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.

What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

During February the COMPASS blog is sharing some Faithful Fun with Finances. Today, we welcome back regular contributor Beryl Jantzi to the blog who shares about and asks, “What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?”

It’s been suggested that Americans fall into one of four groups when it comes to how we manage money. Maybe as you review these four models you can identify your own and decide what changes if any may be helpful moving forward.  Here’s what they are:

The Perfectionists: 19% of Americans

These consumers know the exact route to their financial goals, whether they developed the map themselves or sought a professional financial planner. Not only do they have a household budget, which includes retirement savings and insurance, but they work toward specific short and long term savings goals.

The Dreamers: 38% of Americans

Most consumers fall in this category. They have some goals worked out and have an idea of what they’d like to achieve. Dreamers may have savings plans for retirement or education, but they haven’t pulled everything together to form an overarching plan.

The Procrastinators: 33% of Americans

These consumers put forth the bare minimum and might get to the rest of planning later. Most in this group have a budget or plan to address savings goals, but not both. Their comprehensive financial planning behaviors don’t differ much from wanderers, but some Procrastinators keep a written budget, and they tend to avoid racking up credit card debt.

The Wanderers: 10% of Americans

In this group, people float from bill to bill without any intentional plan. They tend to live in the moment without much concern for the future. They may have debt but probably couldn’t tell you the total debt they have.

How do you manage your money?

How do you manage your money?

Knowing our predisposition for managing money is a good start to knowing what we may need to do to get to the next step.  Most of us will need to move one step at a time father than leap from a Wanderer to a Perfectionist.

Questions to ponder:

  • Where do you see yourself most closely identified by the descriptions stated above?
  • If you don’t like the label used to identify your style what different word would you use?

Your generosity will be most fruitful when you have a clear understanding about how God is calling you to share what has been entrusted to you.

Are you a generous wanderer? Is your generosity usually based on the whim of the moment?

Are you a generous procrastinator? Do you have good intentions about giving, but never get around to it?

Are you a generous dreamer? You give, but you could be more disciplined and focused with your giving?

Are you a generous perfectionist? Do you feel confident about your giving habits now, and have plans to continue to increase it in days to come?

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12, NRSV).

What small steps can you take today to move from one money management and generosity type to another from the examples described above?

Source: Household financial planning survey 2013

Beryl Jantzi and familyAbout the Author: Beryl Jantzi currently serves as Stewardship Education Director for Everence, a Christian-based, member-owned financial services organization which is a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and other churches. 

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: Piggy bank.

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.

Baby Steps Towards a Financially Balanced Life

During the month of May COMPASS is giving space for conversations and questions about “What’s Next?” Specifically we are thinking about budgeting and student loans during and after graduation and the life transitions that commonly begin during this month. Today we welcome back Beryl Jantzi from Everence to the blog.

“Now concerning the collection for saints:  you should follow the directions I gave to the churches in Galatia.  On the first day of every week each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.” – I Corinthians 16:1.

“Don’t tell me where your priorities are.  Show me how you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”– James W. Frick

Anything of importance requires planning. Paul speaks to this in I Corinthians 16 as it relates to our giving commitments and James Frick addresses this point from the perspective of setting priorities.  We are all familiar with the quote that “if we fail to plan – we plan to fail.”  Well, who of us would want to plan to fail?

Beryl and his family

Beryl and his family

My wife and I started out our marriage with very clear commitments in our giving, saving and spending practices.  We established separate accounts for these priorities in our life.  These decisions made it easier to say no to things we may have wanted to do but that we needed to hold off on because of other priorities.  Without these commitments being in place we would have very easily given into impulsive buying rather than staying true to what we knew would serve us and our daughters well in the long term.  Following are three baby steps to begin developing your own financially balanced life.

Little things add up

It’s difficult to make decisions on how you’d like to manage your money if you have never taken a look at where you spend it.  To get the real picture on your finances, try keeping a spending diary for the next month.  Write down every purchase and then bring that information together with your checkbook registry and credit card statement and list all your spending for the month.  The information you gather will show you some habits that you may not be aware of.  For example if you download three songs a week at $.99 you are on track to spend $155 per year.  Or maybe your discretionary spending goes towards Starbucks coffee or purchasing 2-3 different newspapers a day.  Keep track and consider the annual costs.

Incoming money

The next step is to find a simple budget form in which to log your monthly financial activity.  Start with your income, using your take home pay – or your disposable income.  This will make you aware of what you have to work with.  Some think that all they need to do is live within their income which means not spending more than you earn.  To a certain extent this is correct but a better rule is to live below your means.  It’s possible to live within your means and still be one pay check away from a financial crisis.  Budgeting helps us know how much of a safety cushion we have.  Living below our income means we place extra income aside for emergencies and have extra to give away as we feel compelled to reach out to others.

Out-going money

The fun part of finding financial balance is to see what money is coming in.  The not so exciting part is to realize how much is going out.  Logging the information from our daily spending diary along with our bigger expenditures like housing, transportation, debt payment,  and groceries can be a daunting exercise – but a necessary one.

If you discover that what is going out is more than what is coming in you need to seek help to correct this practice.  This is not sustainable and will become an overwhelming barrier not only to your financial future but your emotional and spiritual well-being also. To help you engage in these practices check out the following resources available from Everence:

Creating a budget guide

http://www.everence.com/SearchResults.aspx?searchtext=creating%20a%20budget

LSS budget and debt counseling – 6 free phone based sessions with a professional debt counselor

http://www.everence.com/LSS/

Beryl Jantzi and familyAbout the Author: Beryl Jantzi currently serves as Stewardship Education Director for Everence, a Christian-based, member-owned financial services organization which is a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and other churches. 

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, and ESC on Twitter.