A good 43.5 million Americans owe money in student debt form. And the average borrower has a balance of over $37,000.
Based on this, it's easy to see why student debt is so unbelievably stressful. And it's also easy to see why too much of it could lead to a world of regret.
In a recent survey by New York Life, respondents were asked if they would have done anything differently to avoid taking on student debt. And 21% said that if they could go back in time, they'd have skipped college and avoided getting a degree to not have to deal with student loans. Ouch.
Now clearly, those who are already on the hook for student loans can't reverse that decision. Rather, they're stuck with that debt until their balances are paid down. But if you want to avoid a situation where you regret going to college and pursuing a degree, then your best bet is to be very careful about how you borrow.
Aim to keep those loans to a minimum
It's easy to see why someone owing upward of $37,000 in student loans is miserable about that situation. Now the reality is that if you want a degree, some amount of student debt may be unavoidable. But that doesn't mean you have to borrow to the tune of $37,000.
First, if you're careful about where you do your studies, you may be able to cut your tuition costs significantly. Community college tends to be far less expensive than a typical four-year school, and you can often knock out requirements and transfer credits over pretty seamlessly. So spending a couple of years at community college could substantially limit your debt load.
Similarly, once you transfer to a four-year school, aim for one that's in-state. And also, be aggressive in pursuing scholarship opportunities. You never know what funds are available through various organizations, so explore every single angle.
If you're a former Boy Scout or Girl Scout, see what that can do for you. If you're active in your church, find out if there's any funding for volunteers.
Furthermore, if you're someone who's good at time management, you may find that it's possible (and not all that difficult) to hold down a part-time job while pursuing a degree. The gig economy makes this especially possible.
If you don't have 20 hours to commit to a job each week while you're in college, work for eight or 10. Earning money during your studies could minimize the amount of debt you have to take on.
Finally, make sure the sum of money you're borrowing for college aligns reasonably with your major and intended career path. If you're going into a field that's likely to not pay more than $40,000 a year for your first decade of work, then $37,000 or more in debt could be a really tough thing to pay off. But if you're looking to become an engineer or work in financial services, a pile of debt that large may not be too burdensome given your earnings potential.
You don't want to end up with a world of regret
It's unfortunate that so many borrowers regret their decision to take out student loans, to the point where they'd forgo a degree if that were an option. If you want to avoid landing in the same boat, be very careful about the costs you incur and the amount of debt you sign up for.
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