A Rough Guide to Repaying Student Loans

There are really two things to know about student loans: How to get them, and what to do when you have to start paying them back. I'm going to write about the latter, as I am more experienced with that aspect. It seems everyone can figure out how to get student loans (whether or not they are getting the best deal), but paying them back can be more confusing.

Most federal student loans come with a grace period of six months during which you are not required to make payments. That means if you graduated in May of this year, your grace period is coming to a close and you have some decisions to make.

What do I owe?

The first step is to find out how much you owe and to whom. Your financial aid office can help you with this, as can this site.

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Debt is Slavery book review

One of my goals for the next two years is to write a book about personal finance. I want it to be a practical volume filled with great tips, while also exploring the personal side of money issues. The real trick is that I want it to be a short book — no quizzes, no jargon, no padding — and that's not something that appeals to most publishers. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Michael Mihalik has already written a book similar to the one I have in mind!

The body of Debt is Slavery (and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money) is just 88 pages packed with sensible advice about money. Like me, Mihalik made some dumb financial choices when he was young, and he spent years struggling to recover from his mistakes. Debt is Slavery is the distillation of all that he has learned about personal finance. If you've been reading Get Rich Slowly for a while, Mihalik's lessons won't be new, but he does an excellent job of presenting each point.

Related >> How Do You Budget for Experiences After Debt?

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You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

My friend Gillian called the other day — she's been having money trouble and was looking for help. "I'm not really a financial advisor," I told her. "I write about money, and I try to help people at my website, but I'm not qualified to coach you one-on-one." Still, she's a friend, so I resolved to at least give her some advice. I asked her to explain the situation.

"Tom and I are working all the time, but we're always broke. He just wrecked his car, but we don't have money to get it repaired. We'll have to use the credit cards again. We don't have any other choice. There's never anything left at the end of the month," she said. "I need some help budgeting so that we don't keep having this problem."

"Well, let's see what we can do. I guess the best place to start is with your monthly income and your monthly expenses. How much do you and Tom bring home each month?" I asked. Continue reading...

More about...Budgeting, Debt, Psychology

The Debt to Pleasure: What is the Cost of Fun?

Last weekend, I played paintball for the second time in my life. I had great fun charging through undergrowth, hiding behind logs, and shooting my friends at close range. Paintball is a blast, but I'm amazed at how much it costs to play. We each paid $25 to use the field and an additional $25 for paint. The total cost was $50 for about five hours of playtime — roughly $10 an hour.

On the drive home, we compared the cost of paintball to the cost of laser tag. Last fall, we spent $7 per person for each twenty minute game of laser tag. That's $21/hour — twice the cost of paintball. Some of our group felt the higher cost was worth it; others thought paintball was a much better deal.

This made me wonder: What are the hourly costs for other recreational activities? How much do we spend to have fun? Do people consider how much pastimes cost, and which would they continue to pursue if they realized how much they were spending?

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Real-life choices: Retirement savings vs. debt reduction

I've accumulated $3500 and I don't know what to do with it.

As you may recall, I am carrying the remainder of my credit card debt in the form of a home-equity loan (or HELOC). The current balance on this debt is $15,000 and I'm paying a 9.25% finance charge. I intend to have this debt eliminated by March 2008. It's an ambitious goal.

In order to make this happen, I've had to forego investing in my Roth IRA. I established this retirement account last spring, but only put $650 into it before focusing on the HELOC. Now I have the money to fully fund it, but don't know whether to do so, or to continue attacking the debt aggressively. There's a time-pressure to this decision: Roth IRA contributions for 2006 must be completed by April 17th.

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In praise of the debt snowball

During my twenties, I accumulated nearly $25,000 in consumer debt. I had a spending problem. With time, I was able to get my spending under control (mostly), but I still owned overwhelming debt. How could I get rid of it?

The personal finance books all suggested the same approach:

  1. Order your debts from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate.
  2. Designate a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month.
  3. Pay the minimum payment on all debts except the one with the highest interest rate.
  4. Throw every other penny at the debt with the highest interest rate.
  5. When that debt is gone, do not alter the monthly amount used to pay debts, but throw all you can at the debt with the next-highest interest rate.

This made perfect sense. By doing this, I would be paying the minimum amount in interest over the long term. The trouble was, my highest-interest rate debt was also my debt with the biggest balance (a fully-maxed $12,000 credit card at 19.8% interest). I'd plug away at this debt for several months at a time, but then give up because it felt like I was never getting anywhere.

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The Secret History of the Credit Card

How did the United States become a nation of debtors? When did credit cards become popular? Did you know that many modern credit card policies are the creation of one man?

The Secret History of the Credit Card was a 2004 "Frontline" presentation from the Public Broadcasting System. The program examines the nation's use of credit and, more specifically, the methods used by credit card companies to obtain enormous profits. The Secret History of the Credit Card won the 2004-2005 Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism.

PBS has made the entire program freely available online in RealMedia and Windows Media formats. The broadcast is divided into five segments of roughly twelve-minutes each for easier download.

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More about...Credit, Debt