How Increasing Your Monthly Payments Can Slash Your Student Loan Balance

If you don’t want to wait a decade or longer to be debt-free, learn how paying a little extra on your student loans each month can slash years off your loan payments.

Student loans are designed to help college students afford an education and build their future. But they may also cause problems down the road.

The sooner you pay down your student loan debt, the better. Not only does it save you on interest if you make extra payments, it can also shorten your repayment term considerably.

The Standard Repayment Plan for federal loans is 10 years while private student loan terms can range from five to 25 years. Income-driven repayment plans also push your payoff date by 20 to 25 years.

If you don’t want to wait a decade or longer to be debt-free, learn how paying a little extra on your student loans each month can slash years off your loan payments.

Doing the Math

Using a student loan prepayment calculator, it’s easy to quickly find out how much time and money making extra payments can save you.

For example, say you just graduated with $20,000 in student loans and have a 10-year loan term. With an average 6% APR, your monthly payment would be $219.

If you were to add an extra $100 a month to your student loans, you’d finish paying them off more than three and a half years early. You’d also save $2,725 in interest along the way. You could do a lot with that extra cash.

If you can’t afford an extra $100 a month, even a small amount can make a big difference. For example, add only $25 extra each month — a couple of lunches or a cheap dinner with your significant other — to your payment. You’d still make a difference, reaching a zero balance 16 months early, and you would save $982 in interest.

No matter how much more you put toward your student loans every month, you’re doing yourself a favor. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to save time and money as you try to dig yourself out of debt.

1. Make Interest Payments During the Grace Period

After you graduate college, you’ll typically have six months before you need to start making payments on your federal student loans. This grace period offers a much-needed reprieve to graduates who are still trying to figure out life after school (private loans usually do not offer a grace period).

However, if you have unsubsidized federal student loans, interest begins accruing as soon as you’re done with school.

Paying the interest as it accrues during the grace period keeps it from being added to the principal. This is known as capitalization — and it’ll result in a bigger balance to pay off once the grace period is over. If you start out with $20,000 and an average 6% APR, for example, you’ll be looking at a higher balance by the time your grace period is over.

That bigger balance will increase your monthly payment by nearly $10 per month, and you’ll pay more over the life of the loan. It’s almost as much as you’d save paying an extra $25 per month.

2. Consider Refinancing

There are several banks that offer student loan refinancing, each with different features that may suit your needs. For example, you can refinance at a lower interest rate and even a shorter repayment term.

Keep in mind that refinancing also gives you the option to extend your term and, most likely, lower your monthly payment. This can be a great way to ease the burden of your monthly student loan bill. However, doing so will mean staying in debt longer and paying more in interest.

If you can’t afford your federal student loan payments, a better option is to look into income-driven repayment plans. Note: These plans are not available to you if you refinance with a private lender.

3. Use Autopay

Setting up automatic payments is a great way to ensure you’re on time every month. Even better, many student loan servicers give you a 0.25% discount on your interest rate if you enroll in autopay.

Taking our previous example, if you decrease your 6% APR down to 5.75%, you’ll save in interest.

4. Avoid Deferment & Forbearance

Federal student loans are eligible for deferment and forbearance if you’re struggling financially. But while student loan payments off your plate for even a few months may sound refreshing, find other solutions if you can — deferment and forbearance should only be used as a last resort.

Deferring subsidized loans freezes interest accruement, but unsubsidized loans don’t offer this benefit. If you choose forbearance, interest will continue to accrue during the pause in payments regardless of the type of loan you have.

5. Claim Your Tax Deduction

Each year, you’ll receive a 1098-E form showing how much interest you paid the previous year on your student loans. You can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest on your tax return each year, which will lower your adjusted gross income. This can also boost your tax refund a bit, or, if you owe money, lower your payment.

Remember to Be Proactive & Save

There are quite a few ways to save time and money as you’re paying down your student loans. The best way to do it is to proactively add more to your payments each month. If you’re not able to make that work, though, there are plenty of other ways you can make your student loans less of a burden. (You can see how your student loans are affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report card on Credit.com.)

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16 Ways for Broke College Students to Cut Costs

Budgeting can be a struggle for many college students.

Every college student is familiar with the struggle of budgeting. Between tuition, housing and dining hall meal plans, college doesn’t come cheap. Unfortunately, many of these mandatory expenses make college students pressed for money the moment they step on campus. According to the National Center for Education Statistics about 85% of four-year college students receive some type of financial aid, which suggests most students on campus don’t have the financial resources to splurge whenever they feel like it.

To help you during your time at college, here are 16 tips that can help you save money, and in some cases, time or the environment.

1. Show Your Student ID While Making Purchases

College students spend a lot of money, so small business owners are very appreciative of the presence of a university. Many local businesses in college towns, and surrounding cities, give college students discounts so long as they show their university IDs.

2. Buy Things in Bulk

Toiletries, food, water, cleaning supplies, socks — you name it, college students should buy it in bulk if their living situation has enough storage space. Making bulk purchases at stores like Costco, Target or Walmart can help you save in the long run. Plus, if you end up with extra food or supplies, you can sell that inventory to friends or hall mates.

