About Tom Melecki

40 years experience in the administration of and rule making for postsecondary student financial aid and loan programs. Tom's experience also includes advising students and their parents, providing personal financial management education to college students, research on college students and their finances, and nonprofit management.

Before College: Information That’ll Help You Begin Investing for College

We told you last month that it’s never too early to start investing for college. But for many Americans, investing can be scary. They’re not sure how to begin and, not having much money to lose, they’re not sure how to minimize investing risks.

But a great article entitled Stuck with Investing? just came out. The author of this succinct, easy to read, and informative article is our colleague, Linda Matthew, the Accredited Financial Counselor who helps people manage their personal finances through her consulting firm, MoneyMindful.

Take a look at Stuck with Investing? It’ll help answer some of your key questions as you prepare to start investing for college — or anything else!

This fall, College Affordability Solutions is publishing a series of articles about strategies to include in Pre-College Finance Plans. Become a follower of our website to receive these articles, which will come out every Wednesday.

Before College: Make Your Vote Part of Your Pre-College Finance Plan!

Do need help so you can get an affordable degree or certificate leading to a satisfying, well-paying career? Are you wondering how you’ll manage your student loan debt? This fall’s election is incredibly important to the collegiate access and affordability that once prepared a workforce so skilled and well-educated it made the U.S. a world leader.

The Biden-Harris presidential ticket offers several proposals to address this issue. The Trump-Pence ticket has no similar proposals, but its administration made some revealing student grant and student loan proposals in its Fiscal Year 2021 federal budget recommendation.


As we’ve noted, the total cost of attending 4-year in-state public colleges averaged 41% of Median Household Income last academic year. Over the last decade, those costs rose 37%, led by a 49% tuition and fee increase.


  • Make all public colleges tuition free for students with family incomes below $125,000.
  • Provide two years of tuition-free career and technical training for those seeking to improve job skills.
  • Spend $50 billion on workforce training, including community college-based apprenticeship and business partnership programs.


  • Increase funding for career and technical training by almost $900 million.


Last academic year’s maximum Federal Pell Grant was $6,195 — 23% of the average total cost at 4-year in-state public colleges and universities, but down from 28% those costs in 2009-10.


  • For undergraduates from America’s poorest households, double Pell Grant amounts.
  • Extend Pell Eligibility to middle-class students.


  • Cut Pell appropriations by $1.7 billion and hold Pell award amounts steady.
  • Extend Pell eligibility to incarcerated students and students in short-term (mostly for-profit) programs leading to certificates or licenses in high-demand occupations.


More than 60% of 2019 bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed while attending 4-year colleges (public and private nonprofit). Their borrowing averaged $28,950, almost 57% of their average starting salaries, and 45 million Americans now owe $1.56 trillion in postsecondary debt.


  • Their tuition and Pell Grant proposals would help reduce future student borrowing.
  • Offer borrowers a new Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan limiting annual federal loan payments to 5% of their discretionary income — income minus taxes and essential spending — and forgiveness for whatever’s owed after 20 years.
  • Reform Public Service Loan Forgiveness to cancel $10,000/year in federal debt for up to 5 years of public service work.


  • Eliminate the Federal Direct Loan Program’s (FDLP’s) subsidized loans, thereby limiting undergraduates to FDLP unsubsidized loans on which interest builds up while in school. Set a $26,500 lifetime limit on FDLP parent loans.
  • Replace all current IDR plans with a “Single IDR” plan requiring payments equaling 12.5% of discretionary income and prohibiting loan forgiveness until 30 years of payments have been made.
  • Abolish Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Remember, enrollment in postsecondary learning in the United States has dropped from 20.1 million in fall 2010 to 17.2 million in spring 2020 (even before the COVID pandemic) — a 14% decline. If you want to reverse this trend, if you want post-high school education to become more affordable for yourself and others, if you want to shrink you and your fellow Americans’ student loan indebtedness, than your Pre-College Finance Plan should include voting for Biden-Harris, not Trump-Pence!

