Think Twice Before You Swipe

(ARA) - It seems like everybody's doing it. Going into debt that is. Americans are so deep in debt that none other than Oprah Winfrey has made it a mission to force America on a "Debt Diet" with a series of shows featuring families that overspend to the brink of bankruptcy.

For the recent graduate, going into debt is a clear and present danger. Out of school with their first real "grown-up" job and paycheck, new graduates are at high risk for overspending. According to Dr. Robert Berg, chair of Argosy University/Atlanta's College of Business and Information Technology, the temptation begins the day after commencement - if not earlier.

"Banks shower graduates with offers since their research shows that once people open an account, and are initially satisfied, they are reluctant to switch banks," says Dr. Berg. "Students discover credit card financing early on, leading to the notion of looking in a wallet and knowing you have the power to charge more than you should. Graduates know that bankers have the money they need, and often the loans they have taken out to pay for their education. But, bankers and accountants aren't responsible to pay back the loans - the graduate is."

So what can a recent grad do to stay on track and be a smart earner and saver? "Set up a budget," says Anna Kelly, director of student financial services of The New England Institute of Art. "It's simple, easy to do, and serves as a guidepost to help young people learn to pay off debt, not accumulate more debt, and learn to save too."

The budget, she says, should include everything from rent, transportation, food, utilities, school loan payments and credit card payments to entertainment and miscellaneous expenses. "Put some money away each month into savings," says Kelly. "No matter how small the amount, you will be better prepared for emergencies." Any big purchases you have to make, pay cash, says Kelly, to avoid credit card interest charges. There is plenty of simple software out there to help individuals set up a household budget.

Amy Shaver, a loan coordinator for The Art Institute of Seattle, says that many students now try to pay down or pay off credit card debt before graduating so "they can focus on paying off school loans as soon as they begin to get a regular paycheck." If a student does run into problems paying off a loan or credit card debt, Shaver recommends contacting the lender immediately to begin to work out a payment plan.

This is a smart strategy says Larry Lipner, director of administrative and financial services at The Art Institute of New York City. "Students should pay off credit card debt first as they incur the highest finance charges, and school loans, after as they tend to have much lower interest rates," he says. "By paying off debts monthly without being late the student is actually establishing a good credit history with the credit bureaus which will serve him/her well in the future translating into a better credit score."

Debt has become such a looming issue for all Americans, not just recent graduates, that many schools are devoting whole courses to it. "The Art Institute of New York City offers a freshman level course that includes consumer debt and how to handle it," says Lipner. "It's important because many students come to school without the basic knowledge of how to manage their personal finances."

For students who have problems with credit card debt, there are places to go for help. Two that Amy Shaver recommends are http://www.debtadvice.org/aboutus/aboutus_01.html and
http://www.debtadvice.org/PersPlans/guidelines_credit-counselor.html .

To sum up, Dr. Berg defines the clear choice that graduates should make: "The choice is to make more than you spend, or spend less than you make - a simple rule that is sometimes hard to follow."

Courtesy of ARA Content
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