After Graduation… Student Debt?

After my wife Allison's and my most recent graduation.

After my wife Allison’s and my most recent graduation.

As the calendar turns to May, many students across the United States and Canada are preparing to graduate. Some are graduating from college or graduate school. Many others are preparing to graduate from high school, and then either enter the workforce or continue their educations in college.

All of these graduations are major life achievements worth celebrating. So in some ways I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but graduation can also mean it’s time to really look at and prepare for paying back your student debt.

For high school students preparing to begin college or further study, higher education loans are likely the first ones you will be taking on in your life. Most student loans require you to complete some kind of basic education about the loans, including learning about the life of the loans and their cost often online in a half hour or less.

This introductory information is helpful, but if you are like I was when I graduated from high school a decade ago, you may complete the online “training” with little more thought than going through the motions. Had I paid more attention, I would have better understood the potential for long-term student debt.

Those of you graduating college and entering the workforce will likely have a “grace period” on your loan payments upon graduation. After that period you will be required to make regular payments on your loan debt. Spend some time determining what those payments are and how they are structured, including the amount of interest. If able, I recommend beginning paying them off as soon as possible as to cut down on the amount of accrued interest.

Those who graduate from college and continue education with graduate study can place your school loans in deferment because you are continuing your education. However, if you are working while a student, it might be wise to make some kind of payments toward your student loan debt to at least reduce the cost of interest. (Not to mention that your student loan debt may continue to increase if you have added loans for your graduate education.)

These nuggets and observations are ones I have learned from experience. They are not necessarily bad things, but it’s helpful to have awareness and understanding of them.

Returning to graduation, congratulations on your studies and best wishes on your life’s journeys and next steps!

As we celebrate the graduation season during May and June,

  • What questions do you have about student loans and student loan debt?
  • What things are you wondering as you make final decisions and preparations for what’s next?

These are the questions that COMPASS will be exploring over the next few weeks. Please join the conversation.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Eco-Friendly on a Budget

As the calendar turns to April, our focus turns to environmental stewardship. Later this month, on Friday April 22nd, the World will observe Earth Day 2016. In observance, the COMPASS blog will feature perspectives all about being environmentally friendly on a budget and our stewardship of the Earth.

eco friendlyThe first post in this series will take up the idea that “We Are What We Eat.” In addition to this, other reflections will include thoughts pertaining to: the stewardship of recycling; sustainability; community agriculture; the work of restoring creation; as well as water stewardship. If you would like to share a post or reflection within this theme, please let me know as we are always looking for more perspectives to share as part of COMPASS and our shared conversation about faith and finances.

To begin our conversation, consider these questions:

  • Do you think about where the food you eat comes from?
  • Do you actively recycle in your home and office?
  • Do you produce more things that go into recycling each week, or the garbage?
  • Do you leave lights on in rooms that you are not seated in? How about water running while you are brushing your teeth?
  • How might the answers to these questions be informed by your faith?

A Personal Confession

In asking these questions, I have to confess that I often come up a bit short. I don’t always eat the healthiest diet, nor always look for the most sustainable source of food. I do occasionally leave lights on in rooms that I am not in, and from time to time catch myself leaving the water running while no longer actively using the faucet. Even with the ability to recycle, I still think my wife Allison and I produce more garbage than recycling.

I work hard to recycle both at home and in the office, and this is made easier by living in neighborhoods and cities where recycling is a priority. However, I have come to learn through traveling, that this is not always the case across the country and world in all communities.

The way we care for our environment matters to me, because I believe that we are called to be stewards of creation. In Genesis we are reminded that God has created all, and invites us to participate with God in caring for it and working with it. When we lose sight of this, when we don’t show care for it, we are all impacted. Not only does it negatively impact the quality of our planet, it shows disrespect for the beauty that God has created for us to live and work in.

Environmental Stewardship on a Budget

How we live faithfully in this way on a budget sometimes may mean a bit more of a cost. Choosing to eat healthier may not always be the cheaper option. Recycling may not always be more budget friendly than garbage. But at least, utility costs are usually positively impacted when you turn the lights off as well as the faucet off. And, if you don’t mind it in the summer, you can turn the temperature up on your thermostat to save energy during the day, as well as down a bit during the winter to cut down on heating costs.

As we take up these questions this month, I invite you to share your perspective, and I look forward to the conversation together.

timothy headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and focuses especially on the center’s COMPASS initiative focused on creating conversations and resources for faith and finances among younger Adults and Millennials. Timothy also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles and blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

Image Credit: Eco Friendly

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Managing Debt

A new part of the COMPASS resources this year are live chats with thought leaders on the month’s theme featured on the blog. During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March.”

