In the United States today, getting a post-secondary education is extremely valuable, even if you never use the degree during your career. Although the value is difficult to measure in terms of dollars, the cost can be extremely high!
FastWeb reported last year that, for the first time in the history of the U.S., our nation’s individual education debt outweighed credit card debt. And with some banks’ policies to prey on the needy, interest rates can be higher than credit card rates, while most education debts can’t be discharged to bankruptcy. Considering today’s market, it is essential that students know how to stay out of debt.
I am 28 years old and I have been a student my entire life. I am halfway through my Masters of Arts degree, and I have managed to take out less than a semester’s tuition in loans. I have never paid a penny in interest, and I never will. I’ve implemented the following strategies to minimize, eliminate, and stay out of debt while furthering my education. They aren’t for the feint of heart, but your life will be much easier 10 years down the road if you can do what I’ve done:
Be Desirable to Institutions
Former Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman said, “Debt is a cancer that should be irradiated.” Like many cancers, debt is easier prevented than cured. The most important advice I have is for high school freshmen and their parents. When colleges and organizations decide on scholarships, they don’t just look at grades. Grades are important – very important – but it is equally important, if not more important, to be well rounded and participate in extracurricular activities. Colleges want to see that you are active in your community and helping it thrive. If you’re a good student who can also help your community, colleges will be more willing to pay you to attend their institution.
Be Proactive About Free Money
If you find an application for a scholarship, fill it out. It is important to fill out applications for as many scholarships as you can, even if you don’t qualify. Many scholarships go un-awarded; if no one else applies, you can win something even if it isn’t targeting you.
Unfortunately, scholarship funds only go so far, and only apply to a percentage of students.
Be a Budgeter
Living on a budget is essential. I would encourage you to avoid being a “traditional student” by taking out loans; only take the courses you can pay for out of pocket. If you absolutely have to, only take out subsidized loans—ones in which the interest is deferred as long as you are making satisfactory progress. If you only take out the equivalent of one semester’s costs, and work to earn the money during that semester, you could pay for the next one. Try to have money set aside, so that by six months after you graduate, you can pay off the subsidized loan in full without ever paying interest. Depending on who your lender is, you can even pay your student loan with a PerkStreet debit card and earn up to 2% cash back!
Be Vigilant About Finding Help
My final piece of advice: Look for help in unsuspecting places. Social networking is an essential tool: Check out FundRazr on Facebook, where you can get your friends and family to help donate small (or large) amounts of money to a cause –your education. Wishes.causes.com helps raise money for non-profits and individuals online. You can contact local businesses via USPS, tell them your long-term goals and aspirations, and they may be willing to help; it’s a tax write-off for them, and a low-cost advertising opportunity.
With a lot of effort and planning, you can fund your entire college and post-graduate degrees without paying any interest. It is hard at first, but in the end it is well worth the effort.
Were you awarded any scholarships or financial aid? Did you seek out any “untraditional” resources? Share your story in our comments section below.
Jeremiah K. Garrett is a PerkStreet customer and a graduate student working on a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in of Orlando, Fla. He works from home, running Eyez4Dizney, an eBay store selling media, electronics, and collectible items. Jeremiah has been married for seven years, has a two-year-old son and a new daughter who was just born this summer.