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Michelle Singletary, "Big Mama used to say it's not how much money you make that matters, but how you make do with what you have"

Questions & Answers

College Students

Question:

I recently graduated from grad school with $18,000 in debt. Now that I'm in the working world, I'm starting to think about returning to grad school to complete a Ph.D. How long would you recommend I work before I go back to grad school? Or does it even matter since my income may (or as I've discovered, may not) increase with graduate education? Can you delay payments on earlier student loans if you go back to school?

Answer:

Honestly, I would return when I've paid off that $18,000. And then I would save for that next degree or look around for an employer willing to pay for the advanced degree (in exchange for service) or at least pay some of it. Almost weekly I get e-mail from folks who have spent thousands and thousands of dollars for grad school only to finish and not earn enough to pay that debt of before they turn 60.

Question:

I just got into grad school - planning on going part-time. I'm expecting to receive a good portion (about half of tuition) in fellowships. Yet I don't know what to do about the other half.

I thought about working for the school, but my annual salary is far more than what I'd be making there. I'm saving quite a bit - almost enough to pay off that other half.

But, I'm wary of putting all my savings into school. I've got my three months cushion, car is paid off, and 10% of my salary is contributed to my 401k, and no other debt except for 10,000 from undergrad Stafford loans, which I feel is manageable. I just feel like I should be saving for an eventual home, etc.

I'm 23 if it matters. Thoughts?

Answer:

Child take that money and pay off those loans. You've got all the other bases covered so make this a home run. Your savings grace is not having debt.

Question:

My 27-year old son will be graduating with his Masters in Counseling on May 11th and has asked me to help him choose between

- https://loanconsolidation.ed.gov/appentry/appindex.html or

- www.cfsstudentloan.com

to consolidate his student loans. Also, he plans to continue on for his doctorate.

I'm a single mother and we plan to evaluate these two options this weekend and would really appreciate your assistance and guidance in any possible way that you can offer.

Answer:

A great site to visit is www.finaid.org The thing with consolidation is you want to look at the perks -- do they give your son an interest rate break for on-time payments, etc. The bottom-line rates are competitive so you should look at what they offer borrowers.

And perhaps you might advise your son to work a bit to pay down his debt before taking on more debt for his doctorate. Just a thought.

Question:

I'm an undergrad student at the George Washington University. I currently hold an unpaid internship at Smith Barney Citigroup, and have not been working to subsidize my college expenses. I've been considering taking out a Fannie Mae student loan for about $10,000 in order to get by the rest of the academic year and possibly be able to get situated in NYC for a summer internship before starting to make money with that. I don't have the exact name of the loan or how much the interest rate is, but I'm wondering if this is a good idea or not? It seems like my only option at this point in time. Thoughts? Is there a better alternative?

Answer:

Get a paying job on the side. Don't go the debt route.

Unless otherwise noted the questions were answered by me in recent online discussions on www.washingtonpost.com.