Officials advise planning before taking out student loans

Officials advise planning before taking out student loans

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Thousands of local college students will take out student loans, with the hope they'll have a job two or four years later to pay that money back.

It takes planning, hard work and knowing what you're up against before it's too late.

"I think that very often it is a confusing process," said Wendy Watts, the director of financial aid and scholarships at Coastal Carolina University. "I think if the students come in, or the parents, especially when it's a first-time freshman, if they come in and ask those questions, very often they've had a misconception of something and they leave knowing that there is a different answer."

From the options available to how to take advantage of them, Watts and her staff of eight work every day to make sure students at CCU are getting their educations paid for.

The office has access to federal, state, school-sponsored and third-party aid.

"I find that students who utilize our resources ultimately have better success," Watts said.

However, she went on to say there are mistakes future and current students make.

"There are misconceptions first of all that they're going to get everything paid for," Watts said. "Everything is fine and so they just don't do anything and that's unfortunate."

The other big one, she added, is borrowing too much.

Through a Raycom News Network Investigation,we found 95 percent of the CCU student body takes out some type of loan.

The average debt at graduation for a CCU student is $25,000. Chanticleers are paying those loans back at a rate of 82 percent. That's the percentage of students who have loans to pay back and are actively paying them down. It means one in five aren't paying their loans.

At the opposite end of that spectrum is the Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach. The Department of Education lists the school as private for-profit. The average graduate leaves the golf academy with $19,000 of debt. From 2010 to 2012, just 36 percent of finishers there were able to repay their student loans. That drops to 21 percent for students who didn't finish the program.

WMBF News reached out to the school on three separate occasions to find out how it prepares students for the financial burden they'll face. None of those calls were returned.

For Watts, she said students need to take advantage of the money that is out there.

"I think the assumption is they don't do the FAFSA application because they assume they're not going to qualify for anything," she said. "Then, when they apply, very often they still may not get a large amount of money. But $500 is a lot of money if you need it to pay for books."

Watts said it's important for students to know their options after they graduate as well, since there are ways to pause or reduce monthly payments on those loans.

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