March 9, 2015

Financial Focus on FAFSA and Student Debt


When people attend a workshop on paying for college in the midst of an arctic blast, you know that the issues of college affordability and student debt are important ones. 17 people braved the single digit temperatures to attend UNHP’s Paying for College – Before and After Resource Fair on February 24 at Concourse House. UNHP, the New York Immigrant Coalition and Bronx Legal Services provided assistance to students seeking financial aid and assistance as they apply to college and to those who are dealing with existing “sticky” student debt.

Jumelia Abrahamson, Director of the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, opened the evening with a brief presentation on financial aid and student debt. Jumelia encouraged all prospective students to file for aid given the high costs of college, the near-permanence of student debt and the fact that over one million students do not apply for aid.

Student debt is not only an issue in the Bronx, federal student debt is a looming economic crisis for the nation, ballooning to more than $1.2 trillion in 2013, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is debt that prevents Americans from pursuing careers of their choosing, from making big purchases, and from undertaking major life events like getting married and having children. The workshop also sought to address the needs of college-bound immigrants and recourse for the unfulfilled educational promises of for-profit trade and career schools to graduates with federal loans. The Norwood News highlighted the UNHP event as well as the problem of student debt, citing “a combination of naivety and a shortage in disposable income has led to 7 million student borrowers to default on their loans, causing credit issues in the long run.”

The Paying for College Before and After Resource Fair addressed the ballooning federal student debt crisis by emphasizing the importance of filing via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the long-term consequences of taking on more debt than you can afford. The Fair opened with a presentation by Jumelia Abrahamson covering both the FAFSA and student debt followed by a questions and answer period. Bronx Legal Services, the New York Immigrant Coalition and UNHP’s financial coach from The Financial Clinic introduced themselves to the crowd and outlined the services they could provide that evening. After a question and answer session, participants were able to get a print-out of their student debt, as well as their credit reports and meet with the organizations for individual help.

Max Ahmed introduced himself and the services of the NY Immigrant Coalition to the crowd. NYIC can assist with DACA filings and can help immigrant students obtain financial assistance for college. Anne Nacinovich, an attorney from Bronx Legal Services, also offered loan discharge and dispute assistance to participants.

The following services were provided:

• UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center – FAFSA Filing, Credit reports, student debt print-out and appointments for the financial coach, free tax preparation or group workshops.

• The UNHP/Financial Clinic Coach – credit reports, Loan and Fee Discharges, Student Loan Management (Private, Direct, PLUS, etc.), Garnishment Protection (including co-signed loans), Consolidation, Deferment, Forbearance & Income Based Repayment, FAFSA Application, Budgeting and Credit Review

• Bronx Legal Services – Loan and Fee Discharges, For-Profit School review,

• New York Immigrant Coalition – Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Enrollment. Grants and aid for undocumented immigrant prospective college students.

Attendees took advantage of the on-site services at the fair and obtained their student debt print-outs, credit reports, filed for FAFSA and made follow-up appointments with the UNHP financial coach.

15 of the 17 attendees signed up for follow-up financial coaching or financial education services, one person submitted their FAFSA and another filed for NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Three people obtained their credit reports and a brief analysis and 5 attendees received a print-out of their student debt and met on-the-spot with the financial coach to review the debt items and make a follow-up appointment.

Brian Bier, UNHP’s financial coach, met with fair attendees to review their student debt issues. Brian is available two days a week out of the Northwest Bronx Resource Center and also scheduled follow-up appointments with attendees.

UNHP’s financial coach, Brian Bier, received training on FAFSA filing and financial aid package review from the Goddard Riverside Institute.   Brian also provided FAFSA assistance to students and their families throughout January and participated with Jumelia in a presentation on financial aid to students and their families enrolled in Fordham Bedford Community Services College Prep program.

These resource fairs provide both on-the spot assistance and the opportunity for follow-up with free direct assistance services at the UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center and other agencies. UNHP held a successful credit resource fair at West Farms in November and plans another fair for immigrants in the early spring.

Gabriela Rosario, right, assisting a resource fair attendee with a scholarship form.