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Refinancing or consolidating your student loans can save you a lot of money, but only if you do it at the right time, for the right terms.

When (and How) to Try Refinancing or Consolidating Student Loans

Friends, does this sound familiar?: You’re describing the crushing emotional and financial burden of student loan debt, and the grown-up you’re speaking to says something like, “Wow, that sounds really rough, have you thought about *refinancing* and also ma’am this is a Wendy’s??”

And having no idea what the fuck that actually meant, you drove forward to the next window, dabbing at your eyes with the crumpled receipt for your vanilla Frosty, weeping in confusion and sadness and brain freeze?

I knew it. I KNEW it wasn’t just me!

Yes that’s right, my lambs: we’re talking about student loans again. This time we’re discussing your options for refinancing or consolidating student loans.

What the fuck do these mysterious terms even mean? What’s the difference between the two? How do you know if one is right for you—and if it is, how do you actually do it? Be amazed as we reveal the secrets!

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Season 2 Episode 10: "Which is Smarter: Getting a Loan? or Saving up to Pay Cash?"

Season 2, Episode 10: “Which Is Smarter: Getting a Loan? or Saving up to Pay Cash?”

The financial lessons we received from our parents are problematic for many reasons.

For one thing, they’re often out of date, as the economic atmosphere of the 1970s and 1980s is a far cry from what we’ve experienced in a post-2008 world. We’re long past the quaint advice to pay for college by “getting a summer job” and to start a career by “walking into a business and asking for a job in the mailroom.” Heckin precious.

But there’s also the way an assumption of background knowledge can lead to further confusion. For if you don’t understand basic financial principles, the sweet knowledge nuggets your beloved Boomer dad drops on you might go down like lead balloons. Just as you can’t understand where Beyoncé came from without Destiny’s Child, you can’t talk about getting loans until you understand how interest works!

This week we’re dealing with just this issue. Petey is one of my oldest and strangest friends. I made him walk down the aisle with Kitty at my wedding in the hopes that those two weirdos would have a vulgar joke-off (alas, they conducted themselves with the decorum expected of a bridesmaid and a groomsman and saved the nasty shit for the dance floor).

Petey has his head all in a tizzy over his dad’s vague and incomplete financial advice. So we decided to set the poor boy straight!

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If the cost of regular goods and services grows at a steady walking pace, higher education is galloping away like a Triple Crown winner whose ass just met a hornet.

How to Pay for College without Selling Your Soul to the Devil

Listen you lazy, entitled whiners: it’s easy to pay for college. Just get a summer job! Why, in my day I worked weekends as a fry cook down at the diner on Main, graduated without debt, and now I’m sixty-five years old and completely delusional about the inflated costs of higher education! Ask me more about the house I bought for $60,000 and how much I resent the respectful empathy of the children I raised!

Sorry, y’all. Probably should’ve started that with a trigger warning.

Whenever we write about student loans, we get at least one comment like this. Except with more caps lock. We delete them. We never silence interesting criticism, but come on, this ain’t a public square for every old man who wants to yell at a cloud! We pay good money for this web hosting!

At least where the cost of college is concerned, things aren’t what they used to be. Thirty years ago, it cost the modern equivalent of $8K per year to attend a public college and $18K per year to attend a private college.

Today, the same year of school would cost $21K and $48K. And you’re supposed to buy FOUR of them!

If the cost of regular goods and services grows at a steady walking pace, the cost of higher education is galloping away like a Triple Crown winner whose ass just met a hornet. I didn’t even mention the cost of textbooks, room and board, and other academic fees, which are all even worse. Can’t be giving you nightmares!

Meanwhile, average hourly wages have barely increased 11% (adjusted for inflation), making the wage-to-college-cost-ratio just fucking laughable. Yet college is still a barrier to entry into not only white collar jobs, but an ever-increasing number of blue collar jobs.

My purpose here is not to unpack the absurd inflation of higher education costs in recent years (I’d need another 2,500 words, and I can only hold your attention through so many gifs). Nor is it to debate the relative value of a college degree (another 3,000 words).

Instead, I want to focus on practical solutions for people who’ve already weighed their options and decided that college is right for them. Yes, a traditional four-year undergraduate degree is heckin’ expensive as fuck. Short of The Deep Magic, how do we mere mortals even attempt to pay for it?

