Steps for Conquering Student Debt

By Matt DeBallaway-1356948_1280

I remember very clearly when God nudged me to pursue ministry as a career. I also
remember the palatable community atmosphere of a Christian college, and knowing that it was God’s next step for me. Though both of these experiences were nearly a decade ago or more, they are memories I have often revisited to recall God’s faithfulness. What has followed both of these events is in line with Paul’s blessing: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Though your experience may be rather different than mine, all who follow Jesus are faced with opportunities that require counting the cost and taking steps of faith. My 18-year-old self could not have fully understood the endeavor of paying for college, but did understand that college (and, later, seminary) was an investment in my future. Thankfully, I was blessed by the support of my parents, my church, and my schools (via scholarships), which significantly reduced the amount of student loans required to complete my degrees.

Having completed my time in college and seminary, repaying student loans has begun. Here’s what this next step of my journey looks like:

1) Before graduation, chosing a repayment plan that would work best for my wife and me. Depending on which plan you choose, you may be able to change plans later. Typical
board-2084777_1280options include several standard repayment models (the same payment amount every month during the course of your loan, smaller payments leading to larger payments, and vise versa) and income-based repayment plans. There are also options for deferring loans if your current financial situation is difficult and prevents you from repaying with a regular plan.

2) Making small (or significant) lifestyle adjustments to pay for student loans. This includes finding a source of additional or increased income and/or cutting back on leisure expenses in order to faithfully make monthly payments.

3) As often as possible, paying more than the minimum monthly requirement. In addition to cost savings, you can target the lowest valued loan with the highest interest rate, and over time decease the rate of accumulating interest as you pay off each loan (what many call the “snowball method”).

4) Celebrating milestones along the way. celebrate-1835387_1280Regardless of how much you owe or how many loans you have, its important to celebrate when you pay off a student loan or decrease the value of your loans a certain amount (e.g. every $5,000 or $10,000).

5) Having hope that loan payments are purposeful and won’t last forever. Even the loans with the shortest lifespans (10 years) can feel like they will never end. Even though repayment can take (a long) time, it’s important to remember the results of your loans: a quality education, the opportunity to be qualified for desired jobs, and/or being faithful to God’s call for your life.

If you find yourself in the midst of paying back student loans, take heart: God has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

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’ve read? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Affording College: Before, During, and After


hand-1840039_1920By Beryl Jantzi

There is an old adage that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” The same could be said about preparing for the financial realities of paying for college.

Preparation is not a once and done exercise. Preparation is ongoing. One misconception is that preparing for the financial obligations of college is only about saving beforehand or paying off debt once you graduate. In reality, there are several points along the way to redouble your efforts to get as good an education as possible in the most cost-effective way as possible.

There are three stages in Affording College, and each includes proactive steps you can take throughout this journey.

1. Before: for perspective students

  • Know what financing is available. Educate yourself about:
    • Federal loans
    • Private loans
    • Subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Shop and Compare:
    • In state vs. out of state costs
    • community college vs. state university vs. private school costs
  • Budget now:lawn-mower-938555_1280
    • Get information on tuition and living expenses for various schools and on campus and off campus costs for various regions of the country
    • Parents: Start 529 plans as early as possible
    • Youth: Consider part-time jobs and summer work to save for college
    • Monitor your debt from year to year
  • Apply, Apply, Apply:
    • Research sources of grants and scholarships, and business scholarships available through parents employers and local civic organizations
  • Do your homework on career interests:
    • Know the first year earning potential of your career of choice to help determine how much you can/should borrow. (Rule of thumb: borrow no more than the entry income of your career of choice)

2. During: for current students

  • Don’t stop looking for scholarships:
    • Scholarships are not just for freshman
    • Return to organizations that may have turned you down for your first year and reapply
  • Don’t take all the loans you qualify for unless you absolutely need to. Borrow as little as necessaryapple-1851464_1280
  • Look for entry level internships for your career and major. Experience will matter
    when it comes to interviewing for work
  • Always know what you owe:
    • Monitor your total debt from year to year
    • Set a limit on what you can borrow based on your career of choice and your first year earning potential

#3 After: for those entering the working world

  • Know the repayment options for all your various loans
    • Prioritize increased payments for highest interest loans and aggressively take on one loan at a time while paying minimum amounts on the others
    • Discuss consolidation of private loans to lower interest payment. Do not consolidate Federal loans which typically have lower interest rates
    • If you are struggling to make payments, do not stop making payments without talking directly with your lender. Forbearance options exist
    • If you can accelerate payments it will reduce total interest paid over the length of the loan

If you find these guidelines helpful, consider viewing three short videos related to these three stages at www.everence.com/college. They are based on the lives of Carol, Erica, and Justin. Each of these students will speak in more detail to the realities of each stage of your college experience.