3. Use Groupon or Other Online Coupon Services

Groupon currently has an offer where college students get 25% off local deals. Taking advantage of these discounts can help college students save on services like haircuts, yoga classes, manicures, fitness gyms and more.

4. Take Public Transportation

It’s true we’re living in the age of Uber and Lyft, and sure, it might be faster to drive most places, but you’ll save so much cash in college if you take public transportation. Plus, utilizing buses and trains is better for the environment.

5. Use Cash Instead of Credit

Research from NYU professor Priya Raghubir and University of Maryland professor Joydeep Srivastava shows that using physical cash makes people less likely to overspend because they “feel the outflow of money” more directly. Spending too much on a credit card can also lead to high interest charges if you don’t pay the balance in time. Cost-conscious college students may want to trade plastic for paper. (See how your credit card spending affects your finances with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

6. Find Free Food on Campus

College campuses are overflowing with student organizations and sports teams, so there’s usually something happening on campus all the time. One of the main ways clubs get people to come to their events: free food. Scoping out events with complimentary food will save you a few bucks, and you might meet new friends by checking out a performance or club meeting.

7. Buy Online or Used Textbooks

New hardback textbooks are some of the expensive required materials a professor can expect you to buy. Instead of buying an actual textbook, go for an online version, which can be much cheaper. If an online version of a textbook doesn’t exist, try to buy a used version from a friend or an online site.

8. Sell Your Textbooks at the End of the School Year

When all your books pile up after finals, don’t just take them home and let them collect dust on the shelf. Instead, sell them to underclassmen you know, or use services like bookscouter.com or half.com to sell them. Some university bookstores buy back textbooks as well.

9. Track Your Spending

College students often go wrong when they make numerous purchases but eventually lose track of them due to having so much on their minds. Utilizing an app like Mint or even a trusty pen and notebook, students can track their spending and see if they’re adhering to their budgets. If you are constantly aware of how much you’re spending, you’ll be less likely to spend money on unnecessary items.

10. Don’t Sign Up for Subscriptions You Can’t Afford

While Netflix and Hulu might seem reasonably inexpensive, those seven to ten bucks a month quickly add up! If you really need a binge-watching fix, you can always borrow DVDs from the library on campus. Other subscription services like Amazon Prime, Spotify and Pandora can also cause you to lose money over time. Canceling those services can help students avoid monthly payments that rack up.

11. Borrow Books From the Library

Along similar lines, some English or humanities classes require five or more books per semester. To save money, borrow the books from the library instead of buying new paperbacks every time.

12. Get Free Refills on Coffee & Tea

It can be super difficult to stay away from caffeine, especially when you’re a college student spending long hours in the library. To save money, head to a chain that gives out free refills on your favorite caffeinated drinks. Starbucks offers free refills of hot, or iced, brewed coffee and tea. Most McDonald’s and Panera Bread locations also provide free refills on hot drinks, and soft drinks, too.

13. Keep Snacks on You During the Day

Food at campus cafes or markets, or even in vending machines, can be overpriced. So when it’s time for an afternoon snack, make sure you’re prepared with snacks of your own. This way, you’ll save a few cents or dollars each time you get hungry, and eventually that money accumulates.

14. Go Thrift Shopping

Besides being a fun activity to do with friends, thrift shopping is a great way to save money. It’s a smart move to save money on trendy clothes you might not wear for very long, especially in college towns or cities with ever changing weather.

15. Skip the School Supplies

Instead of wasting money on pencils, notebooks and highlighters, take notes on your laptop or tablet. Not only does this trick save the environment, but also it allows you to avoid unnecessary spending on school supplies you’ll just have to repurchase for the next school year.

16. Cut Back on Buying Music

Sure, iTunes is great, but constantly buying the newest songs from your favorite artists can be a big hit to your wallet. To save, consider using a service like Spotify or Pandora to get free music whenever you want. If you really can’t stand advertisements, Spotify offers a student discount for its premium subscription that comes without ads!

Want a few more ways to save money? Here are 50 free things you can get this year

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My Daughter’s Having a Baby. How Much Will College Cost in 18 Years?

Get ready for some sticker shock.

Q. My daughter is having a baby and I want to save for college. How much would I need to save each month to have enough so the grandbaby won’t need loans? And is a 529 plan the best place to save?
— Grandma-to-be

A. Congratulations on your family’s new addition – and get ready for some sticker shock.

You’ll need to save a whole lot of cash if you want to fully fund this child’s education.

We asked Matthew DeFelice, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield, N.J. to run the numbers.

He assumed you’re starting with a zero balance. Then he assumed conservative 4% growth rate on invested funds and a 5% inflation rate on annual cost of education.

Using Rutgers University as a state school example, the total cost of a four-year undergrad degree including room and board will be $463,812 when your grandchild attends college, DeFelice said.

“To be able to pay for that in full you will need to save $1,231 per month or $14,775 per year through the year 2037 given the above assumptions,” DeFelice said.

Using Princeton University as a private school example, DeFelice said, the total cost of a four-year undergrad degree including room and board will be $611,641 when your grandchild attends college.

To be able to pay for that in full, he said, you will need to save $1,624 per month or $19,484 per year through the year 2037.

These are sobering numbers indeed.

