Don’t let student debt destroy your budget.

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Student loans are a huge burden for many graduates — and the economy. With 44 million people affected and $1.4 trillion in student loans outstanding, there’s a good chance you feel the weight of your own student loans.

So, what happens when you can’t pay your student loans? What are your options? This weeks episode tackles that thorny issue.

 

Concepts

  • A look at some of the reasons there’s so much student debt.
  • Prices to attend college continue to rise.
  • The importance of developing a marketable skill.
  • Stagnant wages make it even harder to repay student loans.
  • Income-based repayment plans for when you can’t pay your student loans.
  • How to talk to your lender about your options.
  • Downsides to deferment and forbearance.
  • Tips for spending less money and boosting your income.
  • The importance of making a plan to pay off your student loans.

This week, our DO NOWs are all about solving the problem when you can’t pay your student loans. Start by getting all your student loan information together, using the list offered by Department of Education. You should also see what programs you are eligible for. If you qualify and are struggling, you can start the loan consolidation and income-driven repayment process.

This week’s listener question deals with the question of what happens if you don’t want to pay off your student loan debt quickly. Does it ever makes sense to keep the student loans for a little longer?

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Resources

College tuition is on the rise.

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Debt doesn’t have to be a financial death sentence. You can overcome it. Put together a plan and get to work.

Twelve years ago, my husband, David, and I found our sitting on the floor of our basement apartment as two financial services professionals with $51,000 in credit card debt between the two of us.

Like the cobbler’s kids with unfortunate shoes and the emperor with off-the-rack clothes, we were helping other people with their money and not ourselves.

We put together a debt payoff plan and got rid of that debt in two and a half years and built a business based on our experience becoming and living financially free.

How did we pay off so much debt?

We’re often asked in interviews how we paid off so much debt so quickly.

The underlying question is, “What tools or tricks can you give us to help us become financially free?”

The problem with tools and tricks and that what works for us may not work for you and vice versa. That’s why our first response to that question is that we figured out what we most wanted in life.

We found our “why,” and as Jim Rohn says, “When you know what you want, and you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.” When we figured out what we most wanted and not what we thought we should want or what others thought we should want we had the motivation to pay off our debt.

When times were tough, and they were, we used our why as fuel to continue our path to being debt free and stick with our debt payoff plan.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tips and tricks you can try. Here’s the five-part plan we used to become and live debt free. You can see if some — or all — of this plan might work with your own style to help you reach your financial goals.

Be money conscious.

My husband and I thought we coined this term. To us, it initially meant being clear on how much money we earn, have and spend. It meant having a basic understanding of the economy and how the economies of the world affect us personally.

We later learned that Napoleon Hill thinks he coined “money consciousness” in his book, Think & Grow Rich. Hill talks about money consciousness on a metaphysical level. The results on both a practical and metaphysical level produce the same results, as Hill says, “only those who become money conscious ever accumulate great riches.”

Live below your means.

Living below your means sounds outdated and old-fashioned, but it’s critical to getting and staying out of debt and achieving financial success. This rule affects everyone, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight and everyone in between everyone else.

Living below your means is such a powerful principle that it brings down many seemingly successful movie, music, and sports stars.

Cash is king.

Living on cash gives most people a 20% raise. Studies show that individuals who use only cash spend less money in addition to paying less in interest fees. When we had our debt, we were paying $10,000 a year in interest payments. When we paid off our debt, we gave ourselves a $10,000 raise and dramatically improved our quality of life.

Have a financial plan.

Just like you can’t drive from New York City to Los Angeles without clear directions, you can’t achieve financial goals without a financial plan. A good financial plan includes knowing the starting point of where you are financially and the ending point or goal of where you want to go.

It wasn’t until we knew which direction we wanted to go with our financial lives and our lives in general that we could go from a negative net worth of $51,000 to a positive net worth over $700,000. Therefore, you need to have a financial plan.

Creating and maintaining a financial plan isn’t hard and doesn’t limit us from enjoying life. Our budget and financial plan help us do all the things we want in life by letting us know when we can have and do what we want. As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

Now, how do you pay down your existing debt?

The Avalanche and Snowball methods.

