Color of Money Book Club

Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, July 5, 2007 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary hosted an online discussion with author Lynnette Khalfani, who wrote "Zero Debt for College Grads" (Kaplan, $14.95), on Thursday, July 5 at Noon ET.

In her column from June 3, Michelle writes: Some of the best advice comes from people who have gone through something and managed to overcome their troubles. That's why Khalfani's book on how parents and students can pay down student loan debt is the Color of Money Book Club selection for June.

A transcript follows.

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns.


Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon all. Lots of questions so let's get started.


salary: I wonder if most students understand what different salaries equate to in take home pay. For instance, if a new grad makes 45k do they know how much they will be bringing home?? What about 75k?

My point is that 800 a month is a big deal even if you are talking about a single person making 75k. That will affect someone's standard of living.

My husband and I have significant savings and good incomes. We worry about taking a home loan for much more than twice our income. I cant imagine adding student loans to the mix.

Think before you amass debt even if it is for a great reason--education.

Michelle Singletary: I couldn't resist by starting with this cautionary note.

I say, "Amen, amen."


Falls Church, Va.: Hi Michelle,

Will refinancing my car loan hurt my credit score?. I know that the bank will be pulling my credit reports and I have worked hard to get my credit in the low 600s from the low 500s alot of credit card mistakes (from college and post college). The rate I currently have is 12.99% the car was purchased for $16,500 (2,600 down payment) and I am currently paying $384 a month on this car I make $50,000/year after taxes..

Should I refinance now or later -- I know I should have bought a used car but I got caught up in the new car on my own thing after college.

Michelle Singletary: Need a little more info. How long have you had this car loan? Because if you are half way thu I would say stick it out. And with a credit score still in the low 600s I'm not sure you will get a better refinanced rate. In addition since the car is now considered a used car the rate would additionally be higher.


N.W., D.C.:

I just read michelle's column and as a student about to graduate from dental school I'm going to pick up your book Ms. Khalfani. Truthfully, I'm not too worried about my ability to pay back my loan, however, I am bothered that family members have undergraduate tutions that cost so much these days. I just don't know if its ever worth paying almost 200 grand for an undergraduate education at a private school. As someone in who has worked 10 years in corporations before going to d-school, I think the value has decreased in a 4 year degree. So with graduate or professional school producing the best lifestyle outcomes shouldn't we be seeking ways to pay less for a decreasing assest and cost effectively expedite our way to post-grad educations.

Lynnette Khalfani: There's no question that we should all be concerned about the skyrocketing cost of a college education -- for both undergraduates and graduate students. And yes, I agree that paying 50 grand a year at some of the country's elite private schools is a steep price for a collegiate degree. But I still believe college is "worth it." If you look at the numbers, the U.S. Labor Dept. figures show that people with bachelor's degrees earn 62% more annually than do people with high school diplomas.

Lynnette Khalfani: So over a lifetime, that translates into a $1,000,000 earnings gap. So the fact remains that getting a degree gives one at least the opportunity to earn a higher paying salary. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. But in theory, at least you've got a better shot a snagging a better-paying job with a degree than without. Also, yes, we do need more cost-effective solutions: for undergraduate and graduate education.


Vienna, Va.: Avoid so much debt in the first place. I strongly urge parents and students to consider community colleges. In Virginia, at NVCC, there are several guaranteed transfer agreements with four-year schools (including UVA). You will find small classes, excellent professors, and amazing diversity -- at a very low price. Yes, I am biased--I teach there and love it.

Michelle Singletary: I like this advice. It's what I often tell parents and students who don't have a dime for college. Think outside the box. Many states have great community colleges, including my home state of Maryland.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle - An off topic question about record keeping, if I may. How long is it necessary to save the the paperwork from a house that I bought in '88 and sold in '97? Thank you.

Michelle Singletary: Personally, I would keep all important paperwork related to a home purchase. I've found times when I did have to refer back to documents from previous homes. You especially want to keep any and all documents related to the payoff of the home.


