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First-generation college grad shares how she paid off $20,000 in debt in one year

Kristy Epperson, now a 23-year-old nurse, was $20,000 in debt when she graduated from college in 2017.

“I am a first-generation college student so my parents weren’t really able to offer me guidance,” she told “Good Morning America.” “To me it just seemed like the natural process was to go to college and rack up a bunch of student loan debt and just worry about it after when you’re paying on it for the next 10 to 15 years of your life.”

Epperson attended a public college in Ohio that she said she attended solely because of its affordability. She took out only federal loans and worked at least one job throughout college, including on-campus jobs that gave her free room and board.

She also purchased a car during college, which added to her debt. After graduating, she was left with loan payments totaling nearly $400 per month.

The “a-ha” financial moment for Epperson came a few months after her college graduation when she decided to purchase a home. Even with her debt, she said she was encouraged to become a home buyer and had no problem securing a bank loan.

“I didn’t know where my money was going. I didn’t have a plan for my spending or for my investing,” she said. “That’s when I realized that if something were to happen, if I were to lose my job or whatever, that I would be out of luck when it came to finances.”

That moment, in the spring of 2018, spurred Epperson, of Dayton, Ohio, to begin meticulously tracking and budgeting her money. One year later, this May, she had paid off the $20,000.

“I always tell people, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it,'” she said. “I’m a nurse by trade. I have no financial background at all. I think with a little discipline people are way more capable than they think they are.”

How she paid off $20K debt in 1 year

Epperson’s first step was to track her monthly expenses just by using an Excel sheet pre-set for budgeting. That way, she was able to see how much money she had left after paying her expenses.

“I realized in that month, ‘Wow, this is actually a substantial amount of money that instead of throwing it away on dumb, frivolous expenses I could just be putting this toward debt and paying it off a lot faster,'” she said. “Then it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Epperson decided to pay off her car loan first because it was significantly less than her student loans.

She said she did it by cutting out of her life the expenses we’re always told to eliminate to save money, things like coffee and eating out.

“It adds up so quickly when you think you’re just eating out once a week but you’re actually buying little things here and there,” she said. “And at my job I have the capability to use my badge to buy food in the cafeteria or stuff at the gift shop, and that was money I was never seeing so I wasn’t taking it into account.”

Taking those conveniences out of her every day life has been what Epperson calls the “biggest sacrifice” of her debt-free journey. That means making her own coffee, packing her lunch every day, buying foods in bulk and not paying for anything she can do herself.

Still, Epperson said watching the number she owed on her car go down made it “addicting’ to keep going. She soon saw her college loan debt as “not as daunting.”

With that motivation, Epperson began using cash to hold herself even more accountable. She would withdraw cash at the beginning of the month and divide it in envelopes by categories like groceries, entertainment and gas.

“It’s pretty easy to hold yourself accountable because once you run over in a category, it’s a pretty clear message that you’re out of spending money for that month in that category,” she said.

Epperson also reached out for support when she needed it, especially about six months into her debt-erasing journey.

“I was kind of feeling discouraged, like wanting to quit and just pay the debt over the next seven years or whatever it would have amounted to,” she said. “Then I found a community on Instagram, the #DebtFreeCommunity, and I created my Instagram account.”

Epperson uses her @debtfreeattwentythree account to interact with people and offer tips.

“I was just so financially illiterate even six months ago compared to now,” said Epperson, who said she is self-taught with the help of financial books and Google. “If I can teach myself this information and get inspired to do it, I just really feel that anyone can.”

When she became debt free in May, Epperson said she felt a sense of freedom.

“Paying off my debt was more than just a financial journey for me,” she said. “It was emotional and something I was able to get really invested in and just prove to myself that Ii’m capable of doing anything that I set my mind to.”

Epperson is continuing to save money so she will have six months worth of expenses saved for an emergency fund.

“But after that I really plan to travel more and just be able to give freely to people,” she said. “If someone is in need or needs something that I’ll have extra money in my budget to help them.”

Kristy’s tips for college students

1) Choose an affordable college: “One of the best decisions that I ever made was going to the university that I did because it was very affordable. That was not my first choice by any means. I wanted to go to a bigger public school but just couldn’t afford it.”

2) Remember student loans are just an option: “Don’t assume you have to take on student loan debt just because that’s what society tells you.”

