Office for Financial Success program aids students leaving with debt

The Office for Financial Success began exit counseling April 1 and will continue to advise students until May 10.
Senior Jason Zack advises senior Nicole Everett during an exit counseling session at the Office for Financial Success on Thursday afternoon. The OFS offers one-on-one sessions to help graduating students with loan bet management.

Graduating students can now look to MU officials for help managing financial debt.

The Office for Financial Success launched a new counseling program to help students with debt management. The program gives students a chance to sit one-on-one with a student financial counselor to go through the necessary forms for student loans.

Students can also learn about different repayment plans, deferment and forbearance options, loan forgiveness and cancellation provisions, loan consolidation and other debt management topics.

The median student borrowing for MU is 30 percent lower than the national average. The average MU student loan borrower will pay nearly $222 per month after graduation, according to an MU news release. Normally, students complete loan forms online in a process that can be confusing and complicated, said senior Michael Blumreich, who serves as a counselor at the office.

"Originally it was a 100 percent online process, and it was a little bit of a pain," Blumreich said. "Online, it takes anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour to answer a lot of questions and go through a basic review of a lot of your rights and responsibilities and some general information about student loans."

Completing the process with an exit counselor shortens the process and makes the experience easier for students, Blumreich said.

"Our standard appointment takes anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes,” he said. “20 minutes being on the long end of it because what we do is very, very straightforward."

The 19 exit counselors at the office are undergraduate students studying personal financial planning of personal finance management services, Office for Financial Success Director Ryan Law said.

"They're working with somebody who is trained and understands the process," Law said. "It's another student, so it's somebody who has gone through some of the same issues. All the counselors are undergraduate students so they really do understand what's going on, they know the situation. They've been through it recently."

By serving as counselors, students gain experience in financial planning and a beneficial addition to their résumés, Counselor Mike Assing said.

"Almost everybody in our major is trying to become a financial counselor or planner in the future, so it's nice to get hands on experience," he said.

The Student Financial Aid Office offered counseling last semester. However, the office handles many issues for incoming freshmen and didn't have the time or resources to continue the program this semester.

"I talked to our vice president of continuing education and said, 'Hey, graduation is coming up, so a lot of students are going to want to know more information in regard to the repayment of loans they've taken out,'" Blumreich said. "We talked to people at the Financial Aid Office, and they said they didn't have time for it. So they were going to drop it and go back to doing it all online. So I said that we (at the Office for Financial Success) are perfectly equipped to do this."

The Student Financial Aid Office is involved in the new program, training students at the Office for Financial Success, documenting which students took advantage of counseling, and tracking the student loan default rate, Director of Financial Aid Nicholas Prewett said.

"By providing some counseling to students, we hope to reduce the loan default rate and provide students with the tools for financial success in the future," Prewett said.

About 500 students scheduled appointments within the first two weeks of the program's operation.

"I feel it's a better process because it's a lot more streamlined," Blumreich said. "It's a lot faster, and there's a human element. If you have a specific question and you do it online, you may or may not be able to get an answer. With us, we can just answer it for you."

The office only offered exit counseling to undergraduates this semester but plans to extend their service to graduate students in the fall, Blumreich said.

"We didn't even touch the graduate student body this semester just because we were thrown into it so quickly," Blumreich said.

Exit counseling services are offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday in the OFS or by appointment.

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