20036: I graduated last year and have been making it a priority to pay down my student loans. However, I have one lingering debt from school that I can't seem to get rid of. When I went to school, my mom added me onto her credit card, for of in case of emergency. I haven't used it ever, but she has hit the 7K limit. I'm going to need to buy a new car w/i the next year or so and I have good credit, but I'm worried with that plus my 12K in student loans, I'll have a harder time securing the best financing. What should I do? Closing the card seems like it will hurt my score, but so does keeping it!

Lynnette Khalfani: It sounds like you are an "authorized user" on this credit card, as opposed to a "joint" account holder. Nevertheless, if your mom added you to the account and they used your social security number, this credit card is no doubt reflected on your credit files.

Therefore, you have to first get your mom to stop charging on the credit card. If it's already at $7K (and counting), that balance will never go down if she's out there running up additional debt. Explain to your mom that you have financial goals (i.e. buying a car, etc.). And let her know that having large credit card debt limits your financial options. You're also correct that closing the card could hurt your FICO credit score, because part of it is based on the length of your credit history, so I wouldn't close out the account.


Chicago, Ill.: Hello-

Is it even realistic for parents to believe they can pay for an entire college education for their children, when the costs of college increase by double digits and our paychecks don't?

Lynnette Khalfani: Unfortunately, the price of college is getting increasingly out of reach for many middle-class families. That's why the typical college grad from the class of 2007 will leave school with about $20,000 in student loan debt, according to the College Board. The best strategy for parents is to save as early as possible for college -- I'm talking when little Junior is still in diapers; not while he's wearing his high school football jersey.

Additionally, families should seek every possible financial alternative to pay for a higher education. I like to see people pursue five different areas of college funding before turning to the student loan market:

* scholarships

* grants

* work study (yes, many students need to get a JOB!)

* paid internships

* family funding (from the student, Mom & Dad, Grandparents and who ever else in the family can help out).


Washington, D.C.: Michelle,

I know that you are against taking out loans for graduate school, but I feel like you might want to temper your responses to people-- yes, I took out nearly $80k in loans to go to private graduate school; however, my state school, given their lack of scholarships, would have cost me the same for that degree, and I'm making $30k more than the highest paying job offered me right out of college. Yes, it's stressful, and no, I won't get to enjoy the increased standard of living that the higher salary should give me for a few years... but financially speaking it's still worth it for me and for many others.

Michelle Singletary: Not planning to tone down my warnings about college or graduate debt one little bit.

Because there are hundreds of thousands of folks out there taking on this debt because they were told it's good debt.

It's not. Perhaps it's necessary to take on some debt for this -- perhaps. But for every story like this one I can show you 100 of people who borrowed heavily for graduate school and their pay increases don't even come close to handling the debt payment for decades to come.


Albany, N.Y.: I just graduated from Howard Univ. in May and have about $17,000 in student loans. As I begin graduate school in the fall I will be taking out even more loans to fund my education. As a student on a tight budget, what can I do to start paying off loans now so that I can reduce my debt.

Lynnette Khalfani: To startin paying off loans now, you can really watch your finances as you prepare to enter graduate school.

Think about your housing costs -- maybe you can share an apartment with someone, live with parents, or just have a smaller place than you anticipated (say a studio, instead of a 1-bedroom), in order to cut down on your living expenses.

I would put off some luxuries right now -- for instance, do you really need to have cable TV with 100 premium channels?

Transportation can be a big expense as well. Don't buy a new car (I generally think you should never buy a new vehicle, because the car will depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot). Since you graduated from Howard, I don't know if you'll also be attending grad school in the D.C. area, but you've got good public transportation there, so make use of it to cut down on gas, oil changes, etc. if you are now driving a car.


New Jersey: I wonder if a change of mindset would help recent grads: I've noticed many bloggers (and their commenters)who write about how they are being forced to "give up" their "carefree" years as young people. Would it help them to know that this idea, that young people can expect perhaps a decade of "carefree" living, from 20-30 years of age, is largely a myth, the creation of advertisers?

