Do you want to find alternatives to student loans to pay for college debt free? We have been in the personal finance world for nearly 9 years. One of the most debilitating debts that we encounter when giving financial encouragement and tips are those that are in student loan debt.
The reason why this is one of the most financially debilitating debts is that they are generally over 5 figures and even many with 6 figures of student loan debt, taking decades for someone to pay off.
Instead, what if you found a different way to pay! We are sharing 8 Alternatives to Student Loans to pay for college debt free.
For some quick figures from recent statistics, the national credit card debt average is just over $16,000, while the national student loan debt average is nearly $29,000. Nearly double!
It also feels like a kick to the stomach when you have worked so hard to get a degree, only to not fully be able to enjoy it and reap the pay increases and benefits because you have a heavy weight of student loan debt looming over you for years to come.
But, if you can greatly reduce the need for and possibly even eliminate student loan debt entirely, you will be on the fast track to financial independence and freedom FAR sooner.
That’s why we are joining our friend Robert, The College Investor and many other fellow financial bloggers in the Student Loan Debt Movement. The Student Loan Debt Movement is to help encourage, inform and inspire people to eliminate millions of dollars in student loans, giving practical advice along the way. ich is encouraging and inspiring people to take action on their student loans. In this Student Loan Debt Movement, you will also find a support group, a leader-board, and a $500 giveaway. Join us in the movement!
If you are still not convinced that you should make every attempt to avoid student loan debt, we also encourage you to read this article on 5 Alarming Facts About America’s $1.3 Trillion Student Loan Debt from Business Insider, as well as these 5 Facts About Student Loans from Pew Research.
One thing that we really like to say and encourage to aspiring college students, young or old, is that it is a very temporary time of life, when compared to the rest of your life to live. Give yourself a fighting chance by making these next 2, 4, 6, years of sacrifice to live a free and focused life after (and encouraging them to live by these 7 principles to continue their wise financial streak and maybe even be a millionaire in no time).
Let us ask the question a little clearer: Will you make a sacrifice in lifestyle now, to afford a much better life later?
Now, although a frugal, rice and beans lifestyle can greatly reduce your need for student loans, the price of your education will likely exceed any amount of pauper living. Thus, the need to share these 8 Alternatives to Student Loans.
What an awesome goal to either GREATLY reduce the amount of loan needed, or eliminate the need for loans altogether!
We have already started talking about some of these in depth in past articles, so we will give summaries here and link to those articles for more details. The articles we haven’t written yet, we will give you a summary here and then link to articles others have written on that topic.
And here’s the thing, you can use ALL of these for the same degree or at least a few of them. You don’t have to just think in terms of ONE option. Maximize all of this time of your life!
8 Alternatives to Student Loans to Pay for College Debt Free
Student Loan Alternative #1: Scholarships
Scholarships are everywhere. In fact, there are so many scholarships available, that nearly 100 million dollars worth of scholarships go unclaimed each year.
The challenge is knowing when, where and how to find and apply to them. We have detailed this process so that you can begin early (like 12, 13 or younger!) and start collecting these scholarships to take advantage of when you are ready for college.
Read the article How Anyone can find scholarships to pay for college
Student Loan Alternative #2: Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding has become an easy and popular way for many to help pay for college. The idea is essentially MANY people contribute a LITTLE BIT (like $1-$10) and then your college funding account adds up quick.
There are super creative ways of carrying this out, but even if just close friends and family contributed, it could be enough to at least pay for a semester or two at an in-state school. Thus, it is worth the effort and attempt, and who knows, you might even be one of those whose account goes viral and you have hundreds of complete strangers contributing to pay for your full degree.
According to this NBC article, this is quickly becoming popular. About 130,000 educational GoFundMe accounts have been created in 2015, raising a total of more than $20 million. By comparison, the 140,000 accounts opened in 2014 raised $17.5 million – and that was an increase of 280 percent from the year before.
We have also shared more on this topic in detail:
Read the article How to use crowdfunding to pay for college
Student Loan Alternative #3: Online College
Online college may not be for everyone, but the degrees available could be available to more than you think. It is well known that online college is much cheaper than traditional college. It isn’t because there is lack of quality education, but rather the fees associated with traditional schools for having a campus, not to mention the “on campus” expenses that can also add up.
It’s like most anything that can be done online. It generally means cheaper. Think of Amazon and how Amazon revolutionized retail shopping because they could have amazing prices, while cutting out of the costs of a brick and mortar store.
