Modern Alternatives to Taking out Student Loans

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Career success today largely depends upon having a college degree. In fact, graduate degrees are even becoming a necessity for some careers. But, undergraduate and graduate school can take a heavy toll financially on students after graduation.

College graduates typically have an average of between $13,000 and $30,000 in student loan debt upon completing their undergraduate studies, leaving many forced to return home until they can get a handle on their debt and find security in their first jobs.

Fortunately, students do have alternatives to taking out student loans if they’re willing to put in the legwork to find those opportunities. The first step for any student, who needs financial assistance, is to fill out the FAFSA form, which will determine whether he or she is eligible for grant money. Grant money is a financial gift that, unlike a student loan, the student does not have to pay back. Many colleges and universities also offer grant money for financially needy students, with some grants put aside specifically for student-athletes, students who excel, and so on.

In addition to grant money, millions of dollars in scholarship money is available annually from scores of sources – private organizations, non-profits, local towns and cities. Unfortunately, thousands upon thousands of dollars go unawarded each year for a lack of applicants.

If you need money for college and don’t want to find yourself debt strapped upon graduation, start researching scholarships early and often. You’ll find hundreds of sites – like www.fastweb.com – that list legitimate scholarship opportunities. You can also talk with people you know; perhaps a parent works at a company that offers scholarships for employees’ children. Your college career office can also be a valuable source of information.

College tuition is expensive whether you opt for a private or a public university. Many students have discovered the savings and financial benefits of starting their college careers at a local community college. Community colleges often offer the same courses at the same level of instruction for a much lower per-credit rate.

Students generally work with career counselors to ensure their credits will transfer to a four year school, and many schools have scholarships and grants dedicated specifically for transfer students.

Even if you’ve already racked up the student loans, you might be able to have them forgiven. Teachers at low-income school districts can often have a portion of their student loans forgiven while graduates can receive a maximum of 70 percent loan forgiveness through the Peace Corps. A comprehensive list of loan forgiveness programs and eligibility requirements can be found at The U.S. Department of Education or FinAid.org.

You can also consolidate your loans to make your loan payments more affordable each month. To learn more about student loan consolidation, check out the Federal Student Aid website.

A college education is a huge investment of your time and your money, but debt from student loans doesn’t have to become overwhelming. You do have options, if you’re proactive, for keeping your debt down and paying off the debt you do have once you graduate.

George Gallagher writes for popular finance and education blogs.  He is currently in the midst of helping students find ways to pay for the fall semester, including private student loan options.

Low Debt is Good, But a High Credit Score is Better

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The higher your credit score, the better loan terms you will be offered when it comes time to buy a new house, car or other major purchase. Having a high credit score means having the freedom to know you will be able to get approved for financing when you are in the midst of an emergency.

So now that you know how important it is to have a high credit score, what are some of the things you can do to pull your own score over to the excellent side of things? Much like a dieter who needs to face the scale in order to have a starting point of reference, you need to obtain a free copy of your credit report to know where you stand before you can go about trying to improve anything. Once you have your report in hand, the following five tips will help you get that score up if you need to.

Make Sure Your Credit Report is Accurate

There are a surprisingly high number of inaccuracies on credit reports simply because consumers do not take the time to report wrong information. You should pay particular attention to duplicate accounts, an incorrect address, date of birth or social security number, accounts you don’t recall opening and negative information being reported that is more than seven years old.

By law, credit reporting agencies can only keep information about your payment history with various creditors on file for seven years, whether negative or positive. The exception to this is bankruptcy and other public records, which can be kept on file for up to ten years.

Report Errors to the Credit Bureau

If you notice an account that is still being reported late even though you have paid it, report this to the credit reporting agency. They are required to follow up with the creditor to verify the status, and to remove the negative mark if it can’t be proven. All types of errors should be reported to insure that your information is accurate when you need it to be.

Be Timely with Your Bills

Paying your bills on time each month is key to having a higher credit score. If you tend to forget to mail payments, set up bill pay or automatic withdrawal to make sure that every creditor is paid on time every month.

Watch Your Debt to Income Ratio

It doesn’t reflect well on you if you are maxed out on all of your credit cards and are now seeking even more credit. This is refererred to as debt to income ratio, and most lenders like to see a rate lower than 36 percent. If yours is higher than that, start by paying off your smallest bill first and continue until you have eliminated all non-essential debt.  Your accountant can help you with keeping your finances in good standing.

Keep Accounts Open

Even if you no longer use a credit account, by keeping it open you will raise the amount of available credit. The more available credit you have, the higher your score will be.

If you hire an accountant or bookkeeper you can often save yourself considerably on your taxes.  It’s definitely worth the investment to keep your credit in good standing.