During College: Help Your Student Avoid Overspending on Holiday Gifts

On average, Americans will spend $983 for holiday gifts this year. For those pressed for funds, even a fraction of this amount can create a new year filled with the stress of buyer’s remorse, exorbitant credit card bills, and insufficient funds for necessities.

IMG_0205Such problems overwhelm many college students just as a new term begins. Stress is the number one impediment to academic success in college. And the top two reasons why college students drop out are their need to work and earn money, and their inability to pay tuition and fees.

But you, as a parent, can help your student avoid overspending on holiday gifts.

First, manage expectations before the gift exchange. Thoughtful gifts don’t need to cost a lot. Tell your student he need not buy expensive presents. Quietly remind family members he can’t afford to spend a ton and, if your family members share holiday wish lists, lobby for some low-cost items he can afford.

Second, coach you student to establish a realistic gift budget fitting his limited finances, omitting gifts to casual friends, and dedicating a certain amount for each person on his list.

Retail businesses are exceptionally good at separating consumers from their money. IMG_0206So help your student avoid getting hoodwinked by marketing strategies designed to entice more spending than he can afford — constant sales, decoy pricing, loss leaders, loyalty cards, retail credit, etc.

Counsel your student to minimize extra fees — convenience fees, credit card fees, service charges, shipping costs, etc. Paying with cash or a debit card can avoid some of these fees. Comparative shopping can help avoid or diminish others, especially if shopping online.

Encourage him to limit self-gifting — i.e. treating himself to something while shopping for others. Whatever he’d buy can probably go on his holiday wish list.

Urge him to pick up some seasonal work to earn a few bucks that’ll help cover gifts and other holiday expenses.

Advise your student to track holiday spending. It’s helpful to establish a gift budget, but only if he stays within it. Tracking his expenditures, which simply requires a pencil and paper, helps him do this.

Finally, remind your student that spending restraint is critical to a truly happy new year!

College Affordability Solutions can provide other strategies for helping to keep your student’s costs low. Feel free to call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation.

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After College: Know What — and to Whom — You Owe Your Student Loans

If you graduated last spring after borrowing federal student loans, you’ll need to begin repaying them soon. So now’s the time to confirm what you owe and to whom you’ll make your payments.

Fortunately, the government has two easy-to-use websites through which you can IMG_0137find such information in a matter of seconds. One is the Federal Student Loan Repayment Estimator. It’ll identify your outstanding loan balances and project your monthly and total repayment amounts under each repayment plan for which you’re eligible. It can also compare these amounts if you consolidate your federal student loan debts.

This information is the key to selecting the right repayment plan before you begin making monthly payments. And if consolidation is right for you, now is the time to look into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.

IMG_0138Where can you identify who you’ll repay and/or to whom you should apply for a consolidation loan? That’s the National Direct Student Loan System (NSLDS). You can use NSLDS to identify the loan servicer — and its mailing address, phone number, and website address — for each of your Federal Direct Loans and, if you have them, Federal Perkins Loans.i

Both the estimator and NSLDS are secure federal websites so, to access and use them, you’ll need your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID.

About those federal student loan servicers . . .

They work for your lenders — the government for your Federal Direct Loans and the colleges and universities that awarded your Federal Perkins Loans. Each lender will places all loans you owe it with a single servicer.

If you owe on Federal Direct and Perkins Loans, you may have a servicer for both and you should consider consolidating those debts.

Finally, your servicer doesn’t just collect your debt. It can also to provide services to help you manage that debt — advice about resolving problems; explanations and information on the practices, rules, and systems that apply to your loans; and responding to your requests on consolidation loans, repayment plans, and payment postponements. Make sure your servicer always knows where to contact you in case it needs to reach out to you about such matters.

Knowledge is power, and knowledge about what and who you owe give you a powerful edge in managing your student loan debts. Use that edge — you’ll benefit from it!

You’re always welcome to contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for no-charge consultations on repaying your student loans.

Special Bulletin: Now Ask Your Senators to Preserve Your College Tax Benefits!

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its tax bill. This bill would repeal many of the higher education tax benefits on which millions of college students and parents rely. But it isn’t law yet.

