By Austin Roper

Sebastian Sanchez, a junior business major at the University of Georgia, has compiled a financial safety net if ever faced with an unexpected financial emergency.

Although he spent several years growing his savings account, he said it would only satisfy a few months of rent and groceries. The longer and more damaging the emergency, the less certain his financial stability would become.

“Hopefully, it wouldn’t be anything too crazy, where (my savings) would be enough to cover it,” Sanchez said. “But other than that, I’m not really sure what I would do.”

According to a 2019 survey by DepositAccounts, a website that follows banking products, 34% of the 969 college students surveyed said they had $1,000 or more in their savings account. Another 25% said they had between $100-500 and 11% said they’d saved nothing.

Mark Kantrowitz, author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid and former publisher of Savingforcollege.com, said the first step for students seeking emergency financial help should be to contact the financial aid office at their school.

“Some financial aid offices have emergency financial aid funds for unanticipated expenses,” Kantrowitz said. “There usually are different criteria, by college. Some of them it’s gift aid, they just give you the money. In other cases, it’s a short-term loan. It depends on the nature and the extent of the emergency.”

At UGA, one option students have is the UGA Student Emergency Fund, which provides a limited, one-time financial assistance to enrolled students “who are unable to meet immediate, essential expenses” because of an emergency financial situation.

Graduate students at UGA can try the Graduate Student Emergency Fund, which is similar to the Student Emergency Fund. But some students, like Sanchez, aren’t even aware of these options.

“I’ve never received any email or anything to inform me of that,” he said. “It’s nice to know now that I’d have that in case I ever needed it.”

Kantrowitz said emergency financial aid is a relatively recent development for colleges and universities. Kantrowitz said 10 years ago there was a lot less money available for college students seeking emergency assistance.

“Now you start having colleges aware that there are students who are food and housing insecure, and that there are students who all of a sudden something comes up and it forces them to drop out of college,” Kantrowitz said. “There’s been more research recently that shows that, so the colleges are trying to find ways to eliminate this barrier to college completion.”

Usually, the process to collect emergency financial aid is a pretty quick process, Kantrowitz said. Often it takes just a few days, with the application usually asking for a summary of the circumstances and how much is needed.

But if possible, Kantrowitz said saving a few hundred dollars by reducing spending should be enough for college students to make it through most financial situations.

“So, you spend less than what you earn,” he said. “Therefore, you build up a little bit of an emergency fund, certainly something that’ll help you with the cash flow.”

Austin Roper is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.