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

This past week Sandy Crozier presented on Managing Debt offering tips and ideas for how to repay debt, have emergency savings, and to be financially fit. The recording of the chat is available here to watch the discussion and gain Sandy’s wisdom.

Please note, as this was the first COMPASS Live Chat there were a few technical issues in the first 5-10 minutes of the recording, but after that, it worked well.

Enjoy the presentation, and please share any thoughts, questions, or comments on the topic that you may have here in the questions and we’ll continue the faith and finances conversation about managing debt together.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Faithful Fun with Finances in February

How is that for some alliteration? COMPASS’ focus and mission is on creating conversations related to faith and finances for Millennials and young adults. This month on the COMPASS blog, we will dig deeply into some fresh financial topics such as credit scores, credit cards, taxes, income tax filing, and student debt. In March, we’ll continue a focus on finances with a closer look at debt management.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

I am looking forward to sharing posts with you on the blog from persons who have far more expertise on these topics than I do. To start the conversation though, I have a few thoughts about some of our February topics.

Credit Scores

I am no expert when it comes to credit scores, but I have checked my wife’s and mine a few times because of having a credit card and paying student loans. I have learned that paying bills regularly and on time has a positive impact on your credit score. The credit score is one factor that is used when deciding if you will be approved for loans or other credit.

Income Taxes

In the United States, income taxes must be filed by Friday April 15th this year. Because of this, I am guessing that most of you have not yet started preparing your tax forms. I have to admit, I haven’t either. It’s on my agenda for this month, and I will let you know on the blog how that goes. Here are some things you can start doing now before filling out your paper or e-form:

  1. Find your 2015 receipts that you might use for deductions.
  2. Make sure that you have received all W-2s and other such forms (like 1099-Misc.) which you receive.
  3. Do a little research to determine the best way for you to do your tax preparation (e.g., do you need an accountant, tax preparation software, do you do it by hand??). The approach will vary based on your level of patience, time, interest, and expertise.

Student Loan Debt

At the start of each month my wife Allison and I make sure to set up payments for our student loans. Because we try to pay enough to reduce the principal in addition to the interest, it’s always nice to see that the total amount has gone down, thanks to the previous payment! If possible, adjust your payment schedule and/or amount to pay more than just the interest on student loans.

These are just a few observations from my experience. It’s also helpful to remember that in spite of all of the stress that financial matters can create, God is present with you. One of my favorite passages to remember which helps me put things in perspective and gives me patience is Isaiah 43:1-7.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you… you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear, for I am with you.” ~  from Isaiah 43:1-5, NRSV.

What are some financial questions and topics that you have been wondering about?

About the Author: Timothy blogs regularly and serves as the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center with a focus on COMPASS. He also serves at Messiah Lutheran as the congregation’s mission developer.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Hearts

Frugal Fall: A Financial Self-Examination

During October, the COMPASS blog is sharing thoughts, tips, and reflections about having a Frugal Fall. Today, we are happy to welcome back regular contributor Nicole Brennan, a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation. Nicole shares some important ideas and reflections about a “Financial Self-Examination.”

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their visit to see Pope Francis while he was visiting the United States.

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia while he was visiting the United States.

There is an underlying pressure to make the most of the hot weather during the summer months. My days and evenings were booked trying to squeeze in bike rides, family outings, church fundraisers, date nights, and road trips. Now that autumn is upon us, it almost seems the slight chill in the air makes everyone slow down a bit. Take advantage of fall inactivity and whatever breathing room you have to assess your financial health!

I am very money-minded while travelling on a budget, but my “big-picture” finances tend to get a bit away from me. I have automatic withdrawal for all my bills and automatic deposit with my paycheck. Since everything is pre-programmed, it is very convenient, but the details (and my overall financial health) are sometimes lost. I recently asked myself these four questions to audit myself and see how I am doing.

Am I Following My Budget?

I use my credit card for everything- gas, groceries, clothes, and all the miscellaneous stuff in between. When the email comes saying “Time to Pay!” I look over the expenses to make sure they are accurate, maybe add them up if I have time, and spend my accrued points. If you haven’t made up a budget, a monthly spreadsheet in Excel only takes a few minutes to set up, and you can see your immediate monetary stats all in one place. If you already have one, now is a great time to update it, and make adjustments as needed.

What Do My Retirement Savings Look Like?