3) Find a financial strategy that works for you: “You can’t just think of your money now, you have to think ahead. Find a financial plan that’s going to suit you and your lifestyle 10 years from now. If you’re racking up all this debt, where are you going to be in five years because of that?”

4) Take on extra work: “I worked at least one job all through college and through that I was able to pay part of my tuition in cash, which was huge, and that’s how I was able to graduate with so few student loans. I was also a resident assistant which gave me free room and board and I had a few other jobs on campus that had similar perks.”

5) Only use loans as a last resort: “A lot of kids are encouraged to take out loans for cost of living expenses, just for a little bit of security, and I would just challenge people to figure out a way around that. If you work hard during the summer and you work a full-time job, you’re going to be fine.”

This story originally appeared on Good Morning America and was written on Yahoo News ––abc-news-personal-finance.html

5 Unique Careers to Inspire Your Students

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question everyone hears at one point in their lives. Choosing a job, much less a career, can be a daunting task and most of us end up in a job out of necessity rather than an affinity for that job. What if you could find a cool and unique job that you also like? 

Many have foregone the traditional careers and forged new paths by taking on jobs and careers most people wouldn’t consider. These can include professions like Audiologists who asses and treat people with hearing disorders, or Hydrologists who study water quality or how water moves through the earth’s crust, and many more unique career paths. So, let’s have look at some other jobs that might just inspire you.

Certified Ethical Hacker

Becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) demands the same skills as a malicious hacker, however, you’ll be working with the law to catch criminals, or expose flaws in companies’ software to make them more secure. The demand for cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers is at an all-time high. A report from the Global Cyber Security Center in collaboration with the University of Oxford details how there is a shortage of 2,93 million cybersecurity professionals. The report predicts the gap will widen to 3.5 million by 2021. A Maryville University guide to the cybersecurity industry shows that due to the sheer demand for cybersecurity specialists, they now command more than $6,500 per year on average, compared to other IT workers. With average yearly salaries approximately $99,000, this might just be the rewarding career path you’re looking for.

Intelligence Analyst

When it comes to jobs with a certain cool factor, intelligence analysts for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is right up there. The CIA is the government agency responsible for collecting and disseminating foreign intelligence. It entails working with classified information and collecting intelligence on anything from Chinese and Russian naval forces to the latest terror groups in the Middle East. In this regard, there are many career paths available for qualified individuals who possess strong communication and problem-solving skills. Some of the areas of intelligence analysis include counterintelligence threat analyst, political analyst and economic analyst, amongst others. The salary range varies between $51,000 to 76,000 and up.

Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) provides primary healthcare centered on women and their families, but their primary function is to give care and counseling during pre-conception, pregnancy and postpartum. While most people believe that midwives only deal with childbirth, Nurse Journal explains that CNMs only spend 10% of their work time dealing with childbirth, while the rest is spent working with patients for preventive care. Being a CNM is a tireless, yet, rewarding job and you can expect an annual salary in the range of $70,000 to upwards of $150,000, depending on location and institution. 


If you’ve always been interested in art and history and have a desire to educate and preserve them for future generations, a career as a curator might pique your interest. Museum curators manage collections of works of art and artifacts, historical or scientific items and are responsible for the acquisition of new works of art. Apart from requiring a passion for history and art, a curator must have a keen eye for detail, strong communication and writing skills, and the ability to complete academic research. Curators work in many capacities, with The Art Career Project describing how 37% of curators work in museums, galleries or historical sites, while the rest work in government, education, and other institutions. You can expect an average pay of $46,000, going to as high as $145,000.


Ecologists have the important role of solving environmental problems, plan habitat management and manage environmental restoration projects. As an ecologist, you’ll have a duty to preserve the environment and increase people’s understanding of the relationships between various ecosystems and all that affects them to protect them. Most importantly, ecologists help us better understand and minimize the effects of our activities on the planet and provide the tools and knowledge to protect it. Ecologists can be found in diverse roles from environmental consultants for various development projects to research at colleges and universities and advisors to policymakers. Average salaries for ecologists vary by state and average around $67,000. If you ever want to be an ecologist, the District of Columbia posts the highest median salary at over $109,000.

