College students looking to cut their way out of debt

Victoria Garcia

It’s all fun and games until a college graduate makes the first payment on their student loans.

Then it’s dead serious.

Each year, about 5 million people take out student loans to obtain their degree. But now more than ever before the price of a college education is skyrocketing.

The average debt of 2006 graduates is $21,100. That doesn’t include credit card debt, which is another $2,000 on average.

Nationally, there are staggering reports of students facing debt in the six figure range, an amount they could be paying off far into their retirement. The even bleaker reality is that many new graduates may be forced to delay their dream job, that new house, marriage and even a family, all in an attempt to successfully pay back what they owe in a timely fashion.

While the government pays the interest on subsidized Stafford loans the interest on unsubsidized loans will accrue throughout the deferment period for which most student opt. In the case of these federal loans, students usually have a six-month grace period after graduation before they must begin the process of repayment. Graduates then have 10 years to do so, but through meeting with their lender can set up a plan to spread the payment out for 20 years or more, or make more specific exceptions.

According to, District of Columbia graduates face the highest debt of $27,757. Kansas sits in the middle with an average debt of $17,617. Hawaii graduates make it out with the lowest national debt at $11,758.

Director of Financial Aid Annita Huff said that about 70 percent of students receive some type of financial aid during their college career. Out of that, 75 percent take out student loans.

“If you can’t pay for college any other way, be viable in the workforce.”

When making the decision to attend college senior Benjamin Rowell had some financial support from a few different types of scholarships and grants, but the bulk of his school is covered by loans and out-of-pocket income. Currently the 24-year-old is sitting on approximately $10,000 in student loan and credit card debt.

“Life happens” is the strong belief of senior Chasity Bamcord. Through her job as an accounting supervisor at a local collection agency, the 23-year-old has learned firsthand that deep debt can happen to anyone. Currently her agency collects past due payments on people’s medical and heating/cooling bills along with apartment complex rent. Bamcord, who has been employed there since high school, started out as a receptionist and now makes an estimated 250 phone calls in a full day, to set up payment plans with those who own money. She is presently the agency’s top collector.

“My strategy is to be nice and understanding with the person on the other end of the phone,” said Bamcord. “If they’re in a financial bind then I’m willing to work with them. Who they are as a person is the priority to me, even when I can’t see them face to face.”

Bamcord’s experience on the job has positively influenced her own money management. She holds no credit card debt and has already paid off $2,000 of her original $13,000 student loan debt.

Putting money away in a savings account since the age of 18 has also given Bamcord peace of mind for the future. She believes that if students can save then they should do so, and if they don’t have the money to purchase something without charging it to their credit card they shouldn’t get it.

Senior D’Ambra Baker strongly agrees. The 27-year-old non-traditional student leaves her debit card at home and takes minimal cash when tempted to spend money that she doesn’t have. Student loans have covered 90 percent of her college education, although she still carries almost $10,000 in debt. Baker believes that not having a lot of money and being forced to budget down to the last cent has helped her maintain responsibility with her money.

“Credit cards are so easily attained, and for young people it’s an out of sight, out of mind situation,” said Baker. “Experience with money comes with age and priority and I’ve had to go through it to get it.”

Huff believes the reasons why students put off making the required payments on accumulated student loans are sometimes as simple as a hectic, stressful schedule or not keeping track of the due bills. She encourages students to stay aware of what they owe and contact their lender by phone when they are about to go into repayment.

Huff is most wary of private loans as they are not regulated by a fixed interest rate. She explained that because students sign on the dotted line before reading the fine print, they end up paying on a loan that has greatly increased after graduation because of high interest rates.

“Students should shop around and talk with someone who will educate them on acceptable interest rates,” said Huff. “A private loan should only be pursued at a last resort.”

Other options for covering school costs include scholarships. Each year, Washburn gives out $5.8 million in scholarship money alone. The application deadline for the 2008-2009 school year is Feb. 15.