It seems like everyone likes to dish out financial advice to students and young adults. When you hear so many different ideas, it can be tough to distinguish the good from the bad. How do you know which advice to take with a grain of salt when it comes to your own finances?
This article will go over some of the most common types of bad financial advice that keep students in debt.
Keep in mind that right now is the best time to adjust your money mindset—the changes you make today will have a lasting impact on your financial future.
Bad Advice: You Need a University Degree
Once upon a time, college virtually guaranteed you a high-paying job. And many older people still view it as a rite of passage after high school. But the truth is that their experience won’t necessarily match yours. This is only a good piece of advice in the right circumstances.
College offers a variety of other benefits, but it’s not always an effective way to increase your earnings potential. Students often leave college with a significant amount of debt that they struggle to pay back over the next few years or even decades of their life.
In general, you should go to college only if you can afford it without going into substantial student loan debt, or if the degree will help you earn more money.
For example, liberal arts degrees don’t usually make you a more valuable job candidate. But on the other hand, although a medical degree can be extremely expensive, it will likely allow you to command a higher salary. So that’s probably a good investment.
Tip: Consider Other Options
You shouldn’t think of college as the required next step after graduation. You should go to college because you truly want to, not because you’ve heard that it’s the best thing to do.
Trade schools are one of the most common alternatives to a traditional degree, and they allow you to increase your earnings potential without making the investment required for college. That said, trades can involve relatively strenuous work that isn’t right for everyone.
If you’re interested in pursuing a conventional education, you can also consider public schools or community colleges as low-cost alternatives. Many public colleges offer comparable educational experiences to private universities at a fraction of the cost.
However, keep in mind, you generally need to live in the same state as the college in order to be eligible for reduced tuition.
Bad Advice: Build Credit with Credit Card Debt
It’s important to build a solid credit history in your 20s so you can access mortgages and other loans later on. Many people recommend using credit cards to increase your credit score and reduce your perceived risk as a borrower. Some people think that you can further improve your credit by carrying a credit card balance from one month to the next.
While it’s true that you need to borrow to improve your score, credit cards can quickly put you into a substantial amount of debt. They typically come with much higher interest rates than other forms of credit, so your balance will compound quickly if you don’t pay it off in full each month.
Tip: Pay Back Your Balance
There’s nothing wrong with getting a credit card, and they actually provide several advantages compared to cash, debit cards, and other payment methods. These are a few of the best reasons to consider getting a credit card as a student:
Credit card companies offer cash-back and a variety of other rewards to incentivize credit card purchases and make you use your card rather than other options. Different cards come with different benefits, including extra rewards on certain categories like groceries and gas.
In addition to continual rewards, some credit cards also provide bonuses either when you sign up or after using the card for a certain quantity of purchases. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a $200 bonus once you make $500 in purchases during your first three months with the card.
Consistently making on-time payments will help you increase your credit score and acquire loans, credit cards, and other lines of credit later in life. Keep in mind that your score will drop significantly if you start missing payments or using more than about 30 percent of your credit limit.
Tip: Don’t Spend Money You Don’t Have
Like college, credit cards can be either a good or bad choice depending on your unique circumstances. You shouldn’t apply for a card simply because you’ve heard it’s a good idea. Credit cards come with serious risks, including falling into debt and impacting your credit score.
If you choose to get a credit card, it’s important to use it only for purchases you could cover in cash. People who use cards to pay for things they can’t afford are only putting off the inevitable cost. Don’t forget to check your balance regularly to make sure you have enough money to pay it off at the end of the billing cycle.
Bad Advice: Buy a Home Instead of Renting
Students typically rent until graduating from college or trade school, but some people recommend purchasing your own home once you’re financially stable. Buying a home gives you equity for your money, so you’ll have a tangible investment once you finish paying off your mortgage.
On the other hand, renters pay simply to inhabit the property for a given period of time and don’t walk away with anything more than they had at the beginning of the lease. This logic leads to the common advice that you should always try to buy your first home as soon as possible.
Tip: Start by Renting
Buying your own home is a great long-term financial goal, but it isn’t necessarily something you need to think about right now. Renting is often a better option for students and young people who aren’t ready to settle down. Buying a home makes it much more difficult to move later on, and it commits you to a long-term mortgage until the property is completely paid off.
With that in mind, you should consider renting until you’re financially and personally prepared for the commitment of buying a home. You can always move at the end of the lease if something comes up, giving you the flexibility you need in your early and mid-20s.
Renting also gives you the option of living with roommates, which can significantly decrease costs if you live in a highly-populated area. These factors and more make renting the best choice for young people who need more time before settling down.
Bad Advice: Buy Only New Cars
New products tend to last longer and perform better than their used or refurbished counterparts, so people often recommend buying new as a better long-term investment. Even though you’ll pay more upfront, the logic is that you’ll save money by waiting longer until your next upgrade.
This idea works well for certain purchases. For example, it makes sense to buy a new laptop to avoid getting a unit with pre-existing issues. New electronics also typically come with warranties and service contracts that give you access to cheaper repairs and replacements if something goes wrong.
On the other hand, new cars cost significantly more than used cars, and it’s not clear that they offer enough advantages to be worth the extra money. In addition to the higher sticker price, you’ll also be stuck with higher car insurance and warranty rates on a car that’s more valuable.
Tip: Consider Buying Used
Some people avoid used cars as a rule, but you can often get a great deal on a used vehicle without losing much in performance. Although used cars aren’t right for everyone, they’re definitely worth considering for students and younger people who don’t have the money to buy a brand-new vehicle.
Contemporary cars are generally more dependable than earlier models, so you can trust a used vehicle more now than in the past. Older adults often think of used cars as unreliable, but this advice doesn’t apply in every situation.
Buying a used car enables you to look at safer and more premium options compared to buying new without spending any more money. Cars depreciate most quickly in the first few years after being driven off the lot, so buying a car that’s around three to five years old allows you to pass off the costs of depreciation while losing the least possible performance.
The right decision for you depends on your financial situation, as well as the available cars in your area. Look through local listings and try to identify good prices on either used or new cars. Don’t avoid used cars simply because you’re worried about being scammed or getting a bad deal.
The Bottom Line on Bad Financial Advice
People mean well when they offer advice, but bad financial ideas can derail your best efforts to save money and make good long-term financial decisions.
The above examples are four of the most common pieces of bad advice that keep students in debt and prevent them from reaching their financial goals.
This is article is a guest post by Logan Allec. Logan is a CPA, personal finance expert, and founder of the finance blog Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money.