Don’t Be Hamstrung by Crippling College Debt

Student loans are wounding us. An expert from Dave Ramsey shares perspective.

LifeZette has teamed up with the pros at Dave Ramsey to help answer some of your most pressing money questions — and few financial questions are more pressing than figuring out how to avoid or handle student debt. 

College debt in the U.S. has reached crisis levels, strangling the futures of many young Americans and affecting the country’s financial health. Dreams of upward mobility are smashed by the realities of lingering debt that, like quicksand, drags down young borrowers.

Most high schools are not teaching kids about personal finance, so it is important that parents and kids be savvy consumers when it comes to choosing a college and planning a college loan repayment program.

The Council for Economic Education’s 2016 Survey of the States says that just 17 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance. That number has remained unchanged since 2014, though more states are implementing educational standards in personal finance.

LifeZette spoke with financial expert Rachel Cruze about the college debt crisis. Co-author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book “Smart Money, Smart Kids” with her dad, Dave Ramsey, Cruze shared some important pointers for American families and their teenagers to consider as they plan the college years.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”College Debt Facts” source=”, unless noted”]Most college loans are held by the federal government.|About 40 million Americans have student loans.|About 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt.|The class of 2015 graduated with $35,051 in student debt on average, says Edvisor.|One in 4 student loan borrowers are in delinquency or default, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.[/lz_bulleted_list]

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Question: How important is the early development of good money habits?

Answer: We need to be mandating financial literacy for America’s youth. As it stands now, we are handing 18-year-olds the keys to life, saying, “Well, there you go, good luck!” College debt is very, very serious in America. In this country, we now have over $1.3 trillion in college debt alone. That’s more than credit card debt and all other types of consumer debt combined.

Debt remains on the shoulders of baby boomers, and we see college loan debt even in the age 65-and-over population. There is just no reason for this. For the most part, these are relatively low-interest loans on amounts from about $28,000 to $32,000 — that’s the average loan amount. So we encourage people to focus on that college debt and get rid of it.

It is very important to challenge traditional thinking on college and debt. It’s important to think about debt very early in the college selection process. It’s not just “Where do I want to go, and where will I be accepted?” but also, “What makes sense for my budget?”

Question: Can American kids really leave college debt-free?

Answer: We want people to recognize one thing – it is absolutely possible to graduate from college debt-free. It really is. Through hard work, good planning and choosing a college that best serves your needs, this can be a reality.

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We talk to smart people all the time who have done just that; they don’t owe one penny when they graduate. They have worked summer jobs and paid for college as they went along. It takes knuckling down and making that a hard goal for your life. It can absolutely be done.

We’ve been trained to believe that debt and college go hand in hand, and they don’t. We tell people all the time: Take the power back on this, and make the decision early to graduate debt-free.

Question: How important is the choice of college?

Answer: The worst thing young people do, frankly, is choose the wrong college. They attend a fancy top college, and then they graduate carrying enormous debt on their shoulders. And guess what? They don’t get that dream job they assumed they would get, and they are living in Mom and Dad’s basement after graduation, already deeply in debt just from their school loans.

We are not assured of the job we want, even if we’ve gotten the education that prepares us for it. There is an “all or nothing” mentality out there, as in, “I’ll just hang on and my dream job will come.”

Choose a college you can afford. Why not look at state schools and community colleges? In the first few years, you’re tackling pre-requisites, right? When you cross the state line, you automatically pay three times as much in tuition. So start with your school selection, being really smart and selective about that.

Question: Won’t a degree from a top college benefit students?

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Answer: Don’t buy into the big lie of fancy colleges; most small businesses and the majority of jobs will look for other qualities – trustworthiness, general intelligence, and common sense; they won’t care where you went to school. So be smart about the school you choose.

Question: What if young people are still struggling five, 10, 15 years after college?

Answer: If you are on your own already, and are in your 20s, 30s, whatever – focus on paying off that low-interest college debt. Move it to the top of the list and make it the priority. We’ve got too many people who call Sallie Mae a roommate! We have research that tells us that a lot of millennials are delaying life choices, and are crippled and overwhelmed by debt. They can’t even begin to think about retirement savings, yet they should be.

Move out and move on. Another concern is that we see too many young people living at home with Mom and Dad. The reason? They are waiting for their dream job, and that’s not realistic or fair to those providing their living arrangements and many times, supporting them financially.

Get a job, any paying job! It’s work ethic we are talking about here. Give yourself a huge reality check and say to yourself, “I’ve got to bring in money, period.” Then use that money to pay down that debt, and claim independence as much as you can.

Question: Does college debt impact the whole country?

Answer: The ripple effect with college debt is huge. We don’t see homes being purchased, or goods and services being bought from this important sector — cable, electricity, home goods, all the things that go with purchasing a home. When the national numbers for college debt are too high, many sectors suffer. It is critical that Americans get a handle on college loan debt.

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