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

Straightforward Advice About Student Loan Debt

By Darryl Dahlheimer

Less than ten years ago, Americans faced a soap-bubble-826018_1280 square
“housing bubble” that burst into people
losing their homes mortgage foreclosure and the Great Recession following the collapse in housing values. Here in 2017, the French adage applies again: “Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose.

This time, it’s a student loan debt bubble where total student loan debt now surpasses total credit card debt. And the Federal Reserve has reported that almost one in three of us who have this debt (31%) are 90 days or more late on our payments. This crashes our FICO credit score and leads to court actions like garnishments against our wages (even the number of retired adults over 65 who are finding their Social security checks garnished for old student loan debt has risen from 8000 a decade ago to 63,000 today).

Many borrowers feel overwhelmed by the confusing landscape of many different loan types, each with its own rules, and so they get talked into unfavorable consolidations, or parking the loans in deferment, which has a ticking-clock time limit and keeps the loan debt growing by interest charges.

One bright ray of hope in this debt morass is the Student Loan Repayment Counseling (SLRC) project being piloted by LSS Financial Counseling. Certified student loan repayment counselors help people face their debt and make an action plan that is realistic. Not everyone needs expert SLRC, but whether doing it on your own or using SLRC, here are the steps to get back in control of your debt.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.38.18 AMThe first step is loan discovery, where you make a complete list of all the loans owed, and which types – you’ll need to look on the www.nslds.ed.gov site for all your federal loans, and also look on your three credit bureau reports from www.annualcreditreport.com to find any private student loans or collectors.

Then you need to understand all your options for repayment. One of our favorites is to teach people about “public service loan forgiveness” where people working in (not all but many types) of government or nonprofit jobs can pay a reduced amount and have a large portion of their debt forgiven.

It’s also important to dodge the “help” scams that promise to assist you but actually charge large fees to do what you can do for free. Similar to what happened during the mortgage crisis, many student loan “servicers” have been caught giving out bad advice or harvesting fees from borrowers. Especially do your research before any loan consolidations, which can cause your federal loans to lose options.tip-jar-1796480_1280
LSS will present information about its
SLRC and about repayment options at a
free COMPASS Live Chat on
April 20th from 12:30-1:30pm ET
you can join this chat at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats

LSS offers SLRC free to anyone in Minnesota (888-577-2227) and through its partnership with Everence, offers SLRC nationwide via phone counseling for all Everence members (877-809-0039).

About the Author
Darryl-DahlheimerDarryl Dahlhemier
is Program Director for
LSS Financial Counseling.

 

 

Photo credits: pixabay.com, www.nslds.ed.gov

The Student Debt Challenge

By Marcia ShetlerGraduates with Student LoansIn a month or two, commencement ceremonies will take place at colleges and graduate schools across North America. Can you imagine graduates walking across the stage and receiving another slip of paper besides their diploma? That document would be their student loan bill.

According to US News & World Report, in recent years seventy percent of US students graduated with student loans. So for every ten graduates you see filing past you, seven of them would receive that piece of paper. The Globe and Mail reports similar statistics for Canada, where four students out of ten might have no student debt. What might the numbers on those papers look like? In 2016, the average Canadian graduate had more than $25,000 in debt. In the US, it was more than $37,000.

Student debt creates many challenges:

  • weight-loss-850601_1280The University of Toronto reports that students who took out more student loans were more likely to have poor mental health in early adulthood;
  • Time Magazine says that student debt can delay major life events such as buying a home, getting married, or having children;
  • Time also says that graduates with debt may work more than they wish, including taking a second job;
  • and MarketWatch reports that those who took out loans to pay for higher education but did not complete their degree have the most difficulty repaying their loans.

But student debt doesn’t have to be part of your new normal. There are things you can do to avoid it. And if you’re challenged by student debt, there are ways to make it more manageable.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will look at these two sides of the student debt challenge:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee and join us for a Live Chat with Darryl tip-jar-1796480_1280Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling—a partner of Everence—on Thursday, April 20, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, 11:30 a.m. Central time, 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, and 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. Darryl will tell us about new student loan repayment options and share stories of experience and hope about this challenging issue.

Student debt can be a burden that affects our ability to live the life to which God has called us. It impacts how we steward what God has given us to manage and our freedom to be generous. Whether we are considering how to finance education or deal with the financial ramifications afterward, the key is seeking God’s guidance and choosing wisely. I hope the information shared this month will help you conquer your Student Debt Challenge!

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.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Money, marriage, and the world of millennials

By Beryl Jantzi
couple-1853996_1280-copyThere are a number of good resources currently available for pastors to use when working with couples getting ready for marriage. One of my favorite inventories to use with couples when I was in congregational ministry was PREPARE/ENRICH. One of the 13 categories assessed in the inventory provided by PREPARE/ENRICH inventory is Financial Management.

