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The Higher Education Conundrum: Taking on Debt

Interested in learning more about HBU and your college finances? Click here to read the first part of this series.

For many college students and families, taking on student loans is the plausible solution to obtaining a university education. Loans are often used to cover, not only college tuition and supplies, but basic living expenses like housing and meals. Students and parents can choose from a range of federal and private loans, sometimes borrowing upwards of $20,000 per year (1).

And, after a first loan is taken, borrowing more to complete an undergraduate or a graduate degree often becomes necessary. In fact, the average number of loans taken for each college student is 3.7 (2). It is an unwelcome cycle that many find themselves in.

It’s no wonder families turn to experts like Kathy Ruby, director of College Finance at College Coach. The company helps families in 50 states and more than 30 countries wade through important and oftentimes complicated decisions.

Ruby, who worked as a college financial administrator for more than 27 years, wants people to be educated about the long-term ramifications of loans.
“We spend a lot of time talking with families about what they might need to borrow, and how to figure out whether they’re going to be able to comfortably repay the loans,” she said.

The borrowing statistics are especially significant for women, who have become more likely to attend college than their male counterparts, who are more prone than women to work in a skilled trade. According to The Washington Post, of the approximately $1.4 trillion in college debt owed by Americans, nearly two-thirds of it is held by women (3).

It takes the average student borrower about 20 years to pay off school loans (4). The debt obstacle has far-reaching personal and financial ramifications for borrowers, leading to delaying decisions such as having children, contributing to a retirement plan or buying a house (2).

While government Stafford loans cap basic borrowing to $31,000 for dependent students for an undergraduate degree, students often must involve their parents or guardians to co-sign for additional loans when higher amounts are needed (5).

“Most students don’t borrow too much in their own names, but if they borrow more, somebody is co-signing,” Ruby said. “It’s in a parent’s best interest to make sure their children are borrowing reasonable amounts. Parents are on the hook too and can get in over their heads.”

In addition to speaking with a financial advisor, Ruby recommends that families calculate their borrowing numbers with student loan repayment calculators, available at many reputable websites, such as CollegeBoard.org.

Houston-based College Money Guys founder Brannon Lloyd puts it bluntly: “I don’t like debt. My mission is to put the Department of Education out of the loan business.”

As a financial advisor for many years, Lloyd sees the “monkey on the back” of many graduates for years into their careers. In addition to financial advising, his team helps future students determine if attending college is the best option for them, assists them in selecting viable careers of choice and even puts them through mock admissions interviews.

When shopping for colleges, Lloyd advises families to put schools into two categories: funding provided and funding not provided.

“There are a lot of colleges that offer fantastic scholarships which make them more affordable,” he said. “One of the things I love about HBU is that it is such a great value with the financial aid they offer. Frankly, a lot of students overlook HBU, and we recommend it to almost all of our students.”

Surprisingly, the grants and scholarships offered by many four-year private schools like HBU can beat out the option of going to a community college for the first two years.

“Much of a university’s financial aid is directed to freshmen,” Lloyd explains. “Look into what is offered and don’t rule out a school like HBU.”

Ruby said, “When looking for a college or university, we would never say to take a school off your list due to cost because you never know what that college is going to give you.”

Before loans are ever taken, students should not only exhaust the options of school-based and government aid, but research community-based scholarships, Ruby and Lloyd said.

If students must take loans, Lloyd recommends options like College Access Loans, in which interest isn’t capitalized (added into the sum owed).

For Ruby, loans are beneficial in the right context.

“I have student loans; I never regretted having to borrow them, and I felt I was better off,” Ruby said. “But I had a manageable amount and it didn’t overburden me.”

Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, asserts that the silver lining to student loans is a degree’s ultimate payoff (2). On average, a bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn about 66 percent more than a high school graduate during the course of a 40-year career (6).

“In most cases, higher education is worth the investment because student loans pay off in the form of higher income over time,” Griffin said.

Ruby said the case for obtaining a higher education is as strong as ever.

“Education is what moves us forward,” she said.

References

(1) “How Much Money Can I Borrow in Federal Student Loans?” The U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid Office Online Resource Center.
(2) Dickler, Jessica. “Student Loan Balances Jump Nearly 150 Percent in a Decade.” CNBC College Game Plan. August 29, 2017.
(3) Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle. “The $833 Billion Albatross Around the Necks of Women with College Degrees.” The Washington Post. May 24, 2017.
(4) Hess, Abigail. “Six Financial Steps to Take as Soon as You Start College.” CNBC Careers. September 8, 2017.
(5) “Stafford Loans Chart.” The Online Office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Loans Facts Center.

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