3 Debt Payoff Strategies to Destroy Your Debt

3 Debt Payoff Strategies to Destroy Your Debt

You’ve probably heard debt is bad but can be good for certain purposes. This can be true, but what if debt starts to completely ruin your life and you can’t get rid of it? Aside from just paying it off, you can implement one of these debt payoff strategies to help you pay it off, fast.

I’m going to share with you three debt payoff strategies to get rid of your debt if you’re struggling with monthly payments that just don’t seem to go away.

They’re called “the Snowball Method,” “the Avalanche Method,” and what I like to call “the Hybrid Method.” 

But first, how far gone are most Americans when it comes to consumer debt?

The average credit card debt per U.S. household was $8,292 in January 2019. That’s $1.058 trillion in total credit card debt divided by 128 million U.S. households. 

According to Credit Cards.com, the credit card debt per card-carrying adult is $5,839.

Total consumer debt is on track to reach $4 trillion by the end of 2019, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data.

The Debt Snowball vs. The Debt Avalanche

Americans have been amassing more and more debt since 2013 and disposable income has increased as well. Though income is increasing, American consumers are borrowing more often.

It’s safe to say that most consumers are focused on how to acquire debt, not how to pay it off. So I applaud you for reading this far because it means your serious about paying off your debt. 

First, let’s go over the Snowball Method. 

1. The Debt Snowball

The debt snowball method is where you pay off debt from smallest to largest until you knock out each balance. When the smallest debt is paid off, you roll the money you were paying on that debt into the next smallest balance.

The Debt Snowball | Simplifinances

It looks something like this:

1: List your debts from smallest to largest regardless of the interest rate.

2: Make minimum payments on all your debts except the smallest.

3: Pay as much as possible on your smallest debt.

4: Repeat until each debt is paid in full.

How the Debt Snowball Works | Simplifinances

2. The Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche method is where you allocate enough money to make the minimum payment on each debt, then use any remaining funds to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate. When the debt with the highest interest rate is paid off, the extra money goes toward the next highest interest loan. Continue until all the debts are paid off.

The Debt Avalanche | Simplifinances

1: List your debts from the highest interest to smallest regardless of amount.

2: Make minimum payments on all your debts except the highest interest.

3: Pay as much as possible on your highest interest debt.

4: Repeat until each debt is paid in full.

How the Debt Avalanche works | Simplifinances

3. The Hybrid Method

The hybrid method is a combination of both. Debt averse people that want to get rid of debt as fast as possible may be more likely to go with the debt snowball method because of the emotional connection with debt and it’s what Dave Ramsey says “you should do.”

People who are focused on making the most mathematically optimal choice are more likely to use the debt avalanche method. This doesn’t mean that either one is right or wrong. They both can be very powerful.

Stick to whichever one is going to help you pay off your debt the fastest. You may not like sending extra payments to a balance that is low and also has a low-interest rate, and that’s ok! You don’t have to stick to the same method forever. 

Debt is emotional. Some purchases we regret and wish we had never made but we’re stuck with the payments. For those, use the snowball method so you can start feeling little wins.

Second, for the debt that you’re not so emotionally connected to, pay it off logically by saving yourself money on interest and pay the highest interest first. 

3 Debt Payoff Strategies to Destroy Your Debt | Simplifinances

Over the years helping people pay off debt, I always get people who think there is only one way to do it. You can use a combination of methods. Then one day you’ll be able to say, “I’m debt-free!”

Get Started With One of These Debt Payoff Strategies

Imagine if you didn’t have to make monthly payments? Everything you earned gets to stay in your pocket. What would you do? Where would you go? I want to help you get there and get a taste of what it’s like to be debt-free! 

By using one of these debt payoff strategies, you can get there!

P.S. if you’d like help setting up a debt payoff plan, schedule a free 15-minute call with me to see if financial coaching is a good fit!

Personal Finance Statistics: How Do You Compare?

Personal Finance Statistics: How Do You Compare?

I don’t know about you, but I always enjoy seeing personal finance statistics. They provide no actionable takeaways whatsoever but it’s fun to see how you stack up with your peers. 

