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.

Higher Learning and Student Debt: Is it Worth It?

During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March,” including last week’s original live chat with Sandy Crozier. Today, I offer some personal thoughts and questions about student loan debt as we continue the faith and finances conversation, specifically this month about debt. 

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Before leaving the Pacific Northwest to study and complete my first graduate degree, I was a bit nervous about the potential student loan debt I was about to commit to. I shared my thoughts with my former economics professor when I saw him at my undergraduate school’s bookstore. He told me, “Timothy, it’s just money. It’s just money. It’s an investment.”

However, the increasing cost of higher education—and the debt students are taking on to complete degrees—are causing some to reconsider if the investment is really worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, 2015 US college graduates accumulated the highest average student loan debt in history, a base average of $35,000 per graduate school graduate and $23,000 per baccalaureate graduate. It is projected that 2016’s class will face an even higher total.

It is not unheard of for those earning professional degrees to graduate with six-figure student debt, including doctors, lawyers, and yes—clergy. Many institutions of higher learning—including seminaries—are trying to curb costs, but the numbers are daunting. With loan totals so high, it is mathematically possible that one might work their entire career and never do much more than pay off their student loan debt. A report by Goldman Sachs suggests avoiding “mediocre colleges”; steering away from lower-paying majors like arts, education, and psychology; and considering other forms besides college education to prepare for a vocation.

Nonetheless, my generation—the Millennials—have the highest percentage ever of college-educated persons, according to a White House study. In our household, my wife Allison and I hold 3 baccalaureate and 3 graduate degrees between us, and Allison is finishing her masters of divinity program this spring. We make our monthly payments, hope for some relief, and trust that in time, the costs will be worth it for our vocations and careers.

Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that “vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” As God’s people, I believe one pursues an education for opportunity and continued learning, and also to follow God’s calling or vocation. I believe that when one senses that they have gifts or passions for meeting the needs of the world, their neighborhood, or society, and when they most fully follow that call, it may lead to school or extended study. It is not always a call to become wealthy, sometimes far from it, especially if student loans are a part of the process. But if one is called, they are also called to trust that they will live in the abundance of God.

So when I think about my professor’s advice in the bookstore, I believe deeply that he was right. It hasn’t always been an easy path, but the investment has been and will continue to be worth it for me at least because it has led me to create connections, to learn, and to have experiences I couldn’t have dreamed about without the education I have been blessed to receive.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your debt—student and otherwise—check out the recording of the recent COMPASS Live Chat on managing debt led by Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director for the Free Methodist Church in Canada.

What has your experience been like with student loan debt? How do you live faithfully while taking it on, or working to pay it off?

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.

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

One More Resolution- To Share More Openly & Often about Money and Giving

January’s COMPASS focus is financial New Year’s resolutions. Earlier this month I shared some of my own, but today I would like to add one more to that list. My wife Allison and I would like to talk more openly and more often with others about money and why we give. Coincidentally, this past weekend we were asked to share a “ministry moment” about stewardship and why we give at the congregation (Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington) we serve. What follows is what we came up with, and what Allison shared aloud.

We are so excited to give and talk about money, that we are jumping up and down in the snow about it.

We are so excited to give and talk about money, that we are jumping up and down in the snow about it.

My husband, Timothy, and I are happy to be one of the couples sharing why we give as a part of this year’s focus on stewardship. In fact, I really like how Messiah has different people share their personal take on why stewardship is important.

But just to play devil’s advocate, I want to share why it might not be very smart to give:

  1. When you give to the church, it leaves less money for spending on fun stuff.
  2. It forces us to realize how much we’re actually spending.
  3. It forces us to realize how much we’re actually making.
  4. It forces us to sit down, with no cell phones, no laptops, and no TV so we can have an honest-to-goodness conversation about what we value, what we believe in, and what our dreams are.

Money does that.  So maybe there are some good reasons to give.

It’s true – once a month we make a chocolate chip pancake breakfast and talk about our finances and budget, partly because giving is so important to us, and we need to know how big or how little my coffee budget needs to be this month.

We ask each other: “What are the things and groups that matter so much to us that we want to give money to them?”

The first place we think of… is often not church. I’d love to say it is, but often it’s student loans from three different degrees that we’re not even halfway done paying, it’s paying for car expenses that helps us get to the grocery store, me to hospital visits, and helps us drive for an overnight once in a while to our families’ homes three hours north, which we haven’t been able to do in five years.

