What's the deal: Avoiding student loan debt

Many people believe college is necessary to land a good-paying job. But at what price?

When Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,00 people who left college with student loan debt, 45 percent said college was not worth the cost.

So how do you avoid regretting college? Experts at Consumer Reports say it's all in the planning.

Jessie Suren graduated from LaSalle University in 2010. Six years later, she has a degree in criminal justice that she isn't really using - and $90,000 dollars in student debt.

"I knew that college was expensive and, you know, I just thought everybody took out student loans and that's just how you did it," she said.

More than 70 percent of college graduates leave school with debt. Financial experts at Consumer Reports have a warning.

"Just don't do it. Don't take out a hefty loan as a student. And parents shouldn't take out hefty loans either," said Donna Rosato, Senior Editor of Consumer Reports.

People living with student debt say it affects their every move.

In the Consumer Reports nationally-representative survey of student loan borrowers, 44 percent say they've had to cut back on daily living expenses, about one-quarter have had to delay major financial goals like buying a house, and 12 percent have put off getting married.

To avoid scrambling to figure out how to pay for it all after graduation, have a plan to pay for college before you even apply.

First, do some soul-searching. Ask yourself what you want to get out of college.

"College is an expensive place to figure out what you want to do with your life. The more years you spend, the more debt you may have to take on. If you're not sure, consider options, like 'take a gap year.'," said Donna.

Next, look at the cost and think about how much financial aid you can anticipate.

"A good rule of thumb is not to borrow more than you expect to earn in the first year after you graduate," said Donna.

Advice Jessie Suren urges others to consider carefully.

Another way to avoid debt is to start off at a community college and transfer to a four-year institution after a year or two.

But make sure community college credits will transfer where you want to finish your degree.

CLICK HERE to view Consumer Reports' full report on student debt, including 10 questions every family should discuss.
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