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Graduates leaving college with diplomas and debt
By Ashley Crawford
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Graduating from college brings many celebrations unless accumulated debts limit a person's opportunities.
"Students are coming out of college with more student loan and credit card debt than 10 years ago," said Jan Lukens, consumer management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "In fact, the predominant means that students meet their college financial needs is through student loans rather than grants."
In addition to student loan debt, many college graduates face the burdens of credit card debt. According to Nellie Mae, a major student-loan provider, undergraduates carry an average balance of $2,748 in credit card debt.
College students are the prime target group for credit card companies for two reasons, Lukens said. First, credit card companies are aware that most parents can help their children pay the bills. Second, studies show that the first credit card someone owns is usually used the longest and the most.
"Credit card company promotions and the benefits of having a card appeal to students, but the actual cost of credit may be lost on many new card holders," Lukens said. "When credit card balances swell, the interest can cost as much as the actual principal borrowed."
Lukens suggested parents and their children work together to develop a budget to avoid the credit trap. Having a multipurpose credit card with no annual fee can be a wonderful convenience if the balance is paid in full each month.
For students who already find themselves with too many bills to pay, Lukens said to take small steps to get out debt.
"First, the student should quit charging all together. Second, the student should begin to pay more than the minimum payments. These minimum payments are a trap credit card companies use to collect interest for years and years," Lukens said.
"Students should practice smart credit card usage and not develop the bad habit of excessively charging," Lukens said. "These students will face less stress and have more freedom upon college graduation than those locked into monthly payments in addition to living expenses."