Students fight off debt

By Melissa Blake

Students typically come to the SLAO when they have outstanding debt or are in the process of being sued, SLAO Director Don Henderson said.

“Student learning is very important,” Henderson said. He tries to help students learn on their own to enhance their ability to deal with debt issues.

“Each case is unique,” Henderson said. “[SLAO is] more than happy to talk with any student about pending debt and financing.”

SLAO services are free, Henderson said.

To further assist students, the Department of Finance also offers a personal investing class, which includes topics on debt management, said Richard Dowen, chair of the Department of Finance.

Although the class was not offered this semester, it may be offered next semester if resources such as additional faculty are available, Dowen said.

“It’s a popular class,” Dowen said. “Students like to know what’s going on with investment opportunities.”

The Student Association is partnering with the SLAO to provide services to students on how to stay out of debt, SA Treasurer DuJuan Smith said.

The SA is trying to get a graduate assistant to host getting out of debt workshops, teaching students what to do, who to contact and the basics of the law, Smith said.

The causes of debt can run the gamut, Henderson said. Some of the debt may be unexpected, such as medical bills or costs associated with a car accident. Other times, debt may arise when students make the transition from work to school.

“[There is a] dramatic decrease in income and [students are] unable to adjust,” Henderson said.

In 2002, an average undergraduate student loan debt was $18,900, which was up 66 percent from 1997, Henderson said.

During the 2002-2003 school year, about 12,000 NIU students took out loans, said Kathleen Brunson, director of Student Financial Aid.

“There are lots of expenses of going to college,” said Mary Pritchard, associate dean for the College of Health and Human Sciences. Loans, which may lead to debt, enable people to do things like go to college, she said.

Credit cards can also be trouble spots for students, Henderson said. Seventy-eight percent of college students have at least one credit card, with some students even having three or four credit cards.

“Credit cards are a killer,” said Gerald Jensen, professor in the Department of Finance.

The interest rate for credit cards are high, and students often get caught in a trap, he said.

To avoid or alleviate debt, devising a budget is the best solution, Henderson said. This is a tool all people should be using. A budget will help people see how to “bring expenditures in line with income,” he said.

People also have to learn self-discipline in managing debt, Pritchard said. One of the ways to do this is to leave credit cards at home.

“The goal is to have income exceed expenses,” she said.