I'm a baby boomer, and I know that independence was synonymous with poverty. I bought into an alternative scenario where one slowly worked one's way into prosperity (I finally got a house at age 42). It's not a perfect scenario - I regret not traveling more when I was younger - but, truthfully, I didn't have the money. Now I'm starting to travel.

I think the rationale was that it was easier to bear hardships when young. Pinching pennies is a near universal experience! Sure it would be nice to be independently wealthy from an early age, but reality is pinching pennies.

Lynnette Khalfani: Well said. I tend to agree with you that many (not all, but many) young people think that they either:

a) don't have to work while they're in school, or

b) should be allowed to have more leisure/fun, or as you put it "carefree" years in their youth.

I'm not quite in the baby boom generation (I turn 39 this month) ... but I can definitely identify with your sentiment that when I was younger, and certainly when I was in school, both undergrad and graduate school, I had to pinch pennies. I can recall many nights of Top Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Now I find myself able to travel and afford the things that I would have LIKED to do when I was younger, but simply couldn't swing financially back then.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Michelle....luv your column and chats.

What are you feelings on these programs I'm hearing advertised quite a bit lately regarding getting you completely free of debt in 5-7 years?

Michelle Singletary: Be careful, very careful. Some are scams. Others are just offering debt management programs or DMPs they are called. The are often run by nonprofits that help you set up a repayment plan wherein you send them one monthly payment and they then send that payment off to your various creditors. If they are legit and good they may be able to get the creditors to stop late payments, lower interest rates, etc.

However, if you are not careful pay a lot for this help. You shouldn't pay more than perhap $50 to set up such a program and about $25 to $30 a month in a fee to have them do this for you.

I recommend going to www.debtadvice.org


New Jersey: I think that living at home has become a reality that can be dealt with as permanent, as it was in the 1930s and 1940s, when unmarried young people lived at home. The three generation home could be the new reality - young people could save money - but they have to contribute monetarily, in time, and in skills - to that household as well. That way they become stakeholders in the arrangement.

Lynnette Khalfani: It's interesting that so many young people are moving back home with their parents. I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this so called "boomerang generation." On the one hand, many young people are simply ill-equipped to deal with the financial realities of living on their own. No one has taught them proper money management skills, they lack knowledge about the basics of budgeting, and in most instances recent college grads over-estimate what their starting salaries will be, and they under-estimate what their start-up costs will be (i.e. for getting a new apartment, transportation, paying for their own food, turning on utilities, getting a wardrobe to "look the part" at work, etc.).

Lynnette Khalfani: So it's easy to see why today's 20-something crowd often feel the need to go back home to Mom and Dad. At the same time, I worry about enabling an entire generation of people. Every generation has had its share of financial hardships and at some point I think all of us, especially those of use who are parents, have to give our children the freedom and the wings they need to fly on their own and learn financial independence by practicing it.


The truth about cars: It is so sad to read about college grads getting caught up in the car thing. Years ago, I was making 38k and bought a 23k car. Needless to say, that was a dumb move.

My parents bought me a car during college, I paid it off after college and then drove it til it was actually falling apart. I thought I "deserved" a nice 23k car. STUPID. Now I could pay for that car in cash but I would never buy a car that fancy. In fact, the car we just bought cost alot less than 23k. Cars dont matter. Buy something safe and decent.

Michelle Singletary: Good advice.


Grad School : I know a youngish couple and both "only" have bachelors and I guarantee they make more than most couples twice their age and far more than couples their own age.

My husband and I only have bachelors and we do just fine. These kids today act like a grad school degree is your ticket. You learn more on the job in most cases than you will in school. Obviously, you "have" to go to dental school to be a dentist. I get that but there are people cleaning up crime scenes making six figures that only went to high school. There are other ways to do what you love and get paid

Michelle Singletary: I agree if the point of your comments is to carefully weigh the cost of graduate school with the debt you will accumulate.

