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By TaRena Reece
CPDCD Marketing Manager

Zack Friedman, a Forbes contributor, recently reported that student loan debt in the U.S. is a 1.5 trillion dollar crisis. According to Friedman, with more than 44 million borrowers, student loan debt is the “second highest consumer debt category … higher than both credit cards and auto loans.”

In 2016, Oklahoma ranked 10th for states with the lowest student loan debt overall, but still with an average of $25,856 of student loan debt per borrower.

The credit counselors at the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation have noticed the student loan crisis. The CPCDC’s Tina Pollard, a consumer-lending manager, recently attended the National Association of Certified Credit Counselor’s conference where she became a certified student loan counselor. Pollard previously relied on the expertise of her mother, a former customer service representative and student loan underwriter with Panhandle-Plains Student Loan Center. With her mom now retired and the winds of change ever blowing across the student loan industry, it quickly became apparent new and updated knowledge and resources were necessary. Pollard needed connections with experts in the field and the expertise to be able to provide the best solutions for her clients.

“Many of our clients have problems with student loans — either they are in default, or they are having difficulty keeping up with the payments,” Pollard said. “There are programs to help people work through those issues, but unfortunately, most people don’t reach out for help until they are in crisis.”

Seeing the need for additional resources for the Nation’s employees, Pollard located a ready and willing sponsor for the required training in Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Workforce Development & Social Services Assistant Director Margaret Zientek. Together they formulated a plan to ensure that the Tribe had someone equipped with the knowledge to empower struggling borrowers with the tools and resources to deal with their student debt.

Pollard sees an average of 500 clients each year and found approximately 65 to 70 percent of the Nation’s employees struggle with student loan debt. Many who have training are left with unfinished degrees and lack the certificates and diplomas to enable better paying positions. However, they are still saddled with the debt associated with their education.

Ideally, once a borrower has completed their semester or degree, and their grace periods and deferments have been exhausted, they should reach out to a credit counselor to help develop a feasible financial plan to fit their circumstances. Counselors pair their knowledge and network connections with the most up-to-date programs and available options to help borrowers avoid crisis with their finances. There are many programs designed to help clients through the student loan process and plan for college.

Proactively seeking solutions is always best. However, it is never too late to start. Many people do not realize how student loans affect their credit scores and credit worthiness, or how long it takes to clean up a mess once it happens. Don’t let student loans kill your credit!

Call the CPCDC today to schedule
your appointment with a counselor at 405-878-4697 or visit CPCDC.org.