Balancing the books: How students cope with their loans

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While graduation on May 3 might be the most important date for some seniors, June 15, the day when Florida Southern College sends out its bills, might be more prominent for others.

The date might also serve as a reminder of other bills, such as student loans, which will be due shortly.

“This is a busy time for seniors right now because they’re trying to get their bills paid before graduation day,” Director of Financial Aid William Healy said.

FSC’s website says that the annual tuition fee for the upcoming year is $29,340, not counting room or board. Last year the cost was $28,580.

“It goes up because the cost of business goes up,” Healy said.

According to Scholarships.com, there are two different types of loans that students can take. There are private loans, which students borrow from banks and other lending agencies, and then there are federal loans, which are taken from the government.

During her time in college, 2012 FSC graduate Jessica Kaepernik had accumulated around $37,000 in student loans. To pay off her tuition, Kaepernik worked three jobs while she was in college.

“There was one semester where I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay off my debt to be able to sign up for classes,” Kaepernik said.

Camila Florez, who also graduated in 2012 and had around the same amount of debt as Kaepernik, said that she did not think about her loans too much while she was still a student.

“I kept putting it off for as long as I could while in school and began worrying about my loans my last semester of school,” Florez said.

After graduating Kaepernik had a six-month grace period. She used this time to look for work.

“Literally, when you think about it, you walk up the stage at graduation as a student,” Kaepernik said. “Once you walk off, you’re unemployed.”

Now that she has graduated, Florez lives with her parents while she works.

“Since all my money pretty much goes to loans, I have little spending money for other things I would like to do,” Florez said.

Four months after her graduation, Kaepernik went down to FSC’s Career Center. She talked to the Director of the Career Center, Xuchitl Coso, who told her that Boring Business Systems was hiring. Kaepernik was hired there and was also later hired at The Ledger.

“It literally all happened within two weeks,” Kaepernik said.

Kaepernik currently pays $600 a month to pay off her loans, and plans to pay them off in two and a half to three years.

For those paying off loans now, things have changed. Studentaid.gov says that the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 ties federal student loan interest rates to the current financial markets. The rate will be fixed for the loan’s life. The website said that students should check with the individual lending agency to figure out how to best make payments.

While it might seem like the problem of student loans will not be an issue if no loans are taken out in the first place, Healy disagrees.

“The most hurtful misconception is to avoid borrowing when a student really should borrow to have a successful college experience,” Healy said.

Students who need to borrow money should not be discouraged from doing so, but should know their options. There are a few resources on campus, like Jackie Myers, the Student Financial Advocate at FSC. If students have financial troubles, Healy encourages them to go to her at the Student Accounts Office.

For those who already have debt, a plan for paying back the money is ideal. Florez created a chart that lists her loans and how much she has paid thus far. Using this, Florez creates a weekly budget.

She hopes to have her loans paid back within 10 years.

“Try to pay off the smaller loans first,” Florez said. “This will keep them from increasing and it gives you a sense of accomplishment as you see them go down faster than the bigger ones.”

Having a plan is important, since it is rare for a loan to be cancelled.

“There’s no magic wand that can just wave away student loans,” Kaepernik said.