No Debt vs College Degree: Which Wins?

student loans

If you’re strategizing to keep your debt burden low throughout the first phases of your adult life, you’re probably considering whether or not it’s worth it to assume a large amount of student debt. After all, 70% of college graduates leave their alma mater with a burdensome level of student debt. Today, more than 44 million US residents are struggling to repay a collective $1.5 trillion in college loans alone.

For many people, a college degree is a necessary step toward creating the adult life they’ve dreamed of, and assuming some level of student debt is likely unavoidable. However, it’s absolutely imperative that students fully comprehend the long-term impact of the loans they’re agreeing to.

If a college graduate is unable to repay their loans in a timely manner, or doesn’t prioritize repaying them, financial disaster looms ahead. Graduates face severe financial penalties for not repaying their loans, including additional fees, mounting interest fees, potential wage garnishment, and negatively impacted credit ratings. Keep in mind that New Jersey is not an inexpensive place to live, so if you play to return to your home state after school, you’ll need a savvy financial plan to do so.

The following quick guide will help you determine whether the cost of student loans will make sense for you in the long term. The answer to this question varies from individual to individual, so it’s a decision you’ll need to make for yourself. Carefully weigh the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, and do your best to make the most beneficial decision for your situation.

Remember, too, that if you do end up (or have already ended up) with a significant amount of college loans, it’s going to be okay. You’re not alone by any means; as we’ve discussed, 1 in 4 adults in our country are still repaying their loans.

The Pros and Cons of Student Loans

Pros:

  1. Student loans can make college possible, or make it possible for you to attend a school that would otherwise be unattainable. If a student loan makes the difference between you attending your dream school or a local state school, it may well be worth it to bridge the gap with a loan.
  2. In certain fields, if pursuing a higher quality (or more widely respected) education positions you to earn significantly more over the life of your career, then your student loans may represent only a small fraction of your potential earnings. In such situations, assuming responsibility for a larger loan is almost certainly worth it. Study hard, network with grace and skill, and set yourself up to bring home the kind of money you’ll need.
  3. Student loans can be spent on more than just tuition. Choosing a student loan may make the difference between you having to work full-time during your education and instead having the luxury of focusing solely on your studies. You can use student loans to pay your rent or car payment, purchase a laptop and textbooks, or even just buy groceries. Postponing your financial troubles until after you graduate can have a positive impact on your mental health and resources during the few years you’ll have to pursue your education goals.

Remember, too, that even though student loans are pretty terrible, they’re still more affordable than credit card debt or other high-interest personal loans!


  1. Paying off student loans on time will help you build credit. You’ll need a positive credit rating to get a good interest rate on significant purchases like a car or home, so having this opportunity to build credit right out of college can be very positive. Please be aware that you will need to make prompt payments every month in order to benefit from an improved credit score.

 

Cons:

  1. Interest is a pain in the neck. When you repay your student loans, you’ll be repaying the amount you initially borrowed plus the interest that’s accrued over the years you’ve been in college. As of 2018, interest rates on student loans range from 4.5% to 7% for federal to 11% – 15% for privately-held loans.

If you choose high-interest student loans, the interest rates can be almost as disastrous as those on credit cards! If you can afford college without assuming any student loans, clearly it is in your best interest to do so.

  1. Choosing student loans will mean that you’ll begin your adult life with debt. Your financial freedom will be significantly impacted by this burden; you’ll probably need to delay other life goals like home ownership or international travel until you’re able to pay off a significant portion of your student debt.

Home prices in New Jersey don’t show any signs of halting their steady climb, so delaying your entry into the housing market could mean paying as much as tens of thousands more for your first home.

  1. It is nearly impossible to discharge student loans without paying them directly. Unlike many other kinds of personal debt, student loans cannot be eliminated by declaring bankruptcy. If you assume responsibility for a student loan, you will have to repay it.
  2. Missing payments on your student loans can destroy your credit score, which will negatively impact your financial opportunities for many, many years to come. You’ll have difficulty renting or purchasing a home on your own, applying for a loan on a car, and could even lose your job along with your financial credibility.

 

The truth is that student loans can be a net positive in your life and can be relied upon to help you create a better future for yourself and others. In real-life application, though, slow job growth, high interest rates combined with punitive laws preventing struggling graduates from discharging their debts through bankruptcy, and skyrocketing tuition prices are factors that work against even the most well-intentioned students.

That’s why if you do decide to assume student loans, it’s important that you try to live frugally and limit the amount of debt you need to take on. If you can work part-time and still maintain your grades, consider doing so. Purchase clothing second-hand when possible, for example, and keep your wardrobe streamlined until you have more financial freedom.

You’ll find that the fiscally wise habits you can cultivate during these lean years will serve you well in the future, even after you’ve paid off your debts. Remember that being conscious and intentional about your spending is always a healthy decision. Frugality is never something you should be ashamed of!

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