For more information contact me about additional resources to help you with your college journey at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.

About the Author

Beryl Jantzi and familyBeryl Jantzi serves as the stewardship education director for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

Keeping Your College Years Affordable- At Least 7 Ideas (PART 2)

By Timothy Siburg

Last week I shared a few ways to save money during your college years. Here are more helpful ways I discovered to make college more affordable.

Sharing Responsibilities

If you find yourself living off campus or in an noodlestew-1737476_1280on-campus apartment where you are not on a full or regular meal plan, that likely means you will need to cook. Between you and your apartment mates, devise a cooking schedule where you take turns cooking for each other once or twice a week. This will help save on costs and work. Also, think about how to share responsibilities for cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen, vacuuming, etc. Having a plan can make life more enjoyable, avoid conflict, and in some cases, save you time and money.

Furniture and Furnishings

Especially if you are living on campus, dorm rooms have become so ornate in the past few years. It’s not unheard of, to see people spending upwards of a couple thousand dollars to

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The bookshelves my Grandpa, Dad, and I built as they appeared holding my bed up during my first year of college, with my keyboard and some pictures on bulletin boards below.

furnish their room and make it feel like home. If you are doing that, my advice, make sure that you can use the same things throughout your college years (and ideally longer) to make the investment worth it. If you are not planning on keeping everything, then I would always caution about that kind of spending.

In terms of stewardship, look at second hand or homemade options when possible. When I was in college, I wanted to maximize the space in my room, so my Grandpa and Dad helped me build two book cases in my grandpa’s wood shop, which also were strong and sturdy to support and loft the school provide bed on top of them. (In fact, they were much stronger and more sturdy than the school’s provided loft system.) To this day, these bookcases are holding many of my wife’s and my books, and have moved across the country at least three times over the past 11 years.

Activities on and Off Campus

Take advantage of opportunities. On campus, free events are often advertised which can be a meaningful study break, community building, and even entertaining experience. As a student on campus, you can often get into concerts, performances, speeches, and athletic games and competitions for free (or at reduced rates) simply for being a student. This can be a great way to support your friends and roommates. And off campus, many local places like movie theaters, skating rinks and more, have reduced student rates. All you likely need for these offers, is a valid student ID card.

Study Abroad Experiences

rome-study-abroad

When studying abroad in Italy, you have to go and visit the Coliseum in Rome.

One of my favorite parts of college was the opportunity to study abroad in Italy, and tour and perform with my college’s choir across much of Eastern Europe and the United States. Studying abroad was fantastic, but it can be pricey. Look for scholarships, and with any travel, plan well ahead. There can be discounts for being a student to help with travel costs, and if you look for them, the same sort of tips above related to events and experiences can apply. The experience is well worth it, and will serve you well long past college, if you save and plan for it.

Those are at least seven ideas I have based on my own experiences for ways to keep your college years affordable. What ideas do you have?

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com

Keeping Your College Years Affordable- At Least 7 Ideas (PART 1)

By Timothy Siburg

We all know that going to college or graduate school can be expensive. Marcia and Ryan covered that well earlier this month, in fact. I am happy to say that there are ways to keep your college years affordable that worked for me and might work for you.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“The Great Wall of Cup of Noodles” beginning to form in the spring of my first year in college. By the end of the semester, the entire left hand side of the window would be full of the Cup of Noodles from top to bottom.

During my first year of college, my roommate found a way to save on some food costs by stocking up on cup of noodles soups. He loved them so much, as the year went on, he even built a wall of cup of noodles to help block out the sun near his desk. This was humorous to me for several reasons, but especially because our room’s window was shaded well by a big tree outside it, and given that we were at a college in western Washington state, overly sunny non-cloudy days were not common experiences.

I must confess that I got through college affordably thanks to great scholarship support, and my parents’ help paying for school. I am grateful for that, and in the years since college, have worked to give back financially (and in other ways) as possible to help other students afford the great education that I believe I received. I view that as part of my faithful response, and a way to steward what I have been entrusted with by God.