Articles Scheduled for the Fall 2019 issue of LINK for Counselors

We have some great content lined up for the Fall issue of LINK for Counselors. Here is a sneak peek:

Careers to Consider: Chemical Engineering & Biomolecular
Engineering – by Suzanne Shelley, Contributing Editor Chemical
Engineering Magazine
Careers to Consider: Kinesiology
College Fairs are No Longer Just for Students – by Candice Mackey,
College Counselor at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies –
LACES (Magnet). 
Study Skills in College: How to Help Your Students Start Now
Top Tech Tools Counselors Are Using Today and Will Be Using
Tomorrow – By Angela Cleveland and Saqi Mehta
Common, Coalition or Commotion? The Promise and Perils of College Application Platforms – By Dan Geary, the Director of College
Counseling at Trinity Episcopal School in Richmond, VA
How Important is Demonstrated Interest in College Admissions
Decisions? – By Judi Robinowitz a Cerfified Educational Planner
The Flip Side: What do you need to know about flipped learning and how can you use it?  – By Jim Paterson, Former School Counselor of the
Year in Montgomery County, MD
Expanding Horizons: Have Your Students Considered Applying Beyond the US? – By Dr. Shanell Leggins, School Counselor in Thailand
Standing Out on Social Media to Connect, Promote, and Advocate
with School Counseling Stakeholders – By Laura Ross, the lead
counselor at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, GA
FINANCIAL AID Tackling the Fear of Financial Aid – By Sweety Patel, Director of Guidance/Pupil Personnel for Carteret Public Schools
TEST PREP – What Do College Admissions Officers Really Want in an Application Essay?
How to Help Teens Bounce Back
TRANSFER Help Your Transfer Students Choose a Future Proof
Major – By Lee Koslow – High School Counselor in NY
TRANSFER – Community College Clamor – By Jim Paterson – Former
Counselor of the Year in Montgomery County, MD
TRANSFER – Tips for Successfully Securing Funding as a Transfer
Student – By Dr. Denise Simmons Graves a Counselor at Montgomery
College in MD
TRANSFER – INTERVIEW –  – Interview with Dr. Sherin Isaac, Houston
Community College
Understanding the Role of a Transfer Receptive Culture – By Dimpal
Jain, Ph.D., Alfred Herrera, Santiago Bernal & Janet Marling
TRANSFER – Transfers & Credit – By Jim Paterson – Former Counselor of the Year in Montgomery County, MD
Scholarship Watch – Scholarships Available  for Your Students
Counselor’s Calendar – Listing of College Fairs for Your Students

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Automation is coming to the workplace. Will your students be prepared?

Twenty-five “megacities and high-growth hubs” accounted for more than two-thirds of job growth in the past 10 years, and that trend is expected to continue. Meanwhile, employment gains have been flat in low-growth cities, and rural counties mostly have fewer jobs than they did before the Great Recession. 

Those divisions are poised to grow. Over the next decade, automation is more likely to displace workers in rural areas than those in urban areas with more diverse economies, such as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. 

Education Dive recently published a blog on 3 ways that colleges can prepare students for the coming workforce automation wave.

  1. Adding new pathways from high school to the workforce:

The concept of lifelong learning is not new. The skills needed to thrive in today’s tech-based economy are continually shifting, requiring many workers to pursue additional education.

Even those who aren’t at risk will need new skills. McKinsey researchers estimate current technologies could take over about 30% of activities in 60% of jobs. 

Colleges, however, have been slow to catch up. Only 22% of Americans surveyed in a recent Gallup poll say the nation’s colleges adequately prepare students for jobs involving technology. 

Employers may be a natural fit to provide workers with this type of retraining, the researchers note. The Gallup poll backs that up: Americans ranked on-the-job training as their preferred mode of education to keep up with changes brought by artificial intelligence, second to campus-based programs at universities.

2. Scaling apprenticeship programs:

Nearly 15 million workers between the ages of 18 and 34 are at risk of losing their jobs to automation. That’s partly because they account for a large share of jobs in food service and retail, two sectors where a high degree of automation is expected.

Half of these young workers are in roles with high turnover, so employers may not be willing to invest in their retraining, the report notes. Alternative forms of postsecondary education, such as apprenticeships, could be a solution. 

Momentum has been growing behind expanding apprenticeships in the U.S., in part because the Trump administration has made them a priority. In June, 23 colleges received a total of $183 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to train more than 85,000 apprentices in health care, advanced manufacturing and information technology. 

