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New college graduates go from diploma to debt

Thousands of Arizona State University students received their diplomas Wednesday night.

Most of them now have massive college loan debt staring them in the face.

Marcus Johnson with Tempe-based Johnson Financial Advisors says the average student loan debt climbed to $29,400 for borrowers in the class of 2012, up from $18,750 for 2004 graduates.

“You (graduates) need to get a job immediately,” said Johnson, who quickly added that more than 70 percent of students are graduating with loans.

It’s also important not to miss a payment because student loan debt isn’t waived.

“It’s important to get your loans paid off, but you don’t necessarily have to pay them off immediately, so make the minimum payments,” said Johnson.

And once you get that job, Johnson suggests sticking to a budget. So don’t waste money on things you don’t need, scale back on spending and avoid using credit cards if you can’t pay off your bills monthly.

Keeping cars longer and scaling back on eating out are also important to make sure you can take care of that loan debt.

Johnson also has some advice for anyone thinking of taking out a college loan.

“Think of all the alternatives that you can. Make sure you take advantage of scholarships, look at the option of working through school and look at more affordable education.”

Johnson said he is a believer that where you get your education is more important at the beginning of your career than down the road.

“The person who’s going to value your degree the most is your first employer. Employer two, three and four, they care about where you worked last.”

He also advises new graduates to start saving now for retirement, and if you plan on paying off loans quickly, pay off those with the higher interest rate first.