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How to get right with your wallet

May 21, 2018

Student financial wellness is a big deal, so these free resources are a must

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Photo of Ohio State undergrad Allori Wright

For the first two years of her college life, among Allori Wright’s biggest worries was whether her first major was the right fit for her. (It wasn’t.)

Or if she would find great friends as an out-of-state student. (She did.)

Also, if she could figure out this college thing as a first-generation student. (She’s doing pretty well.)

Because she lived on campus the first two years, knowing how to pay for rent, food and utilities initially wasn’t an important part of her college experience.

When she returned to Ohio State this fall, the middle childhood education major moved into an off-campus apartment for the first time. Paying the bills matters.

But she’s not worried.

She took advantage of personal financial education at Ohio State — based on research the university conducted with college students about their comfort with money matters. For example, the Scarlet and Gray Financial program, which is a part of the Student Life Student Wellness Center, helped her hone essential skills, such as how to set a budget, manage her student loans and use credit cards smartly.

“(Scarlet and Gray Financial) answered a lot of questions, and the program was super personalized based on what I needed,” she said.

“They are very helpful to bring things to terms — that this is an important thing to learn.”

Wright’s confidence in knowing she is equipped to take care of her financial wellness, according to the latest Ohio State research, means she is more likely to perform better in class, graduate on time and have a solid foundation for her financial future.

Financial coaching benefits everyone

Students can receive financial education in multiple ways, said Bryan Hoynacke, assistant director of financial wellness. Scarlet and Gray Financial offers personalized one-on-one meetings, online training and presentations where coaches often take personal finance courses to the classroom.

Through the Office of Student Life, they connect with nearly 10,000 Ohio State undergraduate and graduate students annually with extensively trained peer coaches to improve financial wellness college wide.

The education can cover a wide number of topics — budgeting, credit cards, student loans, how interest rates work, the impact of paying interest on student loans and more.

“We walk them through the choices,” Hoynacke said. “Almost everyone can benefit from having an hour-long discussion about personal finance — where you are, what you’re thinking, where you want to go.”

Research-based results shape Ohio State financial coaching

Cathy MontaltoCathy Montalto is director of Ohio State's First Year Experience program.

Scarlet and Gray Financial also participates in national collegiate financial wellness research conducted at Ohio State. Catherine P. Montalto, associate professor of consumer sciences, has been a financial literacy advocate for more than two decades and co-leads the research with Anne McDaniel, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Student Life.

The results of this study and its predecessors have helped Ohio State better support student financial wellness and college success. One-on-one coaching was implemented as a result of a 2011 survey.

The latest Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness, released in 2017, examines how 28,500 college students from 65 U.S. universities pay for school and use credit cards, as well as assessing their financial knowledge, stress and ability to handle financial situations effectively.

The broad overview points to several competing views. A majority of students report frequently engaging in positive financial management behaviors and can effectively handle financial situations. Yet, 70 percent feel stressed about their finances in general.

Student loans stress students more than other financial matters. Scarlet and Gray Financial has adjusted its conversations to cover the role loans play in paying for education, Hoynacke said.

For Wright, it has meant a better gauge on her finances along with learning essential budgeting skills.

“I freak out about money a lot less,” she said. “Any time my bank account dipped below $300 I would panic. But now if it happens, I know it’s fine. I know I have money; I know I have a budget.”

Applying knowledge to achieve goals

Scarlet and Gray Financial is one of several ways Ohio State supports students in taking care of their financial responsibilities. Student Financial Aid, the Student Advocacy Center, and Student Legal Services also provide resources and services that help students make appropriate financial decisions.

“We’ve moved beyond financial knowledge,” Montalto said. “It is one piece. But you have to be able to do something with that knowledge. You have to use it in a practical way to inform decisions on a day-to-day basis.”

That application is exactly why Abigail Ormsby sought out help.

Ormsby closely advises students in the Dunn Sport and Wellness Scholars Program as a part of her master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs. As a result, Ormsby was already familiar with the financial literacy services Ohio State makes available to students.

When she accepted an offer to stay in her role full-time, she was motivated to get some extra help.

“There are certain financial goals I want to achieve, and accepting a job at Ohio State means wanting to plant roots here and maybe one day buying a condo or getting a car,” she said.

“I’ve always been a frugal person, but I don’t necessarily track where my spending goes. It is a habit I want to start.”

The goal for students such as Ormsby and Wright isn’t just academic success.

It’s lifelong success that matters, too.

“I now have the tools to be set up for real life,” Wright said. “One of the most important parts I’ve learned is that you have to have balance.”

Tops in the nation

Ohio State's Scarlet and Gray Financial program recently earned the Gold Award from NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, an organization of 2,100 institutions in 50 states and 25 countries.

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