UCF students talk about debt for National Financial Literacy Month

Residing on the first floor of Millican Hall, the Office of Student Financial Assistance is UCF's primary resource for students paying for college, applying for financial aid and finding scholarships. The office also provides a financial literacy program called "Centsible Knights" that helps students make financial decisions during and after college, according to the office's website. 

Without a job or car and with 72 cents in her bank account, sophomore creative writing major Kiara Camacho said she lives off of just $100 for two full weeks of expenses because that’s how much money her parents can afford to provide her with.

“I feel like I only know 2% of everything I have to know [financially] because I’m kind of just sliding by, hoping for the best,” Camacho said. “Sometimes I drink two bottles of water [to replace] a meal because I literally can’t afford to buy food. It’s a struggle trying to get a job because I don’t have reliable transportation, and without a job I can’t afford to buy myself a car.”

Finances can be an uncomfortable topic for most college students, said Karemah Maselle, associate director of UCF’s Office of Student Financial Assistance.

“Research shows many students have not been prepared to manage their finances well,” Maselle said. “Most elementary and secondary schools do not cover the topic of finances in the classroom setting, and for many families, in-depth conversations about money do not take place. For a lot of students, college is the first time they are experiencing money management.”

April is National Financial Literacy Month, and many students at UCF have admitted to struggling with money management and needing help to pay for a higher education. 

UCF student debt for 2017 graduates averaged around $21,800, according to the most recent loan debt information tracked by OSFA, Maselle wrote in an email.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, 22,207 students were awarded student loans to help pay for school, Maselle wrote. 

Camacho said her father paid out-of-pocket for her first two years attending college at Universidad del Sagrado Corazon in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Since transferring to UCF in fall 2018, she said she has relied on direct unsubsidized loans to pay for the high tuition costs because her parents aren’t able to afford to pay an additional $16,000 a year.

“Not all my credits transferred, and I have to pay for classes I basically already took,” Camacho said. “This is such a waste of money.”

To help students navigate finances, the UCF program Centsible Knights was created to provide students with information and resources that will enhance their financial literacy and cultivate their skills to be financially well, Maselle said.

Centsible Knights carefully selects topics such as spending, investing, saving, student loan management and understanding credit to teach students.

Carolina Cabrera-Lopez, sophomore psychology major, said the financial topics tackled by Centsible Knights are relatable for most college students. 

“We were never taught [financial literacy] in school, and some of us were never taught [it] from our parents,” Cabrera-Lopez said. “I don’t know what I’m doing financially. I kind of just set a budget in my head, but not on paper.  Payday comes and I distribute money where it needs to be, and whatever is left I use to go out.”

As a full-time student working two jobs at Starbucks and an after-school program to help her mom pay for rent, gas and car insurance, Cabrera-Lopez said she wouldn’t be able to afford to attend UCF if it weren’t for the Bright Futures Scholarship and her Pell Grant. She said she plans to graduate from UCF debt-free in 2021.

UCF alumnus Kenneth Mitchell graduated in fall 2018 with a degree in information technology and said he also struggled with lack of understanding how to budget properly during college.

Mitchell said he believes if he had been more financially educated he wouldn’t have ended up with “a big mountain of debt" after taking out about 20 different student loans and trying to build a credit history by opening two credit card accounts.

“I definitely didn’t have any financial literacy entering into college,” Mitchell said. “I think I just got so accustomed to taking out student loans. It felt like second nature where I thought I had to make ends meet.”

To help students with financial literacy, Mitchell recommends UCF and other postsecondary institutions incorporate intro-level finance courses into their freshman curriculum. He said he suggests all college seniors take a higher-level course explaining 401(k) plans, credit cards and investments before graduating and beginning a career.

“After graduating and seeing where I was financially, I definitely could have been more educated about my federal and private student loans,” Mitchell said. “Equip students with that knowledge because I think all students can benefit from a better curriculum on financial literacy and learning how to budget.”

The financial burden for many UCF students doesn’t end after graduation with their past financial decisions following them for years afterward. 

As a broke college student, Camacho said she plans to become a voice actress upon graduating. She said because she would much rather pursue her dream career than work an uninteresting job that pays more. She said she has come to terms with whatever student debt she will have after leaving UCF.

“I’m going to be broke when I get out of college,” Camacho said. “It’ll probably take me 10 years to pay off student loans, but I’ve accepted my fate. An artist’s life is usually a struggle.”

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