John Redmaster, Certified Financial Planner and fellow Millennial, joins us to break down where Millennials should focus their money first. Should we pay down student loans or credit card debt? Save for a home? Invest in a 401(k)? Build up an emergency fund? John helps us find answers to these questions and more on this week’s episode:
- What tips would you give to Millennials who just graduated college (or are several years into the workforce) who feel like their student loan debt is unmanageable?
- Since you have the CFP designation, can you explain a little bit about what exactly that designation means and why it may be important to consider when seeking a financial advisor?
- What can Millennials do TODAY to get their finances on track?
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The choice to go to college is a big commitment. It’s a commitment to yourself and it’s a commitment to the payment that accompanies this hope for a successful life. Some people are lucky enough to have the financial burden of a college education taken off their shoulders by parents, family members, sponsors, etc. And some people are extremely diligent, work incredibly hard, save up, and pay for college themselves.
I, however, am neither of those people. I am with the group that I would assume is the majority: the unfortunate souls who had to take out student loans to attend college. Through my own personal experience, I have learned a few lessons on how to avoid some of the student loan burden before you jump into college, as well as how to alleviate some of that burden once you’ve crossed the stage with diploma in hand.
My first tip comes from something that I did not do enough: Be involved in the process of applying for student loans. Do your research. Knowing what you are getting yourself into is half the battle in being prepared when your loans finally come due. My mother was nice enough to walk through the loan application process with me. Although I was fortunate to have her assistance at the time, I still did not fully understand what I was getting myself into or how much time it would take to repay the loans after graduation.
Let me give you a snapshot of what my college expenses entailed. I attended a lovely private university in my home state of New Jersey. Fortunately, I was a good student in high school and received $12,000 per year in scholarships. I also commuted an hour to the university each day to save money. But even with scholarships and without the cost of on-campus housing, the tuition still added up to approximately $30,000 a year. And that’s not even counting the cost of textbooks, which amounted to $500-$1,000 each semester! So how was this all paid for? We took out student loans; sometimes per year, sometimes per semester.
All the loans that I took out were fixed rate as opposed to variable. I didn’t know much, but knew I wanted to have a set payment. (Fixed rate means you have the same interest rate for the life of the loan and variable means the interest rate can move around). I consider myself to be mostly conservative, especially when it comes to my debt; so, for me, fixed rates were the better choice. With a variable rate, you are subjecting yourself to the possibility of rates changing, potentially increasing or decreasing throughout the life of your loan. One option is not better than the other; it simply depends on your financial outlook and how you want your future payments to be structured.
Fast forward four years and I am a college graduate! Thankfully, right after graduation, you are not expected to pay your loans immediately. So, go out and live it up! Because in a few months, it’s about to get real!
No, please don’t do that. Plan for your payments and prepare yourself for the abuse you are about to take.
After I graduated and my student loans came due, it was the biggest slap of adulthood I had ever received. I had about eight separate loans, all at varying interest rates, coming to a grand total of around $100,000. My monthly payment totaled out to approximately $950. Combine this payment size with the fact that the first job offer I received out of college was $28,000 per year as a junior business analyst. $28,000. You can imagine how I felt: COOMPLETELY DOOMED!
I took a step back to figure out what steps I could take to reduce the financial burden and the feelings of doom. First, having eight separate payments is a nightmare. Secondly, all the varying interest rates made some payments seem like a good deal while others seemed to be a rip-off. Finally, the biggest issue was obvious: paying $950 a month while making $28,000 a year was not going to work.
The solution I discovered was to consolidate and refinance my loans with a longer payment period. Consolidation, simply put, allowed me to take all my separate smaller loans and combine them into one larger loan. Refinancing student loans is just like refinancing a mortgage. In ideal circumstances, a new loan at a better rate will replace your existing loan, although this might not always be the case.
A plethora of private companies and banks promote assistance with student loans, such as College Ave, Earnest, and SoFi. Many of these organizations allow you to fill out a free online application to determine if you “pre-qualify” for their services. When I began searching the internet for a solution, SoFi and Earnest offered the best interest rates to consolidate and refinance my loans. Here’s the catch: unless you are either making close to $100,000 a year (aka making BANK) or have an extremely solid cosigner (someone who loves you very much and is willing to put their name on your loan so the lender feels more comfortable), the qualifications to be accepted by these companies are quite high. However, through diligent searching and applying, I was able to consolidate and refinance my loans through Citizens Bank. While the process of finding the right company to assist with your specific situation may take time and effort, it is fairly easy and well worth the effort.
Once I was approved by Citizens Bank, the final step was to choose the term of my new loan. Ultimately, that’s what the consolidation and refinancing process is all about: taking out a new loan to pay off your inconvenient, higher-rated current loans. Here’s the basic principle when selecting the term of a loan: the shorter the term of the loan, the less you will pay in total interest, but the higher the monthly payments will be. The longer the term, the more you will pay in interest, but your monthly payment will be lower over an extended time period. In my case, I chose the longest term possible. As much as I want to pay off my loans quickly, I also need to keep my everyday living expenses in mind. Also, the loan that I chose allows me to pay early without penalty. So, if I can contribute more than my required payment, I will be able to pay the loan down more quickly. Even if this is a rare occurrence, it’s a nice feature to have. Not all loans allow this, so it is worth asking if this feature is available when refinancing your own.
Ultimately, the consolidation process brought my number of payments down from eight to one. The refinancing process reduced my interest rates to a more realistic average, and the longer maturity allowed me to pay a lower monthly payment. Although I did extend the amount of time I will be making payments, the cost of the payment is much more manageable for my current situation, and it addressed the problems I needed to fix. I know I am not the first or the last college grad to feel the wrath of student loans. But, being able to share my experiences, ideas, and relate to others is an important step in finding solutions.
Article Contributed By: Christian Boyle
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