Before College: Will Your Student Lose Financial Aid If You Save for College?

A young father recently said, “I’m not saving for college. Everybody knows that anything I save will just make my kids ineligible for government grants!”

There’s some truth to this. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is what Washington believes the student and his family can afford to spend on a year at college. It also determines the student’s eligibility for need-based grants. And assets such as savings and investment accounts can enlarge the EFC.

This year, the government’s only large-scale grant program, Federal Pell Grants, is reserved for students with EFCs of $6,094 or less so, if savings or other assets would push an EFC above this amount, the student would become ineligible for federal grants.

Still, there are excellent reasons to save for college:

1. Savings and investments don’t add that much to the EFC. For every $100 a parent owns in assets, just $5.60 count toward the EFC, and the EFC includes only $20 out of every $100 in student-owned assets.

2. Even children with small-dollar savings accounts designated for college are three times more likely attend college and 4.5 time more likely to graduate. These ratios rise as the amounts in college savings accounts grow.

3. Federal grants are already inadequate for financially needy students. The maximum Pell Grant covers just 23.5% of 2018-19 costs at the average state college or university, so even with that maximum Pell award, your student will still need another $19,800 to make ends meet.

4. This problem will only get worse. Student costs are expected to rise sharply over the next several years — partly because inflation has reemerged and partly because legislatures keep forcing tuition increases by downsizing college appropriations. At the same time, Washington’s massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are increasing the pressure cut spending on domestic programs such as Pell Grants.

What does all this mean? Don’t save for college and, if your student does qualify for federal grants, they’ll cover a smaller and smaller share of his college costs. As a result, he (and you) may have to borrow more and more in the student loans that make up 61% of all federal student aid. And since interest rates on these loans are rising, it’s increasingly costly to borrow for college.

There are many ways to amass the money your child will need for postsecondary education. But no matter how you do it, even just a little bit of saving and investing for college is a winning strategy, and a way to reduce your child’s dependence on educational debt.

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation if you’re looking for ways to make college more affordable for you or your student.

Before, During, and After College: Resources To Help You Understand Your Federal Student Loans

Few students and parents are familiar with their rights and responsibilities as student loan borrowers. Even fewer know of the resources available to help them obtain such information.

The Federal Direct Loan Program makes 90% of all student loans so, today, we’re discussing FDLP information resources for those loans.

Before and During College

To receive your first FDLP loan, you must complete an online Master Promissory Notes (MPN) — your loan contract with the government. It spells out your rights and responsibilities as a borrower. Review it carefully. Ask questions about it if necessary. Make a paper copy and store that copy in a safe place. You can never can tell when you’ll need it.

You must also complete online entrance counseling before you get your first FDLP loan. Pay close attention to its content. You’ll find it really helpful.

The Federal Student Aid (FSA) website is informative and easy to read. Under “Types of Aid,” open its Loans webpage for what you need to know about different FDLP loans, how to get them, their borrowing limits, and how they differ from private student loans. Back on the Loans webpage you’ll also find information on FDLP interest rates and fees.

Finally, your financial aid office should be able to advise you on FDLP loan issues that arise before and during college.

After College

The government provides online exit counseling when you leave school and repayment begins to draw near. Be sure to complete this counseling, and pay close attention to the facts it offers.

There’s also a How to Repay Your Loans webpage on the FSA website. It’ll connect you to guidance about making payments, finding the right repayment plan, and what to do if you’re having trouble making payments. It also links to information about loan forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge, and there’s a repayment calculator for estimating your payments under each repayment plan available to you.

The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which is accessible with your FSA ID, shows you what owe on your FDLP loans, each loan’s status, and the federal loan servicer collecting them.

If you need advice about situations affecting your FDLP debt, call your federal loan servicer or the government’s Student Loan Support Center at (800) 557-7394. You can also call or email the Federal Student Aid Information Center. It’s phone number is (800) 433-3243.

No matter which federal loans you have, bookmark and use these resources. Only by being well-informed will you be able to manage your federal college debt well.

Contact College Affordability Solutions for free consultations if you have difficulty understanding anything about any of your student loans.

