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Boost your career by going back to school

Hitting the books could help you earn and save more if you choose your schooling carefully.

Selecting the right degree or certificate program can significantly boost your earning power, helping to make it easier to reach your long-term financial goals. Schools are competing for non-traditional students by offering evening and online courses, making it easier than ever to go back to school.

Follow these tips to help make sure you're on the right track for you:

Do your homework.

Most positions beyond entry level now require a bachelor's degree. "But in many cases, they don't care what it's in as long as you have experience in the job area," says Kevin Burns, director of the undergraduate business career center at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in Tempe.

What if you already have a bachelor's degree? In that case, look for a program that will boost the skills you'll need to further develop your career.

Brooke Walker, a 32-year-old mother of two in Mesa, Ariz., recently completed an online degree in psychology. She has already received a raise at the law firm where she works, and says she's learning new skills that will continue to help her on the job. "I'm very happy with where I am," she says.

Crunch the numbers.

Ask your organization if it offers some tuition reimbursement. If not, consider applying for loans and scholarships for non-traditional students or, if possible, paying as you go. Walker paid for her degree by doing some waitressing and taking out student loans. Take on no more debt than the salary you anticipate you'll earn at the next level of your career, Burns recommends.

Get more out of the experience.

Talk to people who are already in your desired position to learn about the credentials required and the prospects for career development. Burns suggests conducting at least 10 informational interviews before you enroll in a new program. Read trade publications and join professional groups to build your knowledge base — and increase your value in your organization.

Your earning power can be your greatest financial asset. Increase it, and you may be able to save more for retirement — stretching out the benefits over your lifetime.

Get started.

First, it's important to consider your goals and what your expenses may be in retirement. Here's something to keep in mind: in a recent survey, the median response among financial professionals indicated that individuals need to save approximately 15% of their pay, including their organization's contributions (if applicable), to have enough income during retirement, assuming they begin saving for retirement early in their career.*

Once you increase your earning power, consider an increase to your deferral.


* America Rebuilds Research with Financial Advisors, June 2011, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Principal Financial Group®. When looking at all responses in the survey, the median is the middle of the responses given.

Insurance products and plan administrative services are provided by Principal Life Insurance Company. Securities are offered through Princor Financial Services Corporation, 1-800-547-7754, Member SIPC and/or independent broker dealers. Securities sold by a Princor® Registered Representative are offered through Princor. Princor and Principal Life are members of the Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®), Des Moines, IA 50392.

While this communication may be used to promote or market a transaction or an idea that is discussed in the publication, it is intended to provide general information about the subject matter covered and is provided with the understanding that none of the member companies of The Principal are rendering legal, accounting, or tax advice. It is not a marketed opinion and may not be used to avoid penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, or accounting obligations and requirements.


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