Western Nevada College is rolling out a new program to help students stay on track to repay their college loans. This fall, WNC is launching a partnership with SALT — a nonprofit resource that helps students become more aware and empowered to navigate higher education financing, manage their loan debt, and gain insight into budgeting.
WNC joins a growing number of colleges that are using student loan agencies to help educate and counsel their borrowers about their repayment options. The goal: Help students avoid defaulting on their loans and ruining their credit rating.
“It’s a dynamic educational program because it offers a number of services for students,” said Lee Harrell, WNC’s financial assistance director. “We hope students take advantage of it because they (SALT) are the experts.
“We can provide them with information about their student loans, we can provide them with the federal website and so forth, but this is another tool in our tool belt to help students with their student loan borrowing. We see it as a very important partnership,” Harrell said.
Statistically, 72 percent of student borrowers expect their college to provide financial counseling, according to 56-year-old nonprofit American Student Assistance, which created SALT to provide college students and alumni with the knowledge to successfully manage and repay their student loan debt.
The free online membership resource provides tools to plan and track student loans, counseling and planning regarding loan repayment, and assistance with finding jobs, scholarships and internships.
“First and foremost,” Harrell said, “and the reason we really wanted to work with them is that they have a call center of student loan experts who will work directly with our borrowers in helping them determine repayment options for their federal loans. Students — alumni or current students — can call them at any time and receive information about their student loans.”
WNC pays SALT a small fee to work with its past and present students, Harrell said.
He said 350 alums were recently contacted via email about SALT’s services. Current WNC students will receive a similar email so they can contact SALT and take a proactive approach to their financial future.
“We haven’t received any calls or concerns from alumni, which is a good sign. It means they understood it and hopefully they are making contact with SALT representatives,” Harrell said.
While there are a variety of resources available to students on SALT’s website, the primary concern of Harrell and others in the Financial Assistance Office at WNC is preventing students from defaulting on their federal loans.
“What they are going to be able to obtain is information regarding their repayment options,” he said. “If they are having difficulty repaying their loans, they can call the SALT call center and a representative will counsel them as to their options. A lot of times, this will help students stay out of default. They will work with the student as long as they need to in helping them understand their options.”
Nationally, ASA reports, only 37 percent of federal student borrowers repay their loans on time and 41 percent of borrowers become delinquent or default within five years.
“When a student defaults, it really hinders their financial life,” Harrell said. “It will hinder them for years to come in getting a car loan, home loan or any type of credit. You don’t want to default on your student loans, and you don’t have to default. There are many options for students to keep them out of default.”
Harrell said SALT counselors can help students understand how they can reduce their loan payments or temporarily postpone them, if necessary.
“There are many options, but often, students don’t call; they stop paying, and that’s what gets them into trouble,” Harrell said. “Students are paying their student loans last. They pay their credit cards, car payment and mortgage or their rent and either pay their student loans last or don’t pay them at all, and they go into default. That’s not good because they will garnish your wages, your income tax returns. Bad things happen when you go into default.”
Topics available on SALT’s website to educate students include:
• Picking the right bank
• Boosting your credit card score
• Taking charge of your credit
• Borrowing counseling
• Avoiding identity theft
• Loan-repayment options
• Financial aid availability
• Variety of student loans available
Harrell said some of the material is complemented with video to enhance the education process.
Students can sign up for SALT services at saltmoney.org/wnc.
Students and alumni can contact SALT support representatives for information about their accounts by calling 855-469-2724. For information about their student loans, they can call SALT’s loan counselors at 877-523-9473. Members can also follow SALT at Facebook.com/saltmoney or on Twitter at @salt_money.