DeFelice said it’s entirely possible that the assumptions he used are way off base.

He said 5% is the historical educational expense inflation rate over the past 15 years, and we don’t know if college costs will continue rise at that torrid pace.

“My personal feeling is that something needs to be done about the skyrocketing cost of education in this country, but that is an argument for another day,” he said.

He also said a 4% investment return is conservative compared to historical stock market average annual gains. But given how far the market has come since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, DeFelice said he thinks it’s prudent to conservatively plan for lower than normal returns in the future rather than hope the good times will always continue.

You should also consider that your grandchild may qualify for some form of financial aid, receive scholarships, and/or attend a less expensive school than the ones we used as examples.

“Don’t forget about the child’s parents either – they can and should be expected to contribute as well,” DeFelice said. “We are seeing multi-generational college education funding strategies come into play more and more today than ever before, where both parents and grandparents come up with a strategy to do what they can afford to do given life’s other demands.”

Of course, not everyone is able to put aside this much money, and you shouldn’t shortchange your retirement to do so, DeFelice said. While fully paying for college for your grandchild is a noble goal, remember, you can always borrow money for college but you can’t borrow money for retirement.

As far as savings vehicles, a 529 plan is still the most tax-efficient account to pay for college on the market today, DeFelice said.

It’s important to note that if the grandparent is listed as the owner of the 529 plan, it can actually hurt the student’s chances to qualify for financial aid, DeFelice said.

“While grandparent-owned 529 plans do not get counted in the parents’ asset calculation formula, money coming out of the plan to pay for college is considered a gift to the student,” he said. “This will be viewed as untaxed income for your child for financial aid purposes, and can impact the student’s aid eligibility by up to 50% of the distribution in the following year.”

For that reason, DeFelice said he usually recommends the 529 plan be opened up with the parents as owners, and the grandparents can gift money directly to the plan itself, or to the parents who would then in turn deposit the funds.

You can find more strategies for paying for college without building a mountain of debt here

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Meet the Man Who Makes $600 a Month Selling Crickets

When Jeff Neal’s wife told him she wanted to quit her job to stay at home with their kids, he had to think about how to make one income work.

When Jeff Neal’s wife told him she wanted to quit her job to stay at home with their kids, he had to think about how to make one income work. With over $21,000 in student loans, there wasn’t much extra money lying around. Losing another income stream would be difficult.

But rather than give up hope, Neal did something no one expected. He launched a side business that helped bring in extra money: selling crickets online.

Yes, you heard that right. Crickets.

Now, Neal makes $600 a month selling bugs online at The Critter Depot, which helps him pay off his debt. Read on to learn more about this odd side hustle and how Neal has turned it into a steady income stream.

Searching for a Side Hustle

Neal graduated from Temple University and got a job as a project manager. While he made a good salary, he had student loan debt and a growing family. When his wife decided she wanted to stay home with the kids, Neal knew he had to make changes.

“My wife wanted to stay home, so I had to take full responsibility as the sole provider,” he says.

Since his full-time job involves e-commerce, he focused his side-hustle search on online jobs. After doing extensive research, he decided to put all of his efforts on one specific niche.

The area that he identified was in the pet industry; reptile and exotic animal owners need live crickets to feed their pets, but getting them can be difficult — and expensive. So, Neal’s site caters to pet owners, selling crickets of various sizes in bulk.

But before you rush out and buy tanks and crickets to replicate Neal’s success, you should know his approach is even more interesting. He actually doesn’t deal with the crickets at all. Instead, his business is a drop shipping company.

What Is Drop Shipping?

Drop shipping is a business model where the store doesn’t stock any of the items it sells. Instead, when a customer purchases a product, the drop shipper works with a manufacturer — or in this case, a cricket supplier — to fulfill the order. The drop shipper never comes into contact with the product, so wrangling crickets isn’t part of Neal’s day.

“I don’t know anything about raising crickets,” he admits. “They have short life spans and unique nutritional and environmental needs. It’s a lot of work that takes a lot of knowledge. When I set up my business, I found someone who breeds crickets. He takes care of them and ships them; I just handle the orders.”

For customers, drop shipping is a seamless process, whether it’s through Amazon or a private site. Most of the time, you don’t know when you’re buying from a drop shipper. Once your order is placed, the drop shipper works with the supplier to place the order, and you receive the item like you normally would.

Drop shipping can be a mutually beneficial relationship between the seller and supplier. In Neal’s case, he has the marketing expertise and skills to build a successful website and business. That gets the cricket farmer more exposure and more orders than he would get on his own. Neal estimates that he generates about $3,000 in sales each month from The Critter Depot and his cut is $600.

Previously, Neal primarily sold crickets on Amazon. But meeting Amazon’s strict standards is hard when you’re shipping live insects. He ended up taking his sales to just his website, which requires more work for him each day to build traffic.

His new income stream allows him to take advantage of other opportunities, too. He recently purchased the site Jason Coupon King, which generates another $700 a month in revenue.

Balancing a Side Gig With Life & Work

While Neal’s side hustle is successful, he has to balance his work with his full-time job and his family. But that’s why he says drop shipping is a great option. It gives him the flexibility he needs while still allowing him to earn extra money.