I went to grad school. I have a masters from Johns Hopkins. But I got my employer to help pay for it. But you know what, I didn't NEED that degree. It helps but most of what I know I learned on the job.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Ms. Singletary,

I am an 18 year old about to enter college on full paid scholarship. Except for some fees, transportation and items for my dorm, everything else will be taken care of along with a well paying job every summer I am in school and at least 4 years of work guaranteed after I graduate. My question to you is with college being pretty much taken care of and paychecks from my current job as well as savings, what is the best way to make my money work for me instead of letting it earn 1% in a savings account?

Thanks for your help and by the way, I am a finance major!

Lynnette Khalfani: Kudos to you for starting college on solid financial footing and for landing a good-payng job so early in the process. You should consider establishing an online savings account or perhaps an account through a credit union. You can get rates better than 1% through either of these channels. Beyond that, go ahead and start an investing program. You'll be so thankful in your 30s, 40s and beyond that you starting saving and investing early. Because when other people are lamenting about how broke they are, you'll probably find yourself with a nice five-figure savings/investment account somewhere. So take that money you're getting from your summer job and invest at least 10% of your earnings. Lots of fund companies and investment firms can get you started -- Vanguard, Fidlelity, Charles Schwab, etc. Also, if your job offers a 401(k) plan, contribute to it. You may even get a matching contribution from your employer.


Ivy league nonsense: I dated an unambitious guy that went to a top ivy league school. He made less than I did and I went to a state school. School is not the whole story. It is about your goals, personality, work ethic, interests and even appearance.

Michelle Singletary: Hey, how did I get so many smart chatters today. Guess the usual critics of my debt-free life are on vacation -- probably putting lots of debt on their credit cards :)


Community College: Whats the use?!?!

You may get a better education at a CC(who knows), but education is largley perception, and perception becomes reality.

If you had 2 resumes on your desk, "A" graduated #1 from whatever community college and "B" graduated from Yale, who do you think would get the first call? Not saying its right, but thats reality.

I do some recruiting for my Wall Street firm, if someone from a CC contacted me, I wouldn't waste my time (or theirs) to bring them in. Why offer someone from a CC when people from elite instituions want the same positions?

Michelle Singletary: Well shame on you. First of all, the person with a CC degree would likely have a full degree from a full university. You can go to a CC and then transfer to a four-year college and university and your degree will be from that university. You don't even have to put the CC on your resume if you don't want.

Second, stop being a snob. And quite frankly I look at people who go the CC route first as someone who knows how to get the most out of their dollar. Common sense and good financial management is something I might add Wall Street and corporate America could use in these days.


College Costs: Parents must look at the state prepaid college systems. In Va, one can pay for one's kids' 2025 college at 2007 prices. You'd be a fool not to do it.

Lynnette Khalfani: I also like the idea of locking in tuition prices. It really is a great option for many families. State sponsored college savings programs, better known as 529 Plans, are also a fabulous way to save for college. The nation's top authority on 529 Plans is Joe Hurley. He's written a book about 529 Plans and runs a website too. For more info, check it out at http://www.savingforcollege.com.


Washington, D.C.: I am sick of people complaining about how my generation is lazy, doesn't want to have to work and expects to get rich quick.

I am 25 years old. I worked full-time in undergrad and about to start a graduate program (full-time) without quitting my 80-hour a week (very low-salaried) job. I don't have a stitch of debt, and got my first job at 10. During my college summers I shared a 1-bedroom apartment with five people and worked three-jobs 90 hours a week. Nearly everyone I know in my generation has done the same, and some are still in debt in spite of that (college isn't cheap these days).

I can't tell you how many times I've been lectured by someone twice my age about how my generation doesn't know how to manage money/we're all lazy and not willing to do entry level work/we are too spoiled and don't understand the real world. I'd bet that myself and my friends have far less debt on average than the people offering this "advice." We're all struggling to make ends meet, and more than aware of the financial issues that face our generation we don't need smug elders telling us how lazy and worthless we are.