One of the biggest issues standing in the way of growing America’s apprenticeships is employers’ wariness of bringing someone on without relevant work experience because a bad hire can be costly

One solution is firms that hire entry-level workers on a trial basis. Talent Path, for example, hires graduates pursuing technology jobs to work as consultants for companies, which can hire them after two years.

3. Bringing clarity to the credential marketplace:

As the need for skilled workers grows, so too does the marketplace for alternative credentials. Those options can give workers a way to reskill quickly, but there is a lack of standardized information about them. 

That can make it hard for workers to understand which credentials have value. In response, several efforts are underway to bring clarity to the marketplace. 

For one, Credential Engine, which maintains a digital database of credentials, is working with several credential providers to help colleges and other education providers use a common language to talk about their programs. A similar effort led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, called the T3 Innovation Network, is attempting to make it easier for employers to signal to colleges the skills they need.

Other groups are spearheading credentials specific to a region’s needs. The Capital CoLAB —  which brings together colleges and employers in the Washington, D.C., metro area —  recently launched a shared tech credential offered by several institutions in the region, including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Howard universities. Students who earn the credential get priority in job interviews with participating companies. 

Other companies are developing their own curricula, and in some cases are partnering with colleges to do so. Amazon has teamed up with several colleges to offer cloud computing curriculum. And Northeastern allows students to roll over credentials earned from IBM into certain master’s degrees. 

As you help your students plan for that next step in life letting them know about changes in the marketplace such as the automation of the workplace can help them choose their best career paths going forward.

Check out Education Dive’s story here:

Learn from a student that has been there and done that

My first question to Rachel was “What do you wish you knew then that you know now?” Rachel, after all, is officially a veteran of the college admissions process. While she is busily adjusting to life after high school graduation she is actually thinking much more about what her life will be like in three months when she moves into her college dorm.

For Rachel it was a lengthy and sometimes stressful process. She started visiting colleges in her sophomore year. She took the most rigorous curriculum her high school offered, had stellar standardized test scores, participated in a variety of clubs, held leadership roles, got involved in community service, played an instrument, won awards, immersed herself in a foreign culture during her summers; in short – she did everything right.

Here are some snippets of my conversation with Rachel:

Lee – “What did you do right?”

Rachel– “I visited many colleges and applied to a good variety of schools – 3 safety, 1-2 target and 3-4 reach.”

Lee – “What did you wrong?”

Rachel – “I didn’t start essays or ask for letters of recommendation early enough. It was hard to write essays in the fall and still keep up with all the work during first semester. Some teachers had fulfilled their quota of letters of recommendation before the end of junior year, so waiting to ask as a senior was too late and I had to scramble.”

Lee – “Did you find any shortcuts or do you have any ideas to make the process run more smoothly for rising seniors?”

Rachel – “I was able to re-use several essays for schools a few times, although I did have to make significant adaptations.”

Lee – “Was it challenging at school with everyone asking where you’re applying?”

Rachel – “Yes, especially with juniors. They think they understand everything about the application process and believe that holding many leadership positions and getting straight A’s in AP classes guarantees students a spot in the most prestigious schools. They don’t understand that even for the most qualified students, the admissions process is still incredibly random. Some students don’t understand when seniors don’t get into top schools. I regret sharing my list of schools with all of my friends and I eventually decided to put my acceptance/rejection decisions on “lockdown” in April.”

Lee – “If you had high school to do all over again, what would you do differently?”

Rachel – “I don’t have many major regrets about high school, but I wish I had been more involved in clubs freshman year and selected activities that I knew I could continue for four years. I would also focus more on a few select clubs and not join every honor society just to be able to put it on an application. I always agreed with the “depth not breadth” argument but my position was confirmed when I actually started applying. As I began filling out applications, especially the Common Application, I realized how few spots there actually were to put extra-curricular activities, so being superficially involved in a ton of activities truly doesn’t help at all.”

Lee – “What would you do differently in terms of preparation for the application process?”

Rachel – “I would research standardized tests more; I think students focus more on the SAT and only take the ACT the one time in February or March when the state pays for it; I wish I had taken the ACT again, because I found the math section a better fit for my skills.”

Lee – “What was the biggest waste of time?”