The average 401(k) amounts by age per Nerd Wallet/NBCNews.com:

Ages 20-29: Average 401(k) balance: $11,600. Median 401(k) balance: $4,000.
Ages 30-39: Average 401(k) balance: $43,600. Median 401(k) balance: $16,500.
Ages 40-49: Average 401(k) balance: $106,200. Median 401(k) balance: $36,900.
Ages 50-59: Average 401(k) balance: $179,100. Median 401(k) balance: $62,700.
Ages 60-69: Average 401(k) balance: $198,600. Median 401(k) balance: $63,000.

This seems to be a little bit low. It’s no wonder people are having a hard time retiring!

“The typical consumer will pay $279,002 over their lifetime in interest payments.” (Credit.com)

This is crazy! And it’s only in interest payments, not even the payments on the money borrowed. Imagine what you could do with nearly 300k!

“Nearly a third (32 percent) of respondents would rather have “excellent” credit than receive one million dollars.” (CapitalOne.com)

We place such a high value on having a great credit score in our society when is all the score is is how good are you at borrowing debt. 

“59 percent of Millennials have set aside an average of $9,100 in an emergency fund, more than older generations (Gen X-ers have $8,700, while Boomers have $7,100).” (Fidelity.com)

I would have to say that this is pretty good as far as the amount. But remember that having to much cash in a low-bearing interest savings account is actually a risk in and of itself because you’re losing purchasing power due to inflation. It’s a good idea to learn how to put that money to work.

“Those with a bachelor’s degree make an average of $1,000,000 more than those with just a high school diploma.” (BachelorsDegreeCenter.org)

The value of a four-year education is under scrutiny but I think the numbers speak for themselves that you’re going to make more money in your lifetime you complete a bachelor’s degree. This is not true in all circumstances and you may be doing just fine without a degree. And that’s ok!

“1 in 3 Americans can’t come up with $2,000” (YahooFinance.com)

What this study is talking about is 33% of Americans couldn’t come up with this amount of money without having to sell something or go into debt. Hopefully, this isn’t you!

“One-third of Americans would not be able to handle a $100 medical bill without going into debt.” (FoxBusiness.com)

These are probably the same people that couldn’t come up with $2,000 if they had to. That’s a lot of people living on the edge of a big financial crisis!

“Americans are dying with an average of $62K of debt.” (FoxBusiness.com

Think of how many Americans die each year. That’s a lot of unpaid debt that puts a lot of strain on close family members. I’ve worked with retired individuals before and you’d be surprised to know how many of them are still carrying their student loans with them with no plans to pay them back. 

“Women view men as unattractive if they have a lot of debt. For men, physical appearance carries more weight and debt doesn’t play a role.” (LendingTree.com)

It’s unattractive guys if you’re carrying a lot of debt. For the ladies, apparently, it’s ok as long as you’re good looking?  

“40% of people who self-identify as very attractive wouldn’t date someone with bad credit; more than 60% wouldn’t walk down the aisle with them.” (LendingTree.com)

Going back to the fact that we place a high value on credit scores, it can be embarrassing if you’re dating someone and they find out that you have a low credit score! If you want to increase your credit score check out this post that I wrote: How to Increase Your Credit Score.

“4 in 5 women think it’s very important to check your partner’s finances before marriage — only 3 in 5 men do.” 

Marriage is a big commitment! Make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. I probably wouldn’t ask for a credit report on your first date, but finances should definitely be discussed before tying the knot.

“The average American racked up $1,054 of post-holiday credit card debt, which will take the average respondent 10.28 months to repay!” (CNBC.com)

Just in time for the holidays again!

“55% of couples combine their money, up 4% since last year.” (TD Ameritrade)

What do you guys think? Is it better to combine your finances with your significant other or keep them separate?

“27% of the millennials are spending more on coffee each month than saving for retirement.” (LendEDU)

When you learn about the latte factor this can have a huge impact on your retirement! 

“49% of millennials were spending more on restaurants and dining out each month than they were saving for retirement.”

I’m not surprised to see this because eating out can get really expensive! And I get the mentality that a lot of millennials have, “why save my money for retirement when that is so far away and I could really go for a nice burger right now.” 

