A freshman’s guide to finances at MU

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Q. What financial services are available for students?

A. The Office for Financial Success offers a number of free resources to MU students. Its primary goal is to offer advice and services that enhance a student's financial management skills, both short- and long-term.

Individual counseling sessions are available by appointment, which can be booked through the website or by telephone. Sessions are conducted with a trained counselor who has professional expertise in personal financial planning.

The Office for Financial Success also conducts information seminars, often designed for freshman interest groups. Director Ryan Law said any college group interested in a seminar is welcome to contact him to suggest ideas for future sessions, or to plan one that meets specific interests.

Topics for both seminars and individual sessions include financial problem areas, such as debt management, and productive areas of personal finance, such as investing. These can be modified depending on the needs and characteristics of the individual or group.

Q. What financial preparation should be done before starting college?

A. Law said careful budgeting is central to financial success and stability throughout college. This involves creating a systematic plan to deal with personal income and intended expenditures.

Law encourages freshmen to book appointments with the Office for Financial Success, where they may design an achievable budget catered to individual circumstances. Prior to an appointment, students should write down their income sources, and their fixed and variable expenses.

Budget calculators and advice are also available online on the Office for Financial Success website. Students can create a spending graph using a tool sourced from the In-Charge Institute.

Through analysis of monthly income and expenses, it determines an appropriate savings deposit. It is free and user-friendly and provides printable graphs.

In addition, an information guide from the AARP outlines a step-by-step process creating a budget to achieve personal financial goals. Goals encourage students to consider all aspects of their finances and avoid financial mismanagement.

Q. What are common problems students face, and how can they deal with them?

A. According to Law, a common issue for students is acquiring unnecessary debt.

“It is really easy to get more money than you need,” said Law, “which can cause problems on graduation.”

It is important for freshmen to carefully plan and understand their student loans and loan repayments. This particularly applies to those who have private student loans, which are not typically deferred.

“For freshmen, graduation seems a long way away, but it comes quicker than  you know,” Law said.

The Office for Financial Success provides access to a loan calculator, designed to help students determine how many payments will be required to pay off their loans.

In addition, their website provides links to “pay down debt,” a source with tips for managing and reducing debt from the University of Nebraska. The site contains work sheets to help students reduce debt through realistic analysis of income and expenditure.

Q. How can students be proactive with their finances?

A. The Office for Financial Success offer a one-credit class for freshmen that examines the basics of money management.

The class aims to educate freshmen on how to appropriately adjust to new financial circumstances. These include acquiring credit cards, seeking financial aid and managing personal and student loans. It also outlines effective use of financial resources, and how to avoid common financial mistakes.

Law also suggests students begin to acquire personal credit to assist their finances post-college. Students should put loans and assets in their own names wherever possible and work part time if schedule permits. More tips are available for subscription via the Office for Financial Success website.

Q. What should students do if they get into financial difficulty?

A. The Department of Personal Financial Planning and the Office for Financial Success will generally respond to requests for assistance within 24 to 48 hours. Students may schedule an appointment online.

Law encourages students to understand the various avenues for help available. Often, students are unaware of the options available to them, especially regarding student loans.

Several repayment plans are available, as well as options for deferral in the case of financial or circumstantial difficulty. The Office for Financial Success commonly assists students in finding an appropriate repayment structure to fit a personal situation.

Students may be eligible for financial aid such as grants, which do not need to be repaid upon graduation. Information regarding these is available from the Student Financial Aid Office.

The Student Financial Aid Office can also provide relevant contact information about loan problems, and refer students to an appropriate financial aid adviser.

Q. Where can parents and guardians seek information and assistance?

A. A freshman’s transition into college life often involves financial assistance from a parent or guardian.  The Office of Parent Relations aims to provide a support network for parents and guardians of MU students, as well as a framework of understanding for factors like tuition and fees, billing and payment processes.

The Office for Financial Success will take appointments and respond to queries regarding MU’s financial policies and services.

Parents and guardians are also encouraged to submit their contact information to the office. A newsletter and other publications provide updates and developments, both financial and otherwise.

The Office of Parent Relations offers also offers a list of relevant reading material and contact information for campus departments and offices.

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