Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Priority #2: Dealing with Debt

In this, the second installment of When to spend, when to save..., WISER tackles the topic of debt. As a recent post pointed out, debt (especially the credit card variety) is a huge problem that most people would rather not discuss. But there are ways to deal with debt! Deciding on a strategy to pay off your different kinds of debt and get you out of the red as soon as possible should be one of your top priorities. Pay off credit card and student loan debt ASAP so that you can earn interest, not pay it!

Growth of credit card and student loan debt among young people has ballooned in recent years as tuition prices have gone up at the same time that credit cards were aggressively marketed to students and young adults. Two thirds of college students now graduate with loan debt – the average amount owed upon graduation is nearly $20,000.

What can you do? If you’ve already accrued substantial credit card and/or student loan debt in your early 20s, don’t freak out – but do get down to business figuring out a financial plan to pay off those debts.

  • After you have a budget, devote as much of your monthly earnings as you can to paying off high interest credit card balances and private student loans first. Federal student loans generally have lower interest rates so you can afford to pay the minimum on them each month while you concentrate on eliminating high-interest sources of debt all together.
  • When deciding how much money to devote to paying off debt each month, remember that compound interest means the sooner you pay it off, the less you’ll have to pay overall. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is only paying the minimum monthly charge on a credit card balance -- this will end up drawing out the debt for years and costing you many times the original charges in interest! For more information on managing credit card debt successfully see WISER’s Fact Sheets on Credit Card Debit for College Students and Credit Card Basics.
In this post, I emphasized spending wisely to pay off debt. In the final installment, we'll talk about how saving for retirement should figure into your financial priorities. As always, long-term financial security is the goal and WISER is here to help you decide when to spend and when to save...

1 comment:

Charlene said...

When it comes to credit card/student loan debt (and believe me, as a graduate student I am well-acquainted with student loan debt), I think it can't be stressed enough to live below your means, even after graduation. As students, most of us have gotten used to giving up luxuries and trying to stretch a dollar as far as possible, and it may not be a bad idea to stay in this mindset until you have paid off a substantial portion of your debt.