Sorry--had to get that out.

Michelle Singletary: And out you did.


Bowie, Md.: Ms. K, What's your opinion of recent grads buying real estate? I know Michelle bought a condo at 23, and maybe that was a good move at that particular place, time and life-point.

But real estate transaction costs are expensive, and few 23yo's have predictably stable enough lives to realistically expect the kind of long-term appreciation necessary to make real estate a good investment.

Lynnette Khalfani: I'm a huge fan of buying real estate as soon as you're financially prepared to do so, and once you have the proper education as well, to know the costs, benefits and responsibilities that go along with homeownership.

I bought my first home at age 27, and it was one of the best financial decisions I've ever made. Since then I've owned several homes and invested in land and other types of real estate. So I don't think being young is a barrier to building wealth by using property.

As a matter of fact, I'm currently serving as the keynote speaking for the Legacy of Homeownership Tour sponsored by Chase to get people to know about the variety of ways that peope can create a great financial foundation and build a wonderful financial legacy through real estate - no matter what generation you're currently in.


Arlington, Va.: I have a question about marriage, student loan debts and credit scores. I know you have answered similar questions in the past, but I can't seem to find good information for my situation. I am currently engaged and not planning anything much for the wedding other than having a few family and friends for dinner (which my parents are covering). I have a lot of graduate school loan debt, and my fiance currently is in graduate school as well. We both have some credit card debt.

We have a good financial plan in place to aggressively pay down our debts, and other than my fiance's last year of school, we are not accumulating any more debt, just paying down. We have no car payments and are just paying rent currently.

My credit score is excellent (high 700's, and his is just fair low 600's). Getting married sooner rather than later makes a lot of financial sense, in terms of saving money on health insurance, auto insurance, and on taxes, the savings from which could all be placed into tackling the debt. The total savings from all of these things will be close to $400 per month.

However, I am concerned about how getting married will affect our credit for the future. Would it better in the long run to wait until my fiance's credit score is better, or to use the benefits of marriage now to start really attacking the debt?

Thanks for your help!

Lynnette Khalfani: Congratulations on your engagement, and let me put your fears at rest a bit about your fiance's credit. First of all, it's a myth that when you marry your credit scores somehow "merge" together or that you essentially have identical credit files and credit scores. That simply isn't true. I've posed this question directly to the folks at Fair Isaac Corp. (the company that creates FICO credit scores), and they say it's an misconception that once you marry someone their credit files/history becomes yours.

Lynnette Khalfani: The truth is: when you marry, you will become jointly liable for debts that you take on together ... For instance, if you buy a home together, if you purchase a car jointly, or if you co-sign on a credit card application together, then yes, those liabilities are both of yours to pay. Even if you later divorce, and one party agrees to pay all the debts, under the law, you're both still on the hook for what you both signed on the dotted line to re-pay.

Lynnette Khalfani: You don't have to "wait" until your fiance's score improves in order to get married. But the bigger question may be if you are concerned about your fiance's overall money-management habits and skills. If that's an issue for you, then be honest and let him know that you want him to work on that. There's no shame in someone trying to boost his or her financial literacy. In the meantime, the best way he can increase his FICO score is to pay ALL his bills on time, not take on additional unnecessary debts, and to keep any revolving debts he does have at manageable levels. In other words, no maxing out the credit cards.

By the way, I'm getting married too -- and soon! This Saturday, 7/7/07 is our big day! :-)


Washington, D.C.: What advice would you give parents and students about these car loans targeted at students with the deferred payment plans until after graduation?

Michelle Singletary: Can you tell me more about this. I have not heard of such programs.

But frankly I would totally and utterly frown on someone in college taking on a car loan that was deferred until after graduation. I'm assuming the interest payments are added onto the loan making it very expensive and likely the student will be upside down on the loan.

Bad idea.


