For most millennial college students, student loan refund checks are like presents under the tree on Christmas morning. In high school, we always heard about student loans, debt, and "ramen noodle for breakfast, lunch, and dinner" broke college students. But for some reason, refund checks never came up in the conversation. The existence of the magical refund check did not materialize to me until my freshman year of college at Adrian College. Adrian was a small, private college in Adrian, Michigan (45 min northwest of Toledo) that was pretty expensive for a middle class family of 5 sending their youngest to college. I was recruited to play basketball there, but AC being a D3 college meant no athletic scholarships were given but they helped many families who needed help with securing loans, grants, and scholarships. The coach got all the basketball players work study jobs at the gym and we got payed very little to work, but $140 every two weeks was gold to a college kid.
Mid pre-season, the most talked about thing in the locker room was refund checks. How some checks were late and others weren't getting them at all. I had no idea what a refund check was so I paid it no mind. My roommate came into our room a couple of days later smiling from ear to ear talking about how his refund just hit. He said he was going to the mall later. I finally asked him what he was talking about, "What is a refund check?". He explained it in the most ignorant, young way possible, " it's more money from the school after your loans hit that help buy clothes, cars, books, and anything else you may want to buy." (yes! This man said arguable the most important thing last like we was pulling up to video shoot instead of Business Math 218 in the morning).
I was astonished! Amazed that the school would just give money to kids to help out with things like that. The first thing I did after that conversation was call my Mom! I was thinking the whole time the phone was ringing that she must have did something wrong because my account still was on empty. She picked up the phone and I instantly jump down her throat about why I didn't receive a refund check, did she TAKE MY money, and did she do my FASFA wrong, etc. She then, (after telling me to calm down before she put her foot through the phone) told me what a refund check is when you receive it via student loans.... DEBT. Excess money from the loan you took out that you chose to receive and would eventually have to pay back. I was flabbergasted. She then went on to say how she was paying some of the balance with her own money, that she purposely did that so my debt would be less come payback time, and that half of my work study check better be doing the same thing (SMH). I was so confused on why all of my friends were happy about the refunds. Some bought cars, clothes, some saved, etc. but why is a refund check looked at as income in the eyes of our young people today. I understand the "give now, pay back later" era we are in but potentially cutting your student loans by $2,000 to $4,000 ( average amount of money refunded from student loans) per year is nothing to scuff at. This "student loan income" could easily be blamed on the lack of "real life" education in our school systems, or on the students who are taking more money than what is truly necessary . I blame it on the culture. We are so accustomed to wanting things we don't need and a refund check is an enabler of that. Ask any 18 year old kid from a middle class family (any class family honestly) if they would take $4,000 that is not from their parent's pockets that they could choose to start paying back within the next 5 to 7 years (depending on how long it takes them to graduate). Even taking school out of the equation, I bet the first thing that pops into that 18 year old's head is Air Jordan shoes and not the interest he will have to pay back on the loan. Most kids would take that money with a smiling face if they were never educated on what a refund check really is. It's a mixture of lack of financial education on the account of the school system and the household. The idea of a young college student seeing a student loan as a "come up" or a "flex" trying to be the guy you see in the Foot Locker shoe line every Saturday morning and the one at Rumors in those same J's he got that morning with the new car he used the rest of his refund check loan as a down payment on a car loan is absurd.
To be honest, I'm just tired of seeing all of this refund balling. Refund balling is defined by me as "creating a facade of wealth by exponentially spending in facets of your personal finances that would not be a targeted spending area without the added funds of a refund check." In other words, YOU A FRAUD BIG FELLA! I truly believe that student loans systemically oppresses us millennials that choose to use college as a building block to building wealth by getting a degree in the field of our choice. So why add more oppression, debt and "shrimp ramen noodle" nights to your self by taking that refund check and using it to purchase things that you don't need.
Education is key, that's what helped me understand the real deal and helped me in the future (even though ya boy took a $3,200 refund out the next year to buy a car and cop some Air Jordan Bred 11's which I'm not proud of. I never said I was an angel! I embrace my "ain't sh*tness") . But I soon after learned that student loans are as real as the money you spend when I checked my credit for the first time and I saw my student loan balance ( my heart broke when I saw my running total). That put everything in perspective for me and from that moment on, the refunds were only for books ( and just one more pair of Air Jordan's, don't judge me!). Refund balling is a disease that is definitely curable. Knowledge and the realization that this money is coming from somewhere will get you a long way when you get that "Great Lakes Borrowing" envelope in the mail 6 months after you graduate. Just be smart and don't live above your means. Your 25 year old self with a degree, no job, and living back with your parents with student loan payments starting the next month will thank you.