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Mountains of debt cannot be repaid just by packing lunches and cutting cable. Those are comforting bedtime stories we tell ourselves about capitalism.

The Real Story of How I Paid Off My Mortgage in 4 Years

As of fifteen minutes (and one very cold beer) ago, I officially own the beautiful house I’m sitting in right now.

My partner and I have been refreshing our mortgage account every few hours today, waiting for the final payment to process. (Weirdly, you have to WIRE the final payment. Seriously? After this years-long relationship of sending personal check after personal check, our mortgage lender refuses to trust us at the finish line? Fine, whatever…) Just before the close of the day, it happened.

Current principal balance: $0.00.

$0.00.

My mortgage is gone. I am done paying rent. If all things go according to plan, I will never ever pay rent again for as long as I live. Let’s talk about it!

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As Johnnie Cochran would say: if the interest rate's nil, don't pay that bill!

Ask the Bitches: “The Government Put My Student Loans in Forbearance. Can I Really Stop Paying—or Is This a Trap?”

So… I made a mistake.

Our Patreon donors have been so wise with choosing quality topics in the past. So this month, I invited our supporters to pitch article topics directly to us.

Sounds great, right? WRONG. This was a huge mistake because all of our supporters’ ideas are fucking great! Now I have no choice: I simply must write them all. When am I supposed to do my life’s most important work: incorrectly cutting the wood for my woodworking project, then driving to Lowe’s to buy more wood???

This is technically incorrect. Piggy is the Chip.

One question stood out as being particularly time-sensitive, so today I’m answering this question from Patreon Rachel, who we all know to be so glitteringly beautiful that she’s regularly mistaken for an ice sculpture of herself:

I’d love to know your thoughts on U.S. federal student loans currently being deferred with no interest. Is it smart to continue to make my regular payments? Or should I stop making payments and use that money to invest in other things?

– Patreon Donor Rachel

An excellent question! Today we’ll address the basics of student loan forbearance, including how it pertains to the CARES Act. (That’s the $2 trillion stimulus package we explained here.)

Luckily there’s a fairly definitive answer, which I am just barely capable of explaining in human speech. Let’s get into it!

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There are a number of reasons why this might be the killing blow you need to destroy your debt faster.

Kill Your Debt Faster with the Death by a Thousand Cuts Technique

Sometimes I take for granted that everyone knows basic tenets of finance. Like how the IRS will never ever call you, or how money depreciates due to inflation. Or even how Harriet Tubman should absolutely replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill.

But every once in a while one of our darling readers (who are the salt of the Earth, but like, fancy Himalayan pink sea salt with grains of dried truffles mixed in) will remind me why we need to focus on basic financial literacy. It is, after all, our sacred mission, bestowed upon us by the goddess of internet memes!

Thanks to a conversation I recently had with some of our young Zoomer/Zennial readers on the sosh’ meeds’, today I’m going to focus on a frighteningly simple tactic for paying off debt. For once it’s understood, it could save you metric buttloads of money on interest, help you pay off your debt faster, and bring about world peace.

You’re heckin’ welcome, world.

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How bad of an idea is it to take out a student loan to get me out of my situation?

Ask the Bitches: I Want to Move Out, but I Can’t Afford It. How Bad Would It Be to Take out Student Loans to Cover It?

We have a question today from a Tumblr follower. If you don’t follow us on Tumblr, you should! Piggy is one of the Tumblr Deep Ones. She’s been on the platform since its infancy, and she answers tons of reader questions.

Like this one!

I need to move out, but I don’t have any money actually saved up. I do have a job that can cover my monthly costs and still have some left over. So I was wondering just how bad of an idea it is to take out a student loan to get me out of my situation and then immediately work on paying it off.

Ah. A very relatable dilemma.

For most people (and families), housing is the largest item in their budget. Young people spend, on average, a quarter of their income on housing—more than any other age group. Which means that saving money on housing can have an enormous positive impact on your finances. Especially when you’re young.

But is it ever a good idea to strategically spend a lot more than you have to on housing? Spoiler alert: yes, it absolutely can be.

Let’s get into it!

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Yeah, it's stupid to try to time the market.

