Today's College Students Really Are Broke
Real Talk |  Source: L. Smith, Shutterstock

Today's College Students Really Are Broke

It's not their fault, and lawmakers need to act accordingly.

We're not saying this just as a punchline, college students really are broke. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that millennials, many of whom are in college, spend less money than previous generations.

The media loves to shit on us for being a bunch of cheap degenerate snobs. But these stories are out of touch, and other factors have directed our spending habits.

One of the main factors is the student debt we carry. In today's economy, employers' demand for employees with college degrees has gone up in recent years, causing millennials to pursue a college education at a higher rate compared to other generations. This has proven to be problematic however, as government spending on college per student has gone down since the 1960s, and has sharply decreased since 2008 due to the financial collapse. Because of this, many college students find ourselves drowning in student debt. Americans as a whole owe $1.2 trillion in student debt, and most of that is owned by millennials. 63 percent of millennials have at least $10,000 in student debt, and a third of us owe more than $30,000.

Due to factors like student debt, we're spending less of our paychecks on consumer goods than generations past. And this has come with economic consequences. On average, millennials spend 27 percent less on discretionary consumer goods than Generation X does. If this trend continues, businesses could end up in deep trouble, because sales from consumer spending is what gives them the ability to hire workers and make investments into the economy. With profit margins falling, businesses won't have the adequate revenues to hire us when we're out of college, lowering our ability to generate an income which will lead to even less consumer spending, making it harder for us to pay off our student debt, and thus creating a viscous cycle of economic and social anxiety.

How should the government respond?

One of the most direct solutions to alleviate our student debt woes would be to make college tuition free (of charge to students). This will do two things. First, it'll allow anyone who's academically qualified to pursue higher education, the ability to go off to college. With more students receiving college educations, the workforce will be enriched with much more skilled and productive employees to hire. Second, we can spend more of our incomes on goods and services, rather than paying off loans. This increase in consumer spending will act as a huge boost to the American economy.

Another way to help out college students would be to increase the budget deficit. This is a necessary policy tool for the government to implement, otherwise the United States economy could see itself in prolonged recession. Many people would find this concerning, but it's necessary because a deficit means the government poured more money into the pockets of consumers than it took away from us in taxes. And as I explain in an article I wrote in the past, the deficit is nothing more than an accounting identity reflecting the state of economy and private sector consumer spending levels.

Lastly, for those of us currently struggling with loans, paying them back would be made easier if the Federal Reserve lowered their interest rates. The Fed's recent rate hikes have made it more expensive for millions of college students to pay back our loans.

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The Curse of Millennials

Student loan debt is a real fucking problem.

FlockU Presents is a new vertical we've launched for longform pieces about topics you care about - everything from sex and body shaming to the history of beer pong to how terrorism affects you as a college student.

It's on all of our minds. It's part of Bernie's campaign. It's breathing down our backs and throttling the frail necks of our wallets. It's student loan debt.

Now, the phrase, "student debt," has been uttered to the point where it's become a buzzword. We talk about it so much that when we try to envision the debt itself we think of enormous piles of cash, or canvas sacks with dollar signs on them. Or Scrooge McDuck's vault.

In reality, student loan debt operates more like that scene in The Road to El Dorado where all those women are throwing gold into a whirlpool, except we students are the women, the gold plates are stacks of cash, and the whirlpool is The GovernmentTM (or something equally nebulous and elusive).

We pay it back and it flows through some shady backrooms with exposed pipes and evil businessmen in pinstriped suits smoking fat cigars, sneering at the meager pennies we're able to give up to make progress on our loans.

Where does it go? Wherever FAFSA tells you, because where the money goes isn't as important as the fact that you have to pay it back, and often. Students are in debt for years. People are still paying loans into their 30s or 40s, depending on the size of the loan/interest/cost of schooling. That's a lot of gold to be tossing into that whirlpool.

