OTHER VOICES

UMF helping students dodge the debt trap

Posted Dec. 14, 2012, at 11:51 a.m.

It’s hard for an 18-year-old to imagine what some big numbers might mean for their future.

Like $35,000 at 7 percent interest for 10 years. The answer to that is $4,877 a year, or about $406 a month, or about $94 per week.

The meaning of those numbers likely becomes disturbingly clear about a month after college graduation when loan repayment looms and the search for a good job is taking longer than expected.

At best, there may be some squeaky lean times ahead. At worst, combined with charge-card and car-loan debt, the numbers might spell a full-blown financial disaster.

The University of Maine at Farmington has begun a program to help its students curb their college debt and prepare for a financially secure future.

With many students graduating with more than $29,000 of debt, Michael Angelides, a senior and intern in the financial aid office, was asked to develop a program to help students.

Nationally, student loan debt is a big issue, recently reaching $1 trillion and exceeding total charge-card debt. Some predict it might be the next big debt bubble to burst.

Many students making the trip through college and then postgraduate school end up more than $100,000 in debt.

A ten-year repayment schedule on that sort of money can easily exceed more than $1,000 per month, which might be half or more of a young employee’s take-home pay.

The goal of the UMF program is to “provide students with personalized money management strategies and debt management guidance.”

That means helping students understand how much debt they are accumulating, how to manage the money they have and then prepare for repayment of their loans after graduation.

Angelides was hired by UMF in September to “champion the cause.” The school then hired six undergraduates as peer financial advisers to tweak and promote the program. The interns conduct workshops on campus and offer private sessions to students.

They have even developed an online course for all students that is available at Prezi.com, called “Budgeting as a College Student,” which has been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Best of all, they are beginning to take their show on the road to local high schools, hoping to reach students before they select a college and begin taking out student loans.

As we have said before, today’s students need to be aware that a college education is a great investment in the long run, but borrowing too much money to obtain one is not.

And just how much is too much? That’s the difficult question that students and parents need to explore as they make career, college and debt decisions.

Schools vary widely in cost, from extremely expensive to relative bargains. They also vary in the amount of student aid they are willing to offer students.

Average starting salaries are easy to obtain on the Internet, and they can vary very widely between petroleum engineer and social worker.

From that, it is prudent to think about how much debt load a student can likely shoulder after graduation.

Thinking clearly about these issues sooner rather than later can head off a lot of painful financial heartbreak down the road.

Good for UMF for initiating that discussion.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Dec. 15)

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