Imagine you are 18 years old, and it’s your first week at a college that is holding classes on campus. You are there because you received some scholarships and grants. It’s your foray into the real world of independent living. It’s the beginning of many tests of your common sense, smarts, and judgment.
Your first day, a senior student offers you cocaine. You decline, perhaps because you learned somewhere that it could ruin the rest of your life.
The second day, someone in your dorm offers you marijuana. You decline, perhaps because you knew a pothead in high school and don’t want to be like him or her.
The third day, someone from your hometown offers you a beer. You decline, perhaps because you know you are underage, or because you’ve known an alcoholic.
The fourth day, your roommate offers you a cigarette. You decline, perhaps because you know about the risks, or because you know someone who died of emphysema or lung cancer.
The fifth day, someone you find attractive offers you sex. Hmmm, things are getting interesting. You know from school about condoms, STDs, AIDS, not to mention the relationship and moral quagmires….so you…nicely tell them you are very interested but it’s still too early.
The next day, an official letter arrives, offering you a student loan. You have had very little education about money. You don’t know anyone who has died or suffered from money. So you apply and you are approved! You are feeling like a responsible adult. Now they send you a check every month. You don’t have to repay it for….years and years. That seems like plenty of time. Surely, they would only approve you for what you will be able to repay, right? So whatever they send, that’s what you spend.
You receive your check, but because of your scholarship and grants, you don’t need all the money. What should you do? Of course we all know – you should save it somewhere until you graduate and the bill comes due. Instead, somehow, other uses for the money magically appear, and it gets spent.
That is one way a college graduate who had scholarships and grants ends up with $29,000 in student loans at the end of four years instead of $0. According to a study by Experian, 40 million U.S. consumers now have a student loan. Total student loan debt, over $1 trillion, exceeds debt from either credit cards, auto loans, or home equity loans. Lenders are pushing loans, and students lack education about borrowing responsibly.
If you know a college student borrowing for their education, help them make sure they’re not borrowing more than necessary:
Try this brochure: https://studentaid.gov/h/understand-aid
Or, check out Judy McNary’s hilarious book for recent college graduates, COIN.
And if you are the parent or grandparent of a college student, wondering how much to help them out financially, check out Chapter 4 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance In Your Financial Future.