So, exactly how much are students expected to pay back? According to The Institute For College Access and Success, (which keeps track of statistics like this to wave in Congress's face to show them how they're inhibiting their own rising generation), in 2014, 69 percent of college seniors graduated with debt. Within that 69 percent, the average amount borrowed is about $30,000. In 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal, this spiked up to more than $35,000. Indeed, the trend since 2004 shows that each successive year of graduates is accruing more and more debt.

Why? Short answer: the economy. Because of inflation, school tuition is going up. But because the economy is still staggering around on spindly little chicken legs, student aid grants coming from places like FAFSA aren't keeping up with the demand. There's too much to pay, and too little to cover it because there's too little to go around. Hence all the "FAFSA gave me fourteen dollars this semester," memes. And the sad thing is, that's not even much of a joke.

I'll put it in perspective. A senior in my department was accepted to the School of Visual Arts in New York. A great school, with a great curriculum, and huge out-of-state tuition. Specifically, $30,000 a year, PLUS room and board, PLUS all the other little things you'd have to pay for, like off-campus dining and the subway. The total after all that's added together? Over $56,000. And financial aid was willing to spot this senior a grand total of $10,000.

That much money is a lot to ask of anyone, not even looking at the fact that the $10,000 aid probably comes with a lot of stipulations, such as remaining a full-time student. (Read the fine print so you don't accidentally screw yourself). There's also the small fact that it has to be paid back at some point. So if you're taking, at minimum, a $10,000 loan (which is pretty generous, by the way,) every year for four years, you've got a five-figure sum plus interest you're paying back.

If you go Super Senior, then it gets worse because credit prices get jacked up for part-time students. You can actually end up paying more for ten credits than you would've paid for fifteen.

I suppose it could be worse. This person could have wanted to go to medical school and incur up to $170,000 in student debt, which is mind boggling. Just imagine someone putting a gun to your head and saying you had ten years to pay back $170,000. Would you cry? Because I'd cry.

So let's talk about that, paying it back. We all have to, eventually, and to pay it back you need the money to do so. And to get that money you need a job. And to get a job there need to be: A) job openings, and B) job openings that do not expect grads with degrees to work fifty hours a week for less than $10 an hour.

And as much as our parents tell us to, "pound the pavement and knock on some doors," like it's still 1976 and that's a thing that people can still do, it's becoming more and more difficult to find a job out of college that actually utilizes our degree and pays moderately well.

Here's another story, this time from a member of the class of 2014. It was their first summer out of college and they had that debt to pay off, so they decided to get a job immediately to get a jump on those payments. Problem is, most employers want an inordinate amount of experience for entry level jobs; "2 years prior experience in serving tables," is a real thing I have read. So here they are, fresh out of college with a degree and a resume, and they end up pulling a customer service gig for the first eight months until they get their break.

And that's what we all need to get the ball rolling on those payments; we need that one job that gets us in the door. For some people, (the ones blessed by angels), that job is right out of the graduation gate. For others, it's a few months later, and for others still it can take years to find something that sticks.

This doesn't even count the people that don't graduate and still have loans to pay back, a section of the student debt crisis that goes largely unnoticed. Imagine the problems listed above and having to solve them without a bachelor's degree.

There is one bright spot in all of this, however, and while it doesn't solve the problem, it does lessen it. Again according to The Wall Street Journal, graduates who are landing those big-break jobs are making pretty good salaries. An average of $50,000 a year kind of good. And while no student-loan debt is better than manageable student-loan debt, at this point, in this economy, with the amount of stress our generation is under?

Let's take what we can fucking get, honestly.

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Real Talk | 

Dee-1 Pays Off His Student Loans, Then Raps About It


I can't wait to shout "I FINISHED PAYING SALLIE MAE BACK" in the club.

At 18, we aren't allowed to legally drink, but we can borrow tens of thousands of dollars in loans from the government without being fully aware of the consequences of debt.
I'm only a little bitter.
Dee-1 has paid off his student loans. He is a true inspiration.

