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Caribbean Student Loans

The Caribbean Development Bank’s Student Loan Scheme

The Caribbean Development Bank's Student Loan Scheme This post if part of the Financial Information Month 2016: Student Loan Series. During the Month of October, I will be sharing information about Caribbean Student Loans, stories from borrowers and highlighting the missed opportunities to address the current issues with the Student Loan System in the Eastern Caribbean.

After finding out how messed up my student loan was, and the challenges other borrower’s faced throughout the region, I wanted to find out what the structure of the system was anyway, how it was established and where the money came from for student loan system in the Eastern Caribbean in the first place.

Borrowers I spoke to from Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, and St. Lucia were all singing the same song about their Caribbean student loan lenders, including:

  • Confusion about how interest is calculated and how payments are applied to account balances;
  • Irregular account statements and not receiving statements at all;
  • Poor customer service and incomplete responses to customer inquiries;
  • A lack of disclosure of student loan lenders policies, procedures and accounting methods;
  • Limited options for repaying loans online and accessing account updates easily;

And the list could go on. Some borrowers even experienced not having payments showing up on their account and extra payments being applied to phantom accounts that customers had never been informed of their existence.

I channeled the frustration I had with my own student loan servicer, in St. Kitts and genuine concern for the negative experiences other borrowers were having in their dealings with their servicers.

I know the Caribbean is “developing” but I could not understand that this could be such a widespread  problem across the region and no government, or regulatory agency was addressing it. I thought it had to be the case that no one with the power to provide oversight of these Caribbean student loan lenders knew about these issues. If they knew certainly done something about it. I think I was forgetting that this was the Caribbean. The same Caribbean who has been trying to integrate and champion free movement but keep deporting their neighbors unjustly, but that’s another story.


Financial Information Month Student Loan Series 2016 More Related Articles


The Caribbean Development Bank’s Student Loan Scheme

I put the research skills that I had gotten into so much debt for to good use and found out that indeed, the powers that be should well be aware of all the problems myself and other student loan borrowers were experiencing throughout the Eastern Caribbean. I came across a 2005 Assessment Report  (your can view the PDF of the report from CDB’s website here) of the Student Loan Scheme in the region, that was completed by Universalia for the Caribbean Development Bank.

Let me tell you that I was getting goosebumps when I was reading the report, because every borrower experience, included in the report, was exactly what my peers and I had been expressing. I could not believe that the report was issued 10+ years ago and that student loan borrowers across the Eastern Caribbean were experiencing the same, same, same, same challenges with student loan lenders today!

Before I talk about the 2005 assessment report on the Student Loan Scheme in the Eastern Caribbean, I will go over what the Caribbean Development Bank is and how the Student Loan Scheme was set up in the first place.

The Caribbean Development Bank

The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is a regional financial institution that was established in 1969 to contribute to the economic growth and development of member countries; promote economic cooperation and integration among them and address the needs of less developed countries in the Caribbean region.

Caribbean Development Bank Borrower Member Countries Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos

This regional development bank started operations in January 1970, and is owned, in part by, the Caribbean member countries it was created to serve. The CDB fulfills it’s mission by providing debt financing to the governments of the Caribbean member countries (known as Borrowing Member countries or BMCs) for development projects; technical assistance and policy advice.

The Student Loan Scheme

Now you know what the CDB is, what does it have to do with Caribbean Student Loans.

Well, two years after starting its operations, the CDB initiated the Student Loan Scheme  that made funds available for student loans in:

  • The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)*:
    • Anguilla
    • Antigua and Barbuda
    • British Virgin Islands
    • Dominica
    • Grenada
    • Montserrat
    • St. Kitts and Nevis
    • St. Lucia
    • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Belize; and
  • Other UK Dependent Territories:
    • Cayman Islands
    • Turks and Caicos Islands
*The countries listed became part of the OECS that was established on June 18th, 1981. Pre-OECS they formed the Eastern Caribbean Common Market (ECCM).

The goals of the Student Loan Scheme were to train human resources and improve access to tertiary education in the Caribbean Region, especially for poor students. From the inception of the Student Loan Scheme in 1972 through 2002, the Caribbean Development Bank gave $87 Million US, to the BMCs (listed above),  to provide student loans through their local Development and Commercial Banks.