The U.S. Senate will soon act on a similar bill. But as currently written, the Senate’s bill IMG_0078would keep the House-targeted college tax benefits in place and unchanged. These benefits include:

  • College Savings Bonds: The House would start taxing students on money they use from such bonds to pay college expenses.
  • Coverdell Education Saving Accounts: The House would prohibit new deposits into these accounts.
  • Death and Disability Debt Discharge: The House would tax student loan debts forgiven for borrowers who die or suffer total and permanent disabilities.
  • Employer-Provided Educational Assistance: The House would subject what your employer spends on your tuition, fees, books, and supplies to taxation The Senate would leave current law as is — so only employer spending above $5,250 would be taxed.
  • Graduate Tuition Reduction Exclusion: The House would make all tuition reductions awarded to graduate research and teaching assistants taxable income.
  • Interest Deduction on Student Loans: The House would end this $2,500 per year deduction.
  • Lifetime Learning and American Opportunity Tax Credits: The House would repeal the Lifetime Learning credit that applies to what you pay on a course helping you get a degree or a job skill. Instead, it would expand the American Opportunity credit from 4 to 5 years. But the American Opportunity credit applies only to degree-related courses. The Senate would leave both credits unchanged.
  • Tuition and Fee Deduction: The House would kill this $4,000 per year deduction for what you pay in tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents.

All these changes would take affect in 2018 unless the Senate causes them to be dropped.

The Senate will amend, debate, and vote on its bill soon after Thanksgiving, so there’s little time to contact your Senators (their contact information is here). Urge IMG_0081them to use the Senate bill to preserve the tax benefits described above.

The House and Senate must negotiate to finalize all differences in the bills they pass, and such negotiations often lead to one or the other bill’s differences being dropped. So the last, best hope for preserving these tax benefits is a Senate tax bill that opposes the House’s plan to kill them.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you have questions.

Before College: New Baby? Start Investing for College Now!

When your family assembles for dinner next Thursday, will a newborn be among the blessings for which you give thanks? If so, congratulations!

IMG_0042Of course you want that baby to lead a life of achievement, fulfillment, and prosperity. To do that it’ll need, as President Lyndon B. Johnson said, all the education it can take. For as he observed, “education is no longer a luxury. Education in this day and age is a necessity.”

Mr. Johnson was referring to postsecondary education. It’s costly now and it’ll be even more expensive when your baby is 18. If current trends continue, freshman year at a public 4-year college or university in 2034-35 will average $59,111 — 71% of what’s projected to then be median household income.

So if you’re like most Americans, you’ll not be able to cover all these costs from what you earn while your child’s in college. Therefore, you need to begin investing for college now.

Consider this: if you can only afford is to deposit $100 a month in a regular 1% IMG_0044interest-bearing savings account through your newborn’s 22nd year, you’ll generate $29,500 for college. If, on the other hand, your baby borrows $29,500, even at today’s student loan interest rates, repaying that debt could cost as much as $48,472.

Also, research shows that low and moderate-income students are three time more likely to enroll in and 4.5 time more likely to graduate from college if they have college savings accounts.

There are investment opportunities that generate much higher returns than a regular savings account. However, your unique needs and circumstances should guide your college investment strategies, and rules regarding these opportunities constantly fluctuate. So if you can afford it, you may want to consult a qualified investment professional before making this choice. Another good source of information is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Saving for College website and its related links.

You’ll want to employ various strategies to help make the rising price of postsecondary education more affordable, but Investing should always be among them. And the longer your money is invested, the more it’ll generate for your child’s education. So start putting aside as much as you can afford now!

If you have questions about other ways to help make your child’s college education more affordable, College Affordability Solutions provides free consultations. Seek these by calling (512) 366-5354 emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.

Special Bulletin: Stop Congress from Eliminating Your College Tax Breaks!

IMG_9916The Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is finalizing HR 1 and the full House will soon vote on it. It’s called the “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” but as currently written this bill would eliminate federal tax breaks now available to you if you’re a current, former, or future college parent or student.

But HR 1 hasn’t become law yet. You can still influence it by telling your IMG_9919Representative you want these tax breaks left intact. So find your Congressperson’s contact information here and call or write immediately!

The higher education tax breaks you’ll lose if HR 1 becomes law as currently written include:

  • Tuition and Fee Deduction: HR 1 would end your right to deduct up to $4,000 per year for what you pay in postsecondary tuition and fees.
  • Scholarship and Fellowship Exclusion: Under HR 1 the government would IMG_9917tax scholarship and fellowship amounts that pay for your tuition, fees, books, and class supplies.
  • Lifetime Learning and American Opportunity Tax Credits: HR 1 would eliminate the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. For an unlimited number of years, this credit allows you to reduce your federal income taxes by up to $2,000 per student for what you pay toward tuition, required fees, books, and supplies for courses leading to a degree or to acquiring or improving job skills. To partially offset this loss, the American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 per student would be expanded to cover five, instead of four years of these expenses — but only for at least a half-time degree or certificate-seeking student.
  • Student Loan Interest Deduction: HR 1 would end your tax deduction of up to $2,500 per year on student and parent loan interest you pay.
  • Employer-Provided Educational Assistance: Today the first $5,250 your employer pays on tuition, fees, books, and supplies for courses you take is excluded from what determines your federal income taxes. HR 1 would end this, and you’ll be taxed on such assistance.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: HR 1 would make 2017 the last year to make new deposits into Coverdell accounts.
  • College Savings Bonds: HR 1 would tax students on money they use from federal college savings bonds to pay for college.

