Jean Chatzky, financial editor for NBC’s “Today” show and award-winning journalist, will give a lecture titled “Money 911: Teaching Americans to Cope Financially in a Changing World” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Emerson Suites. Her presentation is part of the Jessica Savitch Distinguished Journalism Lecture Series sponsored by the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College.
Staff Writer Mary Apesos spoke to Chatzky about her financial advice for college students.
Mary Apesos: What will you focus on in your speech?
Jean Chatzky: I will be talking about some college students and their financial situations — and their parents and their financial situations — and how we can all deal in what has really been a rough couple of years, both from the standpoint of tuition inflation and the job market and everything else that sort of goes into that equation from the perspective of a college student.
But they’ve also asked me to talk a bit about journalism and what it’s like to work in the industry these days from the perspective of someone who does it in a variety of ways.
MA: What’s your favorite aspect of journalism?
JC: I actually think my favorite aspect is the mix. As a reporter, it’s a real luxury to have a lot of places that want your content because if I have a story that I know I need to get out by tomorrow, I have places to put that. And if I have something that I need to take some time and really report and marinate on, I know that I’ll also have a place to put that. So it gives me the opportunity to do both the long form and the short form and the quick hits and the projects that feel a little more like research papers.
MA: Do you find that college students are well-educated about their financial situation?
JC: No. Not at all. It’s a huge problem. It is highly unusual for students to get financial literacy education in high school. I think it should be a requirement before you go to college, because if students understood what they were doing when they took this on, maybe some of them would think differently about it.
We’ve also seen that students don’t really understand the difference between credit card debt and student loan debt. Now that’s not going to be as much of a problem anymore because the Card Act has really cracked down on the credit card companies in terms of their ability to issue cards to kids under age 21, but I think that financial literacy education is hugely, hugely lacking.
MA: With the health care bill recently being signed into law, how do you feel these changes will affect people between the ages of 19 to 29 who are uninsured?
JC: In part, it opens the opportunity for them to maintain coverage on their parents’ plans, which has been a problem in most states or many states now. When you are either out of the house or 18 or 19 years old, you’re no longer eligible for coverage on your parents’ plan. So this actually provides that up through age 26, which is terrific. New York Magazine did this cover story … about young single people without health insurance and how scary that was. And it’s always something that I’ve looked back on, because from my perspective, we’ve known for a long time that not having health coverage — not the kind that pays for you to go to the doctor when you have a sniffle, but the kind that pays for you if your appendix bursts or you need to end up in the hospital for a long time — is the thing that bankrupts more people than anything else in the United States. So this is a real victory.
MA: What’s your suggestion for how to make loans more manageable for students?
JC: Part of the challenge is understanding how much debt you’re taking on in the first place. … The other thing, though, is that student loans — at least if you’ve got student loans of the federal variety, public student loans rather than the private kind — are relatively inexpensive debt as far as debt is concerned. I like to divide debt into good debt and bad debt — good debt being the debt that gives you something so it puts a roof over your head when you buy a house; it gets you the car without which you couldn’t get back and forth to work, or it gets you that college degree that is going to … ensure that you’re going to make four times the amount that somebody who didn’t even get a high school diploma is going to make.
Because it’s cheap, though, back to my original point, usually there is not huge benefit to trying to pay it off as quickly as possible; you should pay it off generally on the schedule that they give you, making sure that you take advantage of the tax deductions or student loan interest and making sure that you are taking advantage of things that have a bigger payoff, like the ability to put money into a 401K where your employer offers some sort of match.