New program at Western to help students manage debt

By Andy Garrison

March 1, 2013

Most students go through school not realizing the magnitude of their student loans, and they aren’t thinking about what the payment plan will eventually look like after school is over; Western now has a program that will help.

The new program is called SALT and it is the latest brain-child of the respected American Student Assistance nonprofit and it is completely free for students to use.

This program does everything from tracking students’ debts and updating them constantly to help them manage those debts.

It offers alternative suggestions to student loans and has scholarship and job search databases. SALT representatives are available to students 24 hours a day and seven days a week to help them budget almost everything financially-related to college.

Western’s Senior Financial Aid Coordinator Tammy Allen explains why SALT is an important tool for students and who it is most helpful to on campus.

“It’s an effort to help and it’s basically geared towards our student loan borrowers,” Allen said. “Of course, here at Western, we are wanting to do everything that we can to try and offer some assistance for our student loan borrowers from the time they get here until the time they graduate; trying to educate them into borrowing smartly.”

Allen also believes that SALT will go far in preventing potential financial disasters after college and will help with the transition back into the working world.

“It’s just that we want them to be constantly aware of how much they have borrowed so far, don’t borrow any more than you need to and what kind of payment you are looking at as you go along,” she said. “So that when you graduate you are not blind-sided with this six or seven hundred dollar payment that you could have maybe found other sources [to finance college] throughout your time at school.”

Aside from programs like SALT, there are those out there who believe if students are willing to work hard enough and endure a little sacrifice students wouldn’t need student loans at all.

  • Affordable college
  • Look for scholarships
  • Get a job
  • List your finances monthly

Daughter of finance counseling super-star Dave Ramsey, and high-profile finance motivational speaker Rachel Cruze is one such individual and explains how not only college could be free, but also how students could be completely debt-free.

“Yes absolutely it’s possible to go through college debt-free; I think one of the first things that you need to do is look for a college that you can actually afford,” Cruze said. “Meaning you may want to stay in-state and take in-state tuition even if it’s just a community college for you first year or two just to get the basic courses out of the way.”

Cruze explains a couple of other key things to going through college debt free.

“Second, look for scholarships and grants, that’s free money” she said. “Third, actually get a job and go to work.”

She also believes that if you manage your finances and life-style correctly, keeping your credit score at zero, instead of taking a chance on credit cards and loans defaulting, is fine for today’s world.

She claims that as long as you keep bills paid up and stay employed you can even get a mortgage for a home with a credit score of zero.

“People think that you can’t get a mortgage without a credit score, and that’s not true” Cruze said. “There is a process called manual under-writing, and that is where the lending company will actually look at you the person; so they will say have you been on a job consistently for two years and have you been on-time with all of your bills.”

Cruze also believes that you should buy used cars with cash instead of taking out loans even if that means driving a beater for a while until you can save up for a better vehicle.

If individuals saved their car payment instead of paying it every month the amount of money one would have at retirement is nothing to scoff at.

“Just a little fun trivia, the average car loan is around $412.00 a month, if you invested that instead of paying for a car loan,” she said. “And if you did that every month until you were 65, that comes out to about 5.2 million dollars.”

An MWSU alumnus, and Chief Executive Officer for Family Investment Center, Dan Danford, believes that not everyone can go through college debt-free and that sometimes student loans are necessary. At the same time though, like Cruz, he cautions against high loan debts for generic degrees.

“Even in Missouri, you can go to The University of Missouri and get a really nice teaching degree,” Danford said. “But, if you finance that whole degree you are going to have 70 or 80 thousand dollars in debt to pay off; and you know what, teachers only start of making 30 or 35 thousand.”

Danford also believes that when buying electronics or things like that, students need to find out the true value of what they are buying, meaning the retail value after purchase, because they may be able to save a lot of cash.

“When I talk to students especially one of the things I talk to them about is what I call the eBay test,” he said. “Before you get ready to buy consumer electronics or any fairly high dollar gear, go look it up on eBay first; you may be able to find what you are looking for used, or the other thing is you may be able to find what you want refurbished directly from the manufacturer that still has the same warranty and everything.”

When it comes to students and finances, Danford says knowledge is good but not enough.

“I doubt if there is anything they [students] haven’t heard,” Danford said. “I mean a lot of it is common sense, but it’s also, you gotta do it; it’s not enough to know it, you have to actually do it.”

Students interested in the SALT program can go to the financial aid office or sign-up at salt@saltmoney.org.