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Student Money Management Center can help students with finances

Student Money Management Center can help students with finances
Erick Jones, the Student Money Management Center (SMMC) director, advises University of North Georgia (UNG) student Lea Presley in his office on the UNG Dahlonega Campus. The SMMC's services are available to all students on all five campuses.

University of North Georgia (UNG) student Andrew Todd never realized how much money he spent eating out until he actually saw it printed on an Excel spreadsheet. He was shocked.

"I was eating out constantly, and that is not the best thing to do money-wise or health-wise," Todd said.

The sophomore communications major decided to change his financial habits and start managing his money more wisely. UNG's Student Money Management Center (SMMC) helped him accomplish those goals.

"Latrisa DeGraft-Hanson and Erick Jones helped me to see the big picture," Todd said. "I would not have seen that if it wasn't for them."

As SMMC director, Jones' job is to guide students through their financial options, with help from DeGraft-Hanson, the SMMC graduate assistant. Each takes the job seriously, especially after making financial missteps.

For example, Jones received his first credit card with a $200 limit at age 18. He immediately spent the money, not realizing he had to pay it back.

"No one told me how to use a credit card," he said.

Following a career as a financial planner, Jones wants to ensure that students understand credit and how to better manage debt.

DeGraft-Hanson also had an experience common among first-time banking clients when she opened her first checking account in 1981.  She thought checks were similar to cash.

"I had checks so I thought I had money," she said. "It didn't fully connect that I needed money to support the checks I was writing. I can't tell you how many overdrafts I had."

After a 19-year career in consumer banking, she’s definitely better equipped to help students manage their money.

DeGraft-Hanson and Jones turned their financial situations around. Now they impart their wisdom and best financial practices to help students manage their finances, including — but not limited to — student loans.

DeGraft-Hanson and Jones, conduct SMMC Financial Fitness Series Workshops on four of UNG's five campuses: Dahlonega, Gainesville, Cumming and Oconee. The four-part series are held from noon to 1 p.m. on a monthly basis and teach students the foundations of personal money management skills. Topics include budgeting and goal setting, building credit, saving and investing, and risk management.

Dates and locations for the upcoming budgeting and goal-setting workshop will be:

  • Aug. 30, Room 332, Stewart Center,  Dahlonega Campus
  • Aug. 30, Meeting Room 2, Student Center,  Gainesville Campus

For future sessions, dates and places, visit the SMMC website.

SMMC personnel also meet on a one-on-one basis with students to help them map-out a financial plan, create a budget, and achieve any financial goals. Those goals can range from graduating college with as little student loan debt as possible to opening a first credit card.

 Jones said the SMMC is a place of confidentiality.

"We will talk to a student's parents if he or she wants us to, to help figure out their finances," Jones said. "Or we will talk to a student's spouse or partner. We will even talk to creditors with a student in the room."

The SMMC staff, however, want to talk to students sooner rather than later.

"We had a sophomore come in and say 'I don't know how much money I owe in student loans,'" Jones said. "If he had come in sooner, we could have saved him thousands of dollars."

The program was the idea of UNG President Bonita Jacobs who started a money management center when she worked as vice president for student development at the University of North Texas. The SMMC was the first program of its kind among Georgia universities.

Saving money is one goal the SMMC program helped Todd achieve.

"I started grocery shopping instead of eating out, and I started saving that money," Todd said. "I was able to pay off all of the credit cards. My credit score is better. I have a savings account now. And I don't have to worry too much about money."

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