5 Ways to Earn Your College Education With Less College Student Credit Card Debt

By: Maria Pascucci, president & founder, Campus Calm

If college students could have one wish it might be to receive a good college education without having to spend the next twenty fricken’ years paying off massive student loans and college student credit card debt.

“Genie, grant me my wish.” Poof. What college student credit card debt?

Dear Aladdin wannabe’s, if only it were that easy! The truth is you can earn a great college education with less college student credit card debt. It takes a little money management savvy and an increasingly un-American concept called self-control.

“There are more money issues for today’s students than in any other generation before them,” says Todd Romer, executive director of Young Money Magazine. Young Money was launched in 1999 with a mission to change the way young adults earn, manage, invest and spend money.

From the rising cost of colleges to luxuries like cell phones and high-end dining establishments that are popping up all around college campuses, you may find yourself graduating into college student credit card debt hell by the time you’re twenty-two years old. And all you truly wanted was a debt-free college education!

If you’re looking to stress less about money and be proactive about college student credit card debt, give the following tips a try:

1. Use credit cards sparingly.
The average credit card debt owed by college students is about $2,700, with close to a quarter of students owing more than $3,000. About 10 percent owed more than $7,000! That’s not even including student loans.

“Getting a credit card is not a bad idea,” says Romer. According to a recent study of student loan applicants conducted by Nellie Mae, a leading provider of higher education loans, 78 percent of all college students today have at least one credit card. That being said, Romer advises that college students keep your credit card in the deepest part of your wallet to use for emergencies and/or large purchases that you know you will pay back within thirty days.

Have a tendency to use credit cards as, say, gift cards? Romer suggests that college students call their credit card company and ask them to put a $500 max on the card. Also have them not change the limit until you are the one who communicates to them that you want to increase your credit limit. “Until you become more responsible, and that just evolves over time, have a third-party reign in on your spending,” adds Romer.

But how can you earn a college education minus college student credit card debt when some colleges and universities form multi-million dollar partnerships with credit issuers and give them the go ahead to solicit students right on campus? “If you see a Bank One credit card table showing up at your school in the student union once a week, just realize that you don’t have to participate in the promotion on campus,” says Romer. “Treat it like anything else you’re going to be tempted with in this world. Be smart about what you get involved with.”

2. Start a budget (ahem) weekly spending plan.
Yeah, a weekly spending plan is a sneaky euphemism for a budget, but c’mon, we have to make it sound a little more appealing to you college students. “In terms of taking charge of your finances, it really starts with knowing what you truly make,” says Romer. “Look at it as a weekly spending plan to help you earn a college education and reduce the stress of college student credit card debt.”

Romer adds that while more college students are working part-time or full-time than ever before, many still find that they’re spending more than they’re earning. “If you monitor your weekly spending plan about twice a week, you should be good to go,” he adds.

Maria’s two cents: I earned a college education along with $16,000 in student loan debt. Fortunately though, I wasn’t a college student credit card debt statistic. While I was a college student, I had a Visa and a few department store credit cards but I always paid off my balance in full every month to avoid interest and late fees. I remember one card in particular had a $7,000 credit limit!

Where did I get my financial savvy? I inherited it from my parents, my mom in particular. I’ve never seen anyone budget money like my mother. From her weekly Christmas fund to her checkbook balanced to the penny, she certainly taught me how to exercise self-control with money. Does that mean we never exercise self-indulgence? Heck no! I have fond memories of many mother/daughter shopping trips but we never charged more than we knew we could afford to pay off within thirty days. Even if that cute dress with the red sparkles fit perfectly and was on sale for $49.99. “Pleeeaaaasssseee Mom …”

3. Be smart about college student loan debt.
“When it comes to your student loan, look at it as the most positive loan you could ever have and try not to stress too much about having to pay it back because you’re investing in your college education,” says Romer. That being said, you can escape graduating with student loan and college student credit card debt as high as our parents’ mortgages. For one thing, don’t be swayed by the hype about how everyone’s attending a name brand college and racking up student loan debt so – therefore – you might as well, too.

An article on CollegeBoard.com reveals that for the 2006/2007 school year, about 65 percent of students enrolled at four-year colleges or universities attend institutions that charge tuition and fees of less than $9,000 per year and fifty-six percent of students shell out yearly tuition and fees between $3,000 and $6,000. Moreover, while private four-year institutions have a much wider range of tuition and fee charges, College Board reported that only about 5 percent of all students attend colleges with tuition and fees totaling $33,000 or higher per year.

If your life long dream has been to earn a college education from a name brand college and you have your heart set on it, go for it! Romer suggests that you scrap for every type of scholarship and financial aid available though to avoid a college student credit card debt nightmare.

However, if you think that a name brand college is the only way to ensure future success and earning power you’re mistaken. “If you have a four-year degree, how you end up carrying yourself in an interview is much more important than whether you graduated from an ivy or a state school,” says Romer.

4. Think hard about graduate school.
Some new grads who aren’t yet ready for the working world decide to go to grad school immediately after college. While there are right reasons to go to grad school immediately after earning a college education, if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s a huge financial sacrifice, not to mention the years you’re missing out on gaining work experience.

“Gaining work experience is very important and you always have the opportunity to go back to grad school,” says Romer. “A lot of times, the company that you are employed by has the ability to pay half, if not all of your grad school expenses.”

If you have a concrete plan for grad school and where it will take you, it might not be a bad idea to go straight to grad school. If you’re just going because you don’t know what you want to do with your life, Romer advises that you gain a little work experience first. Explore careers and start to pay down some of your college student credit card debt. “Going to grad school without a concrete plan is going to be a financial negative on you because you’re not guaranteed that you can make a salary to help you pay back those loans relatively quickly,” he adds.

According to FinAid.org, a financial aid resource, the average graduate student borrows $37,000 in student loans – $42,000 if you count undergraduate debt. For extra reading, see Sometimes Grad School Can Be a Financial Mistake.

5. Invest, invest, invest.
“Establishing a weekly spending plan in college and learning how to invest raises students’ confidence in their ability to take charge over their finances after they graduate,” says Romer.

“But I’m a broke college student already in credit card debt,” you might protest. “I don’t have money to invest.” Romer says just $25 to $50 a month will do to start. “Commit to learning how to invest because of the power of time and the power of compound interest,” he says. Romer adds that another benefit of college students investing while they’re still earning a college education is how it actually changes your spending behavior in other areas of your life.

“Once college students see that their money is beginning to work for them they might look at how they’re spending money on things like clothing. They might say, ‘Maybe I don’t need that $80 pair of shoes.’ They look at their account and see it’s growing and want to be able to add more to it.”

Sites to see:

Young Money
InCharge Institute of America (a national nonprofit with affiliates specializing in personal finance education and credit counseling)

About the author:
Maria Pascucci is the President of Campus Calm – the award-winning website for today’s stressed-out students, parents and educators. Download your Stress-Less Kit with 4 FREE gifts at www.campuscalm.com.

Want to reprint this article in YOUR own website?
You can as long as the article remains complete and unaltered (including the “about the author” info and link back to www.campuscalm.com), and you send a copy of your reprint to maria@campuscalm.com. You’re also welcome to use my photo here.

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