9 Steps to Help the Student in Your Life Minimize Student Loan Debt

amber-dakarAccording to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debts now total a massive $1 trillion.  This is more than credit card debt and is taking a toll on the U.S. economy.

Also, the Survey of Consumer Finances, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and U.S. Treasury; households headed by young American college-educated adults without student loan debts have a median net worth of $64,700 compared with $8,700 for households headed by a young college-educated adults who have outstanding student loan debts.  In other words college-educated young households without student loan debt have a median net worth seven times greater than those with student loan debt.

And it’s just not younger people dealing with large student loan debts.

According to the Government Accountability Office, American seniors 65 years and older owe more than $18 billion in student loans.  Moreover, 15% of people with student loans are still paying back them at the age of 50.

These are alarming statistics.  But, what can future post-secondary students in your life, be they your children, grandchildren, great-children, nieces or nephews do to ensure their student loan debts are limited?

Here are 9 steps students can take now to curb the accumulation of student loan debt.

These steps must be taken early (preferably while in high school):

1. Study intensely and earn excellent grades while in high school, to increase a student’s chance for receiving college scholarships and grants.  Many available scholarships and grants can be found at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships and http://www.collegescholarships.org/

2. Dual enrollment.  While in high school enroll in college level courses at a local community college, this will enable students to fulfill both high school and college requirements.  Nearly 80 percent of high schools offer these type of programs.  Dual enrollment courses are usually cheaper and sometimes FREE.

3. Advanced Placement (AP) credits andAdvanced Placement exams.  When students successfully complete AP course work and the related exams they can save on college costs.  These courses can save students and their families thousands of dollars.  Mastering AP classes while in high school can even help you place out of your college’s general education requirements, completely skipping the added expense of taking these classes in college.  According to AP, which is sponsored by the College Board, currently more than 90 percent of colleges and universities nationwide offer college credit, advanced placement, or both for qualifying AP Exam scores?

4. Attend an in-state college or university.  To really cut down on tuition costs, consider enrolling in a school in your home state or local community.  Tuition costs for in-state students are usually significantly less.

5. Commute. Consider enrolling in a local college or university within driving distance from home.  This will save considerable costs where room & board are concerned.

6. Community college, first.  Instead of enrolling in a four-year college in freshman year, attend a community college for the first two years.  During these two years, complete the general education classes that all colleges and universities require.  Once completed, then transfer those credits to a four-year college of your choice.  Important: make certain that the 4-year school of your choice will accept all of your general education credits earned at the community college.

7. Graduate ON TIME or ahead of schedule! Aim to only enroll in classes that will contribute to your major and minor requirements.  Try to take classes that will help you graduate on time.  Unrelated classes are an added expense and will delay your time in school.  During your freshman and sophomore year aim to only take your general education classes.  Then in your junior and senior years fully concentrate on your major/minor classes.  By then you’ll have a better idea as to what you want to major in and will minimize money and time spent on less relevant classes.  Another way to ensure you at least graduate on time is to go to school year round.  Do not take summers off. Studying over summer school and even consider adding online courses.

8. Earn income in college. Find employment while in school to help supplement tuition fees.

9. Go to trade school.  If college is not the route to take for your chosen career then consider enrolling in a trade school.  Trade schools allow student to learn their needed professional skills in two years or less.

Ms. Dakar is the author of The Busy Person’s Guide to Personal Finance, a primer to help consumers manage their finances so they can build a substantial nest-egg. She also conducts personal finance seminars where she provides concepts to attain overall financial health.