Rachel – “Visiting some schools over the summer, some schools were completely empty, so I didn’t get a good sense of the atmosphere; others still had students. Families should check with admissions to see what kind of campus life is going on during the summer.”

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;

School Counselors Prepare Students for 21st Century Computational Thinking Skills

Counselors are at the forefront of opening doors to opportunities for all students. 

Counselors are at the forefront of opening doors to opportunities for all students. They collaborate “with stakeholders such as parents and guardians, teachers, administrators and community leaders to create learning environments that promote educational equity and success for every student” (ASCA School Counselor Competencies). It is crucial for educational leaders to recognize the impact and service school counselors have in every school community as stakeholders embrace engaging educational environments that support pathways to sustainable and rewarding post-secondary opportunities. 
Pop Quiz!What do these skills have in common?

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Complex problem-solving
  3. Critical thinking and Analysis

 This list comes from The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report. These skills are in high demand by employers today. School counselors recognize that labor market trends in local, national, and global communities impact students. Counselors guide students toward viable careers with these trends in mind. In order to adequately prepare our students for sustainable careers and to ensure all students have access to learn, school counselors are bringing opportunity to those who are traditionally underrepresented in computer science (CS) classes and in computing professions. Counselors recognize that technology is changing every career. Engaging students and families in conversations about sustainable careers means talking about the intersection of CS with every vocation.  Did you know that the skills mentioned above are at the heart of computational thinking in CS classes and also areas of interest for school counselors’ student-focused ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors? These skills transcend the computer screen! Teaching them to all students integrates CS, school counseling goals, and life skills that can and should begin in elementary school and follow students throughout their academic career. This debunks the myth that a school counselor must be tech-savvy to impart these skills to students. Your school counselors are prepared and experienced in these concepts that will broaden the horizons of your students.  


One of the first components of computational thinking is decomposition. What does this mean and how does it relate to school counselors? Every day your school counselors are demonstrating this skill to students. The concept of breaking down a problem into smaller parts is a crucial component of a student’s ability to address an area of concern. As counselors, this type of modification shows up in 504 planning and I&RS committee meetings as a strategy we can use to help a student grasp challenging content or behaviors. Modeling decomposition with students allows for the acquisition of this skill which places them in a position of advantage when obstacles arise whether it be on a school project, a computer program, or a situation at home. For example, if a student is having difficulty in a class, the counselor and student break the problem down and view it from different angles. Is the student studying regularly, taking advantage of extra help sessions, prepared for class (both academically with supplies and ready to learn – not hungry, tired), know where to find resources, etc.? Breaking down the problem and considering a variety of possible contributing factors is the essence of decomposition.   

During pattern recognition in computational thinking, students learn to recognize trends and similarities. What worked successfully last time they ran into this problem?  What didn’t work? If students have run into this problem before, what did they learn that worked well or didn’t work that they can apply to this situation? In the scenario of a student struggling in a class, the student and counselor might reflect on how the student performed in this subject area the previous year. Is this possibly a new area of study in which the student lacks enough background experience? A counselor might meet with the students’ peers in the class to learn about their study habits, resources they use, and other strategies they employ. Identifying patterns of what has worked and not worked in the past along with identifying patterns of behavior in students who are doing well in the class provides a framework to create a collaborative plan for the struggling student. It also models a problem-solving strategy they can apply to other situations to support more positive outcomes.


Abstraction is about focusing on the most relevant aspects of a problem and not getting distracted by the red herrings. Rarely do students come to a school counselor with a clear, concise statement about the problem or view of a situation. Often there is a great deal of extra information that feels critical to the student. By taking a step back, counselors can help students focus on what is truly relevant to the problem. This challenge of sorting through details and distractions isn’t a problem relegated to children; it’s a human problem! We all struggle with this from time to time. Think of the last time you were late to work. You might have run through a list of frustrations that led to you being late, and some might have been legitimate problems to address (the alarm didn’t go off) while others might be annoying situational frustrations that may not relate to being late (Why does the dog always take so long to go to the bathroom on cold mornings?). Being able to tease out what is truly necessary to consider when solving a problem is not just a computational thinking skill, but it is also a critical life skill! School counselors view this as “stripping away the drama and pulling out the facts.” The key is to identify which aspects are truly relevant to solving the problem. 

