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Mar 29, 2007

Reconsolidation loans were the last thing on my mind when I got into Uni

A student graduates from Georgetown University with about $63,000 in debt.

Student recalls: "Reconsolidation loans were the last thing on my mind when I got here. Just imagine - a new place and I'm on my own for the first time! It was very exciting. Yes, it seemed like college would last forever."

For seniors, Georgetown Uni is offering a series of financial literacy workshops, covering such topics as loan repayment and debt consolidation, reconsolidation loans basics, credit cards, spending, benefits and taxes.

"If only I'd known this when I was your age" - thats' what the professors and other financial experts leading the classes say.

You better learn these lessons while young, for you'll have a lot of time on the line.

Students are leaving college with more debt than ever, now that more of them have to rely on loans, tuition keeps rising and credit cards are being pushed on many campuses.

For full-time students at four-year colleges, the median education loan debt is nearly $20,000.
And you should factor in credit cards - more than half of students surveyed in winter 2007 had piled on more than $5,000 in debt in school. There is even more - one-third added more than $10,000 in credit-card debt.

Some students treat credit cards and student loans like found money, for spring break trips or betting on NCAA brackets. But many are struggling to afford college; nearly a quarter charge part of their tuition. And most need to get used to managing expenses, learning -- often the hard way -- as they go along.

"We get the sense that students don't really understand how money works," said Greg Pasqua. "People do things that aren't very intelligent with their money. Overdraw accounts six times on $2 purchases, and get hit with six fees for buying bubble gum. Or get reported to Equifax because you didn't pay your loan on time, and you're like, 'I'll get it next time.' "

"30 to 40 percent of students' proceeds will be taxed away - how come what some students don't know that?
Students shall know basic things - what 401(k)s is, or whether they should put money into the pretax retirement savings accounts.

So professors and other experts explained the types of benefit choices students'll be expected to make, how to figure out what their monthly loan payments and take-home pay will be, how to invest in their 20s.

It's not difficult stuff. It's just -- who has time to think about credit scores and interest rates when there's so much else going on?

Until a car loan or a lease is turned down because of a bad credit score, or late fees pile up.

So she didn't pay too much attention to the details of the loans she was taking out. "When I was a freshman, I was like, 'Loans, great! I don't have to pay them back 'til I stop going to school -- cool.' "

"It wasn't until senior year, when I had to pay my own rent and pay utilities, that I really understood what $60,000 was," she said, referring to her tuition debt.

The classes have already changed her mind-set, she said. She learned about interest rates and credit scores.
"If you go three years [paying] on time, you could have a 3 percent decrease in the interest rate -- which is amazing."

She doesn't regret taking out the loans; she had so many great classes at Uni that she kept switching majors, from pre-med to English and so on.

She might have taken out smaller loans, with less money for expenses. "I might have had more of a realization that all of that was [racking up] interest and would take a long time to pay back."

Now she has a better idea of how to manage loans and evaluate benefits and salary. The classes reminded her to budget carefully and put money away for retirement when she can.