Judicial staff attorney: My budget and planning for the future
Mark Wilson shares his strategies for paying for college and saving money in the Bay Area.
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I'm Mark Wilson. I'm 33 years old. My job title is Staff Attorney at the California Supreme Court, and my annual salary is $80,000. I think I have a good relationship with money. In law school, it was a little tough living on, so I paid for law school with a combination of scholarships and loans, and living off of scholarships and loans can be a little daunting because the budget's kind of tight, and you have to make it last for an entire, whatever it is, semester, until you get new loan money or new scholarship money in. You start off the semester flush with cash, and then over the course of the semester, it dwindle, then by the end of the semester, you're like, "Uh-oh, I'm gonna have to really "pare it down here." You just have to, and one thing that I wasn't that great at was managing it all along the way, so I wish I had been better at managing the money, this finite supply of money, over the course of, say, four months. I was able to pay for my undergraduate education with a combination of savings bonds that my parents had the foresight to buy when I was a kid, when I was born, actually, and scholarships. The scholarship process is varied, it can be need-based, or it can be merit-based, or it can be a little of both. I got a little of both. You can just apply for a need-based scholarship by showing that you need it. You have to fill out the FAFSA, which you need to do every year. You should always fill out the FAFSA, 'cause even for merit-based scholarships, some colleges won't give you any money at all unless you fill out the FAFSA first. Fill out the FAFSA by your school's FAFSA deadline. There's a federal deadline, and then there's a school specific deadline. Fill it out by your school's deadline. Figure it out what it is, so you can get the money that you deserve. Merit-based scholarships involve, generally you apply for them, you write an essay, or something, you might have to come in and interview with people. It's based on your grades, or it's based on the essay you write for whatever reason. When I went to Miami, in-state tuition was about I think $25,000 a year, and about half got paid by the savings bonds, and about half got paid by a combination of at any one time maybe five or six different scholarships. Yeah, so a scholarship isn't really enough. If you wanna really pay for your education, you need a combination of several, and they can come from your school, they can come from community organizations, they can come from your high school. My high school had an alumni scholarship, that if you graduated last year, apply for it, and we'll give you some money. Always be looking in a variety of different places for scholarships. They're not all gonna come from one source, like just your college. Law school cost probably 35 to 40,000 dollars a year. I have about $100,000 in student loan debt. You can pay of student loans in 20 or 30 years. I'm on what's called an income-based repayment plan, so you can, normally you'd pay, you can, you'd pay a lot more, but if you make under a certain amount of money, you can minimize your monthly contributions to your student loan. You end up paying longer into the future, but for the right now, your payments are a little more manageable monthly. There's also a public interest, or a public interest loan forgiveness option. The way that works is you pay 120 on-time monthly payments, which ends up being 10 years, doesn't have to be consecutive, it can be spaced out for 20 years, but you make those 120 payments, and then the government forgives the rest of your debt. The qualifier is you have to work in a government nonprofit or charitable field. It's designed to, I guess, reward people who have decided to work for the government or work for nonprofits or charities or things like that. Maybe you really want to be a high-paying corporate attorney, and if you make that money, you can pay off your student loans in a few years, but if you want to work in the public sector, and you have a lot of loan debt, this is a great way to serve the public while also getting your loans paid off faster. The public interest loan forgiveness option can kind of be created or destroyed by Congress at will, so it remains to be seen whether it will continue, but for now, it's available as an option. The public interest loan forgiveness option is only available for certain kinds of federal government loans. If you refinance, that option might not be available anymore, so you can refinance at a lower rate, but you might lose other benefits. If you have a combination of different private and public loans, it could be advantageous to refinance, but the lower interest rate itself is not a reason to refinance your loans. I love living in the Bay Area. I grew up in the suburbs, so living in a biggish city, the whole area itself could be one enormous city, so I love being in the center of things. There's always things to do and things to see. You can go to the baseball game, you can go to the art museum, you can got to a concert, you can go everywhere. The downside though is that the Bay Area is very expensive. I live in Oakland, which is across, actually San Francisco Bay from San Francisco. San Francisco has gotten probably unaffordable for most people, and even in Oakland now, it's getting a little more unaffordable as people, refugees from San Francisco come over to Oakland to try and buy a house or something, but people are getting pushed out even into the suburbs, if they wanna buy a house for what it costs. I make $80,000 a year, which is about $6,700 a month gross, and then after they take things out, like taxes, federal taxes, state taxes, retirement plan, I'm part of the state employee retirement system, so they take money out for pension, taxes and all that is about $2,430, so I'm left with $4,270 a month. Of that, my rent takes $1,800 a month, which again, Bay Area. Gas and electricity is about $50 a month. That varies seasonally. It can be as low as $15 in the summer and as high as $60 in the winter. Internet and TV is 70. I actually don't have TV. I have an antenna, and then I just watch everything else online. My phone bill is $100 a month. My car, my car is paid for, but I pay insurance, which amounts to about $100 a month, and I take public transport generally to get to work because it's, parking's expensive, and the traffic is just terrible, so I just take public transportation. My student loan takes up about $600 a month. Food is about $300 a month. Other stuff, which is like subscriptions and magazines and newspapers, things like that, is $100 a month. Entertainment and restaurants is about $300 a month. I'm left with $850, most of which goes into a separate savings account. Budgeting is really important, especially in a place like here, where things can be expensive, so you have to know how much money's going in, how much money's going out, what you can afford to splurge on, what you can't, where you can save, or not save, so yeah, budgeting, and that's one thing that I wish I had done more of learning growing up, is budgeting and the importance of having a budget. To be aware of your budget, obviously, maybe not obviously, check your bank statements. Know what you're putting on your credit card. Check your credit card bill every month. Check your utility bill every month. My mom, to this day, once a month, she sits down on the couch in front of the TV, she gets her little lap desk out, and she writes out her monthly checks, and she reviews her bank statements. They had to drag her, kicking and screaming, into the world of direct deposit because she always wanted that paper check 'cause she wanted to know how much she was getting paid. That would be my advice to anyone for making a budget is know what's coming in and what's going out. It's boring, but review your bank statements. Check your credit card bill for any purchases maybe you didn't make. One thing I wish I had known about is the important of a credit score. It's important to build good credit early on 'cause that's one thing that they analyze is how long you've had credit, so you can start out when you're in college, with a credit card, just to build your credit, and pay your bills on time, and your credit score influences a couple things. It influences the interest rate you might get on a loan, or a mortgage, or something like that. The better your credit score, the lower the interest you'll pay because the less risk you are in the eyes of the lender. It also influences other weird things, like renting an apartment. 100% of the time, the landlord's gonna ask for your credit score, to make sure that you pay your bills on time. Often, as part of a background check for jobs, they'll look at your credit score. Generally, the credit score stands in, it's sad that they do this, but it stands in for your general responsibility. Do you pay your bills? Are you a responsible person? Can we trust you with having this apartment, having this job?