The Avalanche Method says to pay off highest interest rate debt first while making minimum payments on other debts. Then, proceed to the next highest interest rate debt and so forth until all debt is paid off.

The Snowball Method, popularized by Dave Ramsey, says to pay off the smallest debt first while making minimum payments on other debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, proceed to the second lowest debt and so forth. The Snowball Method gives quick wins.

For my husband and me, neither seemed fast enough, especially because all our debt was credit card debt and we saw a loophole.

Our Debt Lasso method.

We first contacted all our credit card companies and asked them to lower our interest rates. The Debt Lasso method helped us to start saving money immediately. Any savings we had immediately went towards our debt.

Most companies obliged even if it took some explaining. It helped that despite having all that debt, we rarely missed or were late on payments. The only thing holding down our credit scores were our debt to income ratio.

It, also, helped that we explained how dire our situation was and that we didn’t want to miss or be late on future payments or file for bankruptcy. So, it was in everyone’s best interest to accommodate us.

Next, we looked for 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions with no annual fees. When we found a credit card and promotion that suited us, we calculated the cost of a balance transfer to that card. This strategy required reading a lot of fine print to be clear what we were getting.

At the time, 3% balance transfer fees were standard. There were some that charged less than 3% and even some that charged 0%. The 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions with no annual fees and 0% balance transfer fees were gold. Some exist today!

Most of the 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions lasted between six to 18 months. The longer the promotion, the more time we had to pay off our debt. Then, we diligently paid off as much debt as we could as fast as we could. When one card was paid off, we put more money towards our remaining debt. We continued this strategy until all our debt was paid off.

This is the five-part debt payoff plan we created to destroy $51,000 of credit card debt and, then, stay out of debt. If it worked for us, it can work for you. So, get working.

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Beth Kobliner, author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, discussed retirement, credit, and basic personal finance.

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Miranda and Harlan are pleased to welcome Beth Kobliner to Adulting.tv. We discuss the actions you can take today to set yourself up for financial success in the future, and why you need to start thinking about the future right now.

One of the topics we cover is retirement. Regardless of how difficult it seems, there are ways to start putting away a tiny bit of income for retirement, and Beth shares exactly how that can be done. We also discuss other financial basics, including tips for improving credit even without a lot of experience with money.

Beth Kobliner is a commentator and journalist, and author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties. Her guide for parents, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not!), was published by Simon & Schuster in February 2017. Kobliner has been a staff writer for Money magazine and a contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Redbook, Glamour, Reader’s Digest, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

She also served as a content advisor for Sesame Workshop’s financial education initiative, offering on-air money advice to Elmo. Kobliner was selected by President Obama to serve on his Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

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It would be nice if you could have an easy solution to student loans. You will have to work your ass off to get on top of the situation. Make it happen.

You went to college after high school because, well, that’s what you do and everyone else did it.

You took out student loans to pay your way through school because, well, that’s what you do and everyone else did it.

You went to school, got your degree, and just started your adult life. It’s just that now you have $100,000 in student loan debts and a low paying job.

What do you do? Here are five ideas.

Control current living expenses.

The first thing to do is get control of your current living expenses. The only way to make sure your debt doesn’t grow any faster is to immediately stop acquiring debt.

Calculate your net or true take-home pay per month. This is what you receive after you pay your taxes and benefits.

Then, calculate your total monthly living expenses, including minimum student loan payments, car expenses, entertainment, rent, and every other monthly expense you have.

If your monthly living expenses exceed your take-home pay, you must cut your monthly living expenses, increase your monthly income (more below) or a combination of the two.

It may feel like a cold reality, but you’ll do yourself no favors by overspending what you bring home from month-to-month.

If this means you must continue living at home or find more roommates to lower your rent, then do so. If you must switch from a premium phone company to a discount service company, such as Republic Wireless or Cricket Wireless, do it sooner rather than later.

Look for as many ways as possible to lower your living expenses. Just as every little calorie counts, so does every little cent as you work to get your student loans under control.

Pro tip: Apps such as Mint and Personal Capital can help you manage your budget all from your phone that’s now on a discount service plan.

Increase your income.

This is a two-part step.

First, increase your W-2 income. W-2 income is the income you earn from working for someone else and not contract employment. Because you currently have a low paying job, it’s in your best interest to increase this income.

