Executive Summary: Question and Answer with Anthony ONeal, Author of Debt Free Degree by Ramsey Press

By Paul Curley, CFA | paul.curley@issmarketintelligence.com | October 1, 2019

How does this national best-selling author and national spokesperson help families in the college financial planning process?

This article features an executive summary of an interview with Anthony ONeal, national spokesperson and author of the newly released book titled Debt Free Degree by the Ramsey Press with a subtitle of The Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Your Kid Through College Without Student Loans. Since 2003, Anthony has been helping families make good decisions with their money, relationships and education to live a well-balanced life. Building upon his personal experience and helping families for over a decade, the goal of this book is to show parents how to afford college without student loans and set their child up for financial success. The book starts with a forward by Dave Ramsey, continues with solid college financial planning ideas in an easy to understand language filled with stories, and closes with positive actionable next steps for both parents and students. The book follows upon the prior publications of Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College. While his last book focused more on how to eliminate debt for those that have graduated with student loan debt, this book focuses more on how to avoid student loans in the first place. Together, the two books provide an important generational message on how to successfully solve, reduce and remove the student loan burden for current and future generations to come. You can learn more about Anthony at the website of https://www.anthonyoneal.com/. Last but not least, thank you Anthony for your time, insight and support in working with me on the article. Please read the executive summary of the questions and answers to learn about his perspective on college financial planning, and I hope that the article provides you with a positive money message and an opportunity to learn more from your peers.

Question 1 (Paul Curley, Editor of the 529 Dash): Before we jump into the interview Anthony, I just wanted to note that I personally appreciate the book as someone who worked three jobs at the same time in high school, worked three jobs while taking five classes in college, and worked full-time while getting my Evening MBA at Boston College so that I could pay for graduate school with cash and without loans. As such, I appreciate your positive money messages throughout your book. And with that, please tell me about your new book, Debt Free Degree.

Answer 1 (Anthony ONeal, Author of Debt Free Degree by Ramsey Press): Let me first start off this interview by saying that I am a fan of you and any young person that can go to college, and especially get their master’s degree, and pay for it in cash. I need to be interviewing you! But congrats, and thank you for everything that you are doing.

When we think about my book, Debt Fee Degree, student loans have become the norm. College is supposed to set students up for success, but instead student loans are hurting them. We have a huge student loan crisis. We currently have 8 million with student debt, and every year another million are adding to that total. It is a huge crisis and the average student loan debt for a graduate is $35,000, while they graduate making only $50,000 before taxes. So they are leaving college with all this debt, not really making a lot of money and it’s taking about 20 years to pay off their student loans. So these young people are not starting off with a bright future, they are starting off going into their future worrying about their past. And so in my new book, Debt Free Debt, I am literally giving parents, teacher, pastors, and others the step-by-step process to get your student into college and through college 100% debt free without borrowing.

Question 2: You say that you can go to school debt free. How can you do it, and how important is college financial planning?

Answer 2: Financial planning is very important. But before we get to the financial planning part, there are two important questions for parents to ask the young person.
1) The first is why they want to go to college. What is the end goal? Do you want to be a doctor? Do you want to have your own law firm? What do they want to do, and have them identify their why.
2) And once they identify their why, they need to have the conversation that no matter what, we will not be taking out student loans. You (the student) are not going to do that. Mom and dad, we’re not going to do that either.

So when we identify our why, and once we make the committed decision to avoid student loans, here are three things I want you to focus on:
1) Saving money: Do the research. Find proper schools that are affordable, and stay in state. Avoid the stigma that community colleges are horrible. Community colleges are actually a smart decision.
2) Find Money: Commit to looking up grants and scholarships every single day. The average young person will spend three to six hours a day on social media, I am asking you to spend one hour. You can’t make any excuses that you don’t have that much time, when yes you do.
3) Work: Your kids can work. I know a lot of parents say I don’t want my kids working. I want them focused on their grade point average (gpa), or college. But here’s the truth, students who work on average 10-19 hours per week earn higher grades than those who do not work. And here is the thing, they get a higher gpa, and they can help pay for college, their books and their food.
So those are the three main things that I hit on. But before that, identify your why, and make sure you make the decision to not borrow a dime.

Question 3: It’s never too early to plan. What should parents do each year to start planning for life after high school?

Answer 3: In my book, Debt Free Degree, I talk about starting as early as middle school.

