The following video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which Motley Fool editor Erin Kennedy and Fool contributor and financial planner Dan Caplinger discuss topics from around the investment world.

In today's installment, Erin and Dan discuss the epidemic of huge student loan debt hitting young adults today. Erin notes that she went to a state school in part to avoid huge student loans, which Dan points out is an increasingly common thing for students to do. Rather than simply going to the best college that will accept you, you may prefer a less expensive school to avoid digging a debt hole that could take years or even decades to recover from. Going to graduate school simply to defer debt payments can be dangerous, as you can end up with even more debt. Dan recommends treating financial aid like a negotiation, playing schools off each other to try to get the best financial-aid package you can get, and closes by considering options like loan consolidation with an eye toward minimizing total cost rather than simply focusing on monthly payments.

Avoiding student loan debt is just the first step toward a lifetime of smart financial management. To succeed, you also need to build long-term wealth and retire well. In our free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich," we reveal some stocks that could help you as well as some winning wealth-building strategies. Click here to keep reading.