Student loan debt a growing concern for many families

By Staff Writer Monday Sanderson

The cost of attending school is something many college student worry about.

Studies say 70 percent of college graduates left school with student loan debt averaging $33,000 in 2014, according to Debt.org. This debt rose from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.2 trillion in 2014.

Ben Baker, temporary recruiting and scholarship coordinator, said one reason for the skyrocketing loan debt students are facing is the cost of education increasing significantly over the past 25 – 30 years.

“That has caused students and parents to borrow money,” he said. “Many, many years ago students and parents may have had that money or the institution the student was attending might have provided assistance.”

Families are also less prepared financially now than they were 25 years ago, Baker said.

 “I guess they’re spending their money on other things that are for the moment rather than putting away money for college,” he said. “We used to have the PACT program. It was a college savings plan administered by the state of Alabama. The idea was that when a student began college in Alabama the plan would pay the cost of tuition at that college.”

The program was discontinued, he said.

America, as a whole, is saving less money, and students are spending loan money to support other activities and expenses such as cars, laptops or tablets, he said.

Senior Bradley Raburn said he thinks the rising debt is because of the importance placed on attending college.

“I say it’s because of how society views people today,” he said. “Nowadays, when you graduate, people don’t ask if you’re going to college. They ask what college you’re going to. Some people can’t afford it or maybe they need more help, so they take out those loans and it just starts piling up.”

Baker said while loans lead to debt, they are usually the last option for students if they do not qualify for a scholarship or Federal Pell Grant. The hope is these loans will help students get a college degree.

Student loans are the main focus when calculating the cost of student debt, according to Debt.org.

The site considers credit cards as an additional source of debt separate from loans.

“Credit card debt is worse,” said sophomore Mackenzie Borden. “It’s because student loans help you work toward getting an education, which will help you make more money in the future. Credit cards, for the most part, are being used to buy material things.”

Director of Financial Literacy Matthew Van Ormer said credit cards are great for an emergency and can help build a person’s credit score.

“I see credit cards as tools,” he said. “You can use a hammer to build a house or use it to break a window. Credit cards are just there. You can use them wisely and make them work for you or you can allow them to wreck you.”

No matter where the students’ debt comes from, it has to be paid off.

“The student needs to be in contact with the lender,” Baker said. “The repayment plans are generally very generous, meaning they allow a considerable amount of time with reasonable payments.”

When it comes to credit cards, Ormer recommends students start off small and spend responsibly to avoid going too deeply into debt.

“I would advise people not to get a high limit on their cards,” Ormer said. “If you’re going to get a card, get a $500 limit, something small. Don’t buy anything that you can’t already pay cash for unless it’s an emergency and you don’t have the cash for it.”

Raburn said it is better to pay more than the minimum each month so students are not only paying off the interest, but also the principal amount.

Sophomore Rosie McClendon said students should not worry about taking out student loans.

“A lot of people are in debt and have dealt with (student loan debt),” she said. “It’s big numbers now, but you’ll be making big numbers in the future. You’ll have plenty of time to pay it off, so don’t worry.”