Congratulations, Nkem Nwogbo, on winning the grand prize College Cash® scholarship. The surprise scholarship announcement was made at the Student Awards Ceremony in August. Nkem is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Accounting. She attended the loan repayment College Cash® session held in the fall of 2014. Although she had been to previous College Cash® sessions about Finding Money for College, Nkem notes that the Loan Repayment session was her favorite. “The topic of student loan debt is something I’m currently experiencing, so I knew going to the seminar would be a great resource for me,” she writes. Nkem writes about not knowing about the vast differences between federal and private loans prior to the session, and how learning about the interest rate differences made her feel lucky for choosing federal loans in the past. Read Nkem’s winning College Cash® essay below.
This year’s Central Scholarship College Cash evening event was definitely my favorite. The topic of student loan debt is something I am currently experiencing, so I knew going to the seminar would be a great ressource for me. Every year I take out student loans. It wasn’t until this school year, after taking some finance courses that I realized what this meant for me financially. The big scary picture that I envisioned was me living the next fifteen years pay check to pay check trying to repay my loans and debt. Well, I am happy to say I am not so scared anymore.
The information session highlighted many key facts that made me realize that I can take my debt into my own hands. Primarily, I was not aware of the differences between private and federal loans. Many times I have received emails and paper mail offering great loans with what I thought were amazing interest rates. Despite this I always took the federal loans offered through my university and for this I am lucky. The presentation explained that private loans tend to have higher fees and stricter policies regarding forgiveness or cancellations. Federal loans have lower interest rates and several great payment policies and procedures that can be taken to reduce the amount you have to pay back in total or your monthly payments.
In addition, the presentation relayed several resources that assist graduates with loan repayments. For example, there are forgiveness programs, ways to consolidate your loan, educational programs that will front your costs if you meet their requirements, and many more refinancing options. I plan to do more research into programs and opportunities that match my career goals and can help decrease my loan debt. I was also pleased to meet several people, supportive and open to discussing their financial issues with paying for college as well. An older woman I had met at the seminar helped me understand the payment of interest/principal and how it affects my monthly payments.
The last resource I really enjoyed was the bankrate.com website where you can calculate how much debt you will owe or how much your payments should be to pay perhaps in 5 years instead of 10. I recall a quick story we watched during the session about a young man who repaid his entire student loans in a timely manner. He explains how at first he was not fully aware of his loan debt situation until he had gone to a seminar. He soon began to start making lifestyle adjustments to guarantee he would repay his loans in a timely fashion. Even after he graduated, all of his friends took a luxury trip to London, but he did not go, recognizing he had to save and repay his debt first. Sacrifices like that are the ones that I know I do not want to make in the future. That being said, I want to start decreasing my debt now. The weekend after the session, I went online, pulled up my loan summary, called my loan officer, and developed a plan. I knew that my interest was accumulating at about $50 a month. I knew that I was going to start saving more often, so I decided that I will pay $100 towards my loan every month. My main goal is to pay more than my interest each month so that I can start paying into my principal amount and systematically decrease my interest payments.
Overall, this session helped me in several ways. I have taken my finances into my hands and recognize ways to be responsible borrower. I have a plan for myself and will encourage my friends to do the same. This plan will help me build my credit as an adult as well. Details and logistics learned from this session will guide me in the future when I may need to take out a loan for a mortgage. I think this topic was extremely enlightening and I hope the message can reach more undergraduate students to better prepare them for the future.