PREPARE/ENRICH recently hosted a webinar by The Love & Money Project, an initiative of brightpeak financial committed to helping young Christian couples grow stronger around the topic of money. The Love & Money Project shared a resource for couples they have developed entitled, Better Halves, which is for engaged or married couples wanting to work at enhancing their relationship and their ability to talk about money. Better Halves Workshop, is a fun and fast paced, 3 hour training, that includes 12 modules of experiential learning and Better Halves Small Group is a 6 session program for couples to do together.

Besides promoting this new curriculum, the webinar included five revealing trends related to the new reality of money, marriage and millennials.

Five new realities concerning money, marriage and millennials

1) Millennials are getting married later in life

  • In 1956 the average age of women getting married was 20.1 and 22.5 for men.
  • In 2016 the average age for women getting married is 27.1 for men it is 29.2.
  • One of the reasons identified for waiting longer is that individuals do not feel financially prepared to get married.
  • 66% of persons surveyed with in the age range of 18-35 were not married but most hoped to be married one day.
  • Living with parents is the most common living arrangement for individuals in the 18-35 age range. For many, this is a necessity due to financial constraints which do not allow them to live on their own.

2) Cohabitation is on the increase

PREPARE/ENRICH has determined that couples that live together, have a greater chance of splitting up than couples who get married. As part of the research they have conducted over the years, they identify couples as fitting into one of several categories from conversation-799448_1280-copyConflicted to Vitalized.

  • 21% of cohabitating, dating couples were identified as Vitalized. However, 51% of dating couples NOT living together were viewed as Vitalized
  • 48% of cohabitating, dating couples were identified as Conflicted, compared to 16% of couples who were not living together.

Studies have shown that a public wedding ceremony offers extra benefits for a couple. In many cases a wedding is preceded with pre-marriage counseling that provides opportunities for conversation with a third party to address current and future relationship issues. Couples that cohabitate do not typically have the benefit of these conversations. There is the show of public support at a public wedding ceremony as well as the offering of gifts, financial and other wise, to help the couple get established in their home. These tangible and intangible expressions of support are not to be taken for granted.

3) Cost of weddings

The average cost of a wedding in 2015 was $26,000. Along with this, weddings are bouquet-1854074_1280-copybecoming increasingly spectacular in nature which creates pressure for others to do the
same.

In 2014, Emory University economics professors Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, conducted a survey of couples and the increasing cost of weddings. They surveyed more than 3,000 people–all of whom have been married just once–and found that across income levels, the higher the cost of the wedding, the shorter your marriage will be. A few takeaways from their research:

  • Guys, spending $2,000 to $4,000 on an engagement ring means you’re 1.3 times more likely to get divorced compared with the more frugal fellows who only allocate $500 to $2,000.
  • For both sexes, spending more than $20,000 on the wedding increases the odds of divorce by 3.5 times compared with couples who keep it between $5,000 and $10,000.
  • For the best odds, keep the cost of festivities to less than $1,000.

4) The new bread winner

Women for the first time are graduating from working-1219889_1280-copycollege at a greater rate than men. As a
result of women becoming more educated than
men, they are also earning more than used to be the case. From 2000-2014 the average wages for men has gone down by 34% (adjusted for inflation) while the average wage for women has increased. This means that more women are becoming the primary income earner in many millennial homes. This is good news that wages for women is on the increase and but it is also a recognition of a change that is happening within culture and the church.

5) Student loans

In 2015 the average student loan owed by college graduates was at a new high of $35,000. This has implications for all the categories listed above. As a result, it will take millennials longer to get established and become independent from parents as well as being able to purchase a home, save for retirement, and start a family.

These are sobering realities which call for us in the church to encourage honest and open conversations with millennials as well as the upcoming generation about finances and the longer ranging impact it has on our lives. If you are interested in resources that can be used to assist with these conversations, feel free to reach out to me at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.

About the Author

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

Photo credits: pixabay.com

New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt

By Timothy Siburg
car-1564300_1920

Student loans? Broken down cars? How am I ever going to pay this off? Those are some pretty normal reactions to debt, and ones we have heard a little bit about this past month on the COMPASS blog.

What strikes me though as I think about these questions, is a reminder of the way God is present even in the face of our stress, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, all of which can surface when thinking about money and debt.

The Gospel of Luke is full of stories and parables from Jesus about money, wealth, poverty, and debt. For example, there is the confusing parable of the Dishonest Manager found in Luke 16:1-13.

In this story we hear of a manager who has been called to account for his business. In the face of what sounds like the manager’s certain firing, he goes about reducing the amount owed by different individuals in the community to the manager’s master. This is something that certainly could be praised, in that those oppressed and marginalized by debt were getting some of it forgiven. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that.

It’s not as likely in our daily life that someone will come along and just because they can, reduce the amount of debt we owe. If you are assuming that is going to happen for you, I wish you well, but I wouldn’t advise you to plan and budget that way.

