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3 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Student Loan Debt

student debt

Today I have a guest post from Kyle Lambert from Student Loan Killer.  Enjoy!student loan lessons

If you’re like most college graduates then you probably finished school with student loan debt.  It has been estimated that the average grad now walks away owing around $25,000 while the total value of outstanding student debt in the United States has recently topped $1 trillion.  There are a lot of people out there trying to figure out just what this means.  Some are saying it’s the next economic bubble set to burst, while others believe that if grads would just get their heads on straight and get jobs then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

I’m not here to talk about all of that.  Most people are already tired of the negative talk about student loans.  I think it would be fun to turn the whole issue on its head and reveal some of the life lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with debt.

 

1. Your Credit Report is a Measure of Your Responsibility

There have been stories floating around the internet about employers checking the credit reports of potential new hires and using this information in their decision making.  Credit scores and reports are also used to determine if you are eligible for any sort of loan (auto, mortgage, etc.).  If you have a sketchy report or a low score then the chances of getting that job or the money for your new motorcycle are seriously limited.

What loan officers and hiring agents are looking for is how responsible you are.  Do you meet your financial obligations?  Do you pay on time, every time?  Sure, this is just one measure of responsibility, but someone who is irresponsible with money is probably generally irresponsible overall.  Like it or not, you will be judged by your credit.

Recently my fiancé and I began the process of purchasing a house.  One of the first things the bank did was check our credit scores and histories.  My score was close to 800 simply because of my student loans.  I have no other debt, but I diligently pay my loan bill on time month after month.  This certainly helped us qualify for the mortgage.

 

2. If You Don’t Ask For It (or work for it), You Won’t Get It

My monthly payments after I graduated were quite high.  I struggled to make the payments for about six months before I finally decided to restructure my plan.  I consolidated my loans and got myself on an income-based repayment plan.  Making the monthly payments is now much easier and I am much more comfortable with my financial situation.

What I realized is that if I hadn’t asked for this restructured plan then I never would have gotten it.  Sallie Mae didn’t care that I was having a tough time… they would have simply sent me to collections.  I had to ask for what I wanted, and then I had to do a little work and jump through hoops to get it.

Similarly, a new position opened up in my company not too long ago, and I was certain it would be offered to me.  I was pretty disappointed a few weeks later when a co-worker got the job and I didn’t.  Later I asked my boss what made him choose the other guy and he said that the other guy directly asked for it and that he didn’t realize that I had even wanted the position.  The other guy asked for it, and he got it.

 

3. Setting Goals Works

Dreaming about what I wanted got me nowhere; I didn’t know what steps to take to reach my dream of affordable payments.  A goal, on the other hand, is achievable.  Instead of sitting around and waiting for that position to be offered to me I should have made it my goal to get it.

Setting a goal is the only way to make a positive change.  Dreaming about what you want your life to be like requires no action.  It’s simply a dream.  Having a dream is like having a vacation destination, but no car or roadmap.

Setting a goal gives you a target.  It’s having a destination, but also knowing exactly how to get there.  It’s going to take some work, and you might make a few wrong turns, but if you keep going and keep taking those steps then goals are things to be achieved and not just dreamed about.

Many people dream of being debt free.  I certainly did.  Unfortunately, when I was only dreaming about it I wasn’t doing anything to get myself there.  Now I have a goal being debt free by 40 (student loans, mortgage, car… everything), and I’m working on it.  Every day I take another step toward financial freedom.  Having that goal motivates me to work in a way that dreaming about it doesn’t.

 

Conclusion

We all know about the financial hardship recent grads are facing, and we know about the debates in Congress over student loan interest rates.  We all have our own opinions on what these things mean and what should be done about them, but, unfortunately, there’s not much talk going on about the positive aspects of student loans.  Certainly it is a broken system that needs to be fixed, but that shouldn’t prevent us from learning from our experiences.  Only when we gain some perspective on the situation will we truly know how to move forward.

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The Dr. Cabler Take on Student Loan Debt

As you know if you’ve kept up with CFF for long, I advocate staying away from debt.  It doesn’t have to be a part of life and only serves to keep you in bondage.  With that said, I want to address some of the things Kyle talked about in his post (He agreed to let me do this).