My financial advisor (aka- my dad) has always taught me to save, and it’s a value I hold near and dear. If you have a company retirement plan, take advantage of it! If not, then personally set one up ASAP! Your HR representative will be able to help if you are with a company. However, if you are an entrepreneur and/or don’t have company help, consult a financial advisor. (You can try to “go it alone,” but if you are unfamiliar with the financial world, it will be difficult. To get started, do some research about 401(k), 403(b), Roth and IRA options at IRS.gov.)This is a great calculator to help you understand what your projected retirement saving goals look like and where they need to be. It factors in rate of return, current and future salary, current age, age of retirement, and a few other factors. It’s fairly simple to understand, and there’s a handy glossary of common terms below.

Did I Use All My Benefits?

Most companies are re-upping for their health/dental/vision insurance and their HSA/FSA  (Health/Flex Spending Accounts) about this time of year. If you have these, have you taken full advantage of them? Have you gotten your annual physical and dental check-up, yet? If you have money left in your HSA/FSA, spend it! And speaking of your HSA/FSA, evaluate whether you need to add more or subtract some for next year.

Have I Donated to Charity and My Church?

During your self-audit, it’s very easy to adopt a “broke” mentality. “I’m so broke, I only have this amount in my savings!” “I’m so broke, I can barely stay within my budget!” “I’m so broke, I can only squirrel away a tiny portion towards my retirement!”  It also might be easy to deny tithing or giving to your church and charity, because of this mentality. The truth is we are abundantly blessed by God. We have enough, and the OPPORTUNITY for enough, to pay our bills, visit a doctor, and save what we can. It is an honor to bless those places and people when and where we can. There is a joy that comes from giving. Make room in your budget to experience that joy!

COMPASS resources explore the connection between faith and finances, so looking honestly at your financial health is an important spiritual practice. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (NRSV). It is essential to be wise with what God has blessed us with here on earth, and that means knowing and improving your financial situation as God gives you the ability to do so.

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoying live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking about Faith and Finances- One Couple’s Experience

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. In hearing it, I have decided that our conversation will make for a two-part series. Today’s post will shed light on how they as a couple have grown since getting married and attending seminary, especially related to talking about money together. The next post will be specifically about their experience of buying a new home.

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I, after Amanda and Jeremy graduated from seminary.

Timothy (T): First of all, Amanda and Jeremy, thank you so much for being willing to share your story with me, reflecting on how you talk about faith and finances, and how those conversations have led you into very recently purchasing your first house.

Jeremy (J): We are excited to share our story, and hope it helps other young adults and young families in having these conversations.

T: Amanda and Jeremy, how do you have conversations about faith and finances? What challenges have you faced in having these conversations?

J: Good question Timothy. Having these conversations has been a growing process for sure. We each grew up with different understandings and familiarities when it comes to talking about and managing money.

Amanda (A): We had no clue what we were doing when we started.

J: I felt like I had some clue, but I admit, I didn’t know much. I think we were both raised with the idea that, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.’’ Because of this, we were naturally inclined to not want to spend, especially as we were paying for college and seminary. We were, and really are, inclined to want to save, and live frugally as much as we could. But that looked differently for both of us.

A: When we were first married, it was really difficult to have money conversations.

J: My dad and uncle invested for a long time, including investing in me. For example, growing up, I showed heifers (cows) at the county fair, and after showing they would be sold. All the money that was raised from those sales became scholarship money for me. This was an early opportunity for me to earn some income, and to do some good work by caring for the cows, walking and feeding them.

A: My sisters and I had an allowance growing up. At some point, once I became a teenager, my parents helped set up a checking and savings account for me.

A: After getting married, Jeremy and I didn’t have credit card until two years into marriage and seminary. I think the biggest reason why we didn’t get a credit card until then was because we were afraid of having a credit card. We changed our minds in large part because of financial counseling we received which moved us past our fears to the possibilities. We have learned that when intentional and careful with a credit card, and using it as a tool to build credit, and pay it off right away every month, having one can be a good thing. We actually now have two credit cards now- one used for purchases at a single store as well as for gas.

J: While in seminary we received coaching from a financial coach, and that was a very helpful thing which really helped us grow in our ability to talk about money. In fact, one of the things we did early on which was probably most helpful was that Amanda and I both created a financial autobiography. It was so helpful to hear and dig into our financial stories from growing up. That helped us understand each other so much more.

T: In looking at your finances, how often do you have conversations about them?

A: As a couple, we go over our finances, credit cards, checking accounts, etc., at least once a month. In fact, every transaction that we make I enter into a spread sheet, under a certain tabbed area. This helps us, review, make adjustments, and cut back as needed with our budget.

J: Even though we have figured this out, we still have conflict over finances. I am a bit more of a spender than Amanda, and more quick and willing to spend. In seminary, it was really difficult, because when shopping for something, Amanda and I sometimes had differing opinions about whether a purchase was really a need. These moments of conflict sometimes affected our respect and trust for each other. So it was important for us to talk it out and take some time.