Tell your current boss that you need to increase your income. Work with your boss to come up with mutually agreed-upon performance expectations to increase your pay in a specified period of time. This time is commonly relegated to your annual performance review, but some companies have more flexibility.

Then, work your butt off to exceed your agreed-upon expectations. Document every success. Save every email with even an ounce of praise. When you have your next performance review, sell yourself so hard it’s impossible for your boss to not give you a raise.

In the meantime, look for other, higher-paying jobs both within your current company and outside if only to improve your interview skills. If you find a higher paying job, use your improved performance and skills to sell yourself for a higher income.

Pro Tip: You can respectfully decline to answer questions about your current pay, but to decline to answer questions successfully you must do so impressively.

Something like, “Thank you for that question, however, I’m going to decline to answer that. I’m focused on the value that I can provide you going forward with my current skills and knowledge. This is different from what I was capable of when I was hired for my last job.”

The second part to increase your income is to make money outside of your primary job. Yes, this means getting a second or even a third job. While that’s painful, it’s not unheard of. Many people have several jobs until they get on their feet. I had multiple jobs at once, myself.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to increase your income with more W-2 jobs. You, too, can become your own boss.

Become your own boss.

I’m amazed by the opportunities of today’s gig economy.

Bloggers and YouTube stars you’ve never heard of are making millions of dollars a year. Peripheral workers, such as social media experts and virtual assistance, are springing up to help those bloggers and YouTube stars — and are making sustainable incomes of their own.

Could you be the next million-dollar internet guru or billion-dollar app creator?

Possible, but not probable.

What is possible is that you could create a nice income for yourself to supplement the income from your W-2 and better tackle your student loans. It’s even possible that you could create enough income from being your own boss that you don’t need a W-2.

Pro Tip: This strategy is playing the long game. An overnight success actually takes years to accomplish. While there are lots of winners in the gig economy, most of them won because they persisted.

Avoid more debt.

Not unlike controlling your living expenses, avoid adding more debt to your portfolio of debt.

Avoid taking on a mortgage, a car loan, if possible, more student loans, loans for a cell phone or furniture, payday loans, or any other opportunity to finance an improved lifestyle. Debt is debt.

The less you take on until your student loan balance is paid off, the better.

Pro Tip: The possibility of increasing your income by earning another undergraduate or graduate degree is enticing. Many employers will pay for some or all an employee’s additional education. Before going back to school, see if your employer will help pay your way. If not, consider bouncing to another employer who will.

Refinance your student loans.

Under certain conditions, you can refinance both federal and private student loans and there are several banks and other businesses to help you.

If approved, you could lower your interest rate, lower your monthly payments, or lower both your interest rate and monthly payments.

Each year, you can apply for an income-based repayment plan. There’s no fee to apply and if you qualify for one of four different kinds of repayment plans, it may help you meet month-to-month expenses until the following year.

Understand the fine print of your income-based repayment plan. For example, if you’re married, you may have to file taxes separately from your spouse. There’s also the possibility that your remaining balance will be forgiven in 20 to 25 years.

This hasn’t happened for anyone yet and there’s the possibility that you’ll receive a tax bill for any amount forgiven, which could be expensive. (Public Service Loan Forgiveness happens sooner, and doesn’t come with a tax bill.)

Pro Tip: Simply lowering your monthly payment will likely mean that you’ll pay more money over the life of your loan. Put as much money that you free up from lowering your monthly payment towards your highest interest debt to pay your debt off more quickly.

Bottom line.

The best way to improve a bad situation is to have an improvement plan.

This five-point plan should get you headed in the right direction. As you proceed, tweak as necessary to continue heading in the direction of paying your student loans off and increasing your income fast.

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You don’t actually have to pay off your student loan early. In some cases, it might make sense to pay off your debt slowly.

When I first started my career as a freelance writer and financial expert, my main selling point was the fact that I had paid off my student loans early.

I did it in three years.

While I’m still proud of that accomplishment, I did it because that was the best decision for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best decision for everyone.

There are plenty of factors that could have made my debt strategy pointless – or even downright harmful. I constantly meet and consult with people who would be better off paying their student loan debt down at a slower rate.