Even with the great scholarships I received, I discovered at least seven helpful ways to make college even more affordable.

Walking

In college and especially grad school, I put an emphasis on walking. Instead of driving to the palley-1840264_1280harmacy or grocery store a half mile off campus, if it wasn’t raining I loved to walk. This obviously helps save a little on the car costs, but it is also good exercise, good physical stewardship. In grad school, I didn’t have much of a choice, as I went carless in Claremont, California. Thus, I walked to Trader Joe’s a few blocks away for groceries, and even to church, 1.8 miles each way. Of course, you can’t beat Southern California weather, so that was enjoyable. When needing bigger things, like a Costco run, it helped to have friends with cars though.

Friends, Family, and Parents

Speaking of friends, it certainly helps to have friends, family, and especially parents who visit or are nearby. For me, this meant a free place to do laundry whether at my parents’ or grandma’s home while in college. It also meant, good home cooking, which you start to miss while at college. It’s never a bad thing either to have your loved ones come and treat you for a lovely lunch or dinner off campus too. I am grateful I had all of this (and so much more support) when I was in school.

Textbooks

One of the most expensive parts of college can books-1943625_1280be textbooks. In some fields, new editions are printed seemingly every year, and because of that, prices can seem astronomical. Often, you can get by with a slightly older edition, saving you some money. In other cases, using a website like half.com, or a used book site can be helpful. Better yet, if you have friends who have recently taken the class requiring your book(s), perhaps you can borrow it from them, or even trade textbooks as needed? In seminary, when my wife and I found ourselves in the same class, we tried often to only purchase one copy of the required books to share. This worked some times, but we also like to take notes in our books, so other times, we had to breakdown and purchase a copy for each of us.

Here are a few ideas to keep your college years affordable. Come back next week for more.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com

How living affordably in college expresses your faith

By Matt DeBall

university-1714975_128-croppedGoing to college is an important decision that establishes independence. As young people branch out on their own and possibly even move away from home, they are able to begin living more directly in line with their own goals. For Christ-followers, this also means learning how to make decisions for oneself and developing habits that put one’s faith into action.

Continuing with this month’s theme, being a frugal college student is not only a decision that is good for a checking account—it is also a means to express your faith. Here are three ways that living affordably through college expresses your faith.

1. It honors God

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God”
(1 Corinthians 10:31, NRSV).

Whether it be limiting how many times you eat out each week or purchasing a second-hand kitchen table instead of a new one, every decision to save money honors God. Not only does being a good steward of money honor God, but living within your means also makes way for being generous. Through being frugal and having the capacity to share of your resources, you are able to support the work that God does in the church and the world.

2. It honors those who support youcoins-668748_1280

When a person goes to college, there is often a band of people who support this decision. Parents, siblings, friends, and church-family members may never journey to a college campus, but they still support the student through prayer and other means. Especially when your family is helping you pay for school, how you spend your money honors them. By avoiding unnecessary purchases and saving extra money, it allows for contributing more to your college education.

3. It honors your future self

“The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets”
(Proverbs 21:20, Living Bible).

Any decision you make today could have an effect on your life tomorrow. While you have the choice to spend the extra money that you have, you could also choose to save it or use it wisely. Choosing to avoid or minimize student loans by paying for all or part of school expenses, for example, makes room for your “future self” to focus less on debt accrued through college. It is through making wise money decisions in college that your future self.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and his wife, Chelsea, live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

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, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Practical Advice to Keep Your College Years Affordable

By Ryan Zantinghdouble-coins

Despite a growing skepticism about the value of a college education, the evidence remains clear that those with a bachelor’s degree have nearly double the annual earning potential and half of the unemployment rate of those with only a high school diploma[i]. But investing in a college degree is expensive—there’s just no getting around that.

A solution to the high cost of college will require better teamwork between the government, colleges and universities, lenders, philanthropists, education think tanks, and other stakeholders. But until that happens, there are some very practical things that you can do to keep your college years affordable. Below are eight pieces of advice:application-1883453_640

1. Apply for Scholarships Early and Often: Most students apply for scholarships when they are entering college, but fewer continue to apply for scholarship opportunities throughout their college years. Colleges usually have some scholarships that are available only to continuing It would surprise you to learn how often colleges extend their scholarship application deadlines because no one applied.