“Amongst millennial respondents that were saving for retirement, the average amount saved per month was $480.″

This is good! If you’re saving that amount of money per month starting at age 25 until you retire at 65, you’re going to have over $3,000,000. 

I hope this inspires you to stay on top of your finances!

Do you think these numbers are pretty accurate? 

How to Increase Your Credit Score

How to Increase Your Credit Score

As you begin improving your credit score, keep in mind it’s a marathon and not a sprint, it takes patience and hard work. A poor credit score could cost you tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. It can also become a source of serious stress. Let’s cover how to increase your credit score!

Many people struggle to improve their credit scores, and there are ways to build good credit — and reap the rewards that come with having a good credit score.

What is a FICO score and why is it so important?

The FICO score is the calculation that gives you your credit score. There’s a lot that goes into the calculation and no one knows exactly what goes into it, but we have some general ideas. FICO stands for the Fair Isaac Corporation, which is simply a company that provides the software to calculate your credit score.

This is important because this score is what every lender will look at before deciding to give you a loan. If your score is low, you run the risk of being denied or paying high-interest rates.

The FICO score ranges and what they mean

Different companies have different scoring models but The Fair Isaac Corporation has created their scoring range from 300 – 850. Having a 300 credit score essentially means you’ve made all of the mistakes possible when it comes to borrowing money. I haven’t met anyone with a credit score in the 300s, but I know they exist. Most people fall in the 600 – 700 range.

And of course, having an 850 means your credit score is perfect. I’ve also never met someone with a perfect credit score, but they are out there and no one really knows what they did to get a perfect score because it’s not easily replicable.  

The credit factors that affect your credit score and some tips on navigating these credit factors

Like I mentioned in the previous section, we don’t know everything that goes into the score but we do have general principles of things to keep in mind. To give you a general breakdown of what we think impacts the score the most, it’s broken up into 5 sections:

1. On-time payments 35%

If you miss one payment, this will have a bigger negative impact than anything else. And once you miss one it can be on your credit history forever. Make sure you make on-time payments or set up an automatic monthly minimum payment if you have to.

2. The amount of money owed 30%

This one can confuse a lot of people. It’s not just the amount of money that you owe, but the amount of money that you owe in context of how much is available expressed as a percentage rate.

For example, if you owe $2,000, it won’t have a negative impact on your score if you have a total credit limit (across all credit cards) of $50,000. This means that you have a credit usage of 4%. But if your credit limit is $2,000, well that means you’re maxed out and this will definitely have a negative impact on your score. Most experts recommend that you keep your credit usage below 30%.

Al Bingham, author of The Road to 850 recommends you keep it below 5%. I recommend that you keep it at 0% by paying off your credit cards every month. This can get tricky though because you will need to contact your credit card company and ask when they report to the credit bureaus.

In my case, my credit card companies report to each of the three credit bureaus between the 15th – 19th of each month. So, if I want my credit usage to show up as 0%, I need to make sure that all balances are paid off before the 15th.

3. Length of credit history 15%

This won’t have the biggest impact on your score but plays a big role. The amount of time that you have borrowed money is important. Think of it from the lenders perspective, would you want to lend out your nice new $60,000 BMW to someone that is just learning to drive? Of course not, it’s no different in the world of credit.

How it works is they take your average credit history, not your total credit history. Let me give you another example: Dave, who is fresh out of high school, decides he wants to open up a credit card in order to start the clock on his credit history. He buys a couple of things on his credit card and then pays it back and doesn’t open up a new credit account for five years. After five years, when he goes to apply for a mortgage, his credit history is five years.

Let’s suppose that two and a half years after high school he decides to take out an auto loan. When he goes to apply for a mortgage in five years his average credit history is only two and a half years instead of five because of the new auto loan. Most lenders like to see an average credit history of at least three years. This is why it’s important not to go borrow a bunch of money at once.

4. Credit mix 10%

The type of credit that you have borrowed also matters. There’s a difference between revolving credit and installment loans. Revolving credit is when you open up a credit card, and you can continue to use it. An installment loan is an auto loan or a cellphone contract. For example, once it’s paid off, it’s done. It’s good to have a mix of each one.

