How to Change How You Think About Colleges and Graduate Debt Free

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — America's college debt crisis is getting worse.

According to Experian, student loan costs have increased by 84% from 2008 to 2014, and 40 million consumers have an open student loan with an average balance per consumer of $29,000.

"What is a really compelling statistic is that the average person has nearly four student loans," says Michele Raneri, vice president of analytics at Experian. "Student loans are the only credit vehicle where a lender continues to extend credit year after year without knowing the person's ability or even willingness to pay. The borrower may not yet have had the chance to demonstrate positive payment behaviors, which is a criteria used in other types of lending scenarios."

Maybe, just maybe, consumers are looking at the college investment landscape the wrong way — along with many financial experts and economists. Conventional wisdom says to swallow hard and absorb college finance costs because the payoff of a diploma is so rewarding, but that deal may be overrated given all the debt college graduate accumulates.

Some experts advise instead choosing a college as you would any big consumer purchase, such as a home or car.

"Buying a college education is a lot like buying a car," says Larry Elkin, president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group. "If only one model and color will make you happy, you have no bargaining power. If you are willing to consider any vehicle that can take you where you want to go, there are many opportunities to save money. You'll get the best long-term value for your education dollar if you consider your options with an independent attitude and an open mind."

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