Why Signing My Student Loan Papers In 7 Seconds Was a Bad Idea. The consequences can be dire for students who take out student loan without having a full understanding of what they mean. Find out why. #CentSai #studentloans #studentloan #college #studentloansdebt Student loans! Much like a one-night stand, they can mess up your life in a hurry. Taking out student loans can lead to all sorts of negative repercussions: self-loathing, becoming a “wage slave,” eating ramen noodles long after “college life” was supposed to end, more self-loathing…

But let’s rewind for a second. Let’s go all the way back to my very first real-life introduction to student loans.

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A Rude Introduction to Student Loans

I had been on campus for about a month. I already had friends, an on-campus job, all of my textbooks. Not only that, but I had a pretty good routine going. I was a pretty good student, and I also worked hard at my job. Basically, I played a really good offense. I was taking charge of life.

About a month in, I got an email saying that I needed to go to the financial aid office to sign a paper. To be exact, it said, “We want you to come in and just sign a paper when you get the chance.” I was busy (as always) so my plan was to swing by on my way to work. I planned to take out student loans, but embarrassingly, I didn’t even know the location of the financial aid office.

After wandering around for a while, someone pointed me in the right direction. It was a staffer — the other first-year students I asked didn’t have a clue, either. I entered a dimly lit building that felt like it wasn’t even a part of the campus. As I would learn from a later internship, the building was like a U.S. government office five floors below the Earth’s surface. It felt like secrets.

I gave the receptionist my name. Then, a woman in her 60s briskly walked over and said, “I’m sure you’re busy, so just sign this paper and you’ll be on your way.” I asked what it was for.

Her response: “It’s just a student loan paper you need to sign. Well… if you want to keep going to college anyway.” I felt a mixture of embarrassment and need for approval. Of course, I wanted to stay at college. The lady was silent. She looked impatient, as if this was keeping her from doing real work.

I signed papers to take out student loans after weighing the pros and cons for a good seven seconds or so.

I may have played good offense my first year of college, but my defense was rubbish.

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What Could I Have Done?

Understanding your student loans is the most important step in not making the same mistake I did. To do that, it is best to find an unbiased source that can give you the advice you need to ensure that your loans are not going to prevent you from achieving your goals.

“To decide how much to borrow, start out by filling out the FAFSA on the Federal Student Aid website,” says Noa Hoffman, CFP and Director of Editorial and Community Engagement at Singleton Foundation for Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship.

“By filling out the FAFSA first, you will find out if you qualify for any grants, scholarships, and/or state and school-based aid. This is basically “free” money that you don’t have to pay back! The FAFSA also serves as your application for federal student loans.”

However, the process does not end with the FAFSA. There are other steps involved in taking out student loans (most of which do not take seven seconds, thankfully).

“After you fill out the FAFSA, you will receive aid offers from each school that you applied to,” says Hoffman. “Compare each offer and decide where to attend based on the school’s “net cost.” If you are offered federal loans, remember that you should borrow only as much as you need.”

“Use each school’s financial aid office as a resource if you have any questions about your aid offer,” Hoffman adds. “If you were not offered enough in grants, scholarships, and federal student loans to cover all your costs, then you should look at private loans as the last resort.”

Building Confidence in the Financial Aid Office

As Hoffman explained, the financial aid office is an important resource before taking out student loans. What is most important when preparing to sign those papers is understanding that it is never a bad thing to ask questions.

For the staffer in the financial aid office, the day you sign your loans is just another day that passes. For you, this could very well be one of the most important decisions of your life.

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So while financial aid officers will be willing to ask you to sign that paper, remember that today is important. Remember that you could be looking back on this for 30 years down the line, wishing that you had simply gathered the courage to ask a question before taking out student loans.

Ask. Those staffers are there to answer.

The Bottom Line

I now look back on my meeting in the financial aid office as a serious “what the hell” moment. I should have taken my time and asked more questions. But it all turned out well in the end. After graduating, I actually didn’t do any self-loathing. I never became a wage slave. I recovered.

Still, my advice to anyone starting college: Don’t put money toward anything you don’t fully understand.

College can be amazing, just watch out for pushy older ladies.

Additional Reporting by Lauren Shayo.