Letters: Avoid excessive student loan debt

Guest Author

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Dear CSU Students,

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Nowadays, continuing your education after high school is more necessary than ever. Most employers expect you to have a certificate or degree. But at the same time, pursuing a degree is more expensive than ever. It isn’t fair. So, as a college student, what can you do?

First, use the resources that are available.

Look into your eligibility for federal financial aid. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year as early as possible. Many schools use the FAFSA to award different types of financial assistance, so even if you are denied federal financial aid, just completing the form can save you money in the long run.

In Congress, I’ve strived to make the application process easier. You can now fill out the FAFSA as early as October (as opposed to January), using your family’s income tax returns from two years prior. You can also access the application on your cell phone and link to the IRS’s data retrieval tool, so your information populates automatically.

Second, be aware of the kind of loans you are signing up for.

There’s a between private loans and federal student loans. For example, your interest rate on a federal student loan won’t change, so you always know what to expect. There are built-in protections too, including more manageable repayment options, such as the Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs – as well as deferment and forbearance, if necessary.

In contrast, private loans are more like credit cards. Interest rates on private loans can accrue even before you graduate and spike as high as 18 percent. The one thing that will never change when it comes to private loans is that you’ll always be on the hook for a hefty bill. Private loans are not eligible for federal forgiveness, cancellation or even repayment programs.

The bottom line is don’t sign up for a loan just because some lender is offering it. Many private lenders prey on students like you.

In Congress, we are pushing for the Know Before You Owe Act, which would require schools to counsel students before you sign up for expensive, often unnecessary, private loans and inform you of any unused federal student aid eligibility.

Third, create a budget, accounting for all your expenses.

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As you know, the cost of college is way more than just tuition. Everything adds up – housing, food, utilities, transportation and parking, medical care, even football tickets and especially textbooks. The cost of textbooks is shocking, a whopping $1,250 a year, on average. As many as 65 percent of students decide not to buy a textbook because of the cost.

The good news is more and more professors are using cheaper alternatives like open source, online textbooks.

Last but not least, study, study, study.

Get the most out of your education. Make your investment count. Visiting campuses, I’ve learned from so many of you, and I want to know that your voice hasn’t gone unheard.

Jared Polis, U.S. Representative

Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District Representative

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