Commentary

August 2, 2013

‘Good debt’ can bolster earning potential, official says

Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – Establishing “good debt” can be valuable for future earning potential, particularly in today’s challenging economy, a Defense Department official advised here recently.

Obtaining a student loan for a college education or a higher degree to pursue a professional career is an example of good debt for service members and their Families when they make the right choices, Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department’s office of family policy, children and youth, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

“You want to make sure you analyze the return on your education investment so you will have a higher earning potential,” Thompson said. Education is an investment in a service member’s future, because those with a higher-education degree usually have better earning potential and less unemployment, she said, so it is important for service members to have a plan for their career opportunities when they transition out of the military.

Taking out student loans, Thompson added, could be part of that strategy, but she cautioned that those who choose this option should do their homework.

“Whether for a service member or a Family member, it’s important to think about [which] student loan would be the right fit, and how much debt [one] should incur,” she said.

Thompson advised seeking practical counseling advice to pursue the best education choices in schools and in funding.

Military members and their Families have numerous resources at their fingertips, she noted, with installation education offices among them.

“They have people who can help go through the pros and cons of what would be a smart decision,” Thompson said. “Debt is something that [can] take on a life of its own if you’re not careful.”

Education office counselors can provide service members and Families advice on applying for student loans that suit individual needs, in addition to choosing the best college for their chosen studies.

In addition to seeking counselors’ advice, Thompson encouraged service members and Families to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other resources available to help in paying for an education at a school that’s within their financial means. Scholarships and other resources are available to reduce the cost of a college education, she noted.

Thompson pointed out that the Military OneSource website has a wealth of information for people seeking higher education.

“MilitaryOneSource.mil is a really good tool for our service members and Families, not only to seek out a career choice, but also to find information about financial assistance and choosing the right college,” she said.

Military OneSource has “wonderful career counseling,” especially for spouses, Thompson said.

“It helps you define what you want to do and study. It helps you figure out the best path to take,” she added.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also can help with choosing fields of study, Thompson said. The bureau offers a website that shows the earning potential in a variety of professions.

The varying costs of an education are a major factor to weigh, Thompson said, adding that a popular way to cut expenses for a bachelor’s degree is to attend a community college for two years and transfer to a university to finish.

“There [also] are a lot of wonderful opportunities to have your loan waived for certain professions for advanced degrees,” she said. “It’s important to match your aspirations with your opportunities … [and] to offset the cost of getting an advanced degree.”




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