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Feb. 17, 2011 Volume 32, No. 20

Students offer financial counseling


On-the-job training

University of Missouri faculty and staff members grappling with credit card debt and personal budgeting problems can now find help on campus. The Office for Financial Success offers free counseling on topics ranging from student and car loans to employee benefit packages and investment opportunities.

The OFS was created in 2005 to help students manage debt and personal spending and to give students interested in a career in financial counseling some experience. Today, 15 students, along with faculty in the MU Department of Personal Financial Planning, provide services, including one-on-one counseling, group workshops and seminars for campus organizations, FIGs (freshman interest groups) and Greek chapters.

Ryan Law, director of OFS, said the office helps not only those who have financial questions, but also the student volunteers who counsel peers and faculty and staff members.

 “We bring on people who are passionate about helping others with their goals,” Law said. “Sometimes you go through college and you don’t get actual experience with what you’re learning, but they have the opportunity to sit across from someone and actually put the counseling into practice.”

Law said potential clients should not worry about the student advisers’ skills and professionalism. Students interested in becoming an adviser must take a course in financial counseling and go through a formal interview process. After two days of training, new advisers sit in on a session between a client and an experienced counselor. New advisers’ initial sessions with clients are observed by an experienced counselor before they can take appointments on their own. All advisers participate in monthly Continuing Education sessions.

“The students are well-trained — there’s really no concern about that,” Law said. “They’ve taken the classes and do continuous training and if it’s necessary, I can jump in.”

With four semesters at OFS under her belt, Joan Stafford, a graduate student in personal financial planning, is the counselor with the most experience. She said that by taking advantage of the counseling sessions, faculty and staff members could help not only themselves, but also students like her.

“It’s all about Mizzou,” Stafford said. “We’re getting into this profession, and we want to get experience in this field. We’re helping out others at Mizzou, and hopefully they’d want to help us out in return.”

The OFS has given 88 group presentations and 51 one-on-one counseling appointments so far this year. While the majority of those sessions were with students, the OFS is trying to increase the numbers of faculty and staff members that use its services.

Law said the most common questions fielded by the OFS are about student loans. Faculty and staff members tend to seek advice on outstanding car loans and mortgages.

“We do offer a lot of services, and we’ve seen a lot of people’s lives get back on track financially after coming in to see us,” Law said.

To schedule an appointment with a counselor in the Office for Financial Services, visit

— Kelly Nelson