Managing debt with financial aid

Loans provide access to education but also a challenge, says financial advisor

Linda Kemp, senior financial advisor in the Office of the Registrar, said it’s tough to list the problems facing students in need of financial aid.

“There isn’t really a typical problem because we don’t know what a situation might be,” Kemp said.

When students go in for appointments, the financial advisor will normally work through their budget with them. They don’t need to do any preparation work.

“We determine first what the problem is and then what the options are,” Kemp said.

She said if the problem is short-term or an emergency, she usually suggests a Queen’s general bursary. If the problem is a long-term financial shortfall, she will suggest taking a loan or a line of credit.

Kemp said the office keeps general bursary applications open until the winter term and students to apply if they really need it, even if they are beyond the deadline.

“If we think there’s a case they may be able to get some money even after the deadline,” she said.

Kemp said students should make an appointment if they have any general questions on financial aid or specific questions regarding their own situations.

She said she would encourage a student to make a follow-up appointment if the problem persists.

“We would expect that after the appointment they’re going to follow through with the options,” she said. “We would encourage a student to come back if things are not working out.”

Kemp said in a lot of cases she doesn’t see students come back.

“Normally, one interview will solve the major problem.”

The office employs seven financial advisors who are subject-area experts in the various types of assistance available. Two of them specialize in OSAP, one advisor deals with aid for students who come from other provinces outside Ontario and the other four specialize in Queen’s assistance opportunities.

“The advising services we provide in our office encompass providing direction in relation to [financial] programs we offer,” Alm said. “In addition to that we do provide services advising students on how to manage their finances.”

The advisors, who are also referred to as awards officers, give presentations to students in residence about budgeting and managing finances each year. They also work with the AMS to plan presentations for Financial Aid Awareness Week, which takes place yearly in March.

Alm said the advisors also see a lot of students for one-on-one appointments throughout the year.

The office doesn’t keep track of how many students see advisors. Alm said appointments peak at the beginning and end of terms in September, January and March.

Alm said the primary role of the advisor is to provide accurate information regarding the assistance available.

“Not all students understand how the various programs work,” she said. “[Our role] might be to clarify misunderstandings or dispel myths and to provide options.”

Alm said many students fund their education using a variety of resources such as parental contribution and money from summer jobs. Some students may not know how to use them in combination with one another.

“We help them create a package,” Alm said.

Alm said the University offers many assistance opportunities outside of loans because of its commitment to admitting students from diverse financial backgrounds.

Last year the University issued approximately $21 million in bursaries and scholarships for undergraduate students. $8.5 million was given in scholarships and $12.5 million in bursaries. The University always grants more in need-based awards than merit-based awards.

“Our commitment is to helping and assisting those students who have the greatest need and the fewest resources,” she said.

Queen’s financial assistance ends once a student leaves but the financial advisors are still available to students who have graduated.

“We certainly provide information that the government does have programs to help in debt reduction,” Alm said.

She said one way for students to reduce debt is to live within their means while they are studying and avoid the use of credit cards, as that accumulates more debt.

“When a student graduates, the natural tendency for us is to increase our standard of living,” she said. She said some students don’t recognize the reality of the debt they have to pay off because there is a six-month grace period after graduation.

“All of a sudden when that loan payment starts, it could be challenging,” she said.

Alm said it’s important for students to know the requirements of OSAP such as notifying the Loan Centre when there’s a change of address or the interest rates that are charged.

She said if students are responsible they can pay their debts off within two to three years.

“You can take 9.5 years to pay [it] off but that’s not the majority of students doing that,” Alm said.

Alm said the benefit of loans outweighs the challenges in repaying them.

“[Loans] provide access to an education students might not otherwise have access to.”

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