Interim Counseling Can Make the Difference in Default Prevention
By Michael Bertonaschi, USA Funds Consultant
Knowledge is power — which is why it’s a great idea to offer student loan counseling that goes beyond the federally mandated entrance and exit counseling.
If you are providing key financial aid information only to student loan borrowers, and only at the beginning and end of their academic careers, you’re missing some great opportunities for sharing information. The knowledge your students can gain from more robust counseling can be the difference between a student who leaves school at high risk for default and one who is financially literate and completes a degree program with a minimum amount of student loan debt.
Start early
In working with schools as a USA Funds® consultant, I suggest that they begin counseling students during the admissions process.
You’ll be opening dialogue early, and, because college visits typically are a family affair, you’ll also be able to include in the conversation the parents of dependent students or other family members with independent students.
Have open and honest discussions with students about the per-year cost of attending your school and the financial aid available. Explain the different types of federal and private student loans along with the borrowing limits, approval criteria and deadline dates. And be sure to have an early awareness or financial literacy program on your campus that teaches the importance of managing debt.
Stay in contact
Each billing cycle presents another opportunity to remind students and families about their financial obligation, available aid and debt management. A few weeks prior to registration for classes, reach out to your students and families to let them know that your office is available to address any challenges they may have in paying their balance. And while you have their attention, remind them of the importance of wise borrowing and managing student loan debt.
Be transparent
Since it is very important for students and families to understand college costs and financial aid, be sure to provide guidance in a way that is easily accessible and clear.  That means making information on your website clear, concise and easy to navigate.  Make as much of the process electronic as possible, and eliminate unnecessary forms and paperwork. 
Make sure your messages are consistent, whether you’re communicating face to face, electronically or through printed materials. Being consistent eliminates confusion, and making financial aid processes convenient for families helps ensure you’re making the most of your time to provide financial literacy and debt management services to your students.
Additional resources
If you need ideas and help for interim student loan counseling, contact USA Funds. We offer a variety of tools and solutions for debt management, default prevention and financial literacy training.
We also offer PDFs and publications about higher education access and success and education loan repayment, with many of those items also available in Spanish. Visit USA Funds’ Resource Library to download or order the materials.