Debt is a reality of life. It doesn’t need to be a crushing one, however. It only has power, like money, when we give it that power. We can certainly live in fear of it, if we are not careful. And unexpected and big expenses can help lead us to be in fear.

hand-truck-564242_1920A couple of days ago, my wife and I faced one of the downsides of moving across country from Washington to Nebraska. My wife Allison went to turn the car on in the morning, and every warning light started to say hello to her on the dashboard. As we suspected, our car needed a new battery. That’s not all that surprising, since we have shared one car between the two of us for our six years of marriage, and it’s been a few years and a couple cross-country moves since getting a new battery.

Unfortunately, one of the other downsides of moving, wear, and tear is that your car might also need new tires, plus its next regular oil change. So, with new tires, fresh oil, and a new battery, we spent a bit more this week on our car than we like to do in one day.

This could easily have led us into despair and debt. Thankfully, we budget for such days as this, so it wasn’t that bad. But interestingly, there is another faith element to this.

A few days earlier we had received a refund check in the mail for the balance of Allison’s seminary cost, as she graduated from seminary and actually had money left on her account in her favor. We didn’t think much of the check at the time. The day after the car was running like new, we remembered that check. It was just about the exact cost of all of the car expenses. Sometimes I think God truly has a sense of humor. It’s experiences like this that remind me of just how much abundance we live in and have, thanks to our abundant God.

What makes confronting the reality of debt—whether student debt, housing mortgages, car loans, etc.—possible is the reminder that God is with us, and wants us to live life abundantly. Living abundantly doesn’t mean living irresponsibly. It means enjoying, giving, sharing, and using all that God has first entrusted us with to live our lives and steward them for the sake of our neighbors and communities. It also means responsibly paying off debt early or on time, so as not to be overwhelmed by the interest accrued from it, so that we can live abundantly.

As long as I can keep this in perspective, making those monthly student loan payments, and needed car expenses, for example, doesn’t seem to be as daunting.

Note: That check, in addition to helping our car expenses, will be stewarded in part back to the larger church in gratitude, and in support of other future seminarians.

About the Author
timothy headshot
Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison is awaiting call to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.


About COMPASS

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 or Twitter.

And join us this Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances. It’s free! Register at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com

Reducing College Debt: a Group Ride. A community slides toward lower education loans.

debt-1376061_1280By Devon Matthews

When Jordan and Candace Shoenberger got married, they faced a problem common among young adults today: massive student loan debt. Together they owed $170,000 from their undergraduate education.

Both social workers, they had a monthly loan payment that was burdensome. They deferred the loans as long as possible and went back to graduate school. This only left them with more debt.

Jordan heard about a group of people who pooled money into a common fund called Relational Tithe to meet the needs of their community. It was founded by Christian activists Shane Claiborne and Darin Petersen. “It was modeled after what the apostles did in the early church. They held everything in common, and no one was in need. It’s an old idea, but a beautiful one,” Jordan said.

He and several friends created a way to use a common fund to reduce student debt. It was named SLED, the Student Loan Experiment (the D doesn’t stand for anything but makes it a catchy acronym).

Each month, members of the group contribute to a common bank account. A payment is disbursed to one group member to make an extra principal payment toward the student loan with the highest interest rate.

This extra payment shortens the length of the loan and decreases the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Each group member continues to pay the minimum payments on their student loans.

snow-1283278__180SLED’s first cycle lasted twelve months, with six people receiving two disbursements each. Over the course of the year, each receiving member was able to pay down an additional $2,000 of their outstanding debt, totaling $12,000 as a group. These extra payments saved the group a collective $15,000 in future interest payments, shortening their collective loans by eliminating ninety-six monthly payments.

The second cycle of SLED is in progress, with twenty-four participants and lasting eight months. Over this time, the group will distribute $8,400 to eight members. After this cycle is complete, the program will be re-evaluated and directions discerned for the next term.

SLED has been successful in grounding the group beyond financial aid for its members. The group has committed to building community and developing relationships with each other that go beyond assisting each other with debt.

Once a month, they share a meal and talk about financial topics that interest them. Past conversation starters have included, How did your family view money, and how has that shaped your own view on money? and, In what ways have you started to plan for the future and for retirement?

Group members reflect that belonging to SLED has created solidarity around a situation that often carries a stigma. Being in a community where members can be vulnerable about their financial challenges is freeing and creates space for positive and realistic conversations.

Group members are optimistic about SLED’s future. Kaleem Kheshgi imagines SLED becoming “a resource for sharing lessons and best practices in financial responsibility among young people with education debt.” He could imagine speaking in churches, high schools, and colleges, helping borrowers make wise financial decisions regarding debt.

John Davis envisions SLED encouraging inter-generational conversations about the realities of student debt and its effect on communities. “This difficult conversation could lead to a deeper level of vulnerability on other issues, as well as making use of the collective wisdom and experience,” said John.

This blog post is a condensed version of an article that was first published in Everence’s Everyday Stewardship magazine and appears in volume 18 of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine.

About the Author
Devon Matthews, a member of SLED, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He, his wife Kristen and many other SLED members attend Pittsburgh Mennonite Church. For more information, contact SLED at SLEDPGH@gmail.com.

About COMPASS
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 COMPASS on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

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.