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College students: Don't limit dreams with debt

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Berkeley did not consider future income before assuming her loans, although she anticipated always working in the nonprofit or public sector. Her choices confirm a recent survey by student-loan provider Sallie Mae that post-graduate income was not a factor for 70 percent of students and parents in determining how much to borrow to finance a college degree.

So after the glossy college brochures arrive in the mail and the visits to leafy college campuses are over, students need to ask themselves: Can I afford this school without excessive borrowing? How long will it take to pay off that wonderful four-year experience at the campus of my dreams?

Students, remember: You will be deferring other dreams for a cool car, well-furnished pad, weekend ski trips, summer beach vacations, and the latest tech toys.

According to the Project on Student Debt, the average 2006 graduate carried $21,100 in loans. But student debt has a disproportionate effect on middle-class families. Families with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 will borrow nearly $5,000 a year to pay for college. Those that make less than $50,000 will borrow on average $3,900, and families that earn over $100,000 will borrow $3,710.

To begin paying off those loans, graduates of the class of 2008 will receive an average salary of $36,400 according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Sounds great, until those graduates have to pay taxes, bringing net income to $27,500 or approximately, $2,300 a month. According to federal tables, they can expect to spend $1,800 to $2,000 a month for rent, utilities, out-of-pocket healthcare, car payments, gasoline, insurance and, entertainment. The remaining $300 to $500 a month may seem comfortable enough for the $230 a month needed to repay a $20,000 student loan at 6.8 percent over a 10-year period.

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