Before and after college, College Affordability Solutions provides students and parents with free coaching on how to search for non-federal grants, scholarships, and part-time jobs to help make postsecondary learning more affordable and diminish reliance on student loans. If you need such assistance, contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com to set up a consultation.

Before College: Middle School’s the Time to Help Your Children Start Focusing on Career Directions

Andy’s the newest market research staff member for a firm helping technology companies develop branding and positioning strategies for their products. He received a bachelor’s degree in public relations from his state’s leading public university last December, but spent five and one-half years, or 11 semesters, getting that degree.

Andy’s college-related expenses for 11 semesters added up to over $135,000. That’s almost $37,000 more than the costs incurred by classmates who graduated in 8 semesters, or 4 years. Not surprisingly, Andy borrowed about $38,000 in student loans — $11,000 more than the average for his university’s 4-year (8 semester) degree earners.

What took Andy so long? Once he selected public relations, he needed just 7 semesters to graduate. But he spent 4 semesters previous semesters trying out 3 other majors — economics, psychology, and journalism.

College is a very expensive place to “find oneself.” So the faster students zero in what they want to do in terms of the careers for which different majors prepare them, the more affordable college will be.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports the median number of months for first-time undergraduates to earn their bachelor’s degrees is 52, and that graduating 60% of these “four-year” degree-earners takes 5 years. Another NCES study found that about 30% of all undergraduates change majors within three years of starting college, with 9% switching majors multiple times.

So, as a parent, you want your Pre-College Finance Plan to help ensure your children zero in on career “clusters” that’ll interest them and that their talents match.

The middle school years are a good time to start doing this. By then, you’ve been observing your children at play and in school for many years, giving you important insights into what they are and aren’t good at as well as what they do and don’t enjoy. Sharing this information with middle school guidance counselors and teachers can help them steer your children toward various career awareness tools including, but not limited to aptitude surveys and interest and preference questionnaires.

Armed with the results of these tools, you and their middle school counselors and teachers can advise your children about:

  • Books and periodicals that, while read for fun, will also inform them about assorted occupations;
  • Classes that’ll prepare them for high school courses related to particular pursuits;
  • Extracurricular activities that’ll help them refine skill sets not taught in classes — e.g. leadership, responsibility, teamwork;
  • Job shadowing and mentorship opportunities; and
  • School speakers to help better understand careers that’ll be good matches for them.

The reference made above to career clusters is intentional. It’s not necessary to decide in middle school that your children must be brain surgeons — there’s still time to get that specific. On the other hand, middle school isn’t too soon to recognize their abilities for and interests in, say, business or science. And remember, doing this can generate big college cost savings!

College Affordability Solutions helps parents or students select strategies for their Pre-College Finance Plan. We never charge them for doing this. So contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com to schedule consultations with us.

Before College: When It Comes to Personal Money Management, Teach Your Children Well!

If you’re a parent with one or more children in the pre through middle school, here’s a crucial question — what are you doing to prepare your children to manage their money when you’re not around?

Why Teach It?

By instilling sound personal finance practices at early ages, you’ll help your children handle money wisely as they go off to college and become independent adults. The responsibility for doing this falls mainly to you, the parent, as it is perhaps the most poorly addressed need in today’s K-12 education system.

In a recent national survey, 50% of Americans said they’d experience financial hardship if they had to come up with $1,000 or less for an emergency expense in the next 30 days. The survey’s respondents ranked personal finance as being more important to students than drug and alcohol dangers, healthy eating and exercise habits, and safe driving. Nevertheless, only 21 states currently require the completion of a personal finance course before high school graduation.

What to Teach?

Last April, Linda Matthew of MoneyMindful focused on debt and savings — two incredibly important topics about which even small children can and should learn. And as Linda reveals in her excellent book, Teach Your Children About Money, there are other, similar lessons students can and should acquire before high school begins.

Below are four dollars-and-cents issue sets to begin teaching your children about during their preschool, elementary school, and middle school years. But because you know the most about your family financial circumstances — and those of your children — you should develop your own list of teaching topics.

