High hopes to be debt free by 33

Students walked around Basil 135 to ask each other about financial experiences
Students walked around Basil 135 to ask each other about financial experiences

By Evan Bourtis, Staff Writer

Olivia West, co-founder of the West Advising Group, delivered 10 presentations at St. John Fisher about how students can manage their college loans and credit card debt.

The presentations, which started on Nov. 27 and ended on Dec. 1, discussed what different types of student loans are available, how students can use a credit card responsibly and what a credit score is. The title of the presentation, Debt Free at 33, was inspired by a book West wrote with her husband to teach students how to manage their finances. The presentation on Nov. 30 was held in Basil 135 and 70 people were in attendance.

The lectures were organized by the Academic Advising Center and were mandatory for all freshman seminar students. Matt Lake, who works in the Academic Advising Center, said that the event gives freshman a comprehensive introduction to some of the financial decisions they will make throughout college.  

“There were a number of freshman advisors who were not comfortable teaching financial planning because we’re struggling the same way that students do,” said Lake. “So we thought it would be a good idea to have someone who’s not only an expert, but really engaging so it’s something that students really remember.”

Lake explained that as a freshman advisor, he sees a lot of students struggle with managing finances, which can get in the way of academics.

“We work with students often who either have to stop or take a couple semesters off or leave and don’t come back, because they can’t afford to keep paying the cost of education since they have accumulated so much debt,” said Lake.

West made the presentation interactive because participants were encouraged to approach others and discuss their financial experiences and situations. Some questions asked included, do you have a bank account and do you know how to check your credit score?

One of the freshmen who participated was Max O’Rourke. O’Rourke explained that he opened up a bank account so he could use a debit card and he felt that this would encourage him to save money.

“It [debt] is not really an issue at the moment but I know once I graduate and the bills start coming in, it is gonna be an issue and a big problem to address,” said O’Rourke.

West started her lively presentation by discussing student loans. West explained that student loan rates are constantly growing, currently at 1.45 trillion dollars nationally, and that collectors have been known to take up to 25 percent of graduates’ wages for defaulting on student loans.

In order to minimize the amount of interest paid on loans, West explained that students can take out a government loan, rather than a loan from a private bank. She said that the interest on government loans don’t start until the student graduates and the loan often has lower interest rates than private loans, which acquire interest immediately. West also explained that becoming a resident assistant (RA) is a good way to earn scholarship money to pay back student loans.        

West also gave students advice about how to manage credit card debt. West said that when someone pays the minimum monthly payment on a credit card, instead of a full payment, interest will accumulate, since the full amount has not been paid back. Waiting for payments will also lower the owner’s credit score, which if low enough, can cause banks to deny lending money.

West explained that maintaining a good credit score is critical for receiving money on student loans. In order to increase credit scores, West suggested that people open only one credit card, pay bills in full and check your credit score often for errors.

The session included many responses and personal stories from the students attending.

“I was really pleased to see all the freshman engaged in the program,” said Lake. “They were really paying attention and some of them really knew more than I expected them to.”

The Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Programs helped sponsor West’s presentations. Student Alisa Singletary, who helped organize the presentation, said that she believes every student can benefit from coming to this event.

“I definitely think everyone should attend this, whether you’re a freshman or a senior or in between,” said Singletary. “Because everyone here struggles with financial problems and it’s hard as a college student to try to save money.”

Angelina Cremins, who also helped organize the event, said that she was surprised at how much she didn’t know about debt and personal finance.

“I’m a junior and I didn’t know half of this stuff and this is my second time going,” said Cremins. “And I learned twice as much as I learned yesterday.”

West started her advising group after graduating from RIT with her husband because she struggled with finances out of college and wanted to educate students about making good financial decisions. Since then, West and her husband have been invited to the White House and on the Ellen Degeneres show to honor their work, which has spread nationally.  

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