Before, During, and After College: Watch Out For Student Aid Scams!

Halloween! The traditional date for trick or treating. But you should beware every day that tricksters out there want to rip you off before, during, and after college.

Students get $253 billion a year in financial aid, and scammers go where the money is, so rest assured they’re after your aid and other money.

Here’s a common scam. The promise to “find’ sources from which you can apply for aid in return for fees of hundreds or thousands of dollars. What’s delivered is information on federal, state, or private aid programs.

You can get this information for free from your high school counselor or reputable scholarship search engines like Big Future and Fastweb.

Another example — the U.S. Education Department (ED) reports phishing emails are targeting student accounts that use single factor authentications of student identity. Scammers then redirect deposits from student bank accounts into their bank accounts. This includes deposits of student aid remaining after tuition and fee payments — i.e. your spending money for the academic term.

Schools notify students upon sending aid to their bank accounts. If such deposits aren’t in your account within 3-4 working days, contact your school and, if need be, notify ED.

Those struggling to repay college debts are also fraud targets. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 11 state attorneys general found scammers that used false promises of debt relief to steal more than $95 million in illegal fees from federal borrowers.

This year, New York sued several so-called debt relief companies that allegedly talked borrowers into making student loan payments to them for $1,000 in fees. And Betsy Mayotte of TISLA tells of a crooked company pretending to do federal student loan debt relief. It tells borrowers that repayment plans tying monthly payments to income are ending, then charges them fees to keep using such plans.

You can always repay your lender — including ED for Federal Direct Loans — at no charge. And income-sensitive repayment plans aren’t ending. It costs nothing to get or keep them. Just call your federal student loan servicer.

It’s not always easy to recognize student aid/loan scammers, so here are some warning signs. They:

  • Request up-front fees. No legitimate student aid or loan provider charges up front for its services.
  • Seek personal information. Some scammers hope to steal your identity to open fake credit cards in your name.
  • Make promises that sound too good to be true, because they are too good to be true!

If you’ve been scammed, file a consumer complaint with the FTC. It may be able to get your money back, or at least warn others of what to watch for.

Suspicious of some offer related to your student aid and loans? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation.

After College: If You’re Older and Paying on College Loans, You’re Not Alone. And You Have Options!

The nation’s $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is increasingly affecting older Americans, and not for the better.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently found that the numbers of people aged 60 and over owing on college loans quadrupled in a decade. Their average educational debt rose from $12,100 to $23,500 during that period.

A $23,500 debt generates monthly payments that can reach $490. This significantly reduces what aging Americans have to spend on basic necessities, including healthcare. It also cuts into what they can save for retirement.

These problems are compounded by the automobile, credit card, mortgage, and other debts many older borrowers are repaying. Bankruptcy courts, however, hardly ever discharge student loan debts.

Fifty and 60 year olds amass these debts by helping children and grandchildren pay for school or by cosigning — pledging to repay if their students don’t — private loans. Only 27% borrow for themselves.

Not surprisingly, many older borrowers struggle to repay educational loans. The CFPB found that 12% were behind on such payments, negatively affecting their credit scores.

Among federal student loan borrowers aged 65 and over, 37% were in default. The government has the legal right to garnish (confiscate) their social security benefits to repay their defaults. Social security is the only regular source of retirement income for 69% of Americans aged 65 and over, so this is particularly alarming.

Delinquent and defaulted borrowers are also subject to aggressive, hostile, even threatening collection calls and letters. As one expert put it, “A student loan can be a debt that’s kind of like a ball and chain that you . . . drag to the grave.”

How to avoid these problems? If you’re a precollege parent, implement a College Finance Plan. This’ll help your children cut the cost of a quality postsecondary education by, for example, completing college level classes in high school, getting grants, and winning scholarships. It’ll also help you maximize savings and financial resources other than debt to pay that price.

If you and your student must borrow for college, use the Federal Direct Loan Program’s (FDLP’s) student and/or parent PLUS loans. If either of you ever considers private student loans, research and compare them (see here and here) beforehand.

