Cash points

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Students struggling under a mountain of debt will welcome the launch of a financial helpline, reports Sean Coughlan

Some newly qualified teachers will not pay off their student debts until they are 40. That's the depressing news from the front line of debt advice, where a helpline has been opened to help university students or recent graduates who are struggling under the weight of borrowing.

This Student Debtline, provided by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), will offer free, confidential advice to prevent anyone dropping out of university because of money problems.

Amy Brown, of the CCCS, says the few months after starting work can be a "real stress point". After living on borrowed money and having the benefits of student subsidies, first jobbers face an icy wind blowing through their bank accounts. Expensive accommodation, transport and living costs have to be found out of a modest salary - then lenders start asking for their money back.

The amount of money that has to be paid back from student debts has grown rapidly. "The debts owed by graduates starting their first jobs would once have been the student loan and an overdraft, but now we're seeing them with eight or even 12 separate loans, including credit and store cards," says Ms Brown.

This means that young teachers are contacting the counselling service for help with debts of between pound;20,000 and pound;30,000, which could take almost two decades to pay off. Ms Brown knows of one 23-year-old who had amassed pound;80,000 in debts.

All too often, students finish university with large debts, then find the problem getting worse rather than better. Even though they're earning money, it's too little to keep up repayments on loans, which can lead to more borrowing and an even bigger black hole of debt.

Getting out of this financial quicksand is not easy, and Ms Brown says it's important to get expert advice. There are ways to draw up budgets and prioritise debts that can find you a way out of the mess. Don't suffer in silence.

The Student Debtline: 0800 328 1813. Lines are open on weekdays from 8am to 8pm

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