“I don’t have a television, so when I come home from work, I just spend time playing with the kids and catching up with my wife,” says Neal. “Once they’re in bed, I work on optimizing my websites, contributing to forums and building links to my sites.”

Neal says he spends an hour or two a day after work on his side hustle and that his business is still growing. The extra income is substantial enough to help him pay off his student loans early and give his family more wiggle room in their monthly budget. (You can keep tabs on your own finances by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Making Extra Money

While selling crickets might not be for you, Neal’s story is just another example of the many ways you can make money on the side. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or need more income to pay down debt or boost your emergency fund, launching a side hustle can be the right approach.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Neal 

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Higher Student Loan Rates Take Effect in July. Here’s What That Means for Borrowers

For the first time since 2014, the interest rates on federal student loans are going up.

For the first time since 2014, the interest rates on federal student loans are going up. Loans disbursed between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 will carry the new rates, which are 0.69 percentage points higher than those of federal loans that have gone out since July 1, 2016. Here are the new rates:

  • Direct subsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 4.45%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 4.45%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for graduate or professional student borrowers: 6%
  • Direct PLUS loans for graduate and professional student borrowers: 7%

Why Did the Interest Rates Change?

Legislation that went into effect in 2013 tied federal student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note. Every year, the undergraduate loan rates are calculated by adding 2.05 percentage points to the high yield of the 10-year note at the last auction prior to June 1. Add 3.6 percentage points to the high yield to determine unsubsidized graduate loan rates, and for PLUS loans, add 4.6 percentage points.

How the Rate Change Affects You

If you’re getting a federal student loan in the next year, these are the rates you’ll pay for the life of the loan. Borrowers with existing federal student loans won’t experience a rate change, unless they have a variable interest rate, which is rare.

While the rates have gone up, they could be much worse: The 2013 legislation caps federal student loan interest rates at 8.25% for undergraduates, 9.5% for unsubsidized graduate loans and 10.5% for PLUS loans. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the benchmark rate has remained historically low, but if it rises, future student loan borrowers will pay. So if you’re going to college in the next few years, or will borrow on behalf of someone who is, keep tabs on the 10-year Treasury yield.

How to Change Your Student Loan Interest Rates

Whether you’re a new borrower or have been repaying student loans for a few years, you should know there are a few options for changing the interest rates on your student loans.

You could apply for a federal Direct consolidation loan, which combines multiple eligible loans into a single loan. The interest rate on that loan is the average weighted interest rate of the loans you consolidated, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of 1%. Whether this strategy will save you money on interest depends on the balances and interest rates of the loans you’re consolidating.

Let’s say you have three loans with the following balances and interest rates: $3,500 at 4.66%, $6,500 at 4.29% and $7,500 at 3.76%. The weighted average interest rate of those loans is 4.14%. But if you switch the interest rates on the largest and smallest loan balances, the weighted average would be 4.36%. The math matters when considering consolidation.

You could also refinance your student loans at a lower rate with a private lender (there’s no federal refinancing option beyond consolidation), but you will lose many of the benefits federal student loans offer, like income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

There’s also a simpler way to cut your student loan rates: Set up automatic payments. The savings may not be as significant as they can be with consolidation or refinancing, but most student loan servicers offer a rate discount to borrowers who enroll in auto-debit. If you’re looking for other ways to make your loan payments more affordable, here’s a list of your options.

It’s crucial you stay on top of your student loans, as missing payments can trash your credit and result in significant financial obstacles. You can see how your student loans and other accounts affect your credit by reviewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

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How Your Credit Report Can Help You Manage Student Loans

Handling your student loan payments may not be easy, but here's where you can start to take control.

More than 1.8 million students graduate from college in 2017. While it’s a momentous achievement, many graduates will walk away with significant student loan debt. Though keeping up with monthly payments can be difficult, knowing how to budget for them can be an even bigger obstacle.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know how to begin managing your loans, your credit report can be an essential tool. Here’s how your credit report can help you take control of your debt.

What’s in Your Credit Report?

Your credit report is a complete picture of your financial history. It contains information about your bills, loans and what credit cards you have open.

Lenders use your credit report to make decisions on your reliability and financial stability. They look at your report to evaluate whether to offer you a car loan, mortgage or a new credit card. However, your credit report is an invaluable source of information for you too, especially if you have student loans.

2 Ways Your Credit Report Can Help You Manage Your Loans

When you’re in school and take out federal or private student loans, it’s easy to lose track of who your lenders are or how much you borrowed — especially if you don’t have to start repaying them yet.

To make things more difficult, your debt can sometimes transfer to a new loan servicer. If that happens, you’ll have to make payments on a different website and you’ll have a new account. That’s where your credit report comes in handy. You can use it to locate your loans and their current status in the following ways:

  1. Identify your loan servicer: If you aren’t sure who your loan servicer is, use your credit report to identify who manages your loans. Your credit report will list all the institutions behind your debt. Once you have the name of your servicer, you can use that information to sign into your account and begin making payments.
  2. Find out your current balance: Thanks to interest, your loan balance could grow while you’re in school. If you’re unsure what amount you owe, your credit report will list the current balance on your loans.

