Student group helps peers with quick loans

SELFund, or the Student Emergency Loan Fund , gives small loans to University of Minnesota students.

For almost 20 years, students at the University of Minnesota have operated and utilized an alternative to big banks: the Student Emergency Loan Fund. The student-run, student-centered loan organization has seen an increase in applications in recent weeks because of a summer tuition deadline on Aug. 5, SELFund President Mike Ryan said. The group operates in response to common college expenses, such as rent or costs of traveling home on breaks. Ryan, who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in history, said applications increase mostly during tuition deadlines, but he also sees smaller increases at other times, such as the end of the month when studentsâÄô rent is due. Exemplifying this pattern, applications for loans this summer increased more than 150 percent after the Aug. 5 deadline , from 10 to 26. The groupâÄôs vice president and assistant director, Geoff Dutton , said SELFund lends money to students in âÄúany type of situation that would âĦ affect them academically,âÄù adding that these situations vary widely. Nevertheless, Dutton said the group is strict to only loan to students who actually have a college life expense they need to pay. âÄúIf you just want some more money, we donâÄôt really ever approve those,âÄù Dutton said. Surprisingly, Dutton said the poor economy has not affected the group much. âÄú[The economy] really hasnâÄôt affected it as far as I can tell,âÄù Dutton said, although he added that a recent increase in loan limit was probably a reason there was not a large increase in loan applications. Dutton said the loan limit was $600 from the groupâÄôs first year until 2008, when the group recalculated the maximum with inflation in mind and raised the limit to $1000. Office of Student Finance Director Kris Wright said she felt having fellow students run the office makes it both more approachable and more financially compassionate to peers. âÄúPeer-to-peer counseling is better than anything else,âÄù she said. âÄúI think they are able to âĦ as well or better than someone my age, discern âĦ how likely it is that a student will repay.âÄù The group illustrates this aptitude with its flexible payment plans. Ryan said SELFund works with students to sort out an appropriate arrangement, taking into account the studentsâÄô financial history and work situation, as well as other factors. âÄúWeâÄôre basically working with [students] so they can avoid the harsher consequences of not paying a loan back on time,âÄù Ryan said. âÄúWe donâÄôt want to be another reason for financial concerns to students.âÄù Wright also sees benefits for the students running the office. âÄúItâÄôs an opportunity for those students that are in the SELF program to get real-life experience dealing with âĦ people who need money and collecting it [back],âÄù Wright said. The loans, which have a 120-day time frame , have a limit of $1,500 per student annually , said Dutton, who has been with the group since April 2008. Dutton said the group lends loans to about 50 to 60 students each fall and spring semester, and about 30 over the summer, totaling about 150 students each year. âÄúHistorically, thereâÄôs actually quite a bit of bad debt that we probably wonâÄôt ever see,âÄù Dutton said, although he added all of last summerâÄôs loans have been paid off. Dutton estimated the group has lost approximately $50,000 in unpaid loans, mostly because of departing students, since its inception in 1990. The group began with an endowment fund before undergoing a series of organizational changes. With this fund, the group would act as an investment company and use the interest gained from investing as their operating budget. University alumnus Kirby Brunclik , who was president of SELFund from fall 2007 to spring 2008, said the group currently only receives money from the University for the employeesâÄô pay. Brunclik said when he joined the group, the University had recently stopped giving SELFund student service fees as it had switched to being a Campus Life Organization, and the group had begun âÄúspending down reserves.âÄù Dutton said the group currently operates with a fund of approximately $120,000, accumulated from the investments and the student service fees. âÄúIt will still be good for awhile into the future,âÄù Brunclik said.