Carefully select your loan repayment plan. Different plans require different monthly payment amounts. In the FDLP, some also lead to loan forgiveness. You can also reduce monthly payments temporarily through forbearance or permanently through consolidation, which is generally better for federal loans than refinancing them.

Finally, FDLP loans offer three pathways for getting out of default. Explore them here.

Owing on college loans late in life need not be a crisis. Check your options. Then pursue what works best for you!

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies to better manage your college loan debts. There is no charge for consulting with it on this or other issues related to paying for postsecondary education.

During and After College: Despite What You May Have Heard, Public Service Loan Forgiveness is Still Available!

IMG_5373Hey current and future public servants! Are you hoping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will cancel part of your student debt? But do you keep hearing scary things about the program? Well, the PSLF news is both bad and good.

Bad News: Republicans want to kill PSLF. The president’s last two proposed budgets would have eliminated it. So would a Republican bill the House Education and Workforce Committee passed on a party line vote early this year.

Good News: Congress ignored all these proposals. Even if it accepts them in the future, PSLF’s end will probably apply only to those not borrowing qualifying loans (see below) before the following July 1st. If you borrow such loans before that date they’ll likely remain PSLF-eligible.

Keep tabs on PSLF with the U.S. Education Department’s easy to read and very informative PSLF web page.

Bad News: Most who’ve applied for PSLF so far have been disqualified. One problem seems to be that FedLoans, the company administering PSLF for the government, misled many borrowers about PSLF-qualifying repayment plans (again, see below).

Good News: Congress put up $700 million to fund the Temporary Expanded Public Loan Forgiveness program under which PSLF goes on a first-come/first-served basis to borrowers whose PSLF applications were rejected solely because they used the wrong repayment plans.

Bad News: PSLF’s low forgiveness rate is also due to borrower mistakes.

Good News: You can avoid such mistakes. Remember, you must meet four criteria for 120 months to get PSLF. These need not be consecutive months, but they count only if you have:

  1. Qualifying Loans: Only Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) loans qualify for IMG_5374PSLF. The National Student Loan Data System will show you other federal college loans you may have. Replacing them with an FDLP Consolidation Loan makes them PSLF-eligible.
  2. Qualifying Employment: Only months in which you work full-time in public service positions count and you must submit PSLF employment certification forms on which your employers confirm the months you had such jobs. It’s best to submit these forms to FedLoans by certified mail every year or when your qualifying employment with a government agency or nonprofit ends, whichever’s first, and to keep copies and your certified mail receipts.
  3. Qualifying Repayment Plan: As indicated above, a month counts only if you’re making payment under the standard repayment plan or one of the four income-driven repayment plans.
  4. Qualifying Payment: A month counts only if you pay the full required amount on-time.

IMG_5375Don’t qualify for PSLF? Don’t give up! The (Almost) Complete Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness from The Institute of Student Loan Advisors is a wonderful resource for information on over 200 other student loan forgiveness programs in the United States. Use it!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation about your postsecondary debt if you want to take advantage of its 40 years of experience in the field of college borrowing.

During College: Using Campus Services to Boost Academic Performance Pays Off

Performing well academically makes postsecondary learning more affordable. Completing your classes with good grades does this by helping you:

  • Improve your chances of winning scholarships and paid on-campus IMG_5329assistantships or internships
  • Avoid flunking out or dropping classes to avoid flunking out, both of which require you to pay tuition and fees at least twice to finish the same credit hours; an
  • Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward your degree. The government and other providers set SAP standards for the aid programs they fund, so SAP rules may differ from award to award. But whatever they are, you must comply with them to remain eligible for the financial aid you’re currently receiving.

So take advantage of available academic support services even if you’re not at risk of dropping below SAP or flunking out. Given the financial benefits of a good academic record, it just makes sense to use these services as much help as possible as early as possible.

IMG_5332Where to go? That depends on the issue. Of course, if you have trouble understanding or applying anything that comes up in class, see that class’s teacher or teaching assistant right away.