  • Personal Values: What do they need versus do they want? And within those wants, which are they willing to defer versus making an immediate purchase? How much are they willing to devote to what charities that are important to them?
  • Planning: How do they set monetary goals, then what should they do and avoid doing to achieve those goals?
  • Income: The allowances you give your children will likely be their sole sources of income. Use these allowances to help them understand that incomes are limited, and they aren’t enlarged for frivolous reasons. As your children grow older — probably beyond age 6 — tying all or some of their allowances to chores performed can help prepare them for the world of work.
  • Costs and Spending: Different products and services cost different amounts. Competing providers also offer consumers the same products and services for different amounts. Show your children the advantages of comparative shopping and disadvantages of impulse buying; and that, if they make mistakes with their money, the consequences will be theirs to manage.

How to Teach It?

You’re not a classroom teacher, and most children don’t respond well when mom or dad give lectures followed by tests. So how do you go about instructing your children on these topics?

You’ve got something better than any classroom teacher — reality! It generates large numbers of “teachable moments.” But such moments require lots of candor and openness to be effective.

Remember, your children are constantly watching so, like or not, they’re always learning from you. But make sure they get the full story. Don’t hide family finances from them. Help them understand how your values, plans, costs, and incomes drive your financial decisions. As they mature, maybe even involve them in discussions about some of those decisions.

This fall, College Affordability Solutions is publishing on a different aspect of pre-college finance every Wednesday, so become a follower of this website to ensure that you receive the latest of strategies and tactics you can use to generate funds for or cut the costs of college.

Before College: Hey High School Seniors! Dates and Deadlines Are Critical for Grants and Scholarships!

The best financial aid is “gift aid” — scholarships and grants. Needless to say, your Pre-College Finance Plan should include strategies to help you get as much of it as possible. This includes knowing, understanding, and acting within certain date ranges and deadlines.

Millions of dollars in gift aid are available, but they’re simply not enough to cover most student’s educationally-related costs. In fact, 2020 undergraduate scholarships paid only 16% of these costs, and freshman through senior-year grants covered just 10% of them. So competition for gift aid is fierce, and many students lose out on it by failing to apply in a timely manner.

In fact, you should apply for grants and scholarships as soon as possible for two reasons:

  • Financial aid offices sometimes prioritize their limited grant and scholarship dollars based on application dates, so there may not be much or any gift aid left if you’re a last-minute applicant; and
  • Sadly, would-be frauds apply for financial aid, so aid offices need time to verify data — a complex and time consuming process that generally delays the consideration of students for gift aid until it’s completed.

Probably the single most important financial aid date of the year is fast-approaching. The academic year 2021-22 Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) on the Web becomes available beginning Thursday, October 1 at 1:00 am EDT.

FAFSA data are used to determine how much eligibility a student has for a broad array of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid programs — grants, scholarships, loans, work-study — so it’s imperative to complete your FAFSA October 1 or as soon thereafter as possible if you’ll need help paying for college in 2021-22.

Not sure how to complete the FAFSA? You can learn all you need from the government’s instructional webpage about it. If you previously completed a FAFSA, use FAFSA on the Web’s renewal webpage to update and correct their data for 2021-22.

The last date to fill out a FAFSA varies from state to state (see here) and school to school (check with your school).

And some financial aid programs — especially loans and scholarships — have their own unique application forms even though they also use FAFSA data. So be sure to pay close attention to their application deadlines.

Don’t wait to complete the FAFSA or any other grant or scholarship application form! Be one of the first in line to request the gift aid you need!

Need help completing your FAFSA? Let College Affordability Solutions put 40 years of financial aid experience to work helping you — at no charge — by contacting it at (512) 366-5354 or emailing it at collegeafford@gmail.com.

You also need to be preparing financially for postsecondary expenses. That’s why we’re also publishing on a different Pre-College Finance Plan strategy every Wednesday this autumn. So follow this website to make sure you get the latest on ways to help make, and keep, postsecondary education something you can afford.