Hurricane Debt Weakens to Tropical Storm Debt, but Experts Warn It’s Still Debt

It’s been over a year since the last time I gave an update on the state of my own debt. Since we’re always dispensing our opinions from our seat on the divine acropolis at the crest of Mount Olympus, we like to be transparent about our own situations. So let’s check in!

As we’ve chronicled, Piggy and I paid off our student loans ahead of time. And we don’t have credit card debt, unless it’s part of a nefarious-but-prudent scheme to harvest points. When talking about my financial sitch, I love to describe myself as “debt free, except for my mortgage!”

Which, when you think about it, is kinda weird? Like describing a milkshake as “dairy free, except for the milk!” The milk is not a small or trivial part of a milkshake. It is eponymous! It’s basically the point of the thing!

And the mortgage is a big debt. The average American family has $16,000 in credit card debt (yikes). An average student’s educational loan debt is $34,000 (double yikes). But the median home price blows both those numbers out of the water at $227,000.

For most people, a house is the most expensive thing they’ll ever buy, and the largest source of debt. It’s the milk in the milkshake.

And if you were about to jump to the comments to erroneously claim that ice cream is the point of a milkshake, hold ya fakkin’ hahses, khed. I live in New England. Our milkshakes do not have ice cream. If there’s ice cream in it, it’s called a frappe.

I can’t tell you why. I don’t make the rules, I just abide by them.

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Can a recession ever be a good thing? No. Full stop.

There’s a Storm a’Comin’: What We Know About the Next Recession

A foul wind’s a’blowin’! There’s evil in the air! A recession is a’brewin’ and you need to be prepared! 

-From “Pay Off Them Debts Before the Recession Comes,” by Piggy Smalls featuring The Kitty Kat Kid, new from Bitches Get Riches Records

Last week we put all your pre-recession fears to rest by explaining how you can arm yourself with strong financial decisions before the next recession comes. To recap:

  • Track your spending. You’ll feel less anxious and more in-control if you have a clear picture of your needs.
  • Fatten up your emergency fund. Let your level of risk set the size of your emergency fund.
  • Pay off as much debt as you can. This will give you more flexibility with your money and reduce your expenses overall.
  • Get a credit card or increase your existing credit limit. Credit freezes up during a recession, so get it now while you still can. Yes, credit is scawwwy and can be misused—but it is a tool that can instantly put food on your table.
  • Get your health in order. Avail yourself of healthcare access while you have it, and stock up on needed prescriptions.
  • Identify areas to cut back before you have to. The less money you spend every month, the less money you need to get by. The less you need to get by, the easier it’ll be to pay your bills if you lose your source of income.
  • Broaden your skills. Start doing whatever you need to make your resume stand out in a more competitive job market.
  • Back up your work files. You don’t want to lose potential portfolio pieces.
  • Stay the course. Don’t freak out and pull your money from the stock market.
  • Be kind. A time is coming when we’re going to have to depend on each other. No one wants to help out an asshole when times are tough.

So praise be, we know what to do! But what exactly is going to happen? And when?

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My purpose here is to give a millennial's eye view of the situation.

A Brief History of the 2008 Crash and Recession: We Were All So Fucked

A lot happened ten years ago. We’d just voted Barack Obama into the White House. Billy Mays was here and alive and selling us Hercules Hooks. Shorty had freshly acquired them apple bottom jeans comma boots with the fur. Kitty and I had just entered our senior year of college (holy fuck we’re old).

We were sweet baby angels who did exactly what we were told: get good grades, stay out of trouble, pursue a career where you have both passion and talent. We pushed ourselves to work part-time, take on industry internships, still achieve academically. We’d done it. Our futures felt secure and blindingly bright, like Southern California teeth.

And then the walls came tumbling down.

Much ink has been spilled over the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent economic recession. So you’ll pardon me if I add to the deluge. But my purpose here, ten years after the fateful events that ripped the world economy asunder, is to give a millennial’s eye view of the thing.

Below is my attempt to understand and explain the 2008 crash and recession in a way I couldn’t have ten years ago.

We were seniors in college. I think it’s fair to say we had no idea what was going on at the time, what it meant for our future, and why it all was happening. We didn’t understand why the world our parents, teachers, guidance counselors had promised us just… no longer existed.

We graduated into a situation no one—least of all the class of 2009—was prepared for.

Guys. We were so fucked.

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