Your institution probably has numerous other services to help resolve situations that make for academic problems. They’re typically free and always confidential. Examples include centers and offices for:

  • Academic Advising: Consult these professionals about classes and course schedules. They can also guide you to other campus resources;
  • Campus Safety or Police: Contact them whenever your security may be in jeopardy;
  • Career and Job Placement: This is for help exploring changes of major and IMG_5335related employment pathways;
  • Counseling: Go here for help with anxiety, grief and loss, stress, and other emotional or mental wellness issues;
  • Disabled Students: This office will help you arrange accommodations and services to overcome functional limitations;
  • Emergency Services: These provide support to help overcome crises, emergencies, food shortages, or homelessness;
  • Learning or Student Success: Go here for tutoring and for coaching, study groups, and workshops to help improve your academic skills — note-taking, public speaking, studying, test-taking, etc.;
  • Legal Services: This’ll help you understand your rights under civil, consumer, criminal, tenant, and traffic laws;
  • Multicultural Students: You can find programs and events to help you understand students from other cultures, deal with prejudice, etc.;
  • Student Health: Get treatment here for physical illnesses or injuries; and
  • Student Housing: Your resident assistant can help you navigate roommate and other living environment issues. He can also guide you to other services.

In summary, there are many forms of academic assistance on campus. Use them early and often to do your best in every class and keep college as affordable as possible!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free-consultation if you want strategies to implement before, during and after college to make it more affordable.

Before College: Check Out Free Tuition Programs When Considering Colleges

One of the best ways to make college more affordable is to reduce tuition and fees.
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The latest available data show that, in 2017-18, the average tuition and fees charged to full-time undergraduates were:

  • $3,570 at community colleges;
  • $9,970 at in-state, public, 4-year colleges;
  • $25,620 at out-of-state, public, 4-year colleges; and
  • $34,740 at private, 4-year colleges.

But elected officials, candidates for public office and many colleges are pushing a new trend in American higher education — free tuition. Check for this as you consider applying to various postsecondary schools.

Some free tuition programs have been well-covered by the media. For example, New York’s Excelsior Grant, which offers in-state undergraduates tuition-free attendance at any school in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Another well-publicized state initiative is Tennessee’s Tuition Promise and Reconnect Programs. They cover full tuition at all of that state’s community colleges and technical institutes.

Rice University has an institutional plan that recently gained national attention. Rice’s tuition exceeds $40,000 a year, so it’s long offered generous scholarships. But beginning next academic year, it’s enlarging its Rice Investment Program to cover full tuition for students from even upper middle-class households.

Likewise, The University of Texas at Austin* has expanded funding for its Texas Advance Commitment to fully cover tuition for low-income undergraduates and partially cover it for the upper middle-class.

IMG_5228Across the country, other colleges are offering free tuition programs at least somewhat similar to those offered by Rice and in Austin. Be sure to look for such programs at any school you’re considering.

Most of these programs won’t actually eliminate tuition. Instead, they guarantee grants and scholarships (gift aid) sufficient to cover 100% of the tuition, and sometimes required fees, billed to students. These are usually “last dollar” awards — that is, they fill gaps remaining after federal and private gift aid is subtracted from tuition bills.

Certain other characteristics are common to these programs. Some, but not all, require students to:

  • Work while attending classes, fulfill post-graduate service requirements, or sign income-share agreements under which they pledge part of their post-graduate earnings to their institutions;
  • Have family incomes below certain thresholds, or have financial need, so the FAFSA is typically required;
  • Be residents of the states in which their colleges are located;
  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;
  • Enroll full-time; and/or
  • Attend summer school or other specified academic terms.

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To find a map of the United States through which you can link to information on dozens of free tuition programs, go to the College Promise website. College Promise is an initiative of Civic Nation, to which this website is attributable.

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A word of warning . . . don’t let free tuition be the only thing you consider about colleges. It’s also essential to achieve student-institutional fit because, ultimately, the most important thing is to succeed in college!

* Note: The author is an alumnus and prior employee of The University of Texas at Austin, but College Affordability Solutions does not necessarily endorse or recommend it or any other institution cited in this article.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies to help keep postsecondary learning affordable.