Before College: Beef Up Math, Reading, and Writing Skills Now To Help Your Children Win Scholarships Later

Scholarships! Free money! No repayment, no interest accumulation, and students don’t work to receive their proceeds. So they’re the best way to pay postsecondary educational expenses. From birth through high school, parents can play a role in improving scholarship chances for their children when the college years arrive. Here are three major ways . . .

Boost Mathematical Skills

Math is essential in modern life. Applied fields like computer science, engineering, and information technology depend on it. All the physical sciences use it. Research and analysis that increases knowledge in the social sciences rely on it, too.

Not surprisingly, there are many scholarships for students who do well in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Strong math scores on standardized tests and high school GPAs featuring solid math grades also help students win other, more general scholarships.

Your children don’t need expensive math camps. The Michigan State University Extension Service provides guidance on how parents can help young children grasp mathematical basics that’ll make them better with more complex math problems later. And the National PTA offers a series of Parents’ Guides to Student Success, each of which provides pointers on things students need to excel in math and other subjects during grades K-8 and high school.

Enhance Reading Ability

Lots of reading when children are young often turns them into good writers. And since many scholarship selection committees use essays to help them make decisions, reading to your very young children, and encouraging them to do their own reading as they grow, can pay off in the postsecondary years.

Top-notch scholarship essays authentically, clearly, compellingly, and succinctly reveal personal experiences and how they’ve influenced applicants. Stories that are autobiographical, biographical, or about real-life happenings — from historical incidents to contemporary sporting events — tend to have these elements.

Children who listen to and read good writing as they grow tend to have stronger vocabularies. Typically, they’re also better at framing the cohesive, descriptive phrases needed for strong scholarship essays.

Strengthen Writing Proficiency

Reading alone doesn’t fully prepare students to write effective scholarship essays. Writing is a process and, like any process, it gets better with practice.

Writing for scholarships is similar to writing for other purposes, so preparing to write scholarship essays can also help produce winning admissions essays and term papers.

Grammarly recommends five steps to practice for writing scholarship essays. They’re useful regardless of writing style, and they can be practiced in many settings — school classes and newspapers, debate and speech teams, writing camps and workshops, etc. But they can also be developed informally, at home, with family.

Collaborate with school teachers to coordinate activities that’ll build up math, reading, and writing skills for your children. This’ll make them stronger scholarship candidates. And it’ll also enhance college admission and job opportunities. In short, it’s a way amplify lifelong chances for multiple successes!

We’ll publish another article on strategies for your Pre-College Finance Plan right here every Wednesday through December. So follow this website to learn more about these strategies!

Before College: It’s Never Too Early to Start Investing and Saving for Postsecondary Education

With a year at the average in-state college costing 41% of median household income, most Americans don’t earn enough to pay for postsecondary learning from their monthly paychecks. But as master-investor Warren Buffett says, “Never depend on a single income, make an investment to create a second source.”

Postsecondary costs increase every year, so start investing as soon as possible. The longer your money’s invested, the greater it’s future value can be thanks to dividend and interest earnings.

Even if you could only invest $100/month at 1% interest beginning when your child’s born, you’ll have over $27,000 for college when that child turns 18. Unless you have big dollars to invest and save, your accounts won’t pay all postsecondary expenses, but they’ll reduce what you and your child need to borrow for those expenses.

There are several postsecondary saving and investing options. Here are some of the more popular:

  • 529 Plans: All states offer tax advantaged savings or prepaid tuition programs so parents, grandparents, others can help designated “beneficiaries” pay their educational expenses. Look here for more information.
  • Bonds, Stocks, and Mutual Funds: Most people use professionally managed mutual funds to invest in bonds and the stock market. Prospectuses are available on these products to disclose key details about them. Read these carefully before investing.
  • Certificates of Deposit: CDs and their fixed rates of return are federally insured and so very safe. But returns are low, and taxed like other income, and there are penalties if you withdraw funds early.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: Coverdell ESAs are open to those with Modified Adjusted Gross Incomes (MAGIs) below $110,000 ($220,000 if married filing jointly). Money in them grows tax free and can pay $2,000 per year of each designated beneficiary’s Qualified Education Expenses.
  • Education Savings Bonds: Series EE savings bonds are safe, reliable, and government backed. They can be bought for $25 to $10,000. Their rates of return are very low, but the interest they earn is tax-free for investors with MAGIs below $99,250 ($146,300 if married filing jointly).
  • Savings Accounts: Regular savings accounts are federally insured up to $250,000 so they’re incredibly safe. Interest earnings are low, fixed, and taxed. But with no withdrawal penalties, the money’s available whenever needed.
  • Roth IRAs: The up to $6,000 or $7,000 per year you put into a Roth IRA is taxable, but the money you take out isn’t as long as it’s been there five or more years and you’re at least 59.5 years old or you use it to pay you or your dependents’ tuition, fees, books, and educational equipment.

Will investing cause your student to lose out on financial aid? Maybe. But student grants cover just 10% of college expenses, with family income, savings, and student loans paying the rest. And investments hurt aid eligibility far less than earned income during the postsecondary years.

Don’t use money you need for basic necessities, emergencies, retiring high-interest credit card debts, or retirement to invest for college. But see your banker or a financial advisor about how to invest as much as possible today and minimize postsecondary debt tomorrow.

Investing and saving is important, but it’s just one of several strategies for your Pre-College Finance Plan that we’ll cover this fall. Become a follower of this website to access an article on new strategies every Wednesday between now and mid-December!

Before College: Strategies for Your Pre-College Finance Plan

We’ve described affordability crisis in postsecondary education. Simply put — there’s not enough money for low and middle-income Americans to pay the exploding price of education after high school.

But don’t give up! Whether you want your child to college or hope to go there yourself, you can make it more affordable with an effective plan for keeping such learning within your means — a Pre-College Finance Plan.

A Pre-College Finance Plan includes strategies you select and implement to maximize your financial resources for postsecondary learning and to reduce your postsecondary costs. Begin your plan as soon as possible, because some of these strategies are very time sensitive. But if you don’t yet have a Pre-College Finance Plan remember, it’s never too late start one.

Here’s a breakdown of possible strategies for this plan. They’re divided by the four phases in the 18 – 19 year lifespan of one who begins postsecondary study within a year of finishing high school. But even if those aren’t your circumstances, many of the can still help you.

Birth – Elementary School

  • Invest and Save: The earlier you start, the better, even if you don’t have much to put away.
  • Promote Math, Reading, and Writing: These can help children capture scholarships later.
  • Teach Money Basics: Educating little ones on money basics now can help them handle it wisely in college.

Middle School

  • Identify General Career Directions: It’s too early to decide if children should study brain surgery, but not to early to recognize their interest in, say, health care or the sciences. This’ll help cut college expenses in many ways.
  • Start Enhancing Online Skills: Even after COVID-19, web-based communication and research will be increasingly critical in navigating America’s education and scholarship systems.

High School Years 1 – 3

  • AP and Dual Credit Courses: Students can generate big savings by taking college-level courses in high school, then transferring those credits to quicken postsecondary completion.
  • Community and Extracurricular Activities: These helps make students stronger scholarship candidates.
  • Scholarship Search: Start this in the spring of junior year.
  • Summer and Part-Time Work: Student employment can generate significant savings and other postsecondary financial resources.
  • Political Activism: Work in your own, and your country’s, interests by pushing to make federal and state financial aid programs better serve needy students.

High School Senior Year

  • Dates and Deadlines: They make a big difference in whether students get grants and scholarships.
  • Rip-Offs and Scams: Beware of crooks as you seek and apply for financial aid, and understand games postsecondary schools play in disclosing their costs and scholarships.
  • Comparative Shopping: Select schools that are good fits, but don’t shun community colleges as a place to start. Be careful about high-priced private and out-of-state public colleges. Avoid profit-driven schools.
  • Year One Preparation: Help students prepare to live frugally and independently — e.g. to manage money, do laundry, cook meals (if they’re not living on-campus or at home), etc. You’d be surprised how much can be saved.

