How to chip away at the student debt crisis

  • January 4, 2015
  • By: Greenpath Financial Wellness


Many students leave college with huge debt but no know-how on how to manage their money and debt load. As college tuition continues to skyrocket, the debate over whether earning a college degree makes financial sense seems to be raging louder than ever. There is a student debt crisis and as our economy continues to evolve into an information- and technology-based system, the earnings gap between high school and college graduates will likely continue to grow. Many are wondering how to chip away at the student debt crisis?

Meanwhile, some financial analysts suggest that the student-debt bubble will rival the real estate bubble that famously popped in 2007 and 2008. Student-loan debt exceeds $1.2 trillion, more than all other forms of consumer loans except mortgages. It’s an issue that needs the attention of government and universities alike. But there is an immediate option for students, recent graduates and parents.

As it stands now, we saddle students with debt and then unleash them into the world without giving them the basic tools to manage their money and debt load. So many students who decide to take on student-loan debt do so without money management skills or a plan to repay the debt. Simple money management techniques can often make the difference between keeping on track with loan payments and default.

Students and their parents need to make informed financial decisions on the front and back ends of the college experience. Careful deliberations are required to decide on a field of study to pursue, how to finance a degree and ultimately, how to pay for it.

We are faced with two primary challenges: First, we must inform potential college students (and their parents) that taking on student debt — to earn a degree in a field of study with solid job prospects — is a worthwhile investment that should produce a solid return. Second, we must equip those students with a clear understanding of how to manage their finances and debts after graduation. By doing so, we will be able to head off a student-loan bubble by dramatically reducing delinquency and default rates, while positioning college graduates to achieve a successful financial future.

Nonprofit experts are eager to provide one-on-one counseling and education to help students prepare for financial success. Students can receive a customized post-graduation budget and cash-flow analysis, a financial roadmap that includes multiple scenarios based on options they may be considering. Students can be counseled on their student loans to ensure that they know exactly how much they owe, payment amounts, when those payments will begin, and how they will fit into their personal budget. Students can learn about their credit report, why credit scores are important and about tips for maintaining a high credit score. These resources are available today to provide students with the financial management skills that many currently lack.

But we most often deal with people after a personal financial crisis. Instead of waiting for people to reach a financial crisis stage, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that our young people receive financial literacy training on the front end. Legislators and higher education officials should make resources available to students and formulate specific requirements to ensure that they learn key money management skills.

If we implement early, low-cost solutions, we can help avoid the impending burst of the student loan bubble. Our young people will seek higher education, and they will graduate with the knowledge and skills to achieve financial success.

Our country and economy will reap the benefits.

Jane McNamara is president and chief executive officer at GreenPath Financial Wellness in Farmington Hills.