 

Your Credit Report is a Measure of Your Responsibility

I guess I can agree with that to an extent.  Your credit score is a measure of how well use credit.  However, in my mind, a credit score of zero because you don’t have any debt really is the best score of all.  You can still buy a house or a car without a credit score.  You can still get a job without one too, you just have to make sure and tell your prospective employer that you have no debt, thus no credit score.  There is nothing magic about a credit score that allows you to participate in commerce any better than you can without debt.

 

If You Don’t Ask For It (or work for it), You Won’t Get It

He’s right, you have to be proactive in everything you do.  If you want the job, the date with the cute girl, or the raise, the best way to get it is to ask for it.  It can be very surprising the advantages you can get in life just by asking, and what you can miss out on by not asking.   You may not always get what you ask for, but if you don’t ask you’ll never get it, period.

 

Setting Goals Works

Right again.  Setting goals does work, and it’s the best way to get you to where you want to go in life.  You can’t just let life happen to you. You have to happen to your life.  I believe if Kyle continues to be proactive and works hard on his goal of being debt free by 40, he can achieve that.  Dreaming is a great first step, but you have to pair that with a plan and put action behind that plan.

 

Conclusion

In my opinion, there are not really any positive aspects to having student loans.  Some people might argue that they allow you to get an education and make more money in the long run.   But with good planning beforehand (Here’s a great resource, affiliate link), you can go to college debt free by working your way through college, among other things, and staying away from debt at all costs.  It CAN be done.

About the Author: After graduating college with $75,000 in student loan debt, Kyle Lambert became a writer for the Student Loan Killer blog.  His goal is to motivate and help people find creative ways of paying down their student loan debt.

 

Resources:

Obama, Student Loans, and You

How Do I Start a Budget?

You Do NOT Need a Credit Score

How Do You Get Out of Debt? (Part 1)- Get Mad and Naked

Money Advice for Graduates

More posts about education and student loans

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  • http://www.springcoin.com/blog Kevin @ SpringCoin

    I also want to point out that you should be very cautious about co-signing your student loans.  I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about parents/grand parents who co-sign for a student thinking it’s a good idea, but what happens if they can’t repay it down the road?  
    We all know the student loans can’t be discharged in BK, and there’s no 100% certainty that it will be paid back on time.  Sometimes the parents/grandparents suffer because once the student can’t pay it off, their SSI can get garnished.

    • http://www.CFinancialFreedom.com Dr. Jason Cabler

      Right on Kevin.  It’s never a good idea to cosign for ANY loan, especially one that can never be forgiven.

  • http://twitter.com/MonroeOnABudget Paula Wethington

    I posted my special report on student loan crisis Aug. 12 at Monroe on a Budget. The statistics for Michigan (my state) are that 40 percent of recent graduates earned their bachelor’s with no loans (look up Project on Student Debt). I was also hearing from the people I check in with that community college is pretty do-able with grants, scholarships and existing money. The detail that has been overlooked in all this discussion is in the length of time it takes to get that degree. Students are NOT generally finishing a community college degree in 2 years or university degree in 4 years. Look up the stats from the Complete College America project. Sometimes there college transfers or changes in major involved. There are other times when classes had to be repeated or degree requirements changed. CCA also looked into remedial classes. Those extra classes are adding to the time it takes to graduate, and eating up scholarship and grant eligibility.

    • http://www.CFinancialFreedom.com Dr. Jason Cabler

      Wow, thanks for the insights!  I will definitely check out your report.  I think one problem is that many young people go to college without really having a plan.  They don’t really know what they want to do in life, so they change majors or keep taking classes until they figure things out.  Having no plan equals a bad plan.

      Thanks for the comment Paula!

      • http://twitter.com/StudentLoanKill Student Loan Killer

        That was exactly my problem.  When I was 18 and entering college I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I just took classes and figured it out as I went.  I ended up transferring and changing majors multiple times and it took me 5 and a half years to graduate.  That’s why I push community colleges and trade schools to the kids I work with now.  It’s a much cheaper method of “figuring it out” than going away to a 4 year school with no clue.  Excellent point!

        • http://www.CFinancialFreedom.com Dr. Jason Cabler

          Excellent!  Community college is a great place to start, especially if you’re unsure of what path you want to take.  It’s usually much cheaper than a 4 year school and can provide a good foundation to build upon to help you figure out your direction.

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