But how can you tell which camp you fall in? Here’s what you need to know about paying off your student loan:

When you shouldn’t pay off your student loan early.

There are times it just doesn’t make sense to pay off your student loan early. It seems like a lot of the advice is to get rid of the debt as fast as possible, but here are some reasons to think twice:

If you have other debt. Student loan debt typically comes with lower interest rates than other forms of debt. Plus, the interest is deductible on your taxes.

It’s better to pay off credit card debt or other high-interest loans before focusing on student loans. Once those high-interest loans are paid off, pay off any loans with comparable interest rates, since they’re unlikely to offer the same tax benefits as the student loans.

If you qualify for a forgiveness plan. Anyone who qualifies for a loan forgiveness plan through the federal government or other organization, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, should make the smallest payments possible on their loan — especially if they won’t owe taxes on the forgiven debt.

If you’re in this situation and pay more than you have to every month, you’re just throwing money away.

If you don’t have an emergency fund. Paying extra on your student loans only makes sense if you already have an emergency fund in place. An emergency fund allows you to pay cash for crises like car accidents or hospital stays, and without one you may have to use a credit card or high interest loan. Save at least $1,000 for an emergency before putting extra money on your student loans.

An emergency fund allows you to pay cash for crises like car accidents or hospital stays. Without emergency savings, you may have to use a credit card or high-interest loan. Save at least $1,000 for an emergency before putting extra money on your student loans.

If you have a low interest rate. Many people only make the minimum payments on their student loans if they have a low interest rate.

Instead of putting extra money toward their debt, they can earn a higher return by investing that money in the stock market. It might seem crazy to willingly carry debt, but the math could work out in your favor. For example, students who took out federal student loans after 2016 have a 3.76% interest rate, while many index funds have an average 10% rate of return.

It might seem crazy to willingly carry debt, but the math could work out in your favor. For example, students who took out federal student loans after 2016 have a 3.76% annual interest rate, while many index funds have an average 10% annualized rate of return.

Investing isn’t a sure thing, though, so make sure you think it through before taking the plunge.

If you aren’t saving for retirement. Saving for retirement should be the most important financial priority for anyone, including millennials and Gen Z.

Paying off your student loans early is a valiant goal, but it shouldn’t distract you from saving enough for your golden years. You should be saving between 10% and 15% of your income for retirement before you even consider putting extra cash towards your student loans.

When you should pay off your student loan early.

There are definitely times that you need to tackle those student loans right now, and pay them down as quickly as possible. Here are some of the times you can feel free to demolish your debt as quickly as you can:

If you don’t have other financial obligations. There are very few reasons not to pay off your student loans early if you’re already saving for retirement and are otherwise debt-free. Paying your student loans off early could save you thousands in interest – and make it easier to save for other goals like a vacation abroad or a new car. Being debt free will also increase your credit score and make it easier to apply for a mortgage, business loan or rewards credit card.

Paying your student loan off early could save you thousands in interest – and make it easier to save for other goals like a vacation abroad or a new car. Being debt free will also increase your credit score and make it easier to apply for a mortgage, business loan or rewards credit card.

Being debt free will also increase your credit score and make it easier to apply for a mortgage, business loan, or rewards credit card.

If you have a high interest rate. When I graduated and started paying my student loans, my interest rate was 6.8%. That rate is comparable to what I could’ve earned if I invested my money in the stock market. In that instance, paying off my student loans and saving on interest made more mathematical sense. I saved more than $5,000 in interest by paying off my loans early.

In that instance, paying off my student loans and saving on interest made more mathematical sense. I saved more than $5,000 in interest by paying off my loans early.

If you get anxious about your debt. A study published in the European Journal of Public Health found that adults with debt suffered from significantly more mental health issues than those without.

It’s not surprising, given the omnipresent weight that debt represents. Debt can cause constant pressure. You feel the nagging at the back of your brain. Paying off your student loans earlier can relieve anxiety, stress, and depression, plus increase your quality of life and stifle that subconscious negativity.

If you want to switch careers or start your own business. Not having to pay on your student loan every month frees up your budget for other things. It allows you to switch to a low-paying job you love or even become self-employed.

Becoming debt free faster means you can gamble on your salary without the risk of missing payments or defaulting on your loans.

