Youth Focus... Dealing With Debt

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Youth Focus... Dealing With Debt

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You will have to deal with debt. Besides the massive public debt you had nothing to do with, you will face the challenge of trying to obtain an advanced education with ever-rising tuition costs. Most of your peers choose the debt route, creating trauma for them, their families and their futures. When they wish to get married or buy a car, they are forced to borrow at high interest rates. When they wish to buy a home, a more reasonable use of debt, they often can't qualify because of "too much debt."

Does this have to be your fate?

Needed: freedom from debt

It's interesting that right after the biblical proverb about raising a child (Proverbs 22:6), the next one states, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (verse 7). Obviously, it's better to not be in debt.

Sadly, because students and parents have not adequately planned their lives, so many young people start out as "servants." You may think you're free after graduation, but if you owe money and don't have a good job then you're not free. It's the same with unwise borrowing on the part of most of the civilized world, be it governments, companies or individuals. And we now have a global crisis because of this.

Regrettably, the education system has created a major problem for many. Blake Ellis at reported in October 2010 that "college seniors who graduated in 2009 owed an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6% from the year before, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt." It's estimated that two thirds of all graduates have student debt, with current levels estimated between $30,000 and $50,000. There is fear of an education bubble similar to the housing bubble.

Because of this debt and current economic conditions, recently reported that 85 percent of college graduates now move back home after graduation. With fewer available jobs, moving back home is the only real option many have. This of course creates stress on the young people and their parents, both of whom may feel that they've failed.

You can avoid personal debt

The good news is that you can limit or avoid the majority of debt. It does take discipline, and the sooner and more disciplined you become, the better off you will be.

Try to save and pay for everything with cash or a check. Write down everything you spend for one month, and then categorize it. It's not uncommon for young people to find that they spend hundreds of dollars on nonessentials, such as lattes, computer games, movies and expensive convenience foods. Logging in everything you spend and adding it up gives you a great picture of what you spend.

Once you've done this, use it to create a budget for yourself. Write down your income and then list the necessities. If there is money left, put some into savings for unforeseen events, then use what remains for those unnecessary items. Once you've created a budget, stick to it. You will gain a great deal of satisfaction when you don't have debt hanging over your shoulder and when you do have money already saved for special opportunities with friends and family.

Harness and train credit cards

Whether you go to college or not, avoid credit card debt. The outrageous interest rates for young people (averaging about 29 percent) mean that if you don't pay off your balance each month, it may take years to repay.

One solution I recommend if you must have a credit card (often a necessity) is to carry your checkbook with your card. Subtract the amount put on the card for each purchase from the balance in your checkbook. When the credit card bill comes due, you will have already subtracted it from your account.

This avoids the illusion that you have money because of the usual checkbook balance. In reality you've already spent that money. When your balance is low, simply don't use your card.

Seek scholarships and do the math

Apply for all the scholarships and education grants you can qualify for and check out all possible schools. Many scholarships are available, especially if you're a good student. As an example, my son attended our local community college at little cost for two years, did very well in his classes, and then was able to transfer to a highly rated school with nearly everything paid for by scholarship.

My daughter found that the community college had a specialized two-year certificate program that was nationally rated. She graduated in 2010 with an associate degree and a certificate and had numerous offers for jobs paying between $40,000 and $55,000 per year—all with no debt!

You don't have to go to a high-priced school or accept the highest scholarship. One young person accepted a $30,000 scholarship to a school that cost $25,000 per year ($100,000 for four years). He turned down a $15,000 scholarship to a college costing $10,000 per year ($40,000 for four years). He ended up with $70,000 in debt instead of $25,000, while both schools had about the same job-placement ratios.

Get technical about training

Other young people have chosen to do technical training, often earning more than college graduates. Some computer certificates command higher salaries than four-year college degrees and only take a year or two to obtain. Of course, in an ever-changing technical environment, I assure you that you must never quit studying or you will become obsolete and jobless.

While most who get college degrees will earn more than laborers, many do well with skills in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, air conditioning, landscaping, auto repair and the like. If you are not "college material" or enjoy working with your hands, don't be afraid of this route. Physical work can be very rewarding, and usually you start your career debt-free.

Many of my physical laboring friends who stayed away from the bars and "working man" traps are farther ahead financially because they took this career path, disciplined their spending and saving, and bought homes earlier than their college-bound friends—most of whom have yet to catch up financially.

Learn from lifestyle costs

Most importantly, check your lifestyle. Being young with all that energy is great, but too many choose a party lifestyle that hinders their future. Often this involves wrong moral choices with risky behavior that can include alcoholism, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases and/or unmarried pregnancy. Don't let the fictitious Hollywood portrayal lead you astray. Wrong decisions not only affect your finances, but they can affect your mind and your life forever—and those of others.

That doesn't mean you can't have fun. Just prioritize what you want for your entire life. Then do the things that fit those priorities.

God makes it clear that if you seek Him, He will guide you. Those who make the proper choices are blessed with a more disciplined life. This leads to stability, which in turn creates a commitment to right goals. Achieving these goals shows the older generation that you have your head on straight, leads to more rewarding jobs, higher pay and a happier, debt-free life.

For more advice on money matters, be sure to send for or download our free booklet Managing Your Finances.