For Immediate Release - September 13, 2012

Patrick-Murray Administration's Project Credit Smarts Focuses on Savvy Money Management for College Students

College and Propriety School Students Need to Sharpen Money Management Skills to Avoid Bad Debt Pitfalls

Boston - September 13, 2012 - The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and its partners today kicked off the 2012-13 Project Credit Smarts season and announced the launching of a new fake scholarship scam website that will help warn students and parents of the potential hazards lurking around funding for a college education.

During today's event at UMass-Boston, the Office of Consumer Affairs was joined by students, University officials and representatives from partner organizations, including the FDIC, the Better Business Bureau and the Midas Collaborative.

"When we started the program in 2009 the focus was on the pitfalls of irresponsible credit card use and the new CARD Act," said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs. "In addition, the focus is now on student loans: knowing the processes and terminology, and most importantly the effects that delinquency and default can have on credit history and its impact on a student's future."

Project Credit Smarts is a financial awareness program that teaches college students about responsible management of credit and debt. Now in its fourth year, the program has been taught at 15 colleges and universities around the Commonwealth to nearly 2,500 students. Fall 2012 seminars have already started, with more dates being scheduled throughout the academic year.

The Office of Consumer Affairs makes its Project Credit Smarts materials available to all colleges in the Commonwealth. The information, including a PowerPoint presentation, is available on the Office's website . The Office also has a Project Credit Smarts Facebook page, connecting area colleges and students with important financial resources and information on a regular basis.

Total student loan debt passed total student credit-card debt for the first time in June 2010. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, outstanding student loan debt stands at over $914 billion. Overall student loan debt increased by $303 billion since 2008, while all other forms of personal debt fell by a combined $1.6 trillion.

"Data shows that student loan debt is ballooning to an unprecedented level. The implications of this for our future generations of teachers, engineers, nurses, and other professionals are staggering," said Undersecretary Anthony. "One of the things we want to do is to help students today avoid the potential for negative consequences of over-reliance on costly student loans."

"We are pleased to host the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation here on campus as they kick off a new Project Credit Smarts season," said UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley. "It's important for students to learn as much as they can about credit card and financial management. The financial choices they make today can affect their lives for years to come."

"We work with community groups across the state, and see the importance of the Patrick Administration's work in trying to alert students to the pitfalls of excessive student debt," said Margaret Miley, the Executive Director of the Midas Collaborative. "It's not enough to just talk about this issue; it is important for all of us, non-profits, schools, government agencies, and the general public to work together to teach students that what they do now will affect them for the rest of their lives."

Even as credit card debt among college students had decreased by over 75 percent in recent years, now averaging about $800 per student, students continue to face a sometimes confusing financial services industry when it comes to financing the bulk of college costs. Project Credit Smarts helps students understand the differences among credit cards, charge cards and debit cards; highlights the need to be knowledgeable about fees and costs associated with cards; addresses students' concern about student loans and other school costs; and identifies the impact that poor financial decisions can have later on as students graduate and then consider major decisions like obtaining credit to buy a car or a house.

President Obama has made investments to make college more affordable for millions of students, including a "Pay as You Earn" program, where starting in 2014, borrowers will be able to reduce their monthly federal student loan payments from 15 percent to 10 percent of their discretionary income, while some borrowers may be eligible for such plans now. To see if income-based repayment is right for you, go to http://studentaid.ed.gov/ibr.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also released the Student Debt Repayment Assistant an online tool with information on income-based repayment, deferments, alternative payment programs and more. You can find this tool at www.ConsumerFinance.gov/students/repay.

There are many ways to decrease the amount of student loans needed to finance post-secondary education. Some things to consider:

  • Apply for scholarships, grants, loans: shop the internet and library resources for possible scholarships and grants before considering loans. Scholarships and grants usually do not need to be paid back. Scholarships and grants may be tied to the field of study you intend to pursue, to grades you have received, to your background, or to local clubs and organizations. Every penny counts; don't ignore what may look like small dollar sums.
  • If you need loans, look for federal student loans. The repayment terms are usually lower than private student loans, and there are protections in place to help you repay if something terrible happens and you are unable to repay immediately on the terms agreed to, including income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness.
  • Shop around for the best value for schooling — can you get advanced placement credit and finish studies early? Can you start in a two-year school close to home for basic credits and transfer to another school later for final work? Can you complete a technical course of training at a two-year school that will enable you to enter the job market at good wages now, while preserving future degree options?
  • Take a gap year to work at a job in the field you are interested in. You can earn money for school and gain valuable experience and contacts for your future career.
  • Once in school, be careful to buy with cash whenever you can. Credit card fees add up quickly, so pay off as much as you can each month. Can you buy used textbooks, or electronic versions to save money?

"College years are the time when many young adults establish habits they will carry with them for the rest of their lives and while it's important that they tackle academics, it's critical that they also learn everyday skills - such as how to manage their money - in order to become fiscally responsible," said Paula Fleming, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Boston area Better Business Bureau.

The Office of Consumer Affairs today also launched its newest fake scam website, "College Ca$h NOW!" The site offers to provide guaranteed, easy cash to help pay for a college education. Scholarship scams often do not require any work from you - aside from a sizable down payment to start the search for your "scholarships." If a student falls for a scam such as this, he or she could end up paying fees for a scholarship that she will never receive. Even more risky, students could potentially lose the opportunity to get the help they need from legitimate services, while under the impression that scammers such as "College Ca$h NOW!" are in the process of finding financial aid.

The site was developed as a tool to educate students about the dangers of careless cyber shopping and to provide consumers with necessary information about where to find the help they are seeking. The website is part of an ongoing series of example sites produced by the Office of Consumer Affairs, and can be found at http://topmassachusettsdeals.com/ along with other sites included in this initiative.

The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.

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