Where do you stand? Are you aggressively paying your student loan early? Or are you taking it slow?

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Broke AF? Worried about your debt? You might think you can’t invest, but maybe you can. Here’s how to decide what step to take next on the road to financial freedom.

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One of the best ways to build wealth for retirement is to invest.

Putting money in a retirement account now is a good way to get a good start on building a nest egg that leads to financial independence later.

But what if you have debt?

Can you invest when you have debt and feel broke AF? Does it make sense to pay off your debt before you begin investing?

This week, we talk about the considerations that come when trying to decide whether or not to start investing when you still have debt.

Concepts

  • The importance of investing.
  • Ways debt can slow you down.
  • Are you really ready to invest?
  • Can you balance paying down debt with investing?
  • Have you taken care of other areas of your finances, like an emergency fund?
  • Tips for making investing more effective.
  • How to decide if it makes sense to invest instead of pay down debt early.
  • Different types of debt and which you should tackle first.
  • The importance of being able to sleep at night.

Don’t forget to listen to our “Do Nows” this week. We’ll take a look at how to create a debt payoff plan, open an investment account, and assess how much you need to start saving today to hit your retirement goals.

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Hosted byHarlan Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteve Stewart
Music bybensound.com

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Do you have a true concept of what is “real” about money after college?

I had plenty of money in college. I was rolling in it. My parents had given me a credit card so I could charge anything I needed, like groceries, utility bills, oil changes, and more. They paid my rent and didn’t ask questions when I spent more than $250 a month on food.

I worked during college, too – sometimes two jobs at once. Those jobs helped me buy what I wanted (which was a lot). If you’ve ever been to a college town, you know that there’s a plethora of shopping options nearby. Within a five-minute walk, I could access boutiques, vintage shops, and record stores.

If I wanted food, I could get anything delivered. Even if I had a fridge full of groceries, I’d get pizza, pad thai, or fried chicken delivered to my house. In a given month, I’d spend more than $100 on eating out.

I never told myself “no.”

That is, until I graduated.

Welcome to the real world.

The summer following graduation, I had an unpaid internship and a part-time job. For the first time, money was tight. I was paying my own rent that summer and commuting an hour one way (this is back when gas was close to $4 a gallon).

Suddenly, I had to reign in my spending. I said no to going out and shopping. I read blogs about couponing, cooking cheap meals, and getting free stuff.

That summer was a wake-up call. I couldn’t keep spending the same way. When I finally got a full-time job and started being totally responsible for all my bills, I realized how important it was to budget. I was only making about $28,000 a year, and after bills and student loan payments, there was hardly anything left.

Even though my budget was cramped, I decided I wanted to pay off my student loans early. I started tracking every dollar religiously. I was now saving money with the same intensity that I had spent money in college.

I found freebies, coupons, and special deals. I shopped at Aldi — my favorite discount grocery store — and stocked up on the essentials. I avoided eating out and always brought my lunch to work, even when it was Chef Boyardee ravioli.

In 2012, I created my blog to chronicle my debt payoff progress. I wanted to see if I could actually pay off my debt in three years. I thought my blog could serve as inspiration to anyone else trying to do the same thing.

A year after I started my first job after graduation, I got a new job and a small pay raise. When my rent went down, I put the difference toward my loans. Any time my expenses decreased, I just added that money toward my debt.

When my then-boyfriend and I moved with another friend, my rent was cut in half. Again, I put the amount I was saving toward paying down my student loans. That year, half of my paycheck went toward my debt. In November 2014, I made my last student loan payment.

Friends and family members started asking how I paid off my loans so quickly. I directed them to my blog, where I had written about my debt payoff journey. But soon I decided that I wanted to create one simple place where people could go and learn how to pay off their own student loans.

That’s why I created the Student Loan Knockout: A 20-Day Journey to Debt Freedom, my self-paced online course where you can learn the steps I took to become debt free. There are action items for each module and basic steps you can follow. This is not a course for finance experts. It’s for people like you feeling overwhelmed by your student loans and wondering where to turn.

In the real world of money after college, you need to make tough choices and get serious about your budget. Even though the road to debt freedom was filled with sacrifice, being debt free feels sweeter than any shopping spree or take-out meal.

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