The House votes on HR 1 soon. So if these or any of its other provisions would affect you, hurry up and exercise your rights as a citizen!

Got questions? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

During College: Your Undergraduate Needs a Spending Plan!

Last week’s post discussed how every $100 prepaid within 120 days after her fall Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan funds are disbursed can reduce an undergraduate’s repayment amount by an additional $175. Urge your student to make such a prepayment. But remember, she shouldn’t prepay loan funds she’ll need.

IMG_9872How can she know what she’ll need? The best way is for you, as a loving parent, to use your real world experience to help her create an effective spending plan (also known as a budget, though many students consider that a dirty word, right up there with terms like diet and pop quiz!).

A great time to do this is when she’s home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks. Here are key components:

  • Time Period: Make the plan for the right time period. That’s at least each academic term but, if your student depends heavily on financial aid, it should probably stretch to when she’ll receive such aid for the next term.
  • Time Increments: Split the plan into weekly or monthly increments and use it to anticipate each increment’s income and expenses, which may vary by week or month.
  • Income: Plug in funds your student will receive — financial aid, take-home pay, money from you or other family members, savings withdrawals, etc.
  • Expenses: Help your student break down what she needs to spend in each increment. The U.S Education Department offers great guidance on what to include in a student’s spending plan and on building a spending plan.
  • Needs versus Wants: It’s hard, but help her separate needs (crucial necessities) from wants (spending on goods and services your student could get through college without).
  • Savings: Coach your student to stash away some money for emergencies; also for predictable future spending — travel between school and home, holiday and other gifts, maybe even spring break.
  • Review and Adjust: Your student’s actual income and outlays since leaving for IMG_9873college can help predict income and expenses for upcoming time increments. Review her fall pay stubs, credit/debit card records, and even paper notes on cash outlays. At the end of each of the next few months, help her compare such records to her plan, then refine her plan as necessary.

An effective spending plan will benefit your student during and after college. Help her learn how to build and execute one. It’ll be some of the best parental support you’ll ever provide.

College Affordability Solutions will help you tailor various strategies for making higher education more affordable. And to make sure the price of our services doesn’t become an impediment to them, they’re all provided at no charge. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com to access these services.

During College: Save by Prepaying Unneeded Loan Funds Within 120 Days of Disbursement

So your student’s currently in college? And he borrowed a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan for this fall? He can save a lot on that loan by prepaying during the next 6 weeks. This is worth considering, because only 38.6% of college seniors look back and feel all they borrowed was essential to continuing their education.

Federal regulations say any prepayment received within 120 days of disbursement must be used to reduce that disbursement’s principal — and interest and loan fees on the prepaid principal must be automatically cancelled, too.

IMG_9849For example, a college freshman prepays $100 of his fall 2017 Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan within this 120 day period. This’ll reduce the total amount he must repay by an additional $175. Actual savings will depend on his choice of the federal repayment plans he’ll be offered — a choice he’ll make after leaving school.

These regulations also apply to upperclassmen. Their savings may be a bit less, but they’re still significant.

How to do this? First, your student should check with his financial aid office to see if it’ll submit his prepayment for film. If so, he should follow its directions. Otherwise:

  • Do Some Research: The National Student Loan Data System has his most recent Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan disbursement date (i.e. “Loan Date”). It’ll also identify his federal student loan servicer and its mailing address.
  • Meet the 120-Day Deadline: He’ll write a check to his loan servicer for the amount IMG_9854he wants to prepay and mail it 7-10 days (for delivery and processing) before the 120th day after disbursement.
  • Direct the Prepayment’s Application: To make sure his prepayment goes 100% to his most expensive federal loan — that Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan — he should write “Apply to [INSERT LOAN DATE] Unsubsidized Loan” on his check’s memo line before mailing it.

But be careful. You student should only prepay funds he doesn’t need to finish the current term. So if he doesn’t already have a spending plan, help him build one when he’s home for Thanksgiving. More about this next Wednesday.

The right to prepay at any time without penalty helps make federal loans superior to most other forms of credit available to America’s college students. And prepaying within 120 days of disbursement saves extra money, making them even better!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years of experience in a wide variety of student finance issues, including student loan debt management. Contact us at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for cost-free consultations.