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A Guide to Post-Grad Finance

...the livin ain't easy

A survey of millennials who graduated college between 2011 and 2014 revealed top financial regrets of recent grads:

  • Not saving enough: 31 percent
  • Not learning personal finance in school: 26 percent
  • Not being more careful about loans and debt: 23 percent
  • Not establishing credit sooner: 19 percent
  • Getting hit with fees: 12 percent
  • Missing payments: 10 percent

As tempting as it might be to take your first full paycheck straight to the bar in celebration of your newly-minted adulthood, there are far more important things to do with your first dollars earned post-grad.

That's not to say that your new adult life should be characterized by all work and no play, but establishing smart financial habits from day one will help you build a sustainable lifestyle you can actually enjoy, without living paycheck to paycheck or the pain of a never-ending spending hangover. Follow these basic guidelines to keep your post-grad finances in check--and thriving.

Keep your college budget
If you think living with roommates, eating ramen, and using your bike as a means of transportation should stop when you tossed your graduation cap, think again. Treat yourself to a few lifestyle upgrades if you can afford it, but don't be afraid to keep your fixed expenses low for awhile while you put your newfound income to work tackling the more pressing fiscal obligations of young adulthood.
Get on those loans
Your student loans may not call for repayment for another six months, but there's no reason to delay paying them once a steady stream of income starts rolling in. Even if you're still in job search mode, get in the habit of factoring your projected payment cost into your monthly budget.
If your student loan obligations seem impossibly overwhelming, spend some time researching your payment alternatives. Perhaps you can consolidate your loans or renegotiate your interest rate with your lenders. Federal programs like income-based repayment and student loan forgiveness may also be viable options, if you qualify, but you don't know until you ask.
Think ahead
Your finances are the last thing you should put off. Whether it's building your credit, formulating a budget, creating a debt repayment plan or saving for retirement, planning for tomorrow, a year from now, and 40 years down the road is the easiest way to avoid major financial regrets.
Set yourself up to live a thriving life by factoring your short, medium, and long term financial goals into your monthly budget and financial plan today. It may only be a few weeks since you celebrated the culmination of your college years, but today is where the rest begins.
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Real Talk | 

5 Things You Don't Know About Student Loans But Should

What they aren't telling you about your student loans.

Student loans. You probably have them; consider yourself extremely lucky if you don't. Student loans are technically considered "good debt" because in taking them out, you're investing in yourself, which, in theory, will give you the tools to pay the debt off many times over. Think of student loans as the avocados of the loan world: like avocados are "good fat," which nourishes your body, student loans are "good debt," which expands your knowledge and (hopefully) furthers your career. But like avocados are still fat, student loans are still don't gorge on them!

Here are five things you may not know about student loans, but should if you want to make informed decisions about your education (and your hard-earned money):

1.The amount of student loan debt has skyrocketed. The average student debt load in this country is $30,000. Let's put that number into perspective:

- If you have that much debt and are on a 10-year repayment plan at 7 percent, you'll be pay about $11,000 in interest.

-If you are on a 20-year plan at 7 percent, you'll pay about $25,000 in interest-and on the hook for about $55,000 when all is said and done.

2.You'll be paying off mostly interest... in the beginning, at least. Unless you're lucky enough to land a job with a big fat salary right out of the gate, it'll probably be a few years before you can afford to increase your payments to knock down some of the principal, too. So, when you're making diddly-squat, you're working your tush off without paying back what you actually borrowed in the first place. That's just the way most payments are structured. Ouch, right?

3.Slow and steady wins the race. You will pay two to three times the principal you started with to finish off the loan. But if you keep calm and plan smartly, you can outsmart the repayment process-and in this case, slow and steady really does win the race. Let's say you got a raise at work or inherited some money. So maybe you're thinking, "Time to get this student debt monkey off my back." But sometimes, this can bite you in the backside instead. Ramp up payments only if you're prepared to sustain that amount for a while, not just one beefy hit-and-run check. If you drastically increase payment from what you've paid in the past only to lower it again, this can look bad to the credit agencies. Not totally sure you can keep up with the higher payment? Go for a more manageable payment amount, one that you can stick to in the long-term.

