(This is a guest article by Miranda Marquit*)
One of the items that seems to continually go up in cost is education. It's up there with food, health care and gas. Only you don't usually have to take loans out to buy those other things. The rising cost of higher education pretty much guarantees that you will need to take out student loans in order to help fund your degree.
The good news is that there are many sources for student loans, both from the government and from private sources. And even in the current climate, there are still plenty of loans available. Indeed, the danger becomes borrowing too much, and then having to pay it all back. While student loans can help you offset living expenses so you can focus on school (in addition to paying the cost of tuition), few people really need the maximum amount they are approved for.
My mother's voice echoes in my head "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." This is just as true for figuring out how much to borrow in student loans.
Create a budget
Take a realistic look at your expenses and your education costs. Find out how much you will pay in rent, and get an estimate of the cost of utilities. If you live in housing provided by your school, most utilities are included in the cost of your rent. Even if you don't, many apartment managers can give you a good idea of how much utilities will cost. Estimate a food budget, transportation costs and even a little fun money. Are you planning on getting a job? Figure any income into your calculations. A part time job will reduce the amount you will need to borrow. Also, if you have scholarships and grants, that will reduce your student loan amounts.
Multiply your estimated monthly expenses by the number of months that you will be in school. Then add that number to the cost of your tuition, student fees and estimated cost of books. Take the amount of scholarships, grants and estimated income and subtract that from your total expenses. The difference is how much you will need to borrow. In order to allow for leeway, take 125% of that difference, and round it up to the nearest $1,000. Example:
You estimate that your total cost for attending school is $30,000. Between scholarships, grants and a part-time job, plus your savings, you have $20,000. The difference is $10,000. Multiply 10,000 by 1.25 to get 12,500. Round it up, and you would borrow about $13,000. Each year (if you are getting a four year degree), you would borrow $3,250.
You also need to consider how much you can afford to borrow. With the job you get when you finish, will you be able to handle the loan payments? If you won't be able to afford the loan on your salary, you might want to reconsider your major, or the amount that you are planning to borrow.
Perhaps you should consider a less expensive school as well. Private schools can cost as much in one year as many state school cost in the entire four years. Consider that most private schools do not offer a big enough edge to make paying (and having to borrow) the extra worth it.
Consider your loan type
Another thing to consider is the loan type. If possible, avoid private student loans, since the interest rate is usually higher, and this will result in paying more money back. A federal student loan will result in a lower interest rate, and if you get a subsidized loan, you will not accrue any interest until after you are done with school. This can allow you further savings.
Carefully consider your options before taking out student loans. They can be very helpful, but like any other debt you can find yourself in over your head.
*About the author:
Miranda Marquit edits information on debt consolidation for DestroyDebt.com.