Beating college debt: Steps students can take to stay ahead

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Collectively, American students have over $1.3 trillion in college debt. However, there are options for struggling students to help lessen the burden.

Ohio and Pennsylvania rank relatively low for student loan debt. Both states are in the bottom ten, according to a WalletHub analysis which considered the amount students owe compared to job opportunities for them after they graduate.

Shayna Bryant, of Austintown, is starting her studies at Youngstown State toward a food and nutrition degree. While she worries about the classwork, she says she can breathe easy about debt, thanks to some good scholarships.

“They add up to $1,500. I get a thousand dollars for my Trailblazer Scholarship and $500 each semester for my ACT score, the First Opportunity Award Scholarship.”

That money is making a big difference for Bryant but a College 529 Plan, which her mother started to save money, is also helping pay the cost. She’ll have to dip into that before she graduates because she is struggling to pay for textbooks.

“It’s overwhelming when a semester of books costs $500, that’s very overwhelming,” Bryant said.

Ahead of time, she realized how much it would cost to attend school and now has a plan to pay for college. Bryant says that help came from her family, which put her in prime position for assistance.

“It is very important to get scholarships. You have to work very hard, you also have to keep grades up. You don’t want to fail a class because then your scholarship could be taken away from you, and you don’t want that to happen.”

Mark Meffron, a student who graduated from YSU in 2014, has $80,000 in debt. He was told that he could expect to make $40,000 with his business degree but in his exit interview, they said he would have to make $100,000 to pay the loan back over 20 years.

Bryant expects that as she continues with her college education, the cost could become more difficult to stay on top of. She says that if she pays back her student loans as soon as money is available to do so, she feels it won’t be a big issue.

YSU can brag about its low-cost tuition. Its net annual cost of $8,000 is the lowest among the state’s four-year universities, and is $2,000 cheaper than Ohio State. YSU’s total is also $4,000 lower than the national average.

The university is helping students keep costs down even more with its bulk-rate tuition program. The program helps students get more credit hours for the same cost.

YSU has also frozen its tuition, fees and housing costs for the next year.

The Costentino family, of Poland, has two students in college. They started thinking about paying for their education after they were born, and even met with a financial consultant who told them how much it would cost.

“We started setting aside money when they were little,” Mary Ann Costentino said. “We were in shock over the amount of money we would have to save.”

They chipped away at it every month, and it worked. Costentino tells their family’s story to new parents because it’s made such a big difference for them.

“We didn’t want our kids to have to deal with debt in addition to trying to get their jobs…so that was our gift,” she said.

Parents of college students can also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to help find available money.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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