Free Financial Counseling Programs For Students

By Reyna Gobel AAA

When you're in college, paying off student loans seems like it's in the distant future, when you'll have the high-paying job your four-year degree is designed to help you earn. Your immediate needs, like figuring out how to manage your money on your own for the first time, seem much more pressing. But don't worry, this is one thing you can get squared away before you graduate. On- and off-campus financial counseling and education is available to most students who choose to make use of it - and they should. (Looking into loans? Check out College Loans: Private Vs. Federal.)

Money Management Offices
It's a growing trend for universities to have an office just for helping students with their budgets. You will get one-on-one and possibly peer-to-peer financial counseling about handling your money during your college years. Seminars may also be available on different money issues such as buying your first home, dating with limited funds and paying taxes.

Just a few schools that offer these services are the University of North Texas, Bowling Green State University and Texas Tech University.

Career Services
In order to plan what kind of loan payments you'll be able to handle after graduation, it's important to figure out what you can expect to make after graduation. Career counselors can help you with information about the availability of jobs in your field and what an entry level job pays. Plus, while you're there you can get help finding internships to increase your marketability for landing your first post-graduation job. (It only takes a little legwork to land a prestigious career while you're still in college. Learn more in Start Off On The Right Foot With An Internship.)

For best results, start seeing a career counselor as a freshman. You'll be much better off in the long run if you can approximate your salary after graduation before you've taken out eight or more semesters of student loans. Then, take your salary information to the student money management or financial aid office for help in budgeting in a way that will allow you to make your loan payments afterward.

For example, let's say you want to be a journalist with a starting salary of $25,000 per year for a community paper. After taxes, health insurance and other payroll deductions, you'll bring home $1,400 a month. Based on that amount, 15% of your take-home salary is $210 per month, which is what your payment would be if your total borrowing for your college degree is $18,000-$20,000 - depending on your interest rate - paid off over a 10-year period.

Take the first row in the table as an example. This means you could borrow about $19,800 at a 5% interest rate if you expect to be able to pay $210 a month over a 10-year period, and so forth for higher interest rates. These kind of details can help you plan a more accurate budget. (Want to learn more? Graduate With A Degree In Financial Security.)

Interest Rate Approximate Total You Can Borrow
5% $19,800
6% $18,900
7% $18,100

The reason why the amount you could borrow has such a large range is that the interest charged can add a huge chunk to your loan balance. For instance, if you borrow $20,000 and pay it back a year later with 5% interest rate, you'll pay $1,000 in interest. At 6% it would be $1,200 of interest paid. And at 7%, you'd pay $1,400 just for borrowing $20,000 for one year.

Programs Through Your Financial Aid Office
Many financial aid offices now offer more in-depth counseling and programs than they ever did before. At your university, your financial aid office may have similar programs to a student money management office at another college. This office should have the resources to help you figure out what loans and scholarships are available to you. Call your financial aid office to find out what is offered. (In addition, take a look at our article Five Ways to Fund Your College Education.)

Web-Based, University-Sponsored Services
Over 200 universities offer the National Endowment For Financial Education (NEFE) "Cash Course". You can find advice on tips on everything for college budgeting, and even a list of meals and how much it costs to cook each one.

Credit Unions
On-campus credit unions are at the forefront of financial education. If you have a credit union on campus, count on additional seminars and counseling. Dozens of campuses are now offering a new web course that you can also access directly through at Foolproofme.com. The course has interactive video tutorials on everything from credit and collections to balancing your checking account.

Most credit unions, on or off campus, offer free financial counseling services whether you are in college, just out of college or 30 years out of college. You can find a credit union near you by entering your zip code into the Credit Union National Association Database. (For more on what credit unions have to offer, see Tired Of Banks? Try A Credit Union.)

Alumni Services
If you have already graduated but would love to get the financial advice you didn't get in college, career services and many student money-management offices are willing to help. Give them a call and see if they set appointments with alumni.

The Bottom Line
Learning to manage your money is no easy task, and it is especially difficult to do while attending school. The reality is, you will have little to no money coming in and a lot going out for expenses like tuition, books and the general costs of living. Taking advantage of the information made available to you through college financial offices is a great way to take control of your finances. And it's free! (For further reading on college finances checkout Paying For College In An Economic Downturn.)

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