5. Inquiries 10%

Inquiries are when someone pulls your credit report when you go to apply for more credit. This could also be when you open up new accounts. Initially, it could have a negative impact on your score.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a soft inquiry and a hard inquiry. A soft inquiry is when a company is able to check what range you fall in but they can’t see your exact credit score. They don’t need your permission to do this and this is why you get pre-approved for offers in the mail. Soft inquiries don’t have a negative impact of your score.

A hard inquiry does have an impact on your score. This is when you give someone your basic information and approve them to check your credit score. Each hard inquiry can lower your credit score around 5 to 10 points but usually comes back up pretty quick.

Depending on your state you’re allowed a short time frame when applying for a large purchase to have as many inquiries as you want without it affecting your score.

For example, if you’re applying for a mortgage, you may have 30 days to “inquire” from multiple different lenders to find the best interest rate without it affecting your score. Check with your state laws.

My #1 tip if you’re looking to get a copy of your credit report for free.

Check it every four months. You can go to annualcreditreport.com and download your credit report for free. What a lot of people think (it’s what the name of the website implies), is you can only check it once a year. That’s not true. You’re allowed to check your credit report once a year from Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. That means you can spread out when you check each one every four months. I set a reminder to check my credit report on January 1st with Transunion, May 1st with Equifax, and September 1st with Experian.

It takes two minutes to go to annualcreditreport.com and download a pdf from each credit bureau and make sure everything looks ok and there is nothing suspicious and no derogatory marks.

You can also get an idea of what your credit score is by signing up with Credit Sesame. 

Why is it important to correct errors if you have them on your credit report?

It’s important to correct any errors or derogatory remarks because this could impact how lenders view you. They might look at you as high risk if something negative shows up on your credit report even if you didn’t do it. If you are classified as high risk and you have to pay a higher interest rate, this could cost you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.

What are some of the most common types of errors people should look for on their report?

Misspelled names and incorrect addresses.

What’s the best way to go about disputing an error?

Simply contact the credit bureaus and let them know that there is a mistake on your credit report. I’ve helped multiple people call and have their credit report corrected. Most of the time the credit bureaus are easy to work with when disputing errors, but sometimes it can be difficult and take months sometimes years for something to come off of your credit report. This is why I recommend checking each one every four months. 

Set up a debt repayment plan to help fix their credit

Do it yourself. Many people think that they need to pay someone else to fix their debt problems. It may be worth sitting down with someone like myself and going over a plan to pay off your debt, but I don’t recommend that you give anyone power of attorney in order to contact your creditors on your behalf.

No one cares about your money as much as you do and this oftentimes results in a lower credit score, more interest and a contract that you’re stuck with.

#1 tip for people trying to build new credit

Start small and build up from there. Don’t feel like because you’re young that you need to apply for all types of credit. Ideally, if you could avoid going into debt all together this will help you get on the path to financial freedom more than anything else.

#1 mistake people should avoid when trying to build new credit

Signing up for a retail credit card because they’ll save 10%. Don’t do this. Where people make the biggest mistake is being susceptible to the thousands of marketing messages that get thrown at us every day and spending money because they’re getting “a good deal.”

Developing discipline, being patient, and sticking with a plan is what will help you the most when it comes to building your credit and increasing your credit score.

Five Must-Have Insurance Policies

One of the biggest components of a successful financial plan is having a plan in place that will protect your most important assets.

Having the right insurance policy can go a long way toward helping you safeguard your income and possessions. Nothing will throw you off the path towards financial independence faster than an unexpected emergency. 

Don’t get confused about the different types of insurances you need. It’s important that you’re covered, but at the same time, you don’t want to be overpaying for insurance policies that take away from saving money. Deciding what insurance policies you need is one step, but deciding how much coverage you need is perhaps more important. 

We’re going to cover five types of insurance that are important for everyone to have and discuss other types of insurance that may or may not be a good fit. Everyone has a different situation and what I share cannot be applied to everyone. But, hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a clear idea of what type of insurance you need and how much. 

Health Insurance

This is a big one. Health insurance is any program that helps in the payment of medical expenses. As of 2017, the percentage of people living in America that are uninsured was 12.4%. Although you’re not required to have health insurance, there’s a penalty if you don’t. The penalty is 2.5% of your household

income or $695 per adult — whichever is higher. If you cannot afford health insurance premiums you may qualify for government assistance through either Medicaid or tax credits based on your income. 

