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by on June 02, 2014 10:50 AM

Recently I spent a few days on the campus of a private university in the Midwest. I was there to speak to the students on money matters — specifically the student loans many of these students will take with them as part of their college experience.

Remember the days when to get a loan you had to qualify and prove you had the capacity to repay the debt? Well, for college students those days are history. They do not need to have a job or a co-signer to get humongous amounts of student debt. And, from what I discovered on my recent visit, students are more than willing to accept large amounts of student debt and at the same time load up on the credit card debt as well.

But here’s the good news. These young adults are willing to listen to advice from someone who’s been around the block with debt. Seizing the moment, I told them:

Accept the least amount of help possible, not the most available. Just because you can borrow enough money each semester to pay for tuition, room, board and books doesn’t mean you should. You’ll never believe how difficult it is to pay back. Check yourself out of governmental outpatient care. Get a job. And in the summer get two jobs or three. Then get some skin in this game. Make your own way as soon as possible and you’ll reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

’Tis easier to borrow than to repay. For every dollar you borrow to pay for college the typical repayment plan will require that you pay back at least two dollars. You can reject that plan if you work twice as hard in your first three years out of school — even harder than you worked in college. Double up on your payments; work as many jobs as possible. Delay starting a family. Don’t buy a new car or dive headlong into a big house payment. Concentrate on wiping out your student debts as quickly as possible. That’s a gift you can give yourself that you will never regret.

Understand what “entry level” means. There’s a pervasive attitude among college students that Really Great Jobs await those with degrees. Yes, your lifetime earnings will surpass what your peers without degrees can expect to earn. But not in the beginning. You must plan to start at the bottom. This is called the “entry level.” There are no Really Great (paying) Jobs at the entry level. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, stockbrokers — all professions require entry at the bottom. That means the lowest pay. If you think you had to scrape and scrimp in college, consider that a rehearsal for the real world. Do not fantasize about making the big bucks from the get-go.

Enjoy these years in college. Even with all the pressure of paying for your education while keeping up your good grades, make sure you learn all you can, do all you can and pay all you can now. That’s the way to make these the best years of your life.

Mary invites questions at, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement,” released in 2013. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at
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