By Chris Treber
Guest Author & Parent, Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation
AKRON—Not long ago, the prospect of living in Mom and Dad’s basement after college made students cringe. These days, whether by necessity or as a result of financial savviness, students find themselves staying in the nest while they attend school close to home or moving back in with their parents following college graduation – a new reality caused by the growing burden of student loan debt.
The statistics are bleak. Student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt in America. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, Indiana college students graduated with an average of nearly $30,000 worth of debt in 2016. More than 1 in 10 students default.
Sadly, students are often unprepared for this burden upon graduation. I saw this first-hand during the five years I spent as a financial aid director, and there are a few things I want students to know.
First, be your own financial advocate. Take ownership of your personal finances, including financial aid. I’d often hear phrases like, “But no one told me!” or “I didn’t know I owed that much!” Hard lessons are learned because students either fail to pay attention, aren’t accountable for their own choices, or they fail to ask questions. The financial aid office is there to administer aid and provide a resource for students and parents during the financial aid process. They are not financial advisors, and they typically won’t hold your hand. Students who are informed and engaged in their financial well-being early on are more prepared for life after college.
Second, every dollar counts. A dollar paid is a dollar you don’t have to borrow. Likewise, every dollar you borrow must be repaid – with interest. The more you contribute toward your tuition in cash and scholarships, the more you’ll save in interest long-term. It’s worth working 10 to 15 hours per week to supplement your tuition or living expenses if your schedule allows. Avoid credit cards for anything other than to establish credit and always pay the full balance each month.
Finally, don’t wait until junior or senior year to start working with the career services department. Visit career services freshman year to explore not only part-time job opportunities, but internships and job shadows that will build relevant experience. Career services is an incredible resource often used too late. Start early to boost your résumé and, potentially, your earning power upon graduation. Statistics show that students who effectively work with career services are more likely to gain full-time employment post-graduation.
Here’s the bottom line, students: don’t be financially illiterate. You are in control of your own financial future, not your parents. You have to put in the work. There are plenty of great podcasts and blogs specifically geared toward millennial saving, budgeting, and investing. Taking just 30 minutes per week to learn about financial topics can save you thousands and keep you out of Mom and Dad’s basement – or at the very least, get you out a little faster, with more money in your pocket.