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

5 Practical Applications for Overcoming Debt

By Jessica Zackavec

Millennials are known as the generational group that is most in debt. How can we change this? I’ve come up with a few practical ways to pay off debt and prevent future debt.

  1. Make a budget. What is your current monthly income? How much debt and savings do you have? Do you have any extra money that can be applied to your current debt? Are there expenses you will need to cut? Are you going to have to be a bit more creative with your money? You won’t know the answers to these questions—and won’t be able to make a plan to reduce your debt—until you know what your income and expenses really are
  2. Be creative. Do you need a bit of extra income? Can you pick up a part time job, or thinking-outside-the-boxeven a babysitting job one night a week? Designate all money from your “extra job” to go towards your debt. Another option, if you already have a jam-packed schedule, is to look at your current spending and decide if you can get rid of any current spending categories. Do you have a gym membership you aren’t currently using? Would you be better off canceling it and going for a run or working out at home? Making a few sacrifices like not eating out or getting rid of a membership will give you additional money to apply towards your current debt. I promise it will be worth it in the end!
  3. Always make your payments. A late or skipped payment is not worth it because of the damage it can do to your credit report. Choose to make at least the minimum payment even when money may be a little tight.
    snow-1115890_1280
  4. Use the snowball approach.
    I personally love the snowball approach. Pay the minimum payments on all of your debts, and pay extra on your smallest debt. Once that smaller debt is paid off, you feel a sense of victory. Now take the extra amount you were paying monthly plus the extra from the debt you’ve eliminated and apply it to your next smallest debt. Continue to do this with each debt ‘til they are all paid off. I love this approach because you can focus on smaller goals that are attainable instead of looking at the total amount of debt and feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Don’t Buy what you don’t NEED! To stay out of debt this step is especially important. Consumerism is a big problem for many people today. The desire to keep up with the Joneses or to reward yourself after a tough day with a new purchase or a night out is the norm. You need to remember that debt is also a norm in current society. If you want to be different and debt free, you need to live differently now! I encourage you to save up for the things you really want, and don’t get in debt over what seems urgent in the moment, but won’t be important tomorrow. Understand the difference between needs and necessities. Most importantly, stop using credit to make purchases if you tend to overspend.

I hope this helps you on your journey to overcome debt. I know it can be overwhelming, but you can do it! Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Come up with a plan of attack and stick to it! Making steps towards a debt-free life will feel great and in the long term it will help you live a much fuller life.

About the Author

jessica headshotJessica Zackavec is a newlywed and the wife of a volunteer firefighter. She has a passion for stewardship, and enjoys budgeting. She also loves crafting and all things Pinterest, and if there is an opportunity to make something amazing for cheaper, she will find a way! Creativity is a big part of her life at work and home. She is the Church Relations Coordinator at Barnabas Foundation and works in Stewardship Education, as well as Marketing.

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 join us for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances on Wednesday, September 28, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Debt stress is the #1 identified financial problem for many families, but few know about the special resources to help get debt-free faster. Debt repayment is one area where “do it yourself” can lead down a dead end; trustworthy help is available. This Live Chat will share specific resources for each type of debt, including Debt Management Plans (DMPs) for credit card debt, available at nonprofit certified agencies, and income-based repayment and forgiveness options for student loan debt. Get free of debt faster, while building a good credit score, and avoiding heavily advertised “help scams” such as debt settlement and refinance schemes. It’s free! Register today at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com

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.

Frugal Tips for Recent Graduates

During the month of May COMPASS  has been 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 Grace Duddy Pomroy to the blog. This post previously appeared on Grace’s blog, and is adapted and used here with her permission.

graduationIt’s the time of year when graduation pictures fill Facebook and Instagram: a time of bittersweet endings and fresh beginnings for many people. Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates. I called this post “tips for recent grads” because we are just coming to the end of the graduation time of year, but really this is advice for anyone.

After you have just graduated you experience a significant life transition, making it an easier time to shift your money priorities, but you could certainly make this shift at any time. For young professionals, I am convinced that two of the best things that you can do with your money is to use it to invest in yourself and those you care about through repaying loans and saving.

If you are a recent grad, with student debt it can be tempting to wait until the end of your grace period to start paying your off your student loan. I would encourage you not to wait. When you get a full-time job and begin creating your budget, put your student loans in your budget right away. There are many online calculators that can help you figure out your monthly payment amounts for your loans. If you can’t afford making the payments right away, consider just paying the interest on the loans during your grace period. Any little bit will help in the long run.

After you move out of your grace period, get on a payment plan that works for you. If you can afford to pay at least the minimum on all of your loans, do it. Check into consolidation and income-based repayment plans if you qualify. Then make a plan to get out of debt.

Snowball

Snowball

I have a plan to pay off my student loans in 5 years (half of the recommended time). I am using the snowball method to get out of debt faster. I began by paying off my two smaller loans ($2,000 or less). I paid off the first one within a little over a year of graduation and then put the minimum payment from that loan towards the next smallest loan. Within about six months, I paid off the next smallest loan. Now, I am putting the money I had been putting towards that second smallest loan towards my next smallest loan which also happens to be the one with the most interest. I hope to pay off this loan with in the next year or two. Coming out of grad school, I felt overwhelmed by my debt and needed some quick wins so I started with my smallest loans. However, the smarter choice would have been to get rid of the highest interest loan first.

During a research project, I spoke with a man in his thirties who told me that he and his wife had decided not to focus too much on paying off their debt but instead to take this time to enjoy other opportunities, particularly travel. There is certainly a balance between enjoying your 20s and 30s vs.  paying off your loans quickly. You have to find the balance that is the best fit for you, your values, and priorities.

Once you have a plan for your debt in line, you can begin thinking about savings. Regardless of your debt level, you should always leave space in your budget to build up your emergency fund and long-term savings, even if it is just $20 a month. Beyond that you can begin to think about short-, mid- and long-range savings goals. Short-term goals (two years or less) might be saving for a vacation, computer, car, or even a wedding. Mid-range goals (five to even twenty years out) might include saving for house, dream vacation, a child’s education, etc. A long-range goal is generally retirement or another 20+ year goal. At this point in my life I am focused on short and long range goals, saving for my emergency fund, retirement as well as doing some fun short-term savings. There is almost nothing more financially rewarding than continually investing in a savings fund and achieving your goal.

When you are focusing on paying off debt, especially a large amount of debt, it can be tempting not to save. In most cases, this would be a mistake that could really cost you. It is important to have some emergency savings (3-6 months of income saved) or at least a modest rainy day fund ($1000+) before charging full speed ahead on your debt. While this may seem like a road block in the way of paying your debt, if you don’t have an emergency or rainy day fund any unexpected expense like an unanticipated car repair, medical expense, or travel expense can really throw off your budget and your debt repayment plan by adding more debt. Saving and paying off debt is a delicate balance but it is doable and worthwhile.

Join the Conversation: What is your plan for repaying and saving?

Grace headshotAbout the Author: Grace Duddy Pomroy is a Financial Education Specialist at Portico Benefit Services and previously served as Executive Director of Operations at Kairos and Associates, and Assistant Director for the Center for Stewardship Leaders and Luther Seminary. She is author of “Stewards of God’s Love”, recently published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She blogs regularly and you can follow her on Twitter.

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 Credits: Sea of Graduation of Caps and Snowball.