Computational thinking also encompasses algorithm design, which is a step-by-step process for solving problems. Think of an algorithm as being like a recipe: very specific, measured ingredients combined in a clearly defined order. When counselors work with students on challenges, they develop a plan that involves a step-by-step process for addressing the obstacle and “debugging” or anticipating challenges and problem-solving. Within the creation of the plan, they need to provide for anticipated roadblocks.  How might that student address anticipated challenges? For example, a counselor might verbally “walk through” the student’s process of leaving period 1 class to arrive in period 2 class on time. Does the student stay behind and chat with the teacher or peers? Does the student circle back to the locker to pick up supplies or take a longer than necessary route to the next class? Creating a step-by-step “recipe” to get to class on time is a transferable skill for other life challenges. 

What are some next steps for collaborating with your school counselor, administration, and CS staff? 

Did you know that three out of five schools in the U.S. do not offer computing courses that include programming or coding, yet we know that computing jobs are the way of the future? “The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates, however, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with U.S. computing bachelor’s grads”(Source: This Computer Science Professional Development Guide developed by Microsoft Edu and in collaboration with champions for broadening participation in computing offers a step-by-step guide about how education leaders can build teacher, school counselor, and administrator capacity to support equitable computer science education. NCWIT Counselors for Computing provides professional school counselors with information and resources they can use to support ALL students as they explore CS education and careers. The NCWIT Counselors for Computing “See Yourself in Computing” virtual reality (VR) campaign motivates students to ask, “How can I get started in CS?” Explore the free immersive content with your students using your computer, tablet, or with a VR headset.
 School counselors are champions for equity, advocating for a system that supports all students’ in accessing learning opportunities to guide them towards sustainable careers. They “demonstrate their belief that all students have the ability to learn by advocating for an education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students” (ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors). Preparing ALL students for post-secondary plans requires all educators to recognize and discuss how CS is woven through every career and how we can spark interest in sustainable careers across K–12. 

Additional Resources

Robot Resources offers a variety of printable posters NCWIT Counselors for ComputingASCA School Counselor CompetenciesASCA Position Statement, “The School Counselor and Career Development”  

About the Authors

Angela Cleveland is the Program Director for NCWIT’s Counselors for Computing which provides professional school counselors with information and resources they can use to support all students as they explore CS education and careers. Jennifer Correnti is the Director of School Counseling at Harrison High School and has been a counselor for 12 years. She serves as an NCWIT Counselor for Computing consultant and encourages school counselors to embrace their role as agents of change.

Many of your students are going into debt from using credit cards

Here is a tutorial you can share on how they work

ust swipe and sign, right? Well, there’s a lot more to how credit cards work than that, because with a credit card, you are essentially borrowing money from a bank that you will pay back at the end of the month.

How do I build credit?

If you’ve never had a credit card before, you’ll need to build up your credit. How to establish credit is somewhat of a Catch 22: You need a credit card to build credit, but you can’t get one without good credit. Luckily, you have a few options.

  1. Sign up for a joint credit card account with an established credit user
  2. Get a secured credit card (learn more about secured credit cards below)

Authorized user vs joint account holder

It’s important to note that there’s a big difference between an authorized account user and a joint account holder. Joint credit card account holders are like cosigners on loans. Both people can use the account, both are responsible for the debt and repayment affects both people’s credit history. By contrast, an authorized user is allowed to use the account, but they are not responsible for the debt. As a result, payments do not impact an authorized user’s credit history.

So, while becoming an authorized user can help you get comfortable using credit cards, it won’t help you build credit. If you ask a friend or family member to add you as an authorized user, keep this in mind. You can get some practice, but it won’t help you build credit.

If you’re learning to use credit, it’s best to pair an authorized user account with a secured credit card. This allows you to practice and learn from a seasoned credit user and build your credit.

How do credit cards work?

It’s important to think about what kind of card you need before applying for a new credit card. While you shouldn’t carry a balance from month to month, sometimes you can’t help it. If you plan on carrying a balance, make sure it is never above 20 percent of your credit limit. And only carry a balance on a credit card with a low interest rate. Also, make sure you are paying more than the minimum balance each month.

What is a secured credit card?