4.The grace period is your friend. But timing is everything. If you can, wait until you've graduated before consolidating your student loans, but don't wait too long. Typically, you get a six-month grace period when you graduate before you have to start repaying your student loans. And that's where the sweet spot is: you can often get a lower interest rate for repayment if you consolidate during the grace period. A quick sidenote: if overall interest rates are high during your grace period sweet spot, it might be better to jump into paying (or trying your best to pay) right off the bat and then wait for rates to come down before considering consolidation.

5.You're not alone. Student loans don't affect just one income bracket. They're the great (and crappy) equalizer. Yes, I've been there, but so have really famous, smart people. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama finished paying off their student loan debt just before he entered the Oval Office, and 12 percent of all members of the U.S. Congress currently carry student debt. High-powered (and, as is the case for many, affluent) members of society are still burdened by student loans, too.

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Real Talk |  Source: N. Leeper, Shutterstock

Social Media Is The Drug Of Choice For Millennials

How your socio-emotional development can be hindered by social media.

Well, first: how has social media become the internet's biggest blessing and curse?
Having ample access to information can be a double-edge sword in that it can create a depiction of how life should be without considering the significance of individuality, or more importantly, that life is not a race or contest.

Social media provides a platform for businesses to flourish, relationships to form, and personalities to unleash. Amongst the list of all the greatness social media has to offer, we have to address its cons.

Using Griffiths' six components that determine behavioral addiction, which are salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse, studies show that social media can be just as harmful as drugs and alcohol, but in different ways.

The socio-emotional effects of excessive social media consumption are real.
And becoming addicted to social media can be ten times harder to recognize than the typical addiction patterns for drug and/or alcohol users. There's no "danger" in consuming social media, it's free for the most part, and there aren't any apparent physical repercussions of using it (unless you include the very real possibility of getting slapped in real life over an argument that started on Facebook).

So it is easy to overlook the damaging side effects of living online.

It's especially problematic when your self-image relies mainly on a community of strangers and their opinions, good or bad. It's healthy to admire others and to gain confidence from compliments and support, but what isn't healthy is thinking that you're not good enough because you don't have something that someone else has.

Feelings of worthlessness and angst can become overwhelming when you start and finish your day with scrolling through the lives of people who show you what they want you to see.

Being all-consuming, AKA conceited, is problematic.
Growing up in the digital age, millennials have learned maladaptive behavior. If you watch a group of millennials "interact" in a room, it can surely appear that social media has replaced alcohol or drugs in social situations.

By no means does this mean that millennials are putting the booze down and picking the phone up, it solely means that where other generations would binge on drugs and libations, millennials binge on social sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This generation is full of women who will spend hours and hundreds of dollars to get dressed to go to an event and not speak to anyone, yet Snapchat depicts a night of thrill and social interaction.

Constantly checking Facebook and Instagram for likes, or posting thirst traps for followers, are clear signs of addiction.

Lacking self-reflection, AKA shallowness, is whack.
Over the past few years there has been a major increase of "fake deep" and "fake woke" profiles that create the illusion of social consciousness and self-awareness. A 2010 study shows higher narcissism in millennial college students than in previous generations. Memes have flooded social media revealing a general consensus that staying home, online or watching Netflix, is better than going out to the bar with friends.

While that argument may be compelling, there are other ways to enjoy alone time like actually spending time getting to know yourself.

Truth is, just like with drugs and alcohol, you've got to use better discernment and discipline when using social media. Take a break and unplug frequently, when you're spending time with people in real life be there - I'm sure you've heard this before - be present.

Turn your damn notifications off, it's not that important. Most millennials check their Facebook more times a day than they open their email or check their LinkedIn account, which doesn't necessarily mean you're addicted, but you should possibly reevaluate your priorities.

Understand that addiction lives where there is no balance. Everything is good in moderation.