College Affordability Solutions will post an article about each of these strategies every Wednesday for the next 15 weeks. So become a follower of this website to make sure you get the latest!

Before College: Don’t Delay or Pause Postsecondary Enrollment! Take Classes Now and Make as Much Progress as You Can!

Forty percent of academic year 2020-21’s admitted freshmen recently told surveyors they’re likely/highly likely to skip college this fall. And 28% of other students indicated they’d do the same. But unless college enrollment is absolutely impossible this year, make not delaying progress on your education part of your Pre-College Finance Plan.

You have good reasons to be reluctant about enrolling. Will you be safe from COVID-19 on campus? Will fellow students may behave in ways that spread it? Will online classes be worth the tuition and fees you pay for them, especially as some schools hit you with extra fees for providing those classes.

Even so, to keep college affordable, you’d be smart to make as much progress toward your degree or certificate as soon as you can, because your out-of-pocket (net) costs of attending a postsecondary school are likely to accelerate over the next several years.

Closing campuses, moving to online classes, and cancelling intercollegiate athletics are certainly the right things to do from a public health standpoint, but they’re also generating significant institutional revenue losses. Some school endowments can offset these losses. Most can’t. And since at least 35 states have already revised their 2021 revenue estimates downward, they’re unlikely to increase postsecondary appropriations. Result? In future years, tuition and fees will likely rise faster than their 5% per year jump over the last decade.

And during the next several years, cash-strapped states will find it difficult to impossible to keep their grants, scholarships, and work-study programs at current levels. This will accelerate net cost increases for students.

Speaking of scholarships, if you’ve been awarded one for 2020-21, you may not be able to keep it if you delay college until January or next academic year.

Must you borrow? The Federal Direct Loan Program’s (FDLP’s) interest rates are 0% through December 31. Thereafter, interest on FDLP loans for 2020-21 undergraduates will be 2.75% — the lowest ever. All of this’ll save you money when you start repaying your loans. But those 0% rates end on January 1, and for each academic year FDLP rates are set anew, so FDLP interest on future year loans will surely cost you more.

You may get housing and food refunds if campus closure makes living in a residence hall impossible for 2020-21, but your chances of getting such refunds are quite slim if you voluntarily give up dorm space that your school held for you.

If this fall’s only option is online courses, you can still get a lot out of those courses by really investing yourself in them. If you conclude that online credit hours won’t be worth the costs, go take transferable courses at a nearby community college. This can help you reduce how long you need to pay for school once your campus reopens.

With a future of fast-rising costs and financial aid uncertainty, make as much academic progress as you can as soon as you can. The savings will be worth it!

Are you scheduled to start your postsecondary education after this academic year? if you follow this website this fall at https://collegeafford.com, we’ll help you gather ideas for a Pre-College Finance Plan that’ll help you keep that education as affordable as possible when your day comes.

Special COVID-19 Bulletin #14: Your New 3-Month Payment Suspension — Will It Count Toward Income-Driven and Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Hopefully you already know that the U.S. Education Department (ED) has extended two forms of COVID-19 relief on your federally held student loans — interest on those loans will continue to be 0%, and monthly payments you would otherwise owe have been automatically suspended. Both have been extended from September 30 through December 31.

While you’re not making monthly payments on these loans, will you still be able to count October, November, and December toward time-based loan forgiveness options for them? Yes, they will!

The forgiveness options to which we’re referring go into effect after:

Do you have “federally held student loans?” Yes, if ED made them to you under the Federal Direct Loan Program, of if their ownership was transferred to ED by commercial lenders that made them under the old Federal Family Education Loan Program or by your college under the old Federal Perkins Loan Program.

This extension prolongs identical forgiveness provisions established by Congress for March 13 through September 30 under last March’s CARES Act. According to Forbes Money Advisor, it was announced at a recent press conference by ED Secretary Betsy DeVos.

If you want the latest on postsecondary educational affordability, including but not limited to student loans, be sure to follow this website.