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August 24. 2013 11:06PM

Key to success for one college grad is simple living

"Live simply."

That's the advice Chelsie Hatfield would give college students, to avoid getting mired in debt by the time they graduate.

Hatfield, 24, grew up in Jefferson and studied nursing at Colby-Sawyer College in New London. She graduated in 2011 with a nursing job at the V.A. Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., and about $58,000 in student loan debt.

But two years later, she's paid off all but about $20,000 in federal loans. And she said, "If I keep going at the rate I'm going, I will be done by this time next year."

The eldest of three children, Hatfield said she always knew that she'd go to college but that her parents couldn't help pay for her education. She credits her upbringing for why she's so careful about living within her means.

"When you grow up simply, you learn to live simply," she said.

Throughout college, Hatfield worked summers and during the school year so she could pay as much as possible in cash. And to avoid accruing interest on her federal nonsubsidized loans, she paid about $50 a month all four years.

Since graduation, she's continued that frugality, paying off a Sallie Mae loan first because the interest rate was higher than on her federal loans. And whenever she had any extra money, such as a tax refund or bonus, she paid down the principal on her loans.

In stark contrast, her roommate graduated with nearly $200,000 in student loan debt.

Her advice to other students to make college more affordable? "Live simply, and prioritize your debt before your dreams."

Some, she said, pay only the minimum payments on their student loans each month. "They look at their school debt as a mortgage: I'm going to have it 30 years."

Not her.

"I made it a priority coming out of school to take care of the debt. I just continued to live simply. And I think most people when they get their first job, it's just money in their pocket and they do a lot of spending...."

She recently bought her first new car, a Volkswagen Jetta.

Hatfield likes the President's idea of a college ratings system. "It'll be good incentives for schools to provide appropriate financial aid and to increase the academic standings that they require for people as well."

But she also would like to see a cap on tuition increases. She thinks schools often spend money on expensive luxuries that have nothing to do with education.

If she had five minutes with President Obama, she said, "I would tell him to think about the fact he's got two little girls who will be going to college before too long and how it's going to affect their family dynamics."

And she said, "You can't have people ... having good careers to stimulate the economy if they can't afford the education to get these positions."

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