Where to Get Your Free Credit Report

There are many services that will send your credit report for a fee. However, paying for your credit report is unnecessary. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s a good idea to stagger your credit reports throughout the year. For example, you could review one credit report from each agency every four months. That way, you can continually review your credit report for issues, rather than waiting a full 12 months. Catching problems early can save you money and protect your credit.

You can also check your credit scores for free on Credit.com. They’re updated regularly and can help you spot changes in your credit reports if they go up or down unexpectedly.

What to Do If There’s an Error

An essential part of checking your credit report is reviewing it for errors. Sometimes loans are reported incorrectly or, in cases of identity theft, fraudulent accounts can be put under your name.

If you find an issue, whether it’s a simple mistake or a more serious issue of theft or fraud, it’s important to take action right away. If the accounts in error become delinquent, those late payments can cause your credit report and score to plummet. That will make it more difficult for you to get a loan, a new credit card or get approved for a new apartment. The longer you wait to act, the longer it could take to correct.

To report a problem, write a letter disputing the errors and send it in the mail to the following:

  • Equifax: Equifax Information Services, LLC., P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA, 30348
  • Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016

You should also notify the bank or financial institution that reported the error. Include copies of any supporting evidence you may have to prove your case.

To ensure you have a record of contacting the organizations, it’s a good idea to send the letter as certified mail as proof.

If you report the error and the credit bureaus and financial institutions do not fix the issue, you can escalate the problem to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Managing Your Credit

Graduating from college is a huge milestone, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed managing your student loans. From figuring out who your loan servicer is to learning how much your loans grew, the process can be complex.

Getting your credit report and credit scores and reviewing them thoroughly can help you keep track of your loans and stay current on your payments.

Image: g-stockstudio

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6 Things to Accomplish in Your First Year After College

Life after college is about more than just landing your first job. Here's what you should focus on.

Now that your college years are behind you, it’s time to begin another chapter in your life. While you may have been juggling school work, a part time job and a social life all at once, post-graduation brings a whole new meaning to “adulting.” In the next few years you may be looking to purchase a home or start a family, but for now, let’s look at a few things you should try to accomplish your first year after college.

1. Travel

You may soon realize that it can be difficult to find free time to travel when you start working a 9-to-5 job. Therefore, consider traveling the summer after graduation. It’s a great chance to see places you may not be able to see when you begin working full-time. Traveling can help clear your mind and relieve the stress of those last few college finals. It’s understandable to find it hard to even think of traveling with your student loan payments looming large, but you may regret not doing so when you begin working. Consider making an allowance in your budget for travel and remember not to add on any more debt! (Pro tip: A travel rewards credit card is a great way to help pay for your travel, and if properly managed, can also help you build your credit.)

2. Land a Job

Of course, the reason why you went to college to begin with was to establish a career. Chances are your first job won’t be your last. Now is a good time to start a job where you can learn new skills that can be used later in your career. Don’t be afraid to take a job that doesn’t directly align with your college major. You can learn something new in every job, and remember you are building skills and your career is a path.

3. Learn to Network

While networking may not sound so thrilling, learning to engage with other professionals and sell yourself is an important life skill. Learning to network is a stepping-stone to enhancing your career. It helps to improve your communication, build relationships, generate ideas and lets you stay current on trends related to your major.

4. Get Your Finances in Order

Graduation is a great time to revisit your finances and make necessary adjustments. Now that you’re out of college, your expenses and income will be different. This means making changes to your budget, taking into account any new expenses such as rent, travel costs for work and, unfortunately, those pesky student loans. Knowing exactly where your money is going can help free up some cash flow, which you can use to help pay down student loan debt.

Make sure you gather all your information regarding your student loans. You will soon be responsible for the repayment of these loans, so the more you know and understand about them, the better off you will be.

5. Open a Savings Account

For those who don’t have a savings account, now is the time to open one. If you’re working, consider opening an employee-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401K or an individual retirement account (IRA). While you may find it difficult to contribute when you have student loans, the earlier you begin savings in these accounts the better. Starting early will give your money more time to grow. Even saving a bit in your first year out of college will make a difference in the long run.

6. Accept Change

After college, you may be faced with a few changes you’re not quite used too. Whether it be starting a new career or moving to a new city, expect some challenging transitions in your first year out of college. This is not to scare you: Change can be a good thing, and when you embrace it, you can make the best of these changes.

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50 Free Classes That Can Pay Off

Gaining skills doesn't have to cost money. Check out these 50 classes you can take free.

Skills pay the bills, at least according to a lot of early ’90s hip hop.

But that doesn’t mean you have to spend money to acquire those skills. Yes, college is getting more expensive, but there are plenty of free classes online that can beef up your resume or let you start a side hustle without racking up student loan debt.

Here are 50 free classes that can pay off.

1. GED Classes

Passing the GED high school equivalence test opens doors to college and many jobs. Test preparation classes are available online and at many local libraries. And, if you’re thinking of getting a higher education, you can find some ways to pay for college without building a mountain of debt here.

2. Introduction to Computer Science

This course from MIT teaches students the Python programming language, a few simple algorithms and how to test and debug code. It’s available through EdX free, though you can receive a certificate of completion for a fee. This could be a good start to getting a computer science degree, one of a few college degrees that really pays off.