To really know and discover if this is a good option for you and if it will save you money over the traditional option you may be exploring, you will want to read the following article for further details and information.
Read the article Should you get a college degree online?
Student Loan Alternative #4: Get Employer To Pay For College
You have probably heard of the millions of “working students” who are furthering their education and their employer is/has paid for it.
Consider joining the workforce first, then get a degree. It might take you a little longer while working, but the good news is that you get started on your career and your time or “seniority” will also help propel you to future, higher positions. Then when you get the degree, you can end up in a much better place than if you had jumped into school right away, getting a later start on a career.
For some, this option is the best of all four worlds…. free school, making money while in school, establishing seniority earlier, and staying student loan debt free!
We can tell you that from personal experience, trying to get a degree while working can be more stressful, but remember it is temporary and it will potentially make for a less stressful future.
We talked about this option in detail, including personal stories from our lives as is relates to this topic.
Read the article Get employer to pay for college
Student Loan Alternative #5: Consider an Income Share Agreement
Honestly, this one is sort of like a loan, but maybe not as burdensome? Because of the nature of this option, this is our least favorite alternative, but it is an alternative none-the-less.
What is an Income Share Agreement or ISA?
It is like investors are owning stock in you and your future success, investing in your education and taking a cut of your future pay for a certain time period.
According to Time.com: “Instead of lending money to students, “investors” essentially buy a “share” in a student’s future for a limited period of time. If the student makes little or no money in that time, the investors lose out, and the student is free from obligation. If the student succeeds, the investors profit—and the student may pay more than he or she would have on a loan. In other words, students can now sell a kind of stock in themselves.”
The article goes on to talk about the pros and cons of this option, primarily how lower and middle income classes are able to afford college by this method. These classes are benefitting the most. The upperclass will likely pay more via this method than just paying the tuition.
It’s a very interesting concept and topic. We learned about it a couple of years ago and have yet to write a detailed article on the topic, but we are going to point you to two articles online that provide additional details.
Read the article on ISA’s from Time.com
Student Loan Alternative #6: Grants
Grants can be a great source of paying for college. In fact, this should be a top alternative to explore!
Many think grants are similar to scholarships, often thinking they are one-in-the-same. Really, the only similarity the two have is that repayment is not required. It is a gift, if you will.
But with scholarships, they are merit and academic based.
Grants, on the other hand, are strictly need based. Grades, achievements and athleticism does not matter. If you desire to go to college, but you simply cannot afford it, grants may help you achieve your dream debt free!
And there has been more than enough grant money over the years to meet the needs. Apparently there has been nearly 2.9 Billion in unclaimed grants some years.
This is also a topic that we have yet to write about in detail, so we will refer you to a couple of sites that share more details, including how to find and fill out the forms requesting a grant.
Read the article on Grants from CollegeScholarships.org
Read the article on Grants from FastWeb
Read the article on Grants from SimpleTuition.com
Student Loan Alternative #7: Work Study
Of course, we need to include work study as an alternative to student loans. It is a good ol’ classic way of paying for school. This is often a popular route for the graduate degree students, especially when your work can coordinate with your studies. At that point, not only are you making money to help offset your cost of college, but you are additionally giving yourself another item to add to your resume.
But let’s back up for a minute and explain what it is. Work study is an option provided by federal or state-funded programs to allow students to work (usually very flexible hours depending on their class schedule) somewhere at the university to help pay for tuition, living expenses, and whatever else. Students can usually opt to be paid directly and in come cases to directly pay down their student fees.
Going back to the discussion for graduate students (and upper-level undergraduate students), students can often find work that is related to their course of study (e.g., an engineering student might be able to work as a lab advisor). Hopefully you can see how such specific work could look good on a resume.
In reference to undergraduate students, often the work is mundane (e.g., working in the computer lab) but offers students to both work and study in some circumstances. Obviously there are so many jobs that could be done, but we wanted to at the very least mention this as an option.
According to Nerdwallet, the average student earns $2,619 annually. As you can already surmise, it won’t pay for everything but will help at least offset some of the cost, thus reducing the need for additional student loans.
Read the article on What is Work Study? A Student’s Guide
Student Loan Alternative #8: Working, Saving, and Living Like a Pauper
One of the final alternatives that we are sharing to be able to help you avoid student loan debt is this: work, save and live like a pauper while in school.
Work during your high school years and save. Work during the summer semester and save. Work online with the hundreds of opportunities on your own hours and schedule. In this day and age, the possibilities for extra work greatly exceeds the opportunities that were available to us when we were paying off over $108k of consumer debt.