Related Article My Caribbean Student Loan Story


It was very interesting to learn from 2005 Universalia Assessment Report, how the Student Loan Scheme started and where the CDB fit in. What was even more interesting is the assessment’s presentation of the experiences of the borrowers from that system and the issues in the system that needed to be addressed. operations and communication  local as

I will talk about those experiences and the report conclusions in a separate post.

Until then, let me know if you were aware of how the Student Loan Scheme started, the Caribbean Development Bank’s role and that an assessment of the scheme even existed.

-Melisa


What has your experience been with your student loan? I would love to feature your story. Your can submit your story all throughout out the Month of October 2016. Just click the below to join the regional and diasporic conversation!

Submit Your Story


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Kimalee’s Caribbean Student Loan Story

Kimalee Caribbean Student Loan Story

This post if part of the Financial Information Month 2016: Student Loan Series. During the Month of October, I will be sharing information about Caribbean Student Loans, stories from borrowers and highlighting the missed opportunities to address the current issues with Student Loan System in the Eastern Caribbean.

Today I am sharing Kimalee’s answers to questions about her experience with her Caribbean Student Loan from the Grenada Development Bank that she submitted via the Share Your Story Form. She completed an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in Human Rights and Law and a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies, both at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Kimalee currently lives and works in Toronto Canada and is the Co-Director & Project Coordinator for Groundation Grenada, a social action collective that supports innovative change. Here is Kimalee Caribbean Student Loan Story.

Question 1: What best describes your experience with having a Caribbean Student Loan?

I have a lot of issues with my Caribbean Student loan.

Question 2: When you first took out your student loan, what was your understanding of what you signed up for?

That my education would be paid for; that it wouldn’t be a concern until I had graduated and had gotten a job and that I would be finished paying it within a few years.

Question 3: Was it clear to you what the interest rate was, the amortization method used, how interest would accrue while you were in school & during the repayment period?

No, not really.

Question 4: Were you the first in your immediate family/ household to go to college and take out a Caribbean Student Loan?

Yes.


kimaleephillip-sls-story
Kimalee Phillip – Grenada Development Bank Student Loan Borrower

Question 5: Did anyone in your family have a student loan who could provide guidance and tips to help you navigate your own student loan? 

No.

Question 6: Share your experience navigating your student loan? What information was provide to help you understand your loan? Describe your experience communicating with your lender, and the customer service you received.

My mother was my main contact with the bank as I was studying in Canada. I realized only years after that she had been contributing to my loan while I was in school. When I finally took control of my loan from my mother, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. It was my first loan, the monthly payments were and continue to be quite high and trying to secure consistent and clear information from the bank was always a fight.

Question 7: Since having your student loan, how easy or difficult has it been to request disbursements, payment status or account balance information from your lender?

It seems as though it’s not common practice for the bank to provide regular statement updates which I’ve always found quite odd so I”m constantly having to ask and intervene which is frustrating.

Question 8: What have you found the most effective way to communicate with your lender?

Contacting a specific staff member who is always helpful.

Question 9: Is there any aspect of your student loan that you are still unclear of today (e.g. how payments are applied to your balances, how many payments you have left of how to pay off your loan faster, how to get your loan out of default, how to resolve an ongoing dispute)?

I am still a bit unclear how payments are applied to the loan and though my payments are up to date, I’m unclear about the status as it’s been months since I’be received a status update.

Question 10: Have you had any disputes with you lender related account transactions, outstanding principal or interest balances, fees or payments not applied as you expected?

Yes. There were times when I noticed that the balance on my loan had increased so there has definitely been confusion on my end re: how payments are applied.


Related Article My Caribbean Student Loan Story


Question 11: Have you faced the situation of not being in a position to pay your required monthly payment? If so, did you request temporary relief from payment and was there clear information about how to seek out and be approved this relief?

Definitely! There have been many times. I was able to secure a reduction in the interest rate applied to my loan and again, due to confusion, I’m not sure if this was due to temporary relief or over-payments but for a few months, I didn’t have to contribute to my student loan

Question 12: What did you wish you had known about Caribbean student loans before you took one out?

That it would feel like having a mortgage without a house and that the repayment schedule would have been this long and difficult

Question 13: What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking out a Caribbean student loan?

As much as you can, first try to seek out scholarships; a student loan should be your absolute last choice and if you do need to take one out, first go to your credit union as opposed to a bank.