Credit cards come in two main flavors: secured and unsecured. With secured credit cards, you give the creditor a deposit for a specified amount. The creditor gives you a credit limit equal to that amount. Even though you sent them money, this is not a debit card situation. When you use the card, that amount isn’t debited from the money you sent. You have to pay off your purchases each month.

A secured card is great practice for someone who is building credit. This includes those new to the credit card game or individuals who have made bad credit decisions in the past. By using the account and paying it off each month on time, the credit reporting agencies will see that you are responsible with your credit account and your credit score will start to build.

What is an unsecured credit card?

Once you’ve built up your credit score, you can apply for an unsecured credit card. These cards don’t require a deposit and the credit card company will give you a credit limit based on your income as well as your credit score. Most of the credit cards on the market or that you see ads for are unsecured credit cards. They can offer rewards including travel points or cash back.

If you are applying for an unsecured credit card rewards card, it is important to pay off the balance each month, otherwise the interest that you are paying carrying a balance each month will negate all the rewards you are earning. Some rewards cards also have annual fees attached to them, so make sure you are using the card enough so that the fees are worth it.

Charge card vs credit card

Charge cards are few and far between nowadays. American Express is the only major issuer that distributes charge cards. The only real differences with a charge card and a credit card are the terms. When you sign up for a charge card, the main appeal is an implied lack of a spending limit. While these cards often say no pre-set spending limit, your charges can be limited based on your payment history, income and spending habits.

The other main difference in a charge card is that you are supposed to pay it off each month in full. This is actually the advice for credit cards as well, but for charge cards, it’s always been more of a rule. But even charge cards are starting to go the way of credit cards, as American Express offers a “Pay Over Time” option for certain purchases.

Most of the offers you will receive or apply for will be for credit cards and not charge cards. If you aren’t sure, make sure to read the fine print.

How do I use a credit card?

When using a credit card for the first time, make sure to call the number on the sticker on the front of the card and activate it. Also, make sure to set up an online account with your credit card issuer. Even if you prefer to receive paper statements, having an online account will allow you to view updated information about your account instantly and make changes if needed.

Decide how you plan on using your card: Are you going to use it for everyday purchases everywhere, at just one place or type of place? Once you decide, it’s time to make a purchase.

How do I make a purchase with a credit card?

  1. When you get to the checkout, swipe the card or place the chip side into the slot if you have an EMV chip credit card.
  2. Follow the prompts on the screen and sign if necessary. Nowadays, most purchases under $25 do not require a signature.
  3. Make sure to remove your card when the transaction is completed.

You don’t have to make a note of your spending on the card like you would in an old checkbook, it’s important to be mindful of how much you are spending on your card so you can anticipate the bill at the end of your billing cycle.

How do I pay my credit card bill?

At the end of your billing cycle, you will receive a bill from the credit card company for the amount you put on the card. This is the amount you need to pay back to the bank. By paying off your balance in full, you avoid any interest charges.

However, if you spent more than you can afford to pay off this month, you will carry a balance into the following month. It’s important to pay off more than the minimum balance if you can afford it to avoid paying months or even years of interest fees.

Thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it passed the Credit CARD Act in 2009 which required issuers to make credit card billing statements easier to read. It also includes a section as to how long it would take you to pay off your debt if you only paid the minimum amount (and didn’t charge any more to the card). If you can’t pay off your balance in one month, it’s important to make a plan to pay it off over a few months’ time and not use the card for much in the interim to avoid hefty fees.

How does credit card interest work?

When you can’t pay off your credit card bill each month, you are charged interest on the amount you don’t pay off. The interest rate varies depending on your credit score, whether you got a promotional rate and how often they recalculate the rate if it is a variable card tied to an index. This is your annual percentage rate, or APR.

How much you pay depends on whether the issuer is calculating a daily rate or a monthly rate. If it calculates monthly, then you would take the APR and divide by 12. To figure out how much you will be paying in interest, take the balance that you have leftover, and multiply it by that number. If it is calculating daily, then you will need to instead divide the APR by 365 and then multiply by the number of days in your billing cycle (usually 30 days).

The interest will accrue as long as you carry a balance. Making minimum payments only increases the amount you pay on the money you originally borrowed. It’s important to pay off as much as you can each month.

Credit Card Security

When you use your credit card, it’s important to keep your credit card information safe. Many people wonder about the security of their credit card information this day and age. Hacking credit cards is rampant, especially online. So how do you keep your information secure?