Finally, consider living like a pauper while in school so that you can enjoy life with less financial stress later.
We know first hand that many want that college experience. In fact, Alex came into our marriage with a $15k student loan balance. Over the course of a 4-year state school degree, he accumulated over $23K of student loan debt. Thankfully, he had paid off a portion of it before adding to our debt load that would go from a car, credit card, student loans to over $108k of consumer debt in just the first few years of our marriage.
Looking back, we have talked about what Alex could have done differently if he could do it again. We talk about this with our own children.
You may be wondering, “What about Cassie’s student loan debt?” My parents were very frugal minded, and knew that they could not help out with college. However, what they knew they could do was help to set me up on a path to obtain scholarships. I actually ended up with a full-ride scholarship to obtain my Paralegal Degree. However, this only happens to 0.3% of students who apply for and obtain scholarships.
But…here’s the thing, what you could get most of it paid for and you just had a small portion to pay out of pocket. Using the other 7 alternatives listed in this post, you can probably easily make up the difference.
Alex could have applied for scholarships. He could have saved, he could have worked during the summer months, he could had done a lot. But he actually didn’t do any of these things listed here. When he was presented with the college plan, the easiest option that was given to him was to obtain student loans. And because there are 44 million student loan debtors today, it is obviously a popular, if not the most popular idea for aspiring students to pay for school.
So Alex signed on the dotted line and did so for 3 more years.
However, not only could Alex have done something different had he known, or if someone had help give him guidance, there was another factor into the high amount of his loan: his spending habits.
Unfortunately I was given student loans without much guidance on what the financial impact would be after college. I was probably like a lot of students as I had three assumptions that caused me to waste much of those student loans. First, I assumed I would be rolling in the cash after graduation and would be able to quickly pay it off. Second, I assumed that student loans were “just what you did to pay for college.” And lastly, I assume the student loan was my “savings account” and since I had the funds available I should just live it up.
I quickly learned after graduation that my meager salary wasn’t quite what I had hoped, and thus my repayment goals were quickly washed away. Next, it wasn’t until years later that I learned that there were other options than student loans. Honestly, I had worked through my summers and saved and should have been more frugal, at the very least not spending the balance of the loans that weren’t needed. But those parties, the CD collection I ended up with (all needed for studying of course), the late night pizza, and more were all funded by that “savings account.” Had I known how that would impact the next decade of my life, and even my marriage, I at least hope I would have been a bit more wise in my spending habits.
Finally, on the flipside, I wanted to share a story/excerpt from our book, The 2% Rule To Get Debt Free Fast, regarding what my Aunt did to pay for her education at MIT.
I contrast this with my wife’s aunt who put herself through college without a student loan or even a scholarship covering the majority of her expenses. She worked full time, ate ramen and graduated with honors debt free, meaning she left school without a huge financial burden to stress about paying back.
We’re not insinuating that students need to eat ramen or live in a questionable part of town to scrimp every penny towards an education, but if the mindset were closer to this nstead of the normal party mindset that I had, maybe we wouldn’t see a total of $1.3 trillion in student loans.
Another story from Cassie’s family is about her sister. Although she had scholarships to pay for her tuition, she obviously had other living expenses to make it through the year including room and board, books and more. She and her family decided to take a unique approach and delivered phone books for four to five weeks and were able to make approximately $7,000 over that period.
Although her family sacrificed other activities during that time, like sleep and other fun they could have experienced, that additional $7,000 meant she didn’t need to apply for a student loan. And just think, this was just over a five-week period. Had she needed to, she could have additionally worked part time or found other income alternatives to keep from needing to take out loans as well.
In the end, if you can greatly reduce, even eliminate the need for student loans altogether, then you will be setting yourself up for financial independence and freedom sooner. It is a difficulty for so many to leave school, enter the workforce and wherever they go, whatever healthy financial decisions they make from that point, you have this debilitating debt following you.
In fact, we referenced the article by Pew Research above, but one of their 5 facts that shows the stress and anxiety that comes along with the student loans after graduation is their fact #3:
Here’s a summary of those 8 Alternatives to Student Loans to Pay for College
- #1 – How Anyone can find scholarships to pay for college
- #2 – How to use crowdfunding to pay for college
- #3 – Should you get a college degree online?
- #4 – Get Employer To Pay For College
- #5 – Income Share Agreement
- #6 – Grants
- #7 – Work Study
- #8 – Working, Saving and living like a Pauper