Student loans: Lessons learned, choosing a major, and overcoming regrets

By Holly Johnson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20 2013 9:40 a.m. MST

  • If you have to borrow money for college, the Project on Student Debt recommends to start with federal student loans, instead of private. “Interest rates on federal loans don’t change over time and aren’t affected by your credit rating. Federal loans also come with some guaranteed borrower protections in case you’re unemployed or have other financial problems after college.”
  • Shop around and beware of private student loans in disguise. “Some schools put their own name on private loans, or the loans may have other brand names that make them look safer than they really are. Lenders often offer both federal and private loans, so make sure you know what you’re getting before you sign on the line.”
  • The Project on Student Debt also suggests that students read all the fine print in order to understand how much they’re borrowing and what they’re really signing up for. “Get the full terms of what the preferred lender or lenders have to offer before you make any commitment.”
Kasey and Richard also have relevant advice to offer in light of their real-life student loan debt nightmares. According to Richard, the most important thing a future college student can do is to pick a college major that will lead to a well-paying career. “This is the one thing I did correctly and perhaps my saving grace,” says Richard. “One thing people forget is that if they like things like art, they can fulfill that passion through a hobby.”

And while Kasey wishes that she had followed Richard’s advice, she’s now left without a whole lot of options. She has many regrets and wishes she had taken more time to research her school, tuition costs, and career outcomes. So, what’s Kasey’s advice?

Educate yourself.

“Take the time to explore possibilities and to educate yourself, especially about student loans, for-profit schools and borrowing wisely. Know the difference between federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans,” says Kasey.

Kasey hopes that her story serves as a cautionary tale for students who are ready to sign on the dotted line. If she had the chance to do it all again, she would’ve taken some time to decide what she really wanted before committing to a lifetime of debt.

“I would have taken several years off from school to learn skills on my own, work various jobs/volunteer to gain experience and to gauge what it is I truly like doing, save money, take the time to research schools (which for-profit schools to avoid), degree programs, and how student loans work,” says Kasey. Unfortunately for Kasey, it’s far too late.

How much student loan debt do you still have? What is your plan for paying it off? What advice do you have for would-be college students who need to borrow money to go to school?

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. On top of writing and running her own blog, Club Thrifty, she also works in a mortuary with her husband and is the queen commander of her household.

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