If your employer, or your spouse’s employer, offers a health insurance plan as part of your overall employment compensation package, consider yourself lucky! It can be burdensome for companies that pay for health insurance for their employees. If you don’t have that option available to you, you’re going to have to set up your own insurance through the Marketplace. Pay attention to enrollment dates. For most people, the deadline is Dec 15th if they want to have health insurance coverage the following year. 

Also, if you’re below the age of 26, you’re most likely going to be covered by your parent’s insurance. But, there are cases when individuals will have to be responsible for their own insurance starting at the age of 18. As was my case. I’ve never had an employer offer health insurance and I’ve been responsible for paying for my own health insurance from the age of 18. There we some months that I didn’t have health insurance and others when I did. I never qualified for Medicaid but I was able to get lower premiums through tax credits for a few years which made paying for insurance easier. 

I don’t believe there is a good solution for health insurance right now and it’s one of the single biggest expenses that families are having to pay. Which is why I decided to give up health insurance and move to a health share ministry. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, it’s essentially a large group of people paying money into a large bucket of money and whenever someone from that group has a medical need they pay for it themselves and the health share ministry will reimburse them the cost. 

If I was paying for a health insurance premium for myself and my newborn son (my wife is under 26), our premium would be $510 per month. Which is still below the family average of $833 per month. But instead, I pay $219 per month into a health share. That’s a $291 difference which adds up to a $3,492 per year savings! It requires more upfront work on my part to submit receipts and invoices and it can take a few months to get reimbursed for medical expenses, but so far I have been pleased with the service and I’m definitely loving the cost savings. We’re a healthy family and it is hard for me to justify the cost of insurance in 2018. If you’d like to learn more about health share ministries and who I use, reach out to me and I’d be happy to help you out! 

Send me an email at scott@simplifinances.com

Car Insurance

If you live inside the states, you are required to have car insurance. Although it’s unlikely you will have to use your car insurance, normal people every day get in car accidents. Here are a few things to consider when you are considering purchasing a car insurance policy:

  • How much coverage do you need? For those with an older car, no more than the bare minimum may be required. However, if you have a newer car or a car with high value, you’re going to need more coverage and you may want to insure it against theft. 
  • How much liability coverage do I need? Liability coverage is required on all insurance policies and it comes in two forms: bodily injury and property damage liability. These cover damage to others and their property. They do not cover the driver and the passenger, however. 
  • Do I need personal injury protection? This type of coverage will cover medical expenses related to driver and passenger injuries. Though you may have to pay a deductible, your health insurance should provide benefits for your medical expenses. However, if you have minimum coverage or no health insurance at all, personal injury protection could ensure you aren’t left with a mound of medical bills that could force you to file for bankruptcy following an accident.
  • Do I need collision protection? Get collision insurance if you want your insurance to cover the cost of damage done to your car, whether you are at fault or not. I have always paid cash for my cars that are in the range of $2,000 – $6,000 cars. I’ve never needed to purchase collision because I owned the car and I’m willing the take the risk that if my car were to get hit and it was my fault I would front the cost to fix my own car. 
  • Do I need comprehensive coverage? Collision only covers damage done in an accident. For example, if hail destroys your car, you’ll need comprehensive insurance to get compensation. 
  • Do I need uninsured or underinsured motorist? This covers you in the event that the person who hits your car does not have enough insurance to cover the damage – or any coverage at all. 

“I was driving down the highway when a car crossed into my lane. I suffered 15 broken bones and my car was destroyed. The other driver was uninsured. After the collision, I learned my car was under-insured. I also learned that the $25,000 wheelchair in my vehicle was not covered at all. Now, I have to make payments on a vehicle that’s destroyed while also finding the money to buy a new wheelchair.”

Homeowner’s and/or Renters Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance is essential for protecting your most valuable asset against damage and theft. If you own a home you’re required to carry homeowner’s insurance. But homeowner’s insurance sometimes isn’t enough to fully protect your home. Ask your insurance agent if you need additional insurance against flooding, earthquakes, fires, and other disasters. It also doesn’t protect the items inside of the home. 

