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Financial & Life Skills Center Offering Tools To Help Penn Staters Achieve Financial Success

For college students, navigating finances, student loans, and planning for retirement can feel overwhelming, particularly as the transition to college is already difficult. During April, and throughout their college careers, Penn State’s Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center provides resources and helps Penn State students, alumni, and faculty navigate their finances and make better-informed decisions for their financial health.

Located in the Grange Building on campus, Penn State’s Financial and Life Skills Center offers one-on-one coaching with students, presentations, workshops with courses and organizations, and more for interested students who want to make better choices about preparing themselves for life post-college.

All of the center’s CFPMs obtain licensure through Fincert, a national leader in professional certification ensuring effective and accurate financial services across the country. The CFPM program is designed to allow its mentors to assist other students with establishing personal budgets, understanding and managing financial aid, and developing a plan of action to help them through school and after graduation.

Once a student is in the room with one of the center’s licensed peer mentors, folks can discuss and work on any number of financial topics depending on your goals.

“It’s just a really great way for students to help with their personal financial needs, whether that’s student loans, coming up with a budget — some students need help figuring out budgeting after college, or maybe credit cards,” student ambassador and CFPM Aidan Miller said. “It’s a really great thing.”

Miller said as a freshman at Penn State last year, he worked with one of the center’s CFPMs to make a game plan for his student loans and the exact amount he would pay long after he graduates from Penn State. He also said working with someone who specializes in financial issues and who was knowledgeable in answering his questions was reassuring in transitioning as a full-time college student.

“It’s really stressful, you can look at this big, large number that you’re in debt with, and you don’t really know what to do or how to pay that off,” Miller said. “When we break it down with students, we’ll go through with them — we can literally plan every single month for the next 10 to 15 years and show exactly how much you can pay each month… It takes a big weight off a student’s chest.”

“When I meet with students and after a one-on-one and hearing how less stressed they are, it means so much to me — I know how stressful finances can be,” Miller continued. “That’s the goal of our center. We want to ease the stress for students, especially with their student loans, because it’s just such a common [stressor] for all college students…especially [at] Penn State, being one of the most expensive state schools in the nation.”

Miller said getting on top of things is important for students or alumni, regardless of wherever they sit with their finances. It’s never too late to meet with a peer mentor or to begin thinking about paying off student loans.

In particular, Miller said it’s important to begin to think about paying off the interest on student loans even before a student graduates college. Even then, though, Miller emphasized the work the center can do to help students plan out student loan repayments with their anticipated salaries post-graduation, too, and can help students figure out their month-to-month repayment expectations.

Another popular financial literacy topic for students is investing, and as Miller explained, the center can be helpful for students who don’t know how or where to start investing their money. For students thinking about dipping their toes in the water with the world of investments, the center can be a useful tool.

“When it comes to guiding [students] on the right path of what to choose, it can be hard. We like to teach students about mutual funds and ETFs… It’ll invest that money for you. Students don’t have to worry about choosing each of these stocks to put in their portfolio,” Miller said.

“The bottom line is it’s up to students to do their own research on what will suit them best. We can’t just tell them what to put their money in, but we’ll give them…direction on where to look when it comes to investing in mutual funds or stocks,” he continued.

The Financial and Life Skills Center also offers presentations and biweekly webinars so teachers and leaders of student organizations can bring the center’s expertise in specific financial literacy topics to interested groups across campus. The center is popular with first-year seminar classes, and the presentations are a way to get students interested and thinking about financial literacy and to get their foot in the door with the services the center offers.

“We actually had 280 presentations this academic year, so around 5,600 students got to hear our presentations,” he said. “Our most popular

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is the Financial Literacy Overview, and we basically just take students through steps of this ladder, going from budgeting, creating an emergency fund, considering debt, planning for the future, and growing their wealth. Usually after that presentation, some will come back with questions and maybe meet with us, too.”

The group’s various financial literacy presentations don’t stop there. Both organizations and classes interested in booking the center can bring other presentations that focus on post-graduation finances, credit cards, investing, and salary negotiations, all more in-depth than its “FLO” crash-course presentation.

Miller said the center’s workshops offer another layer of enrichment and value for students to get in touch with their finances. The center’s in-person workshops allow students, in small groups, to meet with staff and walk through their credit reports or gauge how they feel about investing, for example, as another opportunity beyond simply one-on-one coaching and presentations to organizations and classes across campus.

The fourth cornerstone of the center’s comprehensive work to help improve the financial literacy skills of Penn State students is its mentoring program. Created to help bring alumni, faculty, students, and many other stakeholders together to discuss financial literacy and life skills topics, the center’s mentoring program helps students achieve their own goals to be financially secure well after leaving Happy Valley.

“This is, I think, one of the coolest things [we offer] because we help students get paired with alumni from Penn State, and it doesn’t have to be all about finances. [Students] can get paired with alumni and help the alumni to help guide them through college and can be a resource for them even after college,” Miller said.

The center’s mentoring program brings together Penn State alumni from a variety of majors, backgrounds, and experiences to provide students with a unique and compatible mentorship experience to help develop their outlooks on financial planning and to answer broader questions about navigating student life as a Penn State student.

On its website through modules and a Canvas course page, the center has over 20 self-study resources available so students can learn information on their own about any number of financial literacy topics and schedule meetings with the center for more in-depth and personalized instruction if needed. Typical financial literacy information like credit, building a budget, or planning for retirement are included. Special topics like environmental stewardship, identity theft, or specific information catered toward women are also included as part of the center’s unique library of self-study modules, too.

Also on the website are premade resources to aid and inform students when making financial management decisions. From typical spreadsheets to help students plan their student loan repayments, meal plan budgeting tools, or just a month-to-month budget, the center has many resources available to help students make the most of their money. The center also has several specific and helpful tools outside of strictly financial decision-making, including a housing comparison worksheet, filling out the FAFSA, and information on helpful apps to download to take control of your finances even further.

As for one piece of financial advice to give all students, Miller cautioned that they shouldn’t take out more money than they need to pay for their education.

“I feel like there’s been so many times where students have taken out more than they need with student loans, and then by the time [it’s] their senior year, is this great big number,” he said. “It’s really important that throughout college if you’re taking out student loans, don’t go overboard with it, calculate exactly how much you’re going to need, and we could even help you with that.”

Miller said that students who are interested in investing should be aware of the importance of starting early and often.

“If you’re thinking about investing as a college student, you’re way ahead of the game. When your investment compounds and your money grows, like a snowball, by the time you realize it, your portfolio will double, or triple, and by the time you’re 50 years old. You’ll be all set if you’re starting to think about it as early as now,” Miller said.

Those interested in scheduling a one-on-one appointment with Penn State’s Financial Literacy and Life Skills Center can do so online. Interested current students can schedule an appointment here, and faculty, staff, and alumni can do so here. Faculty and leaders of university-affiliated organizations can also request a financial literacy presentation online, too.

The center is also hiring. Students interested in working for the center and helping Penn State students achieve their financial goals as a student ambassador can find position openings throughout the summer and during the school year on Workday. Interested students can email [email protected] with questions.

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About the Author

Luke Pieczynski

Luke is a junior accounting major hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, and is Onward State's social media manager. He can often be found in the Starbucks line waiting for a nitro cold brew, or listening to one of Dua Lipa's latest releases. He's a fiercely loyal Sheetz Freak and will not settle for another Pennsylvania gas station. Please send your best political thriller to him on Twitter @lukepie11 or to his email [email protected].

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