Yes, all of the things I just listed are things we spend money on that aren’t the church, but in all of this, God is at work using what God first entrusted to us.

At church we hear the message over and over again of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the good news of God’s love which propels not just our work, but this whole community’s work of love and service in the world. It’s in the giving and spending our money intentionally that we’re giving our money and our lives over to God. That includes tithing and giving money to church, but also to organizations that align with our values like our alma mater Pacific Lutheran University, and money for coffee so I can learn your beautiful stories of struggle and joy and faith, and gas for our car and going to school, tuition payments, using our brains and gifts of compassion, empathy, and hard work.

So why do we give to the church? We give because we are only beginning to understand the depth of God’s love that is shown most potently through faith communities like Messiah shaped by the table, and by Christ’s living water. This stuff matters to Timothy and me.

As a couple, to discern where to give our money to, we listen to God through prayer, music, service, worship, our neighbors, and through each other. We continue to find out how God is at work, and how exciting that is to be a part of it.

Happy New Year's from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington

About the Authors: Timothy blogs regularly 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. Allison also blogs regularly and serves as the Pastoral Intern at Messiah Lutheran, serving a culminating internship prior to being ordained to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

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.

An Attitude of Gratitude

During the month of November, the COMPASS blog will share reflections on gratitude. We are calling this series theme “An Attitude of Gratitude.” The blog posts will offer reflections on questions about gratitude, including:

  • Do you find it easy or hard to be grateful?
  • Is having an attitude of gratitude important in your faith journey and practice?

To begin our series of reflection, I thought it would be only fair if I shared my own.

One of the roles I end up in often is facilitating and consulting in faith communities. Given the nature of this though, these roles and opportunities are occasional and not entirely consistent.

One of the roles I end up in often is facilitating and consulting in faith communities. Given the nature of this though, these roles and opportunities are occasional and not entirely consistent.

I like to claim that I always live abundantly and gratefully. I strive to give thanks often and to show appreciation and gratitude. I find that life is always richer when I take the time to say thank you to someone, to write a thank you note, or to acknowledge the good work someone has done. That said, it’s not always easy.

What happens in life can sometimes distract from living abundantly. Job and income situations can change. They certainly have a lot over the past couple of years for my wife Allison and me.

We have lived into this. I would be lying though if I said there weren’t times when I was a bit nervous about if we could make ends meet, pay student loans, and still give financially to our faith communities and to those causes and organizations we love to support. These hard times can lead to a feeling that we don’t have enough: that our resources and means are scarce.

When this is the case, I have found it important to take a step back. Yes, looking over our budget and finances helps ease my mind, but more importantly, having a conversation with my wife about our finances usually helps. She reminds me, and I her, that we’re okay. In creating a practice that works for us, we review our finances and budget together over a homemade pancake breakfast on a Saturday morning at least once a month. We call those our “budget breakfasts.”

In moving to Minnesota, it wasn't completely uncommon for my wife and I to wonder, why on earth did we move here, especially during our first Minnesota winter.

In moving to Minnesota, it wasn’t completely uncommon for my wife and I to wonder, why on earth did we move here, especially during our first Minnesota winter.

This taking a step back is not just a financial thing. It’s a faith practice. There is prayer involved, and giving thanks. I give thanks that my wife and I, though our income levels have fluctuated, for the most part have meaningful work. I give thanks for all of the people who have helped us get to this point as friends, mentors, cheerleaders and collaborators. I give thanks for the gentle but important reminders of why we took on student loans and moved from Washington to California and Minnesota. We did so because of a sense that we wanted to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to be part of God’s work in the world, and felt like God created us and is calling us to be a part of that work in some way.

When I am able to remember that, being grateful is easy. The challenge comes in that moment where I briefly forget the why which has led to this point in life. That why is grounded in the love of God, and the feeling that all I can do about that love and the gospel is live life abundantly and share that love with others.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and for the ability to help others see their gifts, strengths, and passions. I am grateful for meaning and purpose. But most importantly, I am grateful for hope and love.

What are you grateful for? How do you share and express gratitude?

About the author: Timothy Siburg currently serves as a Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and the COMPASS Initiative. He is happily married to his wife Allison, holds a couple MA degrees, and currently calls Minnesota home. You can read more about him and some of the other questions he wrestles with at his own blog.

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.