Question 14: Share any other thoughts you have about Caribbean student loans or your lender.

People are being encouraged more and more to go/return to school and further their education; and the chances of finding a job without a form of post-secondary education (PSE) degree is becoming increasingly more difficult; therefore it is imperative that we make access to PSE a lot more [easy] and equitable. It is irresponsible and unjust to create a debt-ridden population, must of whom already come from working-class families and backgrounds who then remain in debt for the rest of their lives or who spend a significant amount of time paying off a loan which is sometimes three times as much as the original loan amount due to interest rates and who are then unable to invest in the economy.

Thank you Kimalee for sharing your story!


What has your experience been with your student loan? I would love to feature your story. Your can submit your story all throughout out the Month of October 2016. Just click the below to join the regional and diasporic conversation!

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How My Caribbean Lender’s Dysfunction Messed Up My Student Loan

day3-messed-up-student-loan-blog

 This post if part of the Financial Information Month 2016: Student Loan Series. During the Month of October, I will be sharing information about Caribbean Studnet Loans, stories from borrowers and highlighting the missed opportunities to address the current issues with the Student Loan System in the Eastern Caribbean.

After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering, I had amassed about $68,000 in debt, made up mostly of student loans. I had credit card debt, private and Federal student loans from the U.S. and a Caribbean student loan from the Development Bank in St. Kitts and Nevis. When you graduate with student loans in the U.S., you are required to go through exit counseling to get information about what happens next with your student loans, how to track down your lenders or servicers and what is expected from you as a borrower when it was time to repay.

Outside of the exit counseling, there was information on the Department of Education, and my University’s website and other websites providing information about how to navigate your U.S. private and Federal student loans. When it came to my Caribbean student loan, though, there was not much, actually no information to help me navigate them.

Concern About My Caribbean Student Loan Terms & Conditions

Once I graduated from undergrad, I received a letter from my lender in St. Kitts, the Development Bank of St Kitts & Nevis (aka the Development Bank) informing me of when my first payment was due, and the monthly payment amount. I thought that I had a good idea about what I signed up for. I borrowed money to fund my college education and when it was time to start paying the loan back the loan. Payments would be applied to principal and interest until it was paid off over a 10 year repayment period.

I had heard horror stories from my parents about how many borrowers with a student loan from the Development Bank, always ended up paying exorbitant interest beyond what should be expected with a loan with a reducing balance amortization. In 2007, when I started making repayments, The Development Bank had a record profit of nearly $1.6 Million (US) at the same time that commenters on the article announcing the profits complained about feeling robbed by Development Bank.

That was not going to be me! I requested by promissory note (or bond) agreement and read line by line to make sure I confirmed my understanding of the student loan terms and conditions. I wanted to especially make sure that there was not a clause that required extra interest be paid or restrictions on making extra payments towards principal balance. Once I read my promissory note I confirmed that my loan was a basic reducing balance loan. I promptly started making repayments and never gave much thought to how my payments were applied or reviewing my account statements. I was good to go!

Repaying My Caribbean Student Loan

I started graduate school in the Fall of 2007 and started making my repayments on my Development Bank Student Loan, while I put my private and Federal student loans in deferment. I made room in my $332 Graduate Teaching Assistant salary, to make my monthly payments. Development Bank did not offer online payment or credit card payment options so, I would send pre-filled out checks to my parents and they would go to the bank to make payments. My parents would receive receipts at the Bank counter and statements in the mail on a quarterly basis. I did not think of getting copies of my statements to review them and assumed my payments would be applied to with a portion going towards interest and a portion towards the principal balance.

When I completed graduate school and got my first full-time job in engineering consulting, I got serious about tackling my debt. I continued to make payments on my student loan from the Development Bank, and started repayment on my U.S. Federal and private loans. I set up my own pay-off plan for my loans and decided to prioritize making extra payments towards my Caribbean Student Loan. I also requested that my receipts and statements from the Development Bank be sent directly to me in the U.S.


Financial Information Month Student Loan Series 2016 More Related Articles


My receipts from the Development Bank would come by snail mail, from 2,000+ miles away, so I would call the Bank directly to make sure my payment was received and how much was applied to principal and interest. I wanted to make sure that the projections I made on how much my remaining balance would drop by that month matched up to how my payments were applied to my account.  It was like pulling teeth, though to get that information. It would get different responses as to what the procedure was to get account information over the phone. What would annoy me the most, is the first question I would get when I told the Loan Officer on the other end of the phone that I needed to get information on my most recent payment and my account balance,

Can you come into the bank?