Arlington, Va.: Albany, NY:

I also attend graduate school in the DC area and would like to recommend that you inquire about the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DC TAG) Program Private College Option since you have resided in the city for 12 months. This option offers up to $2500 for all private colleges, including black colleges. Please visit the program's website at http://www.dccap.org/financial/dc_programs.shtml.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks for passing this along.


Atlanta, Ga.: To echo an earlier poster:

The 'carefree' existence many youngsters have/had was because their PARENTS worked hard. Most kids don't understand that their parents didn't start out that way. Boohoo if you can't go on vacation every year. I didn't truly have vacations til I was in my late twenties, and I didn't go very far. That was after waiting tables after undergrad, and deciding I'd like a better future. So I went to grad school.

But although I would have liked to have a similar lifestyle after college as I had had before, I knew I'd have to work for it, and it was 'free' because my parents were paying for it up til then...

Michelle Singletary: We oldtimers know what's best, don't we? Although I do agree that not all young people are money stupid. I was born with money smarts. Even as a baby when I spotted a penny on the floor I didn't put it in my money, I crawled to put it in my piggy bank.


Greenbelt, Md.: Hi Lynnette. My husband and I both have Master's Degrees. He went to a very expensive private university, and aside from a small scholarship, his parents paid for all of his college expenses (about $200,000) on their own--I have no idea how they did this. He waited until he had a good job to start graduate school part time and paid for that on his own.

I started at a community college, then went to a state university, and paid for it all with loans. My BA (psychology) didn't support a career-type job so I waited tables through graduate school and took out more student loans.

Now, I'm pregnant with our first child, and my husband thinks that his private school education was so valuable that we can't give anything less to our kids (we're planning to have 3 or 4). He also wants us to pay for 100% of their college tuition. I agree that I don't want our kids to have the same student loan debt that I have, but I can't imagine paying $200,000 or more for each of our kids to go to college, especially when we may still be paying for my student loans at that point. Do you have any advice for college savings plans or ways to pay for college that might help us?

Lynnette Khalfani: I mentioned 529 Plans to another person. This would be a great way for you and your husband to save fore college. Get more info online at www.savingforcollege.com. Not sure what state you live in, but you can also lock in tuition rates at today's prices through various college savings/payment programs.

But a word about your husband's desire to pay for 100% of their college tuition. Don't worry yourself wragged over that -- especially while you're pregnant. The truth is that your kids are ultimately going to decide where they go to school. You guys may have 3 or four children, as you're planning to do, and then one or two of them may say "I want to go to a state school" or "I don't want to go to college at all." (I hope the latter won't be the case, but it's possible). But really, my point is that you should save aggressively for college, without killing yourselves financially. Let your husband know that you guys don't have to foot the entire bill in this day and age. There are scholarships, grants, the kids can work, etc. Also, you two shouldn't sacrifice your retirement savings just to pay for college. That's not a smart financial decision.


Debt for graduate school: Could I weigh in?

I graduated with a professional degree (DVM), and many of my classmates had $80,000+ in student loans just from that.

A friend of mine was paying $900.00/month to try to pay that debt off in 10 -15 years. Be very careful. Those student loans can delay your home-buying plans, etc.

Thanks so much to you, Michelle.

Michelle Singletary: You are so welcome!


I do some recruiting for my Wall Street firm: Hard to believe since he doesn't know that one can only get an Associate's degree from a community college, not a bachelor's

Michelle Singletary: Not hard to believe.


Get out of debt programs: I just wanted to say that there are some good debt counseling programs out there. If you have unmanageable credit card debt, the credit card company itself usually will direct you to a reputable debt counseling program because they want their money. My husband and I have spent the last 5 years in one such program and as of this fall we will be credit card debt free. It took some dedication, but it was worth it. And all we had to do was call our credit card companies and ask for help. The debt counseling folks helped us pick a manageable monthly payment, our interest rates were cut from 29% to 10% (still not great, but so much better). Then we set up direct withdrawal from our checking account to make the payment every month so we never miss it. five years may seem like a long time, but it's gone by very quickly for us!

Michelle Singletary: Love your testimony.