Renters insurance covers you against damage or theft of your personal items, (whether you are renting or not).

I get mine through USAA.

You’re not required to have this but the low cost can be well worth the peace of mind. The reason you would want renters insurance is to cover items such as your computer, bed, furniture, etc. It’s important to take an inventory of all of your stuff to make sure you’re adequately covered in the event of a fire or theft. You may not need to pay for coverage on every single item. Just the necessities. You may also consider purchasing separate coverage for higher ticket items such as jewelry. My wife’s wedding ring was pretty expensive so we pay a premium each month to cover that rock. Which is sort of weird if you really think about it! 

The national average premium for homeowners insurance is $1,083 or $90 a month. For renters insurance, the average annual premium is $144 per year or $12 per month. 

Life Insurance

Two questions you need to ask yourself when considering purchasing life insurance: 1. Do you owe someone and 2. Do you love someone? If you answered yes to either one of these questions then you need life insurance! Which is pretty much about everyone. 

No one likes to think about it, but life insurance is an essential component of protecting your family in the event that you die. Did you know it actually costs money to die? Oh, and did you know that humans have a 100% mortality rate? I hate to break it to you, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE. No one is making it out of here alive. The question is when, and the longer you wait to get insurance the more expensive it’s going to be. 

Sally is married to Rick. Rick dies shoveling manure and doesn’t have life insurance. Insurance agent Bob shows up to Sally’s house and says, “I’m sorry about your loss Sally, as we know Rick didn’t have life insurance, but it’s ok because I’m able to set up a life insurance policy called “After Death Life Insurance. How much coverage would you like?” If there was such a thing how much do you think Sally would get? AS MUCH AS SHE CAN. Sadly that’s not how it works. So when deciding how much life insurance you need the amount you can get is based on your income.

If you’re the primary breadwinner for your family, life insurance will help your family offset the lost income. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve never been able to borrow money and no one loves me.” Well, then you probably don’t need life insurance. But, who’s going to cover your funeral expenses when you die? For most people, if you haven’t taken the time to buy life insurance, let this be the motivation you need to start a life insurance policy today.

I pay $18 a month through USAA for a 10 year $500,000 life insurance policy. 

I’ve heard too many stories of people that kept putting it off and putting it off, and bam they were taken by the bus leaving their family in a horrible situation. Get life insurance! 

You can expect to pay $10 – $30 a month for life insurance premiums.

Disability Insurance

This is similar to life insurance in that it reimburses you for income lost during periods of time that you are not able to work. For example, if you fall off scaffolding and break your femur, health insurance and/or workers comp will cover the cost of your medical bills, but what about your monthly income? If you don’t have disability insurance and you’re unable to work you’re going to really be feeling it financially.

Another example, let’s say a surgeon has to be able to use his hands to perform a surgery. If he breaks his thumb playing church basketball he will be unable to perform his job. So oftentimes, in that case, a surgeon may only purchase a disability insurance policy for his hands. If he breaks a leg it doesn’t matter he can still do his job. 

Disability is hard to justify for a lot of people and this is usually the last type of insurance that people will pay for. But if you run the risk of getting hurt at any point and your income depends on your body functioning properly, you may want to consider getting this insurance. 

In most cases, a long-term disability insurance policy will cost 1-3% of your annual salary and is the most cost-effective form of income protection you can get, starting at around $25 a month and going as high as $500 a month.

Insurance you don’t need

  • Flight insurance: Flying is pretty darn safe.
  • Life insurance for kids: Life insurance exists to replace lost income.
  • Accidental death insurance: This can be a really hard one to collect on.
  • Disease insurance: A good health insurance policy will do the trick.
  • Mortgage life insurance: This is a redundant type of life insurance. 

The nice thing about insurance is you can have the peace of mind of transferring risk to a third-party. It can suck to pay a bunch of money each month when you’re most likely not going to have to use it. But you never know what could happen and you’ll be glad you had insurance if something does happen. Based on the example I shared, you’re going to be paying around $724 per month to cover all five of these bases. Although it may seem like a lot, if something were to happen you’re good to keep reaching for financial independence because you were prepared and you worked it into your financial plan. 

