I often ask myself, “why did I decide to go back to school to obtain a master’s degree?” Please understand that I am not knocking anyone who decided to pursue higher education; after all, I did. But in hindsight, I would have been okay without it.
When I obtained my master’s degree in 2015, I was already 17 years into my career. I can retire in year 20 if I choose to do so, and I will receive a monthly pension. In addition, if I decide to work for 27 years, I have the option of taking a Deferred Retirement Option (DROP), which is a small annuity lump sum of money upfront. This option would lower my monthly pension, or I can just collect my regular pension amount and forgo the DROP. I told myself that I could always fall back on my college education in the event that I could no longer perform my current occupation. However, there are career options available that would have accepted an undergraduate degree and years of work experience. Instead, I decided to rack up student loan debt in pursuit of higher education during the economic crisis of 2007-2008.
As a result of my decision, I ensured that my children were well informed about student loan debt and how this “federal aid” can have a major impact on future financial decisions. Currently, neither of them have student loan debt and they are members of generation Y (millennial) and generation Z. Below are some things to think about for parents and young adults BEFORE borrowing money to pursue higher education!
- Do you really want to pursue higher education?
Think about how the degree is going to benefit you before you borrow a substantial amount of money to pay for it. Are you passionate about this field? Is this your dream, or is someone living vicariously through you? There are millions of Americans paying for a degree that they are not using. They are either working in other fields, can’t find a job in that field, or decided that they do not like the career path that they have chosen. I understand that people often change careers later in life, just be careful with how much money you are willing to borrow to fund your education.
- Choose a major!
As simple as this sounds, many people waste time and money on going to college for a specific major and later they decide to drop out or switch majors. If you don’t know what you really want to do, save some money and enroll in a community college for two years. Hopefully, you will figure it out within those two years. Educate yourself on career fields that interest you to determine if it’s something you really want to do. There are several books and podcasts available and you can talk to people who are already working in those fields. Are there any certificate programs available in the field you’re interested in? Are trade schools an option? Did you ever consider learning a marketable skill?
- Meet with an academic counselor.
Academic counselors are available at every college. They can assist you with choosing a major, scheduling your classes, and providing you with resources to help you become successful. They are usually available throughout the entire semester.
- Meet with a financial aid counselor.
Financial aid counselors can assist you with finding grants and scholarships to help you pay college tuition before you apply for federal student loans. They can assist you with calculating your payments and they give you resources that you will need to forecast your financial future.
- Evaluate your finances now!
Can you really afford this loan payment after you graduate? You will only be granted a six month grace period before you have to enroll in a repayment plan. If you request an extension or ask for a forbearance, the interest rate is going to rise like a Duncan Hines cake. Do you plan on buying a house, starting a family, or opening a business one day? What you borrow now will affect your choices later. It will also impact your debt to income ratio.
According to Anna Sale, host of the Death, Sex, and Money Podcast, statistics show that student loan debt has reached a whopping 1.4 trillion dollars! One of the guests stated that 8 million borrowers have defaulted on their loans. When you default, the government can garnish your wages, take your income tax refund, and your social security check. Guess who will get paid regardless of what your circumstances are? Tressie McMillian Cottom, the author of Lower Ed, states that of the 1.4 trillion dollars of debt, single mothers and women of color account for 2/3 of the borrowers.
- If you have to borrow money for college, do not take out more than what you need!
I cannot stress this point enough! THIS IS A LOAN! That big refund check that you receive in the mail is still a loan and you will need to pay it back at some point. I made a poor decision by borrowing more than what I needed. In hindsight, I should have given it back, but I didn’t. Guess who’s paying for it now, me. Does your employer offer tuition reimbursement? Reader, I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
- Do your research.
There is so much information at your fingertips that will help you to make an informed decision if you’ve already borrowed money or if you are considering taking out student loans. Below are a few:
- Brown Ambition Podcast-Episode #92- Guest speaker Angela Howze, a financial expert, and owner of Financial Literacy Institute assisted the show hosts with answering questions about student loan debt, repayment plans, legislation that govern student loans, loan forgiveness, and finances. Take out your notepad for this one!
- Death, Sex, and Money Podcast- The host dedicates four episodes to student loans. Several expert guests provided a wealth of information regarding loan forgiveness programs, repayment programs, federal loans and private loans. Also, several people call in with questions and to discuss how student loans impacted their lives negatively and positively. I listened to each episode twice! This was a game changer for me.
Readers, I am currently enrolled in a “pay as you earn” repayment plan and I’m enrolled in the loan forgiveness program. The loan forgiveness program began in 2007 and was established to allow people who work in public service and a few other professions to have their loans forgiven after making 120 consecutive on-time payments over a 10 year period. You must work in the profession for 10 years. This year, the first group of borrowers is supposed to have their loans forgiven. However, recent news stories have begun to surface saying that loans aren’t being forgiven due to the borrower’s employers no longer being qualified or borrowers not enrolling each year. I have yet to hear that someone’s loan was actually forgiven, therefore, I cannot put all of my trust in this program. I need to be proactive. With that being said, I am working to aggressively pay off the debt. Research before you borrow! Readers, are student loans impacting your financial goals?