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'I was the first of my family to go to university and this week I paid off the last of my loan'

While I repaid the money they lent me, I owe my local Credit Union so much more, writes Gavin Nugent.

THIS WEEK, WITH enormous satisfaction, I paid off the last instalment of my third level Credit Union loan.

For the last four and a half years, I’ve paid whatever I could, whenever I could, off the loan I took out to fund my Master’s Degree in Dublin Institute of Technology.

I always did so happily, and gratefully because I know, realistically, if it wasn’t for the Credit Union in Gorey, Co Wexford, further study, and all the opportunities that came with it, wouldn’t have been possible.

My background

There is some context to this story that is important. I come from an ordinary working class background. My parents, neither of whom went to college, worked incredibly hard to provide myself and my siblings with every opportunity possible in our lives.

We moved down to Wexford when I was a child, with my mam working locally, and my Dad commuting to Dublin daily for his job.

Whether it was driving us all over Co Wexford to events, training, or soccer or GAA matches, or scrimping and saving for school supplies or sports gear that was needed, they did everything they could for me and my siblings, often going without themselves.

First to go onto third level

Much to their pride, after my Leaving Cert I was accepted into UCD to study politics and economics – the first (but not the last) member of our family to go on to third level education.

Heavily supported by the third level grant and working part-time at home in Wexford, I made my way through UCD relatively unscathed, but found myself coming out the other end of my degree into an economy in crippling stagnation, youth unemployment at over 30%, with a generic Arts degree to my name.

There was little prospect of getting a good job, so I decided to get the head down, work the hours I could, save up money, and go back to college to do a Master’s degree.

Fast forward to 2013 – I had been accepted into DIT to study an MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication. I had saved up some money – not enough, and I was fairly confident I would receive some grant off my fees, considering my and my parents’ financial situation (the recession and negative equity had hit hard), but I needed a third level loan to cover the rest of the fees, and a deposit for a room in Dublin.

Asking for a loan

I made an appointment to the local bank, and asked for a loan of €4,000. I thought it was a modest sum, and that I would be approved as a matter of course – surely I could afford to pay back €4,000 over the course of my lifetime, even if everything went wrong? Not so.

I was (metaphorically) laughed out of the building, despite both parents acting as guarantors, and it looked like the plan of doing my Master’s was slipping away from me. Enter my local Credit Union.

My mam reminded me that I had some savings (very modest) in my Credit Union account, and I should try them for a loan. I’m so glad I did.

My loan was approved – I found a place to live, paid the couple of thousand in fees I owed, and went on to graduate from DIT in 2014.

In times of unpaid internships and in between, I reduced my payments – no problem. I missed a couple of payments here and there – no issue. Since I started working and getting a decent wage I upped my payments, again, with no penalty or hassle.

I’ve finally cleared my loan

Until this week – when I finally cleared my loan. While I repaid the money they lent me, I owe my local Credit Union so much more.

The professional opportunities, previously out of reach, that having a Master’s has unlocked, have been brilliant. Their understanding of the situation facing young people when I was working an unpaid internship and couldn’t make my agreed payments, was such a huge comfort and help.

They didn’t just lend me money – they invested in me. I always felt like an actual person to them – not just an account that they needed to balance.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep saving with them, so I can support other people in situations like mine to get loans. I would encourage others to do the same.

Gavin Nugent is a communications professional, who has previously worked in the corporate and NGO sector. He is currently the press officer with the Green Party. Follow him on Twitter @gavnugent.

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