(BPT) - If you've just finished high school and you're headed to college, or if you're an adult student looking to go back to school, chances are you've thought about student debt. You're not alone.
The epidemic of student debt is taking higher education by storm. In 2011, combined student debt eclipsed the $1 trillion mark. Consider the fact that total credit card debt in the United States was estimated at $798 billion that same year, and you can see why student debt is such a problem.
While concerns about accruing debt may make you nervous, obtaining your college degree is the key to better career opportunities and a higher earning potential throughout your professional life. So how do you earn the degree of your dreams without a mountain of debt? Follow these money-saving, debt-prevention tips and you'll see the benefits on graduation day.
* Avoid the credit card blitz. As a college student you will be inundated with new credit card offers. While the idea of spending now and paying later may be tempting, credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates available. Frequent use of your credit card without paying the balance off in full will cause you to pile up debt quickly. What's worse, poor use of your credit card - maxing out the limit or making late payments - hurts your credit score and could make future purchases like a home or car more difficult. Avoid credit cards if possible, but if you must have a card, try to limit your cards to no more than two and don't charge more than you can pay off each month.
* Maintain your current job or take a part-time job. Paying off credit cards or staying ahead is easier if you're working part-time. Many students don't want to work during their college years, but part-time work is an excellent way to avoid debt. Working even a few hours a week can help you pay down your bills and provide for a little financial cushion so you don't always have to feel like a poor college student.
* Seek advice at your school. Universities across the country are more aware of student debt than ever before, and some of them are even instituting programs to help students save and reduce debt. Columbia College of Missouri's Money Stacks Program provides students with important financial education and the tips and tools they need to graduate with little to no debt. You'll learn about saving, spending smartly and how overall financial awareness can help you avoid debt.
* Avoid using loan money for non-education related costs. Think your loans are like a low-interest credit card? Think again. Instead of looking at your loans as a source of free money, budget your loan money solely for tuition, books and related fees. This will ensure your loan money is spent as it was intended and you stay on budget.
* Save money where you can. College is expensive, but there are plenty of ways you can save. Purchase new textbooks only after you've exhausted rental or used-book options. Living at home or in the dorms is more cost effective than renting a place of your own. Plus, if you live on campus or close to public transportation, you can eliminate the need to own your own vehicle, which will save you even more.
A college education is an investment that will benefit you the rest of your life, and while you may be concerned about the debt that pursuing a degree can create, saving and spending smartly will allow you to attain your degree without a mountain of bills. To learn more about Columbia College of Missouri and its Money Stacks Program, visit www.facebook.com/CCMoneyStacks.