As Montana students soak up the last few weeks of summer vacation they also are starting to think of returning to class even if there’s reluctance. Education may be the most important asset one can acquire and doing it without huge student-loan debt is the smartest approach.
It’s important to find the right fit when taking on student debt and deciding early on the best strategy of repayment. Like other loans, it should be a thoughtful, well-researched responsibility.
Hopefully loans aren’t the only avenue students are considering because grants, scholarships, summer and work-study jobs reduce the end result when it comes to how much it owed.
The Montana Education Savings Account program (MESA) provides an opportunity for students to be financially rewarded for saving. It’s a special matched savings account designed to help people with modest means establish a pattern of regular savings and ultimately earn a post-secondary education at participating Montana schools with less student debt.
The matched amounts range depending on the school. At Montana Tech the match is five-to-one, which means for every $1 a student saves, MESA matches it by $5 up to $2,500. At Carroll College in Helena, the match is eight-to-one, so every $1 saved is matched with $8 up to $4,000. In Missoula at the University of Montana it’s three-to-one.
“It’s like free money if you really just work and save a bit,” said Devin Kavanagh, a recent UM graduate.
Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) spearheaded the statewide college savings program in 2005 with help from the Student Assistance Foundation. The goal is to reduce student debt, increase student retention and supplement the funding, MCUCD Executive Director Karen Smith said.
“It’s making a difference in the lives of students by reducing their stress because they are taking out fewer loans and getting them in the habit of saving regularly,” Smith said.
Creston Jones is a member service representative at Rocky Mountain Credit Union in Bozeman and works with MESA participants.
“I wish there would have been something like this when I went to school,” she said. “It gives students time to set aside money with a reward to help further their education.”
Jones said MESA shows students that with just a little time and effort to save the benefits can be huge.
“It helps them plan for the future by learning to start saving at an early age,” she said. “I’m thankful that the schools partner with us and I always mention it to students opening accounts at the credit union.”
Jon Adams recently earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Montana State University. He was a participant in the program, which requires attending a couple financial education sessions.
“MESA is awesome,” he said while crediting the program to his completion of school. “I had too many credits and was cut off from financial aid and loans just before my last semester. I was freaking out because living in my car for five months so I could finish didn’t seem like a good idea. I used the match to pay for tuition and books. It was simple, free money and I learned more about saving and finances that will help me throughout life.”
Programs like MESA not only provide an opportunity for students to earn a high pay-back for saving but also teach a skill that will be beneficial throughout life.
For more information on this topic or many others visit www.montanacreditunions.coop or call Jami at 324-7460
Alana Listoe is with the Montana’s Credit Unions, an organization based in Helena.