Home > Student Loans > Is a Debt-Free College Education Possible?

Comments 5 Comments

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s recent comments about how she has “little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that” added fuel to an already raging fire over the affordability of a higher education, and what—if anything—the government should be doing about the roughly one trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt.

Putting politics aside, is she completely out of touch with the reality of the cost of a higher education today? Or is it possible to graduate debt-free—even if you (or your parents) haven’t socked away enough, or if you don’t earn a coveted free ride to the school of your choice?


Credit.com’s Credit Report Card
Check your credit bureau profile for free with this great tool. See your detailed credit evaluation, expert advice on managing your credit, and unlimited free updates every 14 days.
Get Started Here »

I put out a query looking for stories from students or (their) parents who have recently—or will soon—graduate without college debt. I only got three responses, but each shared some common advice that may give prospective students (and their parents) hope that it is possible to earn a four year degree and not owe half your paycheck to student loan lenders when you’re done.

[Credit Check Tool: Try Credit.com’s Free Credit Report Card]

Drink Less, Work More and Don’t Buy Into Hype

Zac Bissonnette, the author of How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better Looking Than Your Parents was graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2011. He has no student loan debt.

His number one piece of advice? “Don’t fall for all the hype about how it’s so important where you go to school,” he says. “When you look at the real horror stories (about student loan debt) it’s usually people who bought into the scam that one school is better than another.”

“There are two sets of schools you should go to,” he insists. “Either one of the most elite schools in America or your state public school.” The top schools have large endowments and generous financial assistance, he explains, while in-state public schools offer “just about any major you need,” and are affordable. “The average cost is around $250/week including room and board,” he notes.

And stop focusing on the rankings of the “best” schools, which he believes get far too much attention. “Maybe one in five HR people are going to know the rankings of schools. Employers don’t read that. Unless you have kids in college, you don’t read that,” he says.

[Related Article: Romney, Obama Both Support Student Loan Interest Freeze]

Bissonnette also encourages students to work during school. “The average college student is drunk about 15 hours a week,” he says, and he’s not joking. At least some of that time could be spent working. He brushes off the idea that working will hurt a student’s grades. “Students who work more than 40 hours a week graduate on average with the same GPA as those who don’t work at all.”

And there’s another trap he says students should be careful not to fall into. The first year financial aid package may be quite generous, but once a student is enrolled, they’re hooked and each year, costs can go up/financial aid can go down. By the senior year, the student may find himself or herself taking on a lot more debt than planned.

Bissonnette is as blunt as Foxx at times: “There’s a lot of borrowing for college that doesn’t need to be happening,” he insists. But he quickly adds that he does have a lot of sympathy for students with massive student loan balances they have no shot at repaying. He believes it’s a rare 17-year-old student who is prepared to go against the advice of guidance counselors, his or her parents, and everyone else who is saying an education at a particular school is a good investment.

[Featured Products: Compare credit score, report, and monitoring plans at Credit.com]

Compromise—Or Join the Army »

Image: CUNY Academic Commons, via Flickr

Pages: 1 2 3

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team