Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents by Zac Bissonnette

Debt-Free U book cover image

If there was one thing that people across the country could agree on right now, it would be the ridiculously high cost of today’s college education. Most parents assume that student loans are a fact of life, and most students assume that student loan debt is a necessary and even positive thing. If you want to get a good job, it’s commonly thought that going to a good college (chosen in part by U.S. News and World Report rankings) and getting a good name on your diploma simply costs money and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Enter Zac Bissonnette. Twenty-one, college student, and an art history major. So what knowledge does he have that the rest of us--and many other experts--do not? Well, as the subtitle of Debt-Free U suggests, Zac paid for his college education, “without loans, scholarships, or mooching off [his] parents.” And you can, too. Because, as it turns out, Zac might know what he’s talking about. He is a writer and editor with AOL Money & Finance, has written for the Boston Globe, appeared on CNN, and has the financial savvy and banking portfolio of someone several times his age.
 
In this easy-reading book, which both parents and students will breeze through, Zac gives us the lowdown on why student loan debt is bad and how to get the education you want without sacrificing your financial future. Readers who have already gone the college route (especially in recent years) will groan as they realize the clarity and wisdom behind Zac’s ideas, wishing they had had this book in their hands when they began. To parents and students just beginning the college adventure, this is an essential read.
 
What makes this book stand apart from the rest is that it doesn’t offer get-rich-quick schemes or “scholarships will pay for it all” advice. Rather, Zac suggests that careful avoidance of debt, hard work, and better choices with regards to both financing and college selection are the way to go. With clearly defined chapters, and lots (and lots) of summarization and reiteration, even high school students will comprehend his message and not be overwhelmed (or bored). At the same time, Zac supports his arguments with researched statistics, not just hearsay or personal experience.
 
Debt-Free U blows many common assumptions about college education, right out of the muddy water. For instance, it demonstrates why community colleges can be the best start even for students with high GPAs, how student loans lead to decades of unnecessary and career-crippling debt, and why the “best” colleges are not the ones highest in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings.
 
Zac’s proclamations are eye-opening, such as when he reveals how little high school guidance counselors may be equipped to “counsel,” and how much advertising and hearsay influence what is really a major financial decision. Zac has particular distaste for the student loan process and the FAFSA, which he nicknames, “the Federal Assault on Families’ Savings.” He describes the process with which they estimate your expected family’s contribution (EFC): “Think about it: this formula that purports to show you how much you can responsibly spend is produced by the federal government, which has the largest debt history of the world. It’s like asking Cher how much plastic surgery you can have before it looks tacky.”
 
 Debt-Free U dispels myths and suggests practical solutions, such as:
  • Live off-campus as soon as possible
  • Get the most out of the college you can afford
  • Work during college . . . but not too much
  • Start a Roth IRA while in college
  • Avoid credit cards during college and new car loans upon graduation 
This is the perfect book for parents and their college-bound children to read together. As parents often start 529s and savings accounts upon their children’s birth, it’s not extreme to suggest that they (the parents; this doesn’t make the best bedtime story) read this book before they even take their first step toward the school bus doors. Zac does not believe that parents should sacrifice their retirement or students their financial future, for a quality college education. Debt-Free U tells you why and shows you how to make this possible.
 
Follow Zac at AOL Money and Finance, The Daily Beast, WalletPop, or just friend him on Facebook.