5 mistakes students cannot afford to make in college

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(Source: 123RF and 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 123RF and 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

For many, college is a time of exploration and learning. Unfortunately, it is also a time when debt piles up.

According to Anthony O’Neal, best-selling author of "The Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College," students are graduating from college and entering the workforce with more than $35,000 in debt.

“When they graduate, they are trying to move forward but they are worrying about their past," O’Neal said

O’Neal, who works with financial expert Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions, says there are ways to keep this from happening and outlines what students can do in high school to keep this scenario from becoming a reality.

The first mistake O’Neal says students make is taking out student loans. High school students and middle school students can invest some time to avoid this.

“I suggest that every day they spend one hour cutting off the social media after they finish their homework and look up scholarships and grants.”

His philosophy: The more grants and scholarships you have, the less money you pay out of pocket.

Using credit cards is mistake No. 2. O’Neal advises teens to stay away from the plastic.

“When I think about credit cards, I have to pause a bit because it hits me whole," he said. "When I was 18 years old I found myself in $15,000 worth of credit card debt -- $10,000 worth of furniture debit -- just financing everything I could. Because of those choices I became homeless.”

Many say that young people need credit cards to establish credit history. O’Neal calls that a myth.

“What you need is a debit card with a Visa logo on it," he explained. "It is the exact same thing but you are using your own cash.”

Mistake No. 3 is making bad choices. O’Neal stresses the decisions you make today can and will affect your tomorrow.

“We all make dumb choices. Let's just be real. I've made some in the past," he admitted.

He says those bad choices are not limited to financial decisions. The friends you make, the schools you choose, even the things you buy can make an impact. O’Neal advises to take a step back as you make decisions to be sure those are the right decisions for you.

Not having a plan is mistake No 4.

“Have a plan for your money and have a plan for your life," he said. "Make sure these two are congruent and they are working hand in hand.”

Want to go to college? O’Neal advises students to start saving in high school. Do you have the goal to buy a car? Get a plan in place to make that goal a reality. It may not always be easy. There will be times when saving cash may mean saying no to something else.

The fifth mistake is simply not saving money.

“I believe that every high school student should have some sort of work, sweat equity for their future.” O’Neal advises.

He says taking a financial course is a way to move teens in the right direction.

“If a student takes an actual financial course while they are in high school they make on average $243 a month. To you and me, that may not be a lot of money but to a teenager in high school that is some good money.”

Once there is income, it’s time to be intentional with that money. That is why budgeting is key. O’Neal advises teens to have anywhere between $500 and $1,000 saved up for emergencies. He says it is not a matter of if but when they will need to use that cash.

He also says it’s never too early to start saving and budgeting.

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