In my mind, I would be letting out a bing, long stupes!

The second most annoying response would be,

Can anyone identify your voice?

On one occasion, I spent almost an hour going back and forth with the Loan Department manager who refused to provide my account balance information to me, after I explained to her that the HR manager confirmed that I should be able to make account requests once I would verify my identity and account information only I would know. I had to spend money on long distance calls and energy to deal with all this ray ray (confusion in other words), just to keep on top of my Caribbean student loan. I went through all of that just to stay in the know and avoid any surprises with how my student loan was handled.

Even after all that effort, 8 years after I started repaying my student loan from Development Bank, I found out that the first year of payments went to interest only.

How My Caribbean Student Loan Lender Messed Up My Loan

Last year, my friend Tasha, who has the same lender Caribbean lender complained about not seeing any movement in her principal balance, and on top of that, she had not been receiving account statements. The later complaint I had heard a few times before. Just like me, she had no access to her statements electronically.

I found it strange that Tasha was having such a hard time getting account statements, to verify how here payments were being applied to her account, as I felt I had a good handle on my student loan account and my own payments seemed to be applied appropriately, on my account. Or so I thought.

After Tasha continued to express confusion about how her student loan payments were being applied to her account after making more than a year of payments with no change in her principal balance. I decided to grab some my own old statements, that I had never scrutinized before, to confirm that my payments had been applied appropriately on my student loan account from the start of repayment period in 2007.

I got the shock of my life when I saw that of the almost $4,000 in payments I made on my Caribbean student loan, $0 to the principal balance. I also noticed that during a 3 month period of approved deferment, while I was looking for a full-time job after graduate school, I was charged multiple late fees on  my account.

I really thought that I had done everything to protect myself against all the confusion so many borrowers expressed when dealing with the Development Bank, but even after review my promissory note and prioritizing repayment my student loan while in graduate school, that wasn’t enough to combat a dysfunctional system.

The next logical step was to take my displeasure to the bank’s Facebook page, with a photo of my first-year repayment statement, showing that the statement opening balance was same at the end closing statement balance even through I made the required payments.

 


Related Article My Caribbean Student Loan Story

 Interest Only Payments On My Caribbean Student Loan

After being contacted by the Assistant Bank Manager to go over my request for clarification on how my payments only went to interest only. I learned from him that at some point my student loan had accumulated interest that was never capitalized on my loan, left a wall of interest, that had to be paid down before any of my payments would go towards my principal balance.

He explained, too, that my student loan was capitalized almost a year before my repayment period started. My original expected graduation was December 2006, I updated my actual graduation date in May 2007 with the Development Bank appropriately, and that was never updated on my account.

The next thing was that my student loan was flagged as entering the repayment period before I even graduated from college.  I had sent back a disbursement that I no longer need while I was at Texas A&M and when that money was applied to my account it started the repayment stage on my loan and caused a late fee to be applied to my account.

Of course, this policy of not capitalizing outstanding interest was nowhere to be found in my promissory note document (that I made sure to review), nor was this information included with the correspondence that I received that notified me of when my first payment was due and the required minimum monthly repayment.

I asked the Assistant Bank Manager and asked whether there were any legal requirements with respect to the Development Bank notifying their customers of the outstanding interest on their account and how their payments would be applied in that case. Even without legal requirements, why wouldn’t the bank inform me when my loan was capitalized and the outstanding interest balance before my repayment period started.

The Development Bank could have added an additional paragraph to the same letter they sent me to inform me of my outstanding interest balance, my options for paying it off and how my monthly payments would be applied to my account. None this happened and when I posed those questions, I got a less than satisfactory response. I was not even offered the courtesy of having my account reviewed and possibly getting a credit on some of the additional interest I paid. I just resolved to pay off my remaining balance by the end of 2015 to get this lender out of my life.

