MoneySmart Lakers help mentor students with financial help

Bennett Slavsky

Papers are due, quizzes are popping and exams are fast approaching; the stress is starting to set in. But there is one stressor in everyone’s life that can be put at ease–finances.

For many students, college is that strange time between carefree childhood and financial independence. It is a time when they must learn to budget money for gas, groceries, books, weekend entertainment and more. Many have daunting student loans that require payments six short months after graduation, and just don’t know where to start.

MoneySmart Lakers is a program available to all Grand Valley State University students that teaches about financial literacy, free of charge. MoneySmart Lakers helps students make informed decisions about spending plans, saving and investing, credit and smart borrowing. MoneySmart offers a variety of options to fit student needs, from group seminars to online resources, presentations and individual appointments.

The start of this semester marked the commencement of MoneySmart’s second year as a program available to students. MoneySmart’s inaugural year reached more than 2,800 students—over 10 percent of the student body—through seminars, presentations, and one-on-one appointments. Over 30 percent of the graduating class went through exit counseling, which helped set up an extensive post-graduation game plan for students to deal with loans and life expenses.

MoneySmart is a mentor-mentee style program, students helping students to figure out financing. Emily Koons, a MoneySmart peer mentor, said it is a rewarding process to help her fellow students with something that seems so complex and overwhelming and lays it all out in such a way that is understandable and manageable.

“It takes something that’s super scary and hard to understand,” Koons said, “and puts it on paper where you can see it clearly and feel confident about taking the next step.”

That is what MoneySmart is all about, making students feel confident about managing their money on their own. They deal with everything from small-time weekly budgets and money tracking to student loans, all the way to retirement planning.

“Pension and Social Security may not be existent for our generation,” Koons said. “The more you start to save now, the exponentially larger your retirement fund will be.”

Luis Lozano, assistant director of financial aid at GVSU, said the No. 1 reason for students not to graduate is financial issues. He spearheaded this program to make sure no student faced with these issues without a lifeline.

“We are here to help students connect the dots and make informed decisions with their money,” Lozano said. “We want to keep it as relative as we can for students and their individual needs.”

With a successful first year behind them, MoneySmart is continuing to grow and develop to reach as many students as possible. The number of MoneySmart mentors has increased from six to 10 this year. In just the first few weeks of school, they have already had a few dozen individual appointments and they have every intention of continued growth.

Lozano hopes to further increase individual meeting and implement a “MoneySmart track,” four meetings throughout the semester—one for each key component: budget, credit, saving and borrowing. He also has plans to develop a one-credit elective MoneySmart course that will be available and relevant to every young adult entering financial independence.

MoneySmart is here to make students feel comfortable and confident with their money, and helping them to make informed decisions and face their financial issues with assurance.

“There is not one main issue that we see across the board. We keep everything based on the need of the student,” Lozano said. “We deal with how they feel versus reality. Money is very emotional. When they come to us, they have a sense of stress and we make them feel empowered.”