Debt Free Degree - A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Debt Free Degree - A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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Here's a startling fact for you: according to CNN Money, 2010 college graduates graduated with an average of $25,250 in student loan debt.

This all too common scenario leaves many parents wondering what is the new normal when it comes to getting a college degree? Should you accept that your child will have thousands in student loan debt?

Instead, how would you like to send your kids to college for free and not have to ever worry about taking on the extra debt for yourself or for your kids?

We have answers to help you do that.

Nathan Kurz is a sophomore at John Wood Community College in Quincy. When he graduates, he'll be debt-free.

Kurz was involved in a lot of high school activities, like show choir and student government. So, his admissions counselor found him a leadership scholarship.

"She handed me a scholarship, I went home, I filled it out, and not quite sure, not quite expecting I'd get anything and I actually ended up getting a two year full ride here," Kurz said.

(See "How to locate underused college scholarships")

Kurz' story is just one example of how your kids could walk through the halls of college for free. But Mike Young, a Dave Ramsey Financial Coach, has many other options for a debt-free degree."

"Just sitting down like you would do with a family budget and actually budget and say 'ok what can we afford? What is possible here?'" Young said.

Mike Young teaches a class for parents, like Deanna Garrett, who are trying to budget for their kids' education.

"Financially, especially as a single parent, I want to make sure that she can go to college without having a bunch of extra debt left over when she graduates," Garrett said.

In the class, Young stresses to:

  • Fill out the FAFSA form, if you don't, you lose your chances at scholarships.
  • Look for athletic and academic scholarships.
  • Apply for College Honors Programs...that could waive out of state fees.
  • Consider the Stafford loan program...and potentially save up to $27,000.

(See "10 ways to pay for college without student loans")

But, the biggest point Young makes is to strongly consider sending your kids to community college for their first two years to get general education courses out of the way at a much lower cost.

"One of the big things is being very careful about college choice, certainly a lot of times community college/state colleges are under-utilized in a lot of cases," Young said.

Young points out, when you complete the final two years at the college of your choice, your diploma looks just the same as your classmates who spent a lot more money earning it.

(See "The ins and outs of repaying federal student loans")

It's something Kurz has already figured out, as he prepares to graduate debt-free degree from John Wood Community College next year.

"Once you're actually done with college less debt you're going to have to be paying, so it will just make your life a whole lot easier,' Kurz said.

(Click here for Mike Young's workbook on how earn a debt-free degree.)

However, there is one major factor that could be standing in your way to earning that free degree; credit card debt.

In 2008, the average number of credit cards per college student had risen to 4.6 cards. The average balance on those credit cards was just over $3,000. Young says this not only adds to your debt but can pile on the emotional stress too.

"They feel like they're constrained now they can't the job necessarily that they want," Young said. It's a little bit too much risk because they have all this debt, they can't move to the city that they want because they just can't afford to, and they can't like I said, delay getting married or having children, all these things that should be a normal part of life."

Young recommends opting for debit cards or strictly using cash instead. That way you can never accumulate debt on your card, you only work with the money you have.

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