Rockville, Md. :"I'm going to need to buy a new car .."

This may be a rare event where a lease would work.

Michelle Singletary: Dave Ramsey (radio host and bestselling author of some great financial books: "A lease is a fleece."


Capitol Hill: I have been accepted into a two year masters program, but few scholarships or grant opportunities are available to me. I've been encouraged by some to pursue a 5+ year Ph.D. instead because students in these programs are usually first to receive funding from the university. I'm not opposed to pursuing a Ph.D., but 5+ years is a long time. Financially do you think it makes more sense to pursue a degree that will leave me with little to no debt? Or is it a better financial idea to take out student loans, knowing that I will be back in the workforce in 2 years, making at least 65k/year?

Lynnette Khalfani: I don't think you can count on any guaranteed minimum when you get out of school, and certainly not $65K. I don't know what your major would be in graduate school, or what your career field is, but I caution you against making an assumption like that. Lots of people get out of school, even with master's degrees, and can't find a job at all. Let alone a $65,000 a year job. To be honest, I would go for the 5-year Ph.D. if that's the option that would leave you debt free. The extra 3+ years will require more work, sacrifice, etc. But look at it this way, you'll get another credential under your belts (a Ph.D. and not just a MA), and someone else will be footing the bill.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Hi Michelle,

No question, but a comment. I want to encourage everyone, but especially those younger readers, to go zero debt, the quicker the better. I had a culture of debt around me for a long time, and couldn't imagine living without credit cards or a car loan (gasp). Years later, I have student loan debt, but we just paid off our credit cards and, after paying off our car, my husband and I are going to drive it into the ground. It's really hard, and forget about support from people around you. I have more than one so-called friend who stopped talking to me after I couldn't attend an outrageous destination wedding or just couldn't keep up with the expensive dinners and vacations. I've found out that fiscal responsibility can make people uncomfortable. The difference is that, now, when I drive my no-frills paid-off car, instead of being embarassed that I don't have a nice car (I'm driving a 15 year old volvo) I know I'm doing what's best for me, and my family AND I can sleep at night, knowing that even if I'm not fully funding college savings accounts, etc now, I will and I have the dicipline to do so.

I know this was long, but listen now! I wish someone had talked some sense into me in my 20s. And thanks for all you do Michelle. It really is a service.

Michelle Singletary: Another great testimoney people.


Boston, Mass.: These comments about unnecessary graduate programs make it tough for someone like me, figuring out a law degree and master's degree, which I see as vital for my ability to accomplish what I would like to. If I am in the position of going to grad school with few savings, what kind of loan do you suggest? What is available and how can I save and pay back my loans as they come?

Lynnette Khalfani: Many people with law degrees today are leaving school with six-figures worth of debt. If you need a law degree for your intended profession and you desire to go on to graduate school, then go for it -- after careful consideration of the financial realities. Many schools and law firms now offer so-called LRAPs - Loan Repayment Assistance Programs, just for lawyers and others in the legal field. I describe many of them in my book, Zero Debt for College Grads. You should also know that many school-based loan programs for people like you will allow the school to repay your loan if you work in a given area (say an under-served community) for a specified period of time. Alternatively, many employers are willing to pay off your student loans if you commit to a set number of years working them them (usually at least two years).


Rockville, Md. : I managed to finish my education (to a PhD) with no debit - but I also had GI Bill money helping me. Is that an alternative for those looking for an education today?

Lynnette Khalfani: There are a host of military-related programs that help people pay off student loan debt. Vista, Peace Corps, enlisted personnel and even reservists can get help with their student loans repayments in exchange for their service.


Michelle Singletary: Well folks, the time is up. I'm so, so sorry if we didn't get to your question. I value the time it takes to write in. Often, as many of you know, I will take the leftover questions and answer them in either my print column or in my e-letter (please subscribe). So keep an eye out for the column or e-letter for answers to some of your questions.

Thanks to Lynnette and I certainly hope her wedding date is wonderful.


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