A: For example, Jeremy really wants to get a treadmill. He wants to invest in his health. At first I didn’t see the need, but after talking it out with Jeremy, I have come to see the potential benefits.

J: Through our money conversations we have learned to compromise, but also to learn and hear each other’s opinion. Especially in seminary we tried to always avoid impulse buys, and any unplanned big expense. Now, we are slightly more lenient on that, but we definitely have price limits.

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

A: Perhaps the best thing that that has come from our conversations is that our communication between each other has definitely increased over the years.

T: What have you two learned in the process of having these money conversations?

J: We have learned that sometimes we aren’t in the right spot to talk about money. Sometimes it might actually be more painful to talk about than helpful. We have had to realize that these conversations also have to deal with conflict management. As finances are both stewardship and ministry, they also reflect one’s core values. What you spend your money on shows where your heart is. To reflect on this takes time and space. Sometimes we may not have the time or mental capacity to have that reflection together, because of stress from work and life. It’s important then to set a time to come back to the conversation with each other.

A: We have also really learned how to address conflict in a healthy way!  By doing so, we don’t let conflict, or any potential conflict, create more distance between us. We have also been reminded over the years of the gifts of our friends, and have collaborated with them to help strategize and have these conversations.

T: Over the years, and with the purchase of your new home recently, what new questions about faith and finances have emerged for you?

A: We want to tithe to our congregations and give beyond that to different groups, causes, and nonprofits. We are still working to figure out the best model for us to have the most impact with our giving.

J: At the same time, we are facing the reality that a huge part of budget in our congregations is for our salaries. As pastors, we have to wrestle with what does it mean to steward the gifts we have as a congregation.

A: Trying to decide how much money to put down on the house was interesting. And I’ve been wondering especially about how to talk about these issues, and stories, in the pulpit more regularly.

J: I think about the story of the rich man, who is told by Jesus that he needs to sell all his possessions. What does it mean to have finances and still follow Jesus? That’s the point at which it becomes a tension. There seems to often be a fear or focus on finances and financial situations in tension with following God. For instance, who are really worshiping when we think about and use our finances?? God? A checkbook? A bank account? It can be a constant tension. I have come to believe that it is important to live into that tension.

T: What hopes and dreams do you two have?

J: I hope to have a growing family someday, and to be able to care for it well.

A: In addition to that, I hope to be able to pay it forward, as we’re both so grateful for all that we have received and do receive.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

T: We will pick up the conversation in our next post as we turn to Amanda and Jeremy’s decision to buy their first home.

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking about Faith and Finances during Life Transitions

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches.

Inside our car while moving cross country

Inside our car while moving cross country

Talking about money can be hard under what we might consider normal circumstances. But it can be even more difficult to do during times of life transitions.

My wife Allison and I have just gone through one of these times as we have moved across country and started new jobs. Allison is serving as a pastoral intern in a congregation and I am serving as the congregation’s mission developer. These are exciting roles, but their hours, expectations, and location are new and different.

Our new jobs have changed our budget for the longer term. But we also had other one-time expenses like moving costs, costs related to starting or ending services (like utilities), and insurance changes.

Because transition times can sometimes come unexpectedly, you may face expenses that you did not anticipate. Allison and I had to move before the end of our former apartment lease. That made for some hard conversations and choices. In order to make the leap into our new grand adventure, we had to pay to break our lease at our former apartment. Our budget and savings took a noticeable hit.

I believe it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Allison and I have done it. However, it was not an easy process. It helps knowing that we did this in part because of a call into new ministry roles. It helps also because of how welcoming our new faith community has been, and how doors have just opened to opportunities and relationships. All of these feelings are great, but they don’t solve the issue or challenge of talking about money.

How do you talk about money- especially when you are going to have to spend a large amount of it- unexpectedly?

Allison and I have found that the conversational practices we have developed for talking about money under normal circumstances serve us well during unexpected times too, such as:

  • When we are having breakfast, and can look at our budget and related spreadsheets.
  • When we are out for a nice walk around a lake or in a neighborhood we share and listen with care to each other’s thoughts about the possibilities and our hopes, fears, and dreams.
  • When after processing our emotions and budgets, we come up with a budget and a strategy, we revisit it every week or so to see if it’s realistic or not.
  • We talk to God about it. We pray, we listen, we hope, turn our fears over, and then trust.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Allison and I will be fine. But this recent life change and experience has reminded me that these money conversations aren’t always easy. Thankfully we have found ways that work for us for talking about our faith and finances together.

What ways have you found in your own life? What questions do you have in talking about money and your faith in your own life?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.