paying on loans till after you graduate, and even then there’s a grace period. But once the payment terms kick in, they’re a very serious loan, and your history with payments reflects on you for a long time. Never default on student loans—it hurts your FICO credit score. Within the first year, skipping a payment on a fixed-rate 15-year loan will hurt you for the next 22 years. If you default on the loan—which means you don’t make payments for more than 270 days—it will seriously damage your credit score for seven years. You won’t be able to buy a house, it’ll be tough to buy a good car—just don’t do it.

Build Good Credit

If you’re working, you have the opportunity to start building your credit score, meaning when you graduate you’ll be in good financial standing, ready to succeed on your own.

Here’s how it works

Even if you have to take out loans, student debt and credit score are not necessarily poor bedfellows. Save up money while you’re working and then make regular payments on your loan. Don’t make partial payments, pay the entire amount due each time your bill comes around. Credit agencies will take note and your score will climb steadily.

Even during college you can begin building good credit. Get a student credit card and get smart with it. Only make credit purchases you can afford pay off immediately. In other words, make strategic purchases on the card. Check how much you have in the bank, then buy a few things (the fun part), then pay what you owe at the end of the month.

The interest rate on your college card will skyrocket after the initial terms expire, I guarantee it. That’s one reason why you must pay off card debts in full when payment is due. Once you have the chance to get a new card with better terms (such as a cash rewards card), take it. Then, make sure your original card is free of all debts, dispute any incorrect records, and leave the card open with zero debts. This shows creditors you’re responsible.

You Can’t Lose

If you maintain a job during college, look into grants and scholarships, and pay your way, you’ll graduate debt-free and in good financial standing. Maintain that college credit card in good standing along the way. Or, take out loans, get a job, save money, and pay your loans off reliably after you graduate.

You can’t lose with these strategies because you’ll be free of the steel trap that is student loan debt, and your credit score will be stacked to make important purchases. What’s more, you’ll have that degree, which pretty much guarantees you’ll make more money than high school grads. It also guarantees you learned something, and that’s the most valuable thing of all.

About Daniel Matthews

Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer who specializes in finance, tech, business, and current events. You can find him on Twitter.
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