Here’s the conclusion. You need insurance. Policies can come in all shapes and sizes. Shop carefully, read the policies and make sure you understand the coverage and the cost.

Is College Really Worth It?

Is College Really Worth It?

College didn’t change me, but the difficult grind and grueling process of getting better did.

Sitting in a stadium filled with 2,000 other graduates. A special moment for anyone finishing college. Lining up, receiving diplomas, and taking pictures with a cap and gown with a string on the cap (why the tassel?). Friends and families celebrate the long nights and difficult tests. The events leading up to this moment are filled with difficulties and a process of learning not to give up.  

Six months ago, I finished my four-year college degree and celebrated two weeks ago. I’m proud of it. But, I wouldn’t have done it if I had to borrow student loans. The process was anything but easy and I’m going to share with you some of the challenges I faced and what my thoughts are about higher education. 

My college experience

My grandma graduated from the University of Utah years ago. She has around 300 grandkids (I don’t know the exact number and that’s not a typo), and because of that, an army of fans was created. It was always a dream on mine to graduate from the U. It was on every vision board I have created. Looking back, it was because I wanted my family members to feel proud of me for doing something difficult and I wanted to prove to myself that it was possible. 

When I finished high school, my grades were average and my ACT score was poor. I didn’t put a lot of effort into getting good grades. I was focused on my free throw shot and how many dances I could go to with a different girl. I wouldn’t change it because I learned a lot and made many good friends. 

I was excited to attend college. But was disappointed when a letter came in the mail saying I wasn’t accepted to my first choice of schools. I attended my local state college to complete my associate’s degree. My mother was single with five kids, so I qualified for the maximum Pell grant for those two years and left with no debt and a large amount of savings. The decision to go to a state college saved me $24,000! I wouldn’t change that either. Anyone looking to attend an expensive four-year college should consider going to a two-year school first. 

In college, I became a different person. I’ve never slept through any college classes, I read books in between classes, and aside from my girlfriend, I didn’t have a social life. I did well and was enjoying the learning process. I reapplied to the University of Utah and was accepted. 

In business school, the classes were competitive. Classmates were so focused on getting straight A’s that they put all their time and energy into it. I found it difficult to compete, especially because I was working two jobs. Meanwhile, many were not working but student loans were stacking up. I’m not saying the way I did college was right. I wasn’t trying to work for a big company or get into a prestigious school. I was focused on practicality and doing everything I could to graduate debt free. Working two jobs makes it difficult to get straight A’s. But who cares? I didn’t mind getting a B in some of my classes. 

I love to learn. I would go to class hungry to learn new things. Monday mornings I can’t wait to wake up and get the week started. In all of my classes, I may not have had the highest test scores, but I was focused on the real world application of what I was learning. Not simply regurgitating memorized information and forgetting it the next day. I asked the question all of the time, “when am I going to use this?” I used my classes to actually learn and get an education. You could go four years memorizing flash cards and not learn a single thing.  

In my finance classes, students would pride themselves on getting the highest grade on the test and in the class, yet they’ve never invested any of their own money and don’t know a lick about personal finances. Finance in business school is filled with useless formulas. Learn something, apply a formula and you get an answer. But in the real world, that doesn’t work and most of those formulas are crap. Professors make the class more difficult than it needs to be with pointless formulas because it’s fun to teach and it’s hard for students to learn. In reality, a professor could spend the first class talking about what really works in finance and then have nothing else to teach. 

Students with business degrees leave school and don’t know how to manage their own finances. 

Are we living in a student debt crisis?

Having a four-year degree isn’t all that special anymore. It’s equivalent to a high school degree twenty years ago. My class was the largest class to graduate in school history. 

I was in a unique situation during college as a financial counselor. I learned what other’s financial situations were. Not a lot of people get to know that. I’ve seen the number of kids coming out of college with massive debt. And then coming out of the school system with nothing of an opportunity for it. 

In the end, is a college degree worth it? I don’t have the answer. I’m certainly not opposed to it. But we need to scrutinize college.  