Caribbean Student Loan Borrowers Need Answers

I could have left it at that. I was able to pay off my loan and forever sever my relationship with the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis. But then I started advocating for Tasha because she had not received a regular account statement for years and had other issues on her account. I started to talk to other borrowers and realized that it was a problem throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

I started talking to other borrowers and realized that it was a problem throughout the Eastern Caribbean. student loan borrowers in Grenada, and Dominica, St. Lucia and even beyond the Eastern Caribbean in Jamaica all have complaints of suspect Bank practices and inadequate communication and just all around shadiness that works against their customers. That’s one of the reasons I am running this Student Loan Series to raise awareness and share our stories and I want to provide the tools I did not have to other borrowers.

What has your experience been with your Caribbean Student Loan?

-Melisa Boutin

My Caribbean Student Loan Story

My Caribbean Student Loan Story

 This post if part of the Financial Information Month 2016: Student Loan Series. During the Month of October, I will be sharing information about Caribbean Studnet Loans, stories from borrowers and highlighting the missed opportunities to address the current issues with Student Loan System in the Eastern Caribbean.

This is  my story if how I got into debt with a Caribbean Student Loan in the first place.

In August 2001, a few months after graduating from Basseterre High School in St. Kitts and Nevis, I relocated to live with my aunts in Miami, Florida. It was an exciting yet uncertain time for me, as I was to start high school at North Miami High to finish 12 grade and chart my path to College in America.

High School In the Caribbean

In St. Kitts, high school ends in the 11th year of high school and graduation is marked not by a diploma but by how many subject passes you were able to gain at the Caribbean Examinations Council’s O’Level (high school) competency, a model  based on the British General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) high school system. 16 countries in the Caribbean participate in the CXC education qualification & examination system and include: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands in addition to St. Kitts and Nevis.

I was able to obtain 9 CXC O’Level subject passes when I completed at the High School level and was eligible to continue to 6th Form (similar to community college in the U.S.) but my parents and I opted form to have me relocate to the U.S. instead.

Coming Back To The United States

I had been a Permanent U.S. Resident or Green Card holder since I was 9 years old and I actually lived on the west coast of the United States for about a year and attended elementary school there. My family then moved back to St. Kitts and Nevis. Having a Green Card enabled us to visit the U.S., without the need of a visitor’s Visa, including closer ports of U.S. entry like St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Living outside of the U.S. with a Green Card also came with the risk of losing that privilege, as the United States expects immigrants granted the right of Permanent Residency to live, work, pay taxes and contribute to the U.S. economy (more than Caribbean people already do with the amount of good we import to our countries from the U.S.). Growing up I would always hear the term “checking-in” when neighbors or friends would travel to the United States to re-start the clock on the length of time they were out of what was supposed to be their new American homeland.

When I came back to the U.S. after completing high school, however, I was no longer checking-in; I moving to the U.S. to really be a Permanent Resident, this time.


Financial Information Month Student Loan Series 2016 More Related Articles


Going To High School Again

The typical path U.S. Permanent Residents like me take when we come to the U.S. after completing up to 5th Form (or 11th Grade) in a Caribbean high school was to enroll in a U.S. high school to complete 12th Grade and then go on to college. That’s exactly what I did in Fall 0f 2001, when I enrolled in North Miami High School.

The transition to U.S. High School involved having my St. Kitts and Nevis transcripts evaluated and get placed in the appropriate classes and grade. I started Grade 12 that August and by October I was informed that I would not be allowed to complete 12th grade since my CXC subject passes were considered equivalent to a high school diploma in the U.S.

Not being able to complete high school in the U.S. would lead me down a road with multiple obstacles when it was time to transition to college, sooner than I had planned.

Preparing for College

Once I was essentially kicked out of North Miami High School, I decided to enroll at Miami Dade Community College (now Miami Dade College) while I prepared to apply to 4-year universities to pursue a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. This is where the real trouble started.

Although the Federal Government granted me Permanent Residency in the United States, that fact had no bearing on my residency in the State of Florida. I was a “new” immigrant; had not lived nor worked in the State of Florida for more than a year; I was minor at 17 years old  and I was considered a dependent for the purposes of FAFSA. All of which worked against me when I signed up to attend Miami Dade Community College. That meant, I was ineligible for in-state or in-county tuition, and state grants for Miami Dade College. This was also true for any State College or University in Florida that I would find out later.

Federal Financial Aid is based on your parents’ income and their State residency, if you are classified as a dependent student. My parents were not residents of the State of Florida and the time and were living in the Caribbean.  So, in essence, I became a student who did not have residency in the any State of the U.S., including the state I actually lived in. This made me ineligible for in-state or in-county tuition, and many state grants for Miami Dade College. This was also true for any State College in Florida that I would find out later.