2.Save: Outside of receiving as many scholarships and grants as possible, the best way to reduce the cost of college is to save. College savings will reduce the amount of loans that students will need to repay (with interest). There are college savings accounts that offer preferential tax treatment, like 529 plans or Coverdell Savings Accounts in the US and RESP in Canada.

3. Complete the FAFSA or Canada Student Loan Application: in the US, The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your application for federal, state, and college need-based grants and need-based employment. It also makes students eligible to borrow Federal Direct Student Loans, which offer far superior terms than private student or parent loan options. Even students without financial need can borrow these loans. To maximize opportunities for assistance, complete the FAFSA early (it becomes available each year on October 1). When you apply for a Canada Student Loan, you are automatically assessed for eligibility for Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants, which are based on financial need.

4. Don’t Over-borrow: I often see students borrow more money than they need to meet their expenses, usually because they want to make sure they have enough. Careful planning and budgeting can reduce over-borrowing. If you still borrow more than you need, ask the Financial Aid Office to return what you don’t need rather than receiving a “refund.”

5. Be Frugal: Try to buy used textbooks or rent them when possible. Is a new laptop a necessity, or will your college’s computer labs suffice? If you do plan to purchase a laptop, check with your college’s IT department about free software—some schools provide their students with a license for Microsoft Office or other software at reduced or no cost.target-970640_1280-cropped

6. Keep Your Eye on the Target: Nothing increases the cost of college like adding another semester or year of school. In addition to the added cost, it delays your future earning potential. Don’t compromise your grades by letting too much work or play get in the way.

7. Accelerate Loan Repayment: If you can, try to start repaying your loans while you’re in school. Even small regular payments can really add up. When you graduate, try to pay more than your minimum required payment. By paying ahead of schedule, you will significantly reduce your interest payments over the life of your loan.

8. UPromise: in the US, UPromise by Sallie Mae allows you to earn cash back on shopping, dining, travel and more, which can contribute to a college savings plan or pay down eligible student loans. While you could do this with any cash-back rewards card, UPromise easily allows family or friends to earn rewards on your behalf as well.

[i] Mangukiya, Piyush. “[Infographic] Is College Worth the Cost?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

About the Author
ryan-zantingh-tcc-trnty-edu_fa-staff

Ryan Zantingh is Director of Financial Aid and Enrollment Operations at Trinity Christian College of Palos Heights, Illinois.

 

Image credits: Trinity Christian College, pixabay.com

College is Amazing: Paying for it Doesn’t Have to be a Maze

By Marcia Shetler

sweet-corn-maze-905219_1280I live in the Midwest, where corn mazes have become a popular form of entertainment. Perhaps you have wandered through—or got lost in— one yourself. But as you are engaging in this organic, nature-connecting activity, you might not realize how high-tech of an enterprise corn maze creating has become. Farmers outsource maze development to companies that produce an endless array of intricate designs, from the Mona Lisa to mastodons. And corn mazes are big business. In 2013, Modern Farmer reported that farmers have made as much as $50,000 per year with their maze, and that was three years ago.

But now the corn has been harvested for another season: it’s winter and a new year, and the time when many high school seniors and others are stepping up the pace to get their college plans in place. A significant piece in this puzzle is paying for it. Like choosing a college or university itself, finding the best options to pay for higher education can feel like being stuck in a maze with a myriad of options. It’s hard to know which direction to go and it feels impossible to see the big picture. And making a wrong turn will have the exact opposite results of a money-making enterprise and instead can send you down a path of decades of debt.

But, there is good news! Finding credible resources to help with higher education financial planning doesn’t need to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. This month, the COMPASS Initiative will focus on this topic. Each week new articles here on the COMPASS blog will provide practical ideas, personal reflections, and spiritual insights. Follow our graduate-1440191_1280-croppedTwitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content. And view our resources on the COMPASS web page for even more help and guidance.

Finally, you won’t want to miss this month’s COMPASS Live Chat on Monday, January 23, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, will share tools to help navigate choosing a college, to create a budget to keep living costs low while in school, and to find the best options to repay student loan debt after graduation. Just connect to the Chat on January 23 with this link: stewardshipresources.adobeconnect.com/january2017chat

Getting a degree can be a great enhancement to your life. The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to helping you on your higher education financial planning journey as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat to explore ways to navigate the maze of college finances!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com