August 28, 2014

Freedom from Student Loans

Credit: ddpavumba
While reading an article recently published in InvestmentNews, I was surprised to learn that 71% of college graduates coming out of school with a bachelor’s degree have student loan debt. I was also surprised to learn that student loan debt has passed credit card debt and is now the largest form of consumer debt after home mortgages. When considering the 71% of college graduates with student loan debt, the average debt is close to $30,000!

I knew student loan debt was a burden for many people, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t have any idea that it impacted nearly three out of four college graduates. I was also a little shocked by the magnitude of the average debt. So, what if you’re like the majority of college graduates out there, and you’ve got some significant student loan debt relative to your current salary weighing you down? What should you do? I’d like to share some thoughts.

If it were me, I’d get a job after college graduation as quickly as I possibly could. Even if it was not my ideal job and was just a short-term opportunity, I’d want some income so that I could hopefully avoid taking on any additional debt and maybe even begin to think about attacking my student loan debt principal. 

If it were me, I’d look into consolidating my student loans (if I had more than one) so that they would be easier to manage. One check per month would feel less overwhelming, and the interest rate on the consolidated loan could even be beneficial.

If it were me, I’d obviously keep making minimum payments on my student loan debt, but I’d set aside a reasonable cash emergency fund, I’d contribute whatever it took to get my employer’s maximum company match to my 401(k) or retirement plan, and I’d pay down any credit card debt I had before attacking my student loan debt principal. My goal would certainly be to get my student loan debt paid off, but I need to make sure I can survive a “rainy day” and go ahead and begin saving for my retirement, as retirement dollars contributed now have a longer time frame to really appreciate than retirement dollars contributed years from now. After I had my rainy day fund built up, my retirement contributions in order, and my credit card debt zeroed out, it would be full-fledged war on my student loan principal until I was able to remove the giant debt stone that had been tied around my neck as I pursued a higher education and a brighter future.

While I’d do everything I could to eliminate my debt burden, I wouldn’t put my life totally on hold. I admire and respect people who are focused on extinguishing their student loan debt as soon as possible, but putting off things such as getting married, renting your own apartment, and buying a reliable car in the name of paying down student loan debt may not be the best life choice. It may be the best financial choice, but it may not be the best life choice. Do whatever you think is best, but I wouldn’t put off taking the next steps in your life and move back in with your parents solely so you can live as inexpensively as possible and pay down your student loan debt as soon as possible.

I understand that some members of my generation aren’t yet interested in my ramblings about investing, insurance, and estate planning because they are still battling their student loans, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help. Get a job, set aside some cash, start contributing to your employer’s retirement plan, and live thriftily so that you can pay off your student loans as soon as reasonably possible, but don’t “postpone” your life. Once you’re free from your student loans, you’ll have a lot more cash flow free up, and you’ll be ready to take flight towards your other financial and life goals.

-Tom

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