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Everyday Cheapskate: 8 Strategies to Graduate College Debt-free

Mary Hunt on

There was a time when I didn't have much opinion on paying for college with student loans. That was before the advent of email and thousands of messages, all with a similar subject line: "Help! I'm drowning in student loan debt!"

That was before I learned that about 85% of college graduates do not end up working in their major. That was before I heard from Jim P., who took all the student loans he could get to pay for college and law school. He assumed he'd quickly land a cushy big-bucks job and pay back $200,000. The fifth time he failed the bar exam, he gave up on being a lawyer. But the debt goes on.

That was before I met Peter K., who became a chiropractor on borrowed funds. He couldn't stand the profession once he got into it. Now he's teaching high school math. Too bad teachers don't make enough money to service $160,000 in student debt. But the debt goes on.

That was before I heard from the Nebraska couple with $60,000 in student loans. They were going to be teachers. Then the baby came along, and the teaching position didn't. It's all they can do to keep food on the table now that the family has grown to five. They've exhausted all their deferment and forbearance options. Their monthly payment is twice the house payment. The stress has all but blown that family apart. But the debt goes on, and so could I, but I think you get the point.

It's not as if student loans and significant credit card balances are mandatory graduation requirements. You don't have to borrow your way through college. It is possible to graduate debt-free, but it takes hard work. And you'll have to buck a financial system that encourages students to take the easy way out by diving into a lifetime of debt.

The secret to graduating debt-free is to use every strategy imaginable to get the cost as low as possible so you can pay as you go. That could mean working two jobs while carrying a full load every semester. It may mean working spring break, winter break, Christmas holidays and every summer. The definition of college does not include "a life of ease."

 

You will never regret working harder than you've ever worked in your life for four years, and then graduate knowing your degree is paid in full.

You will always regret that you chose to live it up free and easy on student loans for four years, graduating with a legal obligation to spend the rest of your life paying for it. Does anything about that make sense to you?

NO. 1: START COLLEGE WHILE IN HIGH SCHOOL

Take all the free advanced placement classes you can in high school to help knock down college tuition costs. Plan it right, and you can enter college as a debt-free sophomore with one year paid in full.

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