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Let’s be smart about college loans

One of the things that I cover in my book, “Say No! To College Debt” is not borrowing more than you absolutely need to. The Penny Hoarder, a financial advice website, agreed. They said that even if you are offered $7,000 in student loans, you should only accept what you need. It may be just $3,000 or some other smaller number.

Of course, the best situation is to find a way to pay for school without loans. Options for no-debt college are covered in my book. But if you need to borrow, you should first be sure that you know what your income and outgo are. That calls for a Spending Plan (less popularly known as a budget).

As a new college student or a near-future college student, you may not know what it’s going to cost to go to the school where you’ve been accepted. Not to worry. The admission counselor at the school usually has a really good idea of average costs. That’s an excellent place to start.

When you are looking at the costs, be sure that everything is included. Are books included? Are meals included? Is a room included? How about parking fees, athletic fees, activity fees, etc. What will be the cost of changing majors if you aren’t careful? How about Greek life? Those all need to be either included in the spending plan or excluded from your campus life.

Write down the numbers you find and get rid of the ones that will be dragging you into unnecessary debt. Be merciless in your cutting. And while you are deciding, know that hundreds of dollars borrowed while in school can quickly become thousands of dollars in loan payments later on in life. And all those loan payments are usually going on while you’re trying to get married, raise children, set up retirement, buy a house, etc.

Also, be sure that you understand terms of any loan. Many Federal loans have deferred interest and payments until after you have left school. Private loans, whether they are from banks, your school, student loan companies, etc. usually start charging interest the day the loan is funded. Payments may be deferred, but if interest is tacked on while payments are deferred, $10,000 borrowed as a freshman could climb to over $18,000 after graduation. I know people who are bitter about the toll that their student loans have taken on them, their family, and their life plans. Work hard to keep the costs down so you won’t be one of them.

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