One way that major credit card issuers helped to make your credit cards safer was by implementing EMV technology in credit cards, which stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa. Also known as chip-and-pin or chip-and-sign technology, the computerized chip embedded in each card is much more difficult to gather information from when skimming a credit card.

Another way to keep your credit card information safe is to avoid saving your credit card information with too many websites. The more sites that have your information, the more vulnerable you are. Thankfully if your card is compromised, you are only liable at most for $50. New technology has also enabled credit card companies to freeze or even deny payments if they suspect suspicious activity on the card outside of your normal spending habits.

It’s important to keep track of your spending not just for budgeting, but also to avoid fraudulent attacks.

This blog was posted from,LLC. Check them out at:

Counselors Can Assist Students & Families to Plan Ahead to Help Them Save Big on College

Many students know that the path to college starts the minute they enter high school, putting together the classes, grades, activities and test scores that will get them into their dream college. But the path to affording college should start just as early, with high school counselors playing a vital in guiding families to take steps that could help them cut costs.

The rising cost of college makes it more important than ever to start conversations early about paying for college. On average, a family will pay $101,160 for four years at an in-state university and $203,600 for a private college, according to And that’s just for one child. Add in a second or third child and the cost can easily become a family’s largest investment in their lifetime.

Counselors can play a pivotal role in helping to bring those costs down for families. Unfortunately, according to a survey conducted by the College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA), many feel unprepared to do so.

Bringing in an expert early on to talk to students and their families about what they can do to cut college costs is one way counselors can help. Those programs can, and should, start as early as freshman year in high school. Counselors also can talk to families about some simple steps that can make a big difference for them down the road.

For parents, early planning can lead to a larger financial aid package. Since financial aid is based on a family’s Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, a family that takes steps to lower their EFC long before the time comes to fill out the FAFSA can reap big savings. For example, a small business owners can lower their EFC by holding assets in their business, rather than in personal accounts. An expert can offer other suggestions a small business owner can take to lower their EFC significantly by the time they have to fill out the FAFSA.

Counselors can also encourage students to build a strategic list of schools that looks beyond academics and school environment to include how the school determines a family’s EFC. Some schools, for example, factor in home equity when determining a student’s EFC, while others do not. With a little research, students can learn which schools use a formula that gives them the lowest EFC.

When talking about scholarships, counselors can change the focus from private scholarships to scholarship money given by the universities or colleges a student is interested in attending. Applying to private scholarships, which typically amount to awards of less than $2,000, may not be the best strategy for time-strapped students. Instead, they might want to focus on raising their test scores. Just raising an ACT test score by two points can result in a school awarding as much as $10,000 more in scholarship money. Some schools are very transparent, noting what GPAs and test scores trigger specific scholarship awards. Having a number to shoot for may make it easier for students to work harder in a class they’re struggling with or encourage them to retake the ACT of SAT to raise their score.

When it finally comes time to fill out the FAFSA, families can still take steps to boost their financial aid package and receive it in a timely fashion. Counselors can help by encouraging them to take these steps:

·        Complete and submit all the required forms on time. Some schools require forms in addition to the FAFSA, such as the CSS Profile. Know ahead of time what’s required and what the deadlines are.

·        Use the IRS data retrieval system to expedite the process and pay careful attention to correct spelling and wording. Doing so can result in students receiving their award letters sooner and avoid extra verification by schools, which can lead to delays.

·        If applying to a state school, list it first on the FAFSA. This will let students see state eligible grant money on award letters—something that might not happen if they list the school second or third.

Finally, students and their families should remember that no award is final. A change in financial circumstance, such as a parent losing a job or unexpected medical expenses, are both valid reasons to appeal. So, too, is when one school offers a larger financial aid package than another similarly-ranked school. Just remind families to first investigate whether a school has a specific appeals process before proceeding with an appeal. And encourage them to call in an expert if they’re unsure about how to navigate the process.

In the end, remind students that it’s not just about getting into that dream school, it’s also about being able to afford it. Encouraging families to start the college cost conversation early on can save a lot of tears—and money—when senior year finally rolls around.

 Jack Schacht is the founder of My College Planning Team, a consortium of academic consultants and financial aid specialists serving students and families in the Chicago area.

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