Our economy collapsed on the housing crisis of credit before. You all remember. This country is going to crash on the college debt lending we have right now. You may not know this but tons of kids in their 20’s and 30’s are getting tons credit and borrowing a lot of money to buy a fancy car and vacation because in America you want “nice things.” We’re in huge debt. With insane college interest rates and you’re making no money to pay it back. Our country will go into a recession on the back of the college debt crisis. I think college is broken.

It could happen tomorrow. It could be next year or ten years from now. No one knows when but it’s going to happen. I’ve met with undergrad students with $100,000+ in student loans. Who let them borrow this much money, how are they going to afford the payments? Our education system does not care how much money you borrow. They want you to finish your degree. That’s it! They are a business and you are the product. 

After purchasing my cap and gown, they included a card that said, “thank you for your business.” I thought, “do I really have a choice?” “Haven’t I paid them enough already that the cap and gown should be included?” “I’ll wear it once for three hours and never touch it again.” 

Conclusion

You don’t need a college degree to be successful. What are your skills and what can you do with them. If you want to work for someone, you may need a piece of paper.  But, no one cares what grade you got in your history class. 

Again, I am not opposed to college. I understand you need a degree for certain professions. Just understand the opportunity cost of going to college and realize that four years could really set you back.

The number one concern for employers when hiring new graduates is they don’t know how to critically think. They expect to be fed the information, given the formula, and viola, they get an answer. You’ll learn nothing in college that will change your life. It’s the application of what you learn and the skills you apply that will set you apart and give you the life that you want to live. 

Is college right for you and your kids?

How to Hack College

How to Hack College

Four strategies to graduate from college debt-free. 

Last week, I wrote a post on ways to pay off your student loans. This is part two of that post on how to avoid taking out loans in the first place. There are many ways to graduate debt-free but these are strategies I used to obtain my undergraduate degree for free. I’ve met only a few people who have done this successfully.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the most expensive college in my state with zero debt. My cost of attendance ended up being close to $50,000. I didn’t have an athletic full-ride scholarship, help from parents or an employer. I worked full time, between 40 – 50 hours a week with two jobs while taking at least 12 credits a semester. I worked my way through college. 

This happened in four ways: The FAFSA, scholarships, an IDA account (if you don’t know what that is google it and see if your state offers it), and my personal savings.

What is the FAFSA?

Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the official form used to request federal, state and school assistance in paying for college. The FAFSA asks questions to determine the student’s level of financial need and establish his or her expected family contribution, or the amount of money the student and parents are expected to pay out of pocket for the student’s college expenses.

Based on your situation you could have up to $5,800 per year in grants. I qualified for the full amount of Pell Grants for the first few years because my mother was single with five kids. I’ve heard of way too many students not filling out the application and have missed out on a ton of money!

Should I attend community college?

I went to my local community college for the first few years and finished my associate’s degree for free. A decision that saved me $24,000. I then transferred to get my bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah. 

Can I really get scholarships?

I was worried about how I was going to afford my bachelor’s. I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. So I went crazy applying for scholarships. I didn’t want to waste time so I made a small investment of $7.99 and ordered a book off of Amazon called “How to Write an Award-Winning Scholarship Essay.” I ended up receiving over $13,000 in scholarships. It was the best $8 I’ve ever spent! A 162,400% ROI. If I didn’t apply what I learned in that book, I wouldn’t have graduated debt-free.

What is an IDA?

An Individual Development Account (IDA) is an asset-building tool designed to enable low-income families to save towards a targeted amount usually used for building assets in the form of homeownership, post-secondary education, and small business ownership.

Because my wife and I were newly married and I only worked half of the previous year because I was on a church service mission we qualified to participate in the IDA. Over a two year period of saving money each month, I was able to use $4,500 towards college. 

Can you do it with a Master’s Degree?

I finished my bachelor’s degree with no debt and I am starting a Masters in Personal Finance in the fall and already have a plan in place to not have to borrow loans. 

I have taken a challenge upon myself to graduate debt-free with a master’s degree. I picked a master’s degree that will cost me about $19,000. I already have $9,000 secured in scholarships, $4,000 covered because I will be working for the university, which leaves me with $6,000 out of pocket. I will pay for that by working and my last semester of college I’ll wipe out any loans I may have from my savings. 

Graduating debt-free requires a ton of work.

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