Middle school: Your kids are impressionable. One of my good friends here in Nashville, Tennessee, she takes her elementary school kids to college campuses and college tours because she wants to deposit something positive into them. Everyday our young people are consuming media, consuming stuff from social media, from TV, from music. Let’s put something positive into their head. Let’s show them what their future can be.
– Now let’s transition to money. Here’s why we are going to avoid debt. Here is why the decisions you made today such as your grades, your volunteering over the summer, your hours are important, because when you get into high school, they are going to play a major role.
– For Parents: As early as you possibly can, if you have a fully funded emergency fund, and you are investing 15% into retirement, I want them to consider a 529 or an ESA (Coverdell Education Savings Account) because that’s very important, and that’s a lot of compound interest that can help them pay cash for college as the time comes.

High school (freshman year): It is important to again spend one hour a day applying to grants and scholarships, Monday to Friday, all throughout your four years and even up to your college year as well. But have a part-time job, and save the money. Also consider AP classes and dual enrollment.

High school (sophomore year): I want them to start taking the SAT and ACT test prep courses, and keep grinding on the scholarship searches. And while they are doing all that, I want them to explore interest and leadership opportunities outside of academics.

High school (junior year): I believe the junior year is the most important year. I want them to start visiting schools, and I want them to do the research on what is the degree that they want to get, and is that degree profitable. When you identify and confirm that this is a good degree that going to get me into a good career, identify three to five schools that have that degree program that you are looking for and make sure that it is in-state and affordable. You have to do the research: Look up the dates for early scholarships and FAFSA, and make sure that you are doing the research around everything.

High school (senior year): Senior year: Senioritis is real. I want you to spend timing increasing your gpa, and focusing on deadlines for scholarships, grants, FAFSA, and filling out college applications. Make a decision based on what you can afford, not on where your friends are going, not to where your parents went or want you to go. I want parents to ask the students where they want to go, and make sure that it is a school that they can afford.

Question 4: So you have a junior or senior in high school and no money saved for college. What do you say to that parent?

Answer 4: I totally understand. For my parents and I, we didn’t have any money saved. And I remember sitting in an auditorium my junior year in high school at a local college campus, and the admissions counselor coming by and saying that if we have not started the process by now, that we are late. And I was scared, and I was terrified, I was nervous. I thought student loans were normal. But luckily, I was able to get my dad’s G.I. bill, and college was paid for. But once I got into college, I still made some crazy mistakes. I got some credit cards, and borrowed some money.

College does not determine your kids success, and it is not the only way. There are other options if you have no money saved:
First thing, look into community college. I cannot stress this enough. If you work just ten to twenty hours a week, you can cash flow community college.
But let’s say you don’t even want to go to a community college, and you want to go into being a hair stylist or a trade, look into some trade school opportunities.
Or say you don’t want to go to college or don’t know what you really want to do, I have no problem with a gap year. But on this gap year, we are working or identifying what we are interested in. Once we identify that this is a career track that we are interested in, but requires some degree or particular trade school, then we will go back there and get it.
And then lastly, there’s nothing wrong with going to the military. They have some great programs that will help cover your college expenses.So, there are so many different options. There is only one option that I highly recommend that you avoid, and that is taking out student loans. Do not borrow a dime to go to college.

Question 5: What’s some advice parents can give to their kids so that they can be successful once they’re in college?

Answer 5: Encourage them to have a good time. They are in college. They are a young adult now, and this is a great opportunity for them. I want them to enjoy this season of their life because they worked hard to get to whatever college they are going to.

But as they are enjoying it, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Avoid debt at all costs. Avoid the credit cards. Avoid the pizza. Keep your social media clean, as perception is real.
2) Get to know your college experience, and college opportunities. Get to know your professors. Visit your library. Get the free resources on campus.
3) Remember your why. You are on here to make your future better. Do not forget your why. The decisions you make today will impact your future.

Question 6:
Thank you for your time. Any last closing comments?

Answer 6: I recommend everyone to visit my website of https://www.anthonyoneal.com/. I have a lot of great resources on there from scholarship tools to scholarship calculators to even free resources to help them make better decisions when it comes to college visits. I have a college visit checklist, and so go my website to learn more about me, my book, even purchase the book, and learn more from the free resources.

Editor’s Final Note: Thank you Anthony for your time and insight in working with me on the article, and much appreciated. Also, I would like to provide a special thank you to the readers of the article for learning from your peers, for your support and your engagement.

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