STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are getting some financial advice next. We're seeking it after spending this week hearing young people in our series Money Counts. One of them was Brandon Smith. He's a recently graduated journalism major with $98,000 in student loans. The people who heard his story include Beth Kobliner, who writes about personal finance.
Ms. BETH KOBLINER (Author, "Get a Financial Life"): For many students, there's a very practical that they should know. There's something called income-based repayment plans. So basically it allows you to pay back your student loans as a percentage of income. And after 20 years, if you're going into a relatively low-income job, your loans disappear completely. But in general, I think we're realizing that we have to start paying more attention to what college a student goes to, what they're interested in studying, and how much debt they're going to take on to get that degree.
INSKEEP: We've also talked this week about financial literacy programs. Suppose that I'm a young person and I actually got a job and I just don't have time to go to someone's program...
Ms. KOBLINER: Right.
INSKEEP: ... I didn't get anything in school. How should I go about learning about finances and making sure I'm getting decent advice rather than hokum.
Ms. KOBLINER: Right. Well, you can fall into a few different camps. You can be in information overload and you say there is so much out there, I have no idea where to turn, so I'm just going to ignore it all. Then you have people who are very techie and people who get really involved in websites and learning all about the different options that they have. But I think there's a little bit of a belief that the technology is going to make it all better.
And I heard one economist say we wouldn't have had this major financial crisis if people were keeping up with the products. And I think that's a myth and I think it's the worst advice and we should be doing the opposite. I think we have to go back to basics. We have to go look at the very old-fashioned notions of, hmm, you shouldn't spend more money than you have.
INSKEEP: Rather than I need to learn about derivatives in order to invest in them.
Ms. KOBLINER: Exactly. I think that's really the wrong track to go on. It's goes back to some very basic fundamentals of explaining to people, first of all, where are you getting this information from? Is it being sponsored by a bank? Is the website that's offering it to you, are they getting money back from what you're clicking on? You know, being aware of that. But probably even more important, getting back to the real basics.
Shop around for a good deal, shop around for a low interest rate. You don't have to be able to know how to compute how much interest you'll pay down the road. You just know that, gee, I want to pay five percent rather than 10 percent.
INSKEEP: We've been talking about young people this week, but of course there is the matter of retirement. When is a good age to start planning and socking money away for retirement?
Ms. KOBLINER: Twenty-one. And...
INSKEEP: I guess I'm a little late, but go ahead, go ahead.
Ms. KOBLINER: I think that sounds frightening to some, but there are - I have always explained how the retirement accounts like IRAs, individual retirement accounts, and 401(k) plans, those are called retirement accounts but they're also super-smart savings accounts 'cause they offer tax breaks that are terrific and allow your money to grow very, very quickly. 'Cause you're not paying tax on the interest year after year after year.
So as soon as you have even a little bit of money, I'm a real advocate in putting money into something called the Roth IRA. And if you need it, the money you put in, in an emergency, you can get it out. But basically starting as early as possible.
INSKEEP: Beth Kobliner is the author of "Get a Financial Life." Thanks very much.
Ms. KOBLINER: Thank you.