It was an honor to be invited to spend a few days on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University to speak to the students on money matters, specifically, the loans many of them will take away as part of their college experience.
Remember the days when to get a loan you had to qualify and prove you had the capacity to repay the debt? Well, for college students, those days are history. They do not need to have a job or a cosigner to get huge amounts of money in federal student loans. From what I discovered on my visit, students (and in many cases, their parents) are more than willing to accept as much as they can get in federal student loans because these days that's just the normal way to pay for college.
But here's the good news: These young adults are willing to listen to advice from someone who's been around the block with debt. Seizing the moment, here is what I told them:
Accept the least amount of help possible, not the most available help. Just because you can borrow enough money each semester to pay for tuition, room and board and books doesn't mean you should. You'll never believe how difficult it is to pay back. Check yourself out of governmental outpatient care. Get a job. And get two or three in the summer. Finish your degree as soon as possible instead of taking it slow and easy. Make your own way as soon as possible and you'll reap the benefits for the rest of your life.
Understand what entry-level means. There's a pervasive attitude among college students that really great jobs await those with degrees. Yes, your lifetime earnings will surpass what your peers without degrees can expect to earn but not in the beginning. You must plan to start at the bottom. This is called the entry level. There are no really great-paying jobs at the entry level. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, stockbrokers -- all professions require entry at the bottom. That means the lowest pay. If you think you had to scrape and scrimp in college, consider that a rehearsal for the real world. Do not fantasize about making the big bucks from the get-go.
'Tis easier to borrow than to repay. For every dollar you borrow to pay for college, the typical repayment plan will require that you pay back at least two dollars. You can reject that plan if you work twice as hard in your first three years out of school -- even harder than you worked in college. Double up on your payments. Work as many jobs as possible. Delay starting a family if possible. Don't buy a new car or dive headlong into a big house payment. Concentrate on wiping out your student debts as quickly as possible. That's a gift you can give yourself that you will never regret.
Enjoy these years in college. Even with all the pressure of paying for your education while keeping up your good grades, make sure you learn all you can, do all you can and pay all you can now. That's the way to make these the best years of your life.