Debt-free, stress-free college

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TAMPA, Fla. - Out of the nearly 20 million Americans who attend college each year, about 60 percent will take out loans to cover all of their costs. Getting accepted to college is one thing, making it through college debt-free is another. Thousands of incoming freshmen will be faced with this challenge in the coming weeks.

Jasmine Roldan just got this acceptance letter from the University of Central Florida.

"You can ask my mom, she was there," said Jasmine. "We were jumping up and down."

Her mother, Millie Roldan, said, "I am excited and sad at the same time."

Now the pressure is really on with food, fun, and finances.

"It's scary but a nice test to see how I am going to do in the future," said Jasmine.

University of South Florida freshman Courtney Whitaker has racked up more than 2,000 dollars in credit card debt.

"I feel right now it's at its worst," admits Courtney.

Courtney says her bank pushed the plastic.

"I was paying for books. I was paying for my parking permit. I was paying for food or, you know, anything," said Courtney.

USF Financial Aid Director Billie Jo Hamilton says Courtney is not alone.

"Often times right from the bat when they get here, they may be struggling with having enough money," explained Hamilton.

Hamilton suggests using free services on campus like movies, concerts, and the rec center. If you have a meal plan, use it. Make a budget, something Hamilton says most college students don't know how to do. For Courtney, it's been a spiral of spending.

"You could walk out the door and say oh I'm really hungry, and then you know that you don't have much money in your debit card so you're like, oh well, I have basic free money on my credit card so I'll use just that," said Courtney. 

Jasmine hopes her college days don't lead to a credit crunch.

"I've been waiting for this my whole life," said Jasmine.

Student debt has become such a problem that the University of South Florida is starting a new program that will counsel students specifically about finances. It will also keep tabs on students' finances. If a student is going into debt at a rapid pace, counselors will be alerted.

Additional Information:

College is an exciting time for many people, but if they begin looking to loans and credit cards to help ease their financial woes, students could end up graduating with more than a degree. It was recently estimated that close to 12 million individuals borrow money each year to pay for their college-related expenses. For students who graduated in 2011, the average amount of loan debt was a little more than 26,000 dollars per student! Considering many people fresh out of college don't immediately find gainful employment, paying back this debt can be a difficult and drawn-out process. In fact, about 37 million individuals currently have outstanding student loans. (Source:


How to Get Loan Relief: There are a few things people can do to alleviate their debt problems. Here are some options for paying off student loans that you may not know about:

  • Right to Defer Payment – People attending graduate school or serving in the military can defer their student loan payments until they are finished, giving them more time to get on their feet financially.
  • Loan Forgiveness – Student loans may be forgiven for individuals working in positions such as early childhood education, law enforcement, and government. However, in order to be eligible the person will have to have made 120 payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. 
  • Pay Based on Earnings – The "Pay as You Earn" plan breaks up monthly payments using the individual's income and family size. Each month 10% of the person's discretionary income will be taken to pay off student loans.


College Credit Cards: For some students college is the first time they have had to deal with their own finances, and the temptation of using a credit card to cover costs can lead people into trouble. There once was a time when credit cards marketed on college campuses and offered instant approval credit cards to students, but these practices have decreased in the past few years. With the 2009 Credit Card Responsibility and Disclosure Act along with growing economic problems across the country, fewer college students are turning to credit cards with only 35% currently having one. Instead, more students are using debit cards which restrict spending a little more because it is linked to an actual money account. (Source:

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