I ended up having to pay out-state-tuition and since I had no scholarships, and was not as informed as I was, about student loans, as I am now. To pay this expenses, I initiated a Student Loan from the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis to pay my community college tuition,  that was 3-times the price of in-state students.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

While I was attending Miami Dade College, I was also applying to 4-year colleges and searching for as many scholarships as I could. I had already completed the SAT and ACT, so  getting my applications, essays, recommendations and transcripts and applying for scholarships were left on my to-do list. I applied to at least three Florida State schools including, the University of Florida, Florida A&M and Florida International University and the University of Miami.

I searched for scholarships too and found out that pretty much every scholarship for college-bound students required that 1) you had graduated from a U.S. high school, 2) be a U.S. Citizen or 3) Both. As a recent graduate from a high school outside the U.S. who was a permanent resident, that made me ineligible for almost every scholarship I came across. Just my luck, here was another obstacle.

In preparation for my acceptance to a 4-year school, I did fill Free Application For Federal Aid and used the tax information from my aunt, who had legal guardianship of me, had claimed me as a dependent the previous year on her tax return. Once the college application process was over, I was accepted to Florida International Univeristy and the University of Miami.

Because, my aunt worked at the University of Miami and I was  her dependent, I was awarded special grants for employee’s dependents, a partial academic scholarship, and aid for Florida residents. Once I compared the two schools the costs and financial aid awards, there was not much difference in cost, so I opted to accept the offer to attend the University of Miami and finally start college, which is why I came to the U.S. In the first place.

Rescinded Aid and Student Loan Debt

Once I got to moved on-campus to start my Freshman year at UM, I was alerted by the Financial Aid office that my FASFA information needed additional documentation. After going through the additional step of verification, it was determined that since my Aunt had not claimed me as a dependent on her tax returns for 5 consecutive years prior, I could not be considered her dependent for the purposes of FASFA. That determination meant that I was no longer eligible for the employee dependent tuition benefit, plus, since I had never filed my own tax returns the previous year, then I was not allowed to use my aunt’s Florida State Residency and lost the Florida State aid. My entire financial award offer was then reworked and resulted in a massive shortfall with new costs that needed to be covered.

I remember how the University demanded I come up with the money as soon as possible and threatened to have me locked out of my dorm room, just as I was getting settled in. It was very devastating for me. I ended up being offered a waiver to get an increased amount of Stafford Loans, and used that along with funds from my Caribbean student loans and paying the outstanding balance on a monthly payment plan, to fill the gap. It was a very stressful time for me and I hadn’t even had my first mid-term yet!

Changing Course

I did not think much about how much debt losing all those grants and other tuition breaks would cost me in student loan debt as I was just focused on staying enrolled to try to avoid having to withdraw from school and start the college application process over again. But once I got into my second year at UM, I knew that even with two, part-time jobs, moving off campus to save on housing costs, taking community college classes in the summer to transfer back into UM and a bare bones budget, I would be on track to have $1000,000 in student loans if I stayed at UM, and that scared me. My physical and emotional well-being were also being over-taxed. Overall, it did not seem worth it to stay at a school where I had to travel on unreliable public transportation every day, work myself to death in every spare hour I had between classes; take a full load of engineering and science classes and still end up with an increasing student loan balance at the end of each semester.

My physical and emotional well-being were also being over-taxed. Overall, it did not seem worth it to stay at a school where I had to travel on unreliable public transportation every day, work myself to death in every spare hour I had between classes; take a full load of engineering and science classes and still end up with an increasing student loan balance at the end of each semester.

I made a plan to apply to as many scholarships as I could find that I was eligible for. Although I was running myself ragged, I, somehow, was able to maintain a competitive GPA that made me confident I could at least win something. During that process, I remember doing a scholarship phone interview on one of the Engineering Department’s computer room phone’s because I didn’t have a cell phone and I wouldn’t leave campus until late at night. I really need these scholarships if I was gong to get off the $100,000 student loan debt track.

The second part of my plan involved transferring out of UM altogether. I looked at the best-ranked schools and decided to apply. The schools on my shortlist were:

  • Bucknell University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • Texas A & M University

I only applied to schools that would provide me an application fee waiver, because I really had little money, and ended up getting accepted to at least three of the five listed.

