Last week Barbara laid out a number of options for borrowers to extend or postpone student loan repayment — important information for new grads to have as they enter the real world. This is a topic that we get lots of questions on — probably second only to how to lower student loan interest rates.
But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, because I think it’s important for you to consider another perspective. I’m going to tell you not to take advantage of these options unless you absolutely have to.
Michelle Singletary, one of my most favorite and down-to-earth personal finance columnists with The Washington Post , had this to say about extended student loan repayment in a piece published on May 17, 2009:
But can I give you some hard but well-meaning advice if you’re one of the many graduates saddled with student loans?
Instead of immediately opting for repayment plans that will stretch your payments out until you’re in middle age, try to find other ways to handle this debt.
I know these are tough times. Nonetheless start your loan repayment as soon as possible, even if it means taking a second job, or a roommate (or two or three), or yes, dare I say, moving back home for several years.
You could handle this debt if you delay going on to graduate school, which would only pile on even more debt. If you are going to have trouble finding a job to make the monthly payments on your undergraduate debt, how in the world are you going to find employment to service tens of thousands more as a result of an advanced degree? Trust me, an advanced degree doesn’t guarantee a big salary.
You don’t get to buy a new car, an upgraded wardrobe, waste your money on liquor at happy hours, or take vacations until this debt is extinguished.
And don’t look at me with that face. Only after you’ve exhaustively scanned your budget and cut every possible expense (such as deleting the texting option on your mobile phone) should you consider extended repayment options.
Tough love from Michelle, but her advice is spot-on. Here’s how she ends her column:
I’ve met an incredible number of people — too many — who really could have paid their student loans under the standard payback period but because they didn’t want to live frugally, saw their loan balances jump significantly over the years.
If you truly can’t afford to fully pay what you owe, take advantage of the extra breathing room. But remember the more you delay, the more you may pay.
Something to think about.