How to Avoid Drowning in Student Loan Debt

David Carlson 2019
David Carlson June 27, 2019

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One of the biggest problems facing young adults today is student loan debt and the cost of higher education.

David Carlson, founder of the millennial personal finance blog Young Adult Money and author of Hustle Away Debt, discusses whether debts incurred by tuition fees are really worth it.

Find out how to get out of debt, what “side hustles” are, and how they can help you improve your financial situation.

Follow David Carlson at: and on Twitter: @davidcarlson1

Taking on personal debt is a personal decision. But what happens when governments take on too much debt?

Find out what Doug Goldstein CFP® thinks about The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, which was written by Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. How dependent is one of the world’s most powerful and influential economies upon one man, and is this always a good thing?

Read Doug’s book review here.

Watch Hustle Away Debt on YouTube.

Read the Transcript

Interview with David Carlson

One of the biggest problems facing millennials today is how to pay off student debt. David Carlson, author of Hustle Away Debt and founder of the personal finance blog Young Adult Money, shares his experiences and gives tips and advice.

Douglas Goldstein: I'm very happy to have, on The Goldstein on Gelt Show, David Carlson, who is the founder of the millennial personal finance and lifestyle blog: Young Adult Money. He also wrote a book called Hustle Away Debt. David, why is it so hard for millennials to get rid of their debt?

Why Is It So Hard For Millenials To Get Rid of Debt

David Carlson:  The biggest problem in the U.S. right now is student loan debt. We have about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt here in the United States, and that's an increase of about a $1 trillion from a decade ago. There’s really no sign of this debt slowing down.

We have people graduating college with this high amount of student loan debt, but then making the least amount of money they are going to make in their career. They are not even getting into a career job out of college. With those student loan debts each month dragging down the amount of money they have to spend elsewhere, it's really causing an issue.

Douglas Goldstein:  A lot of times people go into debt, or companies, or governments, as a way of investing in their future. Is college actually a good investment in the future?

Is College a Good Investment In The Future?

David Carlson: It can vary quite a bit. One example: I have a colleague at work who went to community college for two years. He then transferred into a state school while I attended a private university. The difference between what had cost him to get his degree versus what it had cost me is quite a bit of a difference.

He graduated debt free, and we ended up working at the same company doing similar jobs. It's not a bad investment per se, but there's some education that needs to happen, as far as which course to take and how to actually graduate without this huge amount of student debt.

Douglas Goldstein:  What you're telling me is that you both ended up in the same place, but he didn't run up as much college debt or spend as much on school as you did?

David Carlson: Exactly. We've seen that a little bit more, but state schools here in the U.S. are actually increasing their tuition as well. People are having trouble keeping costs down for college and my biggest thing that I like to focus on with my site and with my book is people who have already incurred this debt.  Like I said, $1.4 trillion outstanding - that's people who have already incurred this debt. It might be helpful to inform them of how they could have gone back in and not spent as much, but they've already incurred this debt, so they’ve got to deal with it whether the next generation goes to college for cheaper or not.

Douglas Goldstein: Maybe they will learn it with their own kids and not send them to expensive schools. There's a lot of online education, which is fantastic, and a lot of the big universities; the major players, have put their courses online for free. If you were talking to someone now, would you say, "Listen, if you're driven and actually able to sit in the chair and do the studying, why not get the education for free that you would otherwise be paying $50,000 for a year?"

David Carlson:  I think the community college option is a good option to go. Such affordable options should be sought out more and more. There are free courses and affordable courses available online that can supplement one’s education.

Douglas Goldstein:  A lot of people have found themselves grappling with this issue.  They are deep in debt and they've come out of school and they have a job that's not paying them enough to pay off the debt. What can they do to work on that? This applies not only to people with school debt, but to any kind of debt.

Dealing With Debt Effectively

David Carlson:  The first thing is to go into income-based repayment, where your student loan payment is kept as a percentage of your income.

That can be a good option if you're starting out in a career that might not pay a whole lot. Teaching here in the U.S. starts pretty low, but over time you can build up to a higher income. That’s similar to other careers, but you can switch to that income-based repayment to give yourself a little bit of relief now.

The issue with that is you are going to have to pay it all back, whether you make a lot of payments now or make more payments later. You can also cut expenses, look at what you are spending, do a little bit of analysis on that, and adjust where and how much you're spending.

The second thing is refinancing your loans. There are a lot of peer-to-peer options out there for people in credit card debt. There’s an option to consolidate that debt at a lower interest rate, and that can save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on interest.

Another thing to do is to increase what you make at your 9-5 and outside of your 9-5. If you can make more money at your full-time job, that's a great option because you're typically going to end up working the same hours but make more money. But that’s not an option for everyone. Some people have already gone down that road, but they want to have a higher income to pay off debt faster as well as get ahead financially. That’s where side hustles come in.

Douglas Goldstein:  Talking of side hustles, can you tell us a little bit about your story and maybe something that people could take away for themselves?

David Carlson: I started my post-grad life with my wife with about $100,000 in student loan debt. That equates to about $1,000 a month minimum in payments. I was looking to get ahead financially and with that $1,000 a month really dragging us down, I wanted to offset that. I then did a couple of things. I started blogging and freelance writing. I also did some spreadsheet work for small businesses.

My site started four years ago - and eventually led to my book, Hustle Away Debt. That has been a good consistent source of side income on top of my 9 - 5.

The other side hustle was doing some spreadsheet work. That is something that people can really apply to their own lives. I think a lot of millennials have skills that businesses want and need to fulfill different needs. With small businesses, there might only be a team of 10 or 15 people. There may not be someone there who is specialized in finance, or who has the skills to create and manage spreadsheets. I was able to use that to make a little bit of extra money as well.

Douglas Goldstein:  How did you ever imagine you were going to handle a $100,000 debt?

David Carlson: First of all, that is a combined amount, so I’m not the only one who incurred 100k.  When people get married, all of a sudden they have these huge debts to grapple with. A lot of people incurred this debt, and looking back at what you could have done differently isn't necessarily helpful.

When you are a high school junior/senior, you are not really thinking about the debt that you are incurring. You're thinking about, "What school am I going to go to that's going to put me in the best position to get a job?", "What's my college experience going to be like?" etc.

Douglas Goldstein: You're telling us that people may realize they have a problem, but they are not thinking about that so much in high school, because they are just looking forward to getting as good an education as they can to get to the highest paying job.

It seems to me that when we look back at the decisions that a lot of millennials are making, beyond high school, college and after, they don't have really good financial habits. How can they begin to develop some good habits right away, so that they can deal with this problem and not let it drag on?

David Carlson:  By starting to contribute to a retirement account while the companies offer a retirement match up to a certain percentage. If you get into a job where there is an opportunity to start throwing money towards a retirement account, there are also tax benefits that come with that too.  You are not going to miss the money if you start that from Day One.

Secondly, have an emergency fund. If you run into an emergency that costs like $2,000 or $3,000 and you don't have the money available, you are going to end up in more debt and potentially at a higher interest rate. Setting aside money, even a few hundred dollars a month, can have a huge impact in your ability to handle some of those unexpected expenses.

Thirdly, learn about personal finance. Spending time even 30 minutes a week can have a huge impact on your understanding of personal finance and there's always something more that you can learn and that's going to help you get ahead.

Douglas Goldstein: That is very true. It is important to save in a tax beneficial account, have an emergency fund, and learn about the proper ways of handling money. David, how can people find you?

David Carlson:  My website is It's focused on personal finance and lifestyle for millennials. I also have a new book called Hustle Away Debt available on

Douglas Goldstein:  David thanks so much and good luck with the book.


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