Once I received all the decisions on the scholarship programs and transfer schools to which I applied, I decided to leave UM and transfer to Texas A & M University. The scholarships that I won were portable and I was able to enroll at Texas A&M, with an in-state tuition rate offer, and for the first time all I had, to do was go to school, study and not worry about massive outstanding tuition bills.

Student Loan Damage

After completing my bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M, I had a total of about $58, 000 in student loan debt. The debt included:

  • Caribbean Student Loan
  • Federal Subsidized Student Loans
  • Federal Unsubsidized Student Loans
  • Private Studnet Loans

Most of the debt was accumulated in my two years of attendance at the University of Miami, and whenever I think about that fact I keep wondering what I could have done differently or what other information I needed to have to navigate the U.S. Higher education system better.

That debt figure jumped to about $68,000 with additional student loans and some credit card debt after I went to graduate school..because I was not done with debt yet. Ha!

There’s no way to undo the debt but to pay it off and that’s what I can focus on now.

What’s your experience transitioning to college and financing your studies?


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Financial Information Month: Student Loan Series

Financial Information Month 2016 in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union

Welcome to October!

Financial Information Month in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) starts today. October 2016 marks the 14th year of this annual public education program coordinated by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). The goal of Financial Information Month, as stated on the ECCB website, is “to promote awareness and understanding of general financial and economic issues, and support the aim of “a financially developed and vibrant ECCU region that fosters strong and sustainable economic growth and the improved well-being of the citizenry.”

This year’s theme is “Create, Optimise, Pursue, Embrace; Opportunities” and I will be taking the opportunity to:

  • Raise awareness about the issues Caribbean Student Loan Borrowers face;
  • Foster conversations about the experiences of Caribbean Student Loan borrowers; and
  • Address 10+ years of missed opportunities to improve the Student Loan Scheme in the ECCU.
What is the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union?

The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union is a group of states in the Eastern Caribbean that share the same currency: the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD). The countries that share the Eastern Caribbean Dollar Currency and make up w the ECCU are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. These countries are also part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS.)

The Eastern Caribbean Dollar is issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.


Financial Information Month Student Loan Series 2016 More Related Articles


What is the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank?

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank was established in 1983, oversees the banking system  within the OECS and is responsible for maintaining the stability of the Eastern Caribbean Dollar.

Although the ECCB is the Monetary Authority for the ECCU and provides oversight of the union’s banking system, its authority does not extend to, what are called “non-banks” like Development Banks throughout the region, which are the banks that issue most of the Student Loans in the Caribbean.

Another thing is, the ECCB’s financial education and awareness programs do not specifically address student loans in the Currency Union nor  the common issues faced by  borrowers when navigating these loosely regulated student loan lenders. In fact, even the most recent  Banking Act makes no mention of consumer protection nor banks’ or non-banks’ legal obligations to their customers. That’s why We Need Student Loan Answers in the Caribbean and this Student Loan Series.

Financial Information Month 2016:
Caribbean Student Loan Series

This month’s Student Loan Series is all about fostering a Regional and Diasporic Discussion about Caribbean Student Loans, raising awareness about the widespread issues with bridge work towards addressing the gap of information about Caribbean student loans.

If you’ve read my story, know that I had a Caribbean student loan from the local Development Bank in St. Kitts and Nevis, and experienced many challenges communicating with my lender and understanding how my student loan worked. After 8 years of making payments on my student loan from that lender, I found out that all of my first year of payments went to interest only.

Those payments added up to $4,000, not a penny of which went to my loan’s principal balance. Even worse, the lack of information I had about how my student loan worked is a far too common experience for Caribbean student loan borrowers who live in the U.S. like me, Canada or within the Caribbean region. This Student Loan Series aims to take the first steps towards changing that.


Related Article My Caribbean Student Loan Story


Share Your Caribbean Student Loan Story

If you have a student loan from the Caribbean Bank, especially from an Eastern Caribbean Bank, join the conversation by sharing your own experience with your Caribbean Student Loan.

Whether you are living in the Caribbean or the North American Diaspora in Canada, the U.S.A. or beyond, I would love to feature your story. Your can submit your story all throughout out the Month of October 2016. Just click the below to join the conversation!

Share Your Story Caribbean Student Loan Series

Submit Your Story


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