3. HTML5 & CSS Fundamentals

Learn the basics of web design and style from a course designed by Intel and W3C and get an introduction to the HTML5 and CSS languages. Available on EdX.org.

4. Introduction to C++

C++ is another foundational programming language. Microsoft offers this course, which provides an entry into C++ basics, including how to create functions. Available on EdX.

5. Introduction to Java Programming

Continuing on the computer programming path, Java is another language used just about everywhere. This course, from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, not only teaches the basics of Java but also aims to improve students’ problem solving skills. Available on EdX.

6. Academic & Business Writing

Make your writing more persuasive with this six-week class offered through the University of California at Berkeley, which also teaches proofreading and vocabulary. Those skills can come in handy when writing everything from a job cover letter to a credit dispute letter. Available on EdX.

7. Writing for Strategic Communication

Even if you’re not a professional writer, this course could help you improve all your writing endeavors, even your tweets. From La Trobe University in Australia on iTunes.

8. Data Science Orientation

This is the first course in a full curriculum on data science from Microsoft. Big data is big business, and the skills to decipher it are in demand. This course will give you basics on exploring data using Microsoft Excel and give you an idea on whether data science is something you’ll want to pursue as a career. Available on EdX.

9. Understanding Data

If Microsoft’s orientation piqued your interest, Marginal Revolution University will teach you the basics of statistical analysis and econometrics with a series videos and interactive lessons.

10. Against All Odds: Inside Statistics

This course shows how statistics are used in the real world and teaches the basic tools and methodology used in statistics. Course materials and video lectures available at learner.org.

11. Introduction to Marketing

Marketing is key for many businesses and organizations. This course teaches students how to reach potential customers and to understand how they decide what to buy. It’s taught by professors from the University of British Columbia and available on EdX.

12. Branding, Content & Social Media

This course from Ohio State University will help you develop a communications strategy for getting the word out about whatever cool thing you’re doing. (Just be sure not to overshare — you’ll put your identity at risk.) Available on iTunes.

13. Essentials of Advertising & Marketing

In this course, students will learn how to create and present an advertising campaign. From Arizona State University, available on iTunes.

14. The Architectural Imagination

Interested in architecture? Harvard University offers this course on its basic principles, including an introduction into making your own architectural drawings and models. A good way to see if architecture is the career for you, on EdX or the Harvard University website.

15. Contract Law

Everyone has to deal with contracts at some point in their lives. Every time you download an app, start a new job or buy a home you have to sign some sort of legal agreement. Harvard professor Charles Fried teaches a course covering contract law and how to read contracts to understand their possible consequences. Available on EdX or the Harvard University website.

16. Exposing Digital Photography

If you got a fancy camera for Christmas but still don’t know how to use it, this class from Harvard Extension School instructor should clear things up. Students can learn how to use their camera and work with light to make great shots. The course materials are all available at digitalphotography.exposed.

17. Lighting Essentials

The glamour is in being behind or in front of the camera, but photography and videos both require good lighting. This course, available on iTunes, YouTube and as an iBook, teach the basics of lighting. From the University of New South Wales in Australia.

18. Game Theory

Game theory is the study of decisions. Improve your decision-making with this course from Yale University professor Ben Polak. Lectures are available on YouTube and iTunes.

19. Money Skills

We like to think Credit.com gives you an excellent education on money skills, especially when it comes to building good credit, but if you want more, economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok will take you through investing, real estate, career choices and saving in this course from Marginal Revolution University.

20. Financial Planning & Money Management

Even more on personal financial planning, including taxes, banking and debt management, from Southwestern College, available on iTunes. (By the way, keeping up a good credit score is a big part of debt management. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

21. Personal Finance

This Missouri State University video series takes a different tack, showing you how to set and reach financial goals. Available on iTunes and YouTube.

22. Investment Philosophies

Think you can beat the market? New York University teaches you how to create a sound investment strategy. Available on iTunes.

23. Poker Theory & Analytics

We would never condone gambling, but if you must, at least learn how from an MIT graduate student. This series of lectures also includes guest speaking turns from professional poker players.

24. Child Nutrition & Cooking

Students of this course learn what makes up a healthy diet and how to make nutritious home-cooked meals. Participants will need to sign up for a Coursera account. You can take the course free or pay $39 to receive a certificate upon completion.

25. Adolescent Health & Development

Wondering what the heck is going on with your teen? This course from Johns Hopkins covers puberty, emotional development and more serious ailments that affect young people. Available on iTunes.

26. Introduction to Human Nutrition

This audio course from the University of California at Berkeley covers what your body actually needs. It’s probably not more cake. Available at the Internet Archive.

27. Broadcast Journalism

If Anchorman is your inspiration, learn the ropes with this course from La Trobe University in Australia, which teaches everything from pitching stories to interviewing to reporting spot news. Free on iTunes.

28. Magazine Writing

If you have a true story to tell, this course from Ohio State University will help you turn it into a full-fledged article and get it published. Available on iTunes.

29. The Interview

No, this isn’t that James Franco movie. This course from La Trobe University in Australia will teach you how to interview people in a journalism context, but the skills of asking good questions and putting people at ease can apply anywhere. Available on iTunes.

30. Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full

MIT professor Paola Rebusco, who normally teaches physics, pulls double duty here, teaching the language of Italy via the delicious cuisine of Italy. Course materials available on MIT Open Courseware.

31. Elementary Arabic

You don’t have to pay to learn a foreign language. This Arabic course from Lund University is available as an iTunes podcast.

32. Beginning Chinese

Seton Hall University offers a series of courses on Chinese, from this beginner class to more advanced courses, all on iTunes.

33. Dialogue for German Learners

This course covers everything from German telephone (or in German, “Telefon”) skills to office (“Büro”) conversations. On iTunes from the University of South Wales.

34. Elementary French

Carnegie Mellon offers this course through its Open Learning Initiative. Students should be able to commit at least six hours a week.

35. Spanish Fundamentals

From estar through gustar, this course provides an introduction to Spanish, particularly Spanish grammar. Available on iTunes.

36. Pixar in a Box

Who better to teach the basics of animation than Pixar? This course, offered through Khan Academy, teaches students how to animate things like bouncing balls, robots and fireworks.

37. Becoming the Next Bill Nye

Ever wanted to host your own educational show? MIT offers a class that will teach you the video production techniques to do it. Science rules! Available through MIT Open Courseware.

38. Video Production

This course covers everything from setting up and operation video equipment to writing and shooting. Taught by Iona College and available on iTunes.

39. Introduction to Game Design

Learn how to make your own digital or board game. Units on game design concepts will help make sure it’s actually fun to play. This MIT course isn’t running, but all the materials are still available on EdX.

40. Crisis Management

For any aspiring public relations pros, this course from Missouri State University will show you the ropes on developing a crisis communications plan, just in case the politician you represent says something truly dumb. Available on iTunes.

41. Fundamentals in Public Speaking

It’s many people’s greatest fear. If you share this fear, this course from Missouri State University may help you conquer it, whether you’re giving a wedding toast or a graduation speech. Available on iTunes.

42. A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners

What’s the right thing to do? What makes someone a good person? If you find yourself asking the bigger questions, let Oxford University professor Marianne Talbot be your guide. Available on iTunes and YouTube.

43. Argument Diagramming

People say a lot of crazy stuff. Argument diagramming can help you point out why they are wrong. Available through the Carnegie Mellon Open Course Initiative.

44. Critical Reasoning for Beginners

Another course from Professor Talbot, this course teaches students how to evaluate arguments and make your own reasoning clear. Could be handy negotiating for a higher salary. Available on iTunes.

45. Statistics for Social Scientists

This Duke University course teaches students how social scientists evaluate data. This should make you better able to understand academic research, polls and any other claims based on statistics. Available on iTunes.

46. Building a Business

This series of lectures on YouTube by the University of Oxford tells you how to start your own business.

47. Entrepreneurship & Business

Serial entrepreneur and Carnegie Mellon professor Mark Juliano covers topics like how to write a business plan and how to get funding. Available on iTunes.

48. New Enterprises

This course from MIT is also about starting a business, but focuses more on technology startups, if you’ve got the next Facebook on your hands. Materials available at MIT Open Courseware.

49. Principles of Management

Learn which leadership approaches work best for organizations. This course is from Iona College and is available on iTunes.

50. Real Estate Finance

Want to become a real estate investor? Learn the basics from Professor Joshua Kahr. This course is available on iTunes.

Looking to take some classes to beef up your resume post-graduation? We’ve got a full 50 things recent grads can do to score their first job

Image: SbytovaMN

The post 50 Free Classes That Can Pay Off appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Life After Graduation

Adult life can be tough. Here are some hard truths new graduates should know as they head into the world.

I got my first job out of college pretty quickly. In fact, I started the day after I wrapped up my full-time internship. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for at least one day between, but I was too eager to please my bosses to do so.

Within two weeks of accepting the offer, I managed to find an apartment and a roommate. I left the last day of my internship with a mattress stuffed into my Honda Accord, enough clothes for the work week and little else. I figured I could move the rest of my things on the weekend.

That night, I ate takeout Chinese food on my mattress on the floor, and read my roommate’s copy of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” until it got too dark to see (I hadn’t brought lamp with me). That was how adulthood started for me.

Life after college gets real. Adjusting to being on your own can be a struggle, especially if you’ve been reliant on your parents to pay your taxes and schedule appointments and tell you to wake up before noon.

Here are some other things people might not tell you about life after graduation.

1. You Might Not Get a Job in Your Major

If you majored in basket weaving or worse, journalism, you might not find your ideal job right away. That’s OK. You have little experience. (Here are 50 tips for recent grads looking for work.) There’s no shame in taking an internship or even volunteering to brush up your resume.

You may also end up taking a job completely unrelated to your field of study. This is a good idea if you have student loans coming due. And you might end up loving the job. I have a friend who majored in geology and works as a computer programmer, and another who studied anthropology and works in property development and they’re both doing great. Your path will take you to unexpected places. Changing direction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

2. You’ll Probably Change Jobs. A Lot

If it isn’t already, the idea of holding the same job for your entire career is fast becoming antiquated. Changing jobs is sometimes the best way to get a raise or a better title.

