As recent college graduates enter the workforce, many of them are saddled with crippling student loan debt. And while student loan forgiveness programs do exist, many Americans do not meet the eligibility requirements for them.
So before you’re stuck looking at a significant student loan balance, consider the following strategy on how to avoid paying student loans by not taking any out in the first place.
How I avoided taking out student loans
When I graduated from high school, I had a four-year, full tuition academic scholarship to the University of Utah. After my freshman year, however, I transferred to Brigham Young University (BYU), where they only offered me a two-year, half tuition academic scholarship.
Knowing I was on my own for my education costs, I started strategizing how to pay for my education without taking out student loans. Here are a few things I did along the way.
1. I chose an inexpensive college
The biggest costs covered by student loans tend to be your school’s tuition and fees. What’s more, those costs have increased 3.5 percent per year on average over the last decade for public four-year institutions.
In many cases, however, you can find a college nearby that charges below-average tuition while also providing a lot of value. That’s what BYU was to me.
BYU is a private university owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the 2017-2018 school year, it charges $5,460 a year in tuition and fees for members of the church and $10,920 a year for non-member students.
Despite the relatively low cost, BYU’s business programs – which are why I transferred – are among the best in the nation.
You may need to do some extra research to find a suitable college with low tuition costs, but the money you’ll save years beyond your graduation will be worth it.
2. I applied for scholarships and grants
Not everyone qualifies for academic scholarships out of high school. Depending on how studious you are, however, you can usually become eligible after your first semester or two. The program for your chosen area of study may also offer scholarships for their students.
Your university isn’t your only source for scholarships either. There are several organizations and companies helping students cover the cost of their education. And don’t forget to apply for the Student Loan Hero $1K Scholarship while you’re at it.
During my time at BYU, I applied for several scholarships in the business program and with outside organizations. I also studied hard to maintain good grades, which qualified me for a full-tuition academic scholarship after the initial one ended.
Later, after I was married, my wife and I qualified for Pell Grants. The money we received from scholarships and grants covered most of our tuition costs.
3. I found a job
Depending on the program you’re in, your studies may take up a large chunk of your time. Plus, there’s the social aspect of college to consider as well.
Between these two factors, it’s not always easy to find the time to work. If you want to decrease your dependence on debt, though, getting a job goes a long way.
I worked at least 32 hours a week doing customer service for a nutritional supplement company while going to school full-time. The income I earned provided enough cash to cover my living expenses, my remaining tuition after scholarships, and then some. In fact, I took a six-week trip to Fiji and New Zealand one summer without going into debt.
Of course, this setup wasn’t very conducive to a robust social life. I woke up early and went to bed late, with most of my time in between dedicated to classes, work, and studying. But I still managed to allocate my time in a way to spend time with friends and date my future wife.
4. I stuck to a budget
Regardless of how much income you earn, living on a budget can help you manage your cash flow. It can also prevent you from overspending on unnecessary things, which can increase your need for student loans. You can do a monthly budget or one for each semester.
When I began budgeting in college, I used a simple spreadsheet and tracked my expenses manually. Later, I upgraded my spreadsheet by adding formulas that automatically updated the budget when I added new transactions. I planned my expenses for each month and left money for savings.
Now there are plenty of budgeting apps that make the process even easier. You’ll be able to easily keep track of where your money is coming from and where it’s going.
How to avoid paying student loans
Far and away the best way to avoid paying student loans is by not taking out a student loan from the start. Despite all of my efforts, things did change when I married my wife midway through my time at college.
I switched to a part-time schedule at work, our expenses increased, and my wife was in a car accident that left her with some chronic health issues. We also made some mistakes along the way, including paying for a couple of vacations with student loan funds.
In general, though, our habits lessened our need for student loans. I left BYU with $9,133 in student debt. That’s well below the 2012 student loan debt average of $32,300 for graduating students from private nonprofit colleges.
While the student loan crisis is getting lawmakers’ attention, it may take years for meaningful changes to happen in that realm. In the meantime, if you want my advice on how to avoid student debt, it’s this: find ways to sidestep it in the first place.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.68% – 11.98%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.68% – 11.98% (1.68% – 11.07% APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 12.40% (4.24% – 11.43% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 11.63% (1.91% – 11.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.93% (4.64% – 11.61% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 10.19% (1.91% – 9.47% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 8.99% (1.91% – 8.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.49% – 8.33% (2.49% – 8.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.46% – 9.60% (4.46% – 9.54% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.78% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of May 10, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.