Student Loans: A Necessary Evil?

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Student Loans and Debt

More than ever before, a college degree has become a necessity.  But many parents and students wonder how they are going to pay for college.  With a high number of students graduating college with student loans, the average debt will likely hit a record $28,700, projected by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Finaid.org.  It is important to have the necessary information on student loans before signing on the dotted line.

Government and Private Student Loans

There are two types of student loans – government and private.  Government student loans have flexibility with programs to help students pay back the loan because they can change the rules whenever.  This can work towards the advantage of the borrower but can also hurt the borrower.  If the student will take out multiple loans, a government loan is better because it provides continuity.

Private loans are provided by traditional banks and they do not have as many programs to help students repay their loans.  These loans come with a low interest rate but can hurt the borrower because it accumulates over time.  Also, most of these loans include a clause that does not allow the signer to file for bankruptcy.  After graduation, you get a six-month grace period during which you don’t have to pay back your loans giving you time to find a job.

Financial Respoinsibility

If you decide you need a student loan, you must decide who will be signing for it.  There are two options, the student, who must be at least eighteen years old, or a (step) parent.  If a step parent or parent decides to sign he or she is now responsible for the full payment of this loan.

For example, if a step parent signs and afterwards gets a divorce, the step parent is still held responsible for the full payment.  Also, if a student signs for a three year loan for $30,000 but he or she drops out of school after the first semester he or she must still pay the full amount of the loan.  The result is parent and child is equally stuck.

Budgeting for the Loan

Ideally, the student should work while going to school and open a savings account.  This way the student will have a cushion for after graduation.  This cushion should include living money and money to make loan payments.  Proper budgeting and planning when a student begins school will be more beneficial than starting to plan after graduation.

However, if there was no proper budgeting or planning there are ways you can receive help.  Keep in communication with the lender, there are consolidation programs and government programs that can help.  Consolidation programs are for students who took out multiple student loans throughout their school career.  For example, John has four $100 monthly payments to different banks.

Loans and Credit Consolidation

With consolidation, his overall payments will be lowered and he will have the benefit of simplicity which will help him track the progress of his student loans.  With government loans, a student can work for a nonprofit organization or public agency for ten years which will reduce the amount owed on the account.  Also, if you are willing to commit a year volunteering for AmeriCorps, you get $4,725 to pay off your college debts, and a stipend up to $7,400.  For more information visit their website.

In addition you can work for 27 months with the Peace Corps.  If you travel with the Peace Corps, you will get to defer most of your student loans until after you leave the program, and may get some of your loans reduced by as much as 70%. Visit their website for more details.  If you decide one of these programs is beneficial to you, make sure you have it approved before hand, know the rules, and always get it in writing.

Other options for repayment include: pay in full, standard payment, graduated payment, income-based payment, and long-term payment.  In the majority of cases paying in full is never an option.  Standard payments are monthly payments with interest over a period of 10 years.  It gives you a great interest rate but high monthly payments.  For graduated payments, the payments will start low but increase every couple years for a 10-30 year period.  With income-based payment, your monthly payments are decided proportionate to your income and you get 15 years to pay it off.  The long-term payment method is a monthly payment plus interest for 30 years.

Regardless of whether you decide student loans are for you or not, you now have the knowledge to make the right decision.

Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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