Because of that, you need to make sure your resume is tip-top, you’re charming in interviews and you don’t burn any bridges. A broad network of colleagues is going to be important throughout your career.

3. Money Isn’t Everything … But It’s a Big Deal

Taxes, saving for retirement, dealing with student loans, rent, dinner and everything else you’ll shell out for as a grown-up will occupy a big part of your brain power. Be sure you’re getting the right information on all these things. There’s plenty of advice on Credit.com and elsewhere online.

Many job-related questions should be directed to your human resources department. Your parents or peers can help you with budget advice. Be sure to ask if you’re confused about anything. Complacency with money can lead to long-lasting and damaging consequences. (That includes damage to your credit. Check on yours with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

Money is complicated and not always in your hands. The economy can tank unexpectedly. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to have setbacks. But if you start laying a solid foundation now, you’ll have a better chance of bouncing back.

4. You Need to Develop Good Habits on Your Own

Adults don’t have gym teachers forcing them to exercise. Adults don’t have people telling them to wake up on time to pack their lunch.

No one’s going to make doctor’s appointments for you or remind you to brush your teeth. A big part of adulthood is doing all that stuff yourself, even though it’s boring, because it’s good for you.

5. You’ll Probably Live With Your Parents Again

Rent is expensive. Starting salaries aren’t great. That combination, plus the inevitable tumult of your 20s, will probably lead you back to your childhood bedroom, perhaps more than once.

This is not the end of the world. Many people aren’t lucky enough to have a fall-back place to crash. If you’re really worried, we threw together a few tips on moving back home.

Living at home might cramp your style, but it can also help you save money. Savor mom’s cooking, washing machine, couch, cable subscription and all the other perks while someone else is paying for them.

6. Your Best Advocate Is You

No one else is going to ask your boss to give you the raise you deserve. No one is going to make a better case for your promotion than you.

You might feel grateful just to get your first job after college, but you should absolutely negotiate your salary and make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Even after you get the job, you need to continue to advocate for yourself for raises, for added responsibilities or for promotions.

You might not feel comfortable with what can seem like bragging, but you can’t depend on your superiors noticing on their own how great you are. You need to advocate for yourself.

7. It’s Not a Race

You probably have Facebook, which means when your cousin or classmate lands their dream job or buys a house before you, you will know about it and feel like a loser.

Don’t compare yourself. Life is not a race. There is no prescribed timeline by which you’re supposed to make your dreams come true.

Someone, somewhere, will always be doing better than you. But if you are reading this on an electronic device under a roof, you are probably doing just fine.

It is unhealthy to base your happiness on how well they are doing. You, like everyone else, will get some helping of triumph, tragedy, boredom and ideally, about a third of the time, sleep. Your mileage may vary, but you need to deal with it on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: FatCamera

The post 7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Life After Graduation appeared first on Credit.com.

The Top 10 States Grads Ditch After College (& The 10 Where They Stay)

States-Grads-Ditch-After-College

The state where college students graduate isn’t always the state where they take their first job. In fact, some states are “simply terrible at holding onto their grads” according to a recent study by Zippia, a career analytics and information website. They looked at 127,403 resumes to determine the percentage of graduates who left the state where they graduated for their first jobs after college. The results? Smaller, northern states tend to lose the most graduates while more populous states retain theirs. But why?

The cause of these departures can be attributed to many factors, the study found. Some of the states with the greatest college graduate “brain drain” have some of the lowest unemployment rates, with only two being above the U.S. average of 4.5%. Also, the same states that lose their graduates at the highest rates tend to take in more out-of-state students. There also was a strong correlation between the number of graduates who stay in the state where they graduated and how much those states spend on public universities. Those that spend more see more students remain after graduation.

Whether you’re planning on ditching the state where you went to college or staying for your first job, it’s good to know where you stand financially. Your credit can play a big role in landing your first apartment, and even your first job. You can keep track of your credit scores by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Here are the 10 states students ditch the most, plus the 10 where they stay put.

States Students Leave the Most

10. Arizona
Grads Who Leave: 57.14%

9. Montana
Grads Who Leave: 
57.82%

8. Maine
Grads Who Leave: 
59.23%

7. Missouri
Grads Who Leave: 
63.17%

6. New Hampshire
Grads Who Leave: 
64.31%

5. West Virginia
Grads Who Leave: 
65.05%

4. North Dakota
Grads Who Leave: 
65.44%

3. Rhode Island
Grads Who Leave: 
69.43%

2. Vermont
Grads Who Leave:
69.54%

1. Delaware
Grads Who Leave: 70.69%

States Where Grads Stay the Most

10. New York
Grads Who Stay: 
62.65%

9. Kentucky
Grads Who Stay: 
62.94%

8. North Carolina
Grads Who Stay: 
63.29%

7. Washington
Grads Who Stay:
63.63%

6. Arkansas
Grads Who Stay:
63.69%

5. Nevada
Grads Who Stay:
64.60%

4. Minnesota
Grads Who Stay:
65.17%

3. Illinois
Grads Who Stay:
65.33%

2. California
Grads Who Stay:
79.62%

1. Texas
Grads Who Stay:
80.16%

Image: mablache 

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