Let College Affordability Solutions Help You This Summer!

College Affordability Solutions is taking a bit of a break from writing it’s regular Wednesday morning blogs right now but, absent the emergence of a critically issue that needs to be rapidly addressed, we’ll start publishing them again on this website beginning August 19.

Meanwhile, our Topical Index has links to more than 100 articles on strategies for keeping the costs of a quality postsecondary education within your means. These include approaches you can implement before, during, and after college. Please feel free to review these articles for college affordability plans that’ll work for you.

And just because we’re taking a little break from writing doesn’t mean we’re unavailable to you right now. Remember, we never charge any students or their parents for consulting with them. So to schedule your consultation now, call us at (512) 366-5354 or email us at collegeafford.gmail.com. If we’re not immediately available, we’ll get back to you as soon as possible to set up a time to talk.

Remember, despite the current public health emergency and economic crisis, you and your loved ones need all the education possible to prosper in and contribute to the knowledge-based 21st century. Let College Affordability Solutions help. Have a safe and healthy summer!

Before, During, and After College: Know Where the 2020 Candidates Stand on Student Loans!

Are you one of the 42.6 million Americans owing over $1.5 billing in federal student loans? Is there a chance you’ll need to join these ranks in the next few years because you need to borrow such loans for your postsecondary education? If so, understand that November’s “election may be the most consequential election in history for student loan borrowers.” But don’t take our word for it. Read this article from Forbes Senior Contributor Adam Minsky:

For Student Loan Borrowers, The 2020 Election Has Unprecedented Implications

Minsky is correct — federal student debt is today’s biggest college affordability issue, and much is riding on the outcomes of this year’s election for what you have or will borrow from your government. So you need to know where the candidates for President, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives stand on issues of postsecondary debt.

How do you find a candidate’s positions? A good place to look is the candidate’s campaign website. It’ll probably have an “issues” link to the candidate’s positions on different matters, hopefully including student loans. So, first, Google the candidate by name.

If the campaign website doesn’t address student loans, look at the candidate’s official government website if he or she’s an incumbent. You can find the White House website here, your Senator’s website here, and the website for your current Representative in the House here.

Still can’t find anything on student loans? Send the candidate an email or call the candidate’s office, whether it’s the official government office of an incumbent or the campaign office of a challenger. The same websites you use to research their positions should also have their email addresses and phone numbers.

Make sure you’re registered to vote, and vote in the November 3 election. But do so after you study up! There’s so much going on in this country right now, and it’s OK if you don’t want to select the candidates for which you’ll vote based solely on student loan issues. Still, you have every right as an American to support candidates who’ll work in your best interests. Exercise that right!

College Affordability Solutions will return to its regular, every Wednesday publishing schedule again on August 19. But if you need information or guidance on an issue related to paying less for high-quality postsecondary learning, feel to contact us at (512) 366-5364 or collegeafford@gmail.com. And remember, we never charge future, current, or past students — or their parents — for consultations.

Before, During, and After College: Urge Congress to Pass More Generous Student Loan Repayment Rules to Improve Our Economy!

Congress is negotiating about another economic stimulus bill. This one may include something far beyond anything previously done — widespread student loan debt forgiveness.

When it became law in March, the federal CARES Act postponed interest charges and monthly payments on every student loan debt any American owes to the U.S. Education Department (ED) through this coming September 30. But many were disappointed that it didn’t include a plan to forgive $10,000 of what each borrower owes ED, and that it was silent on private student loan debt relief.

Of course, address those issues would be great for 45 million borrowers owing $1.6 trillion in student loan debt — shrinking what they owe, allowing them to eliminate college debt faster, and giving them have more money to spend each month. But helping 45 million consumers have more to spend would also be an economic stimulus benefitting all Americans in these troubled financial times.

So the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, another stimulus bill. This Act would eliminate $10,000 in student loan debts owed to both ED and private lenders.

The HEROES Act would also:

  • Expand the postponement of interest charges and required payments to all federal student loans, including those not currently owned by ED; and

  • Extend the end date for the postponement of interest charges and required payments on federal student loans to September 30, 2021.

Almost all House Democrats, but just one House Republican, voted for the HEROES Act. But bottled up in the U.S. Senate, just like over 500 other bills the House passed in the last 18 months. Still, Democrats and Republicans keep trying to negotiate a new stimulus bill that both parties could support. To pass the House, this bill may have to include some kind of student loan forgiveness.

And while he hasn’t specifically endorsed student loan forgiveness, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly said he’s for anything that would help the economy recover. McConnell also says the next stimulus bill will be the last stimulus bill considered by this Congress. He’s probably right, since a month-long August recess plus fall campaigns are fast approaching.

Now’s the time to exercise your right to call and email your U.S. Representative (here) and Senators (here) to express your views. You can also sign a MoveOn.org petition (here) that already has a million signatures urging Congress to stimulate the economy by canceling student debt.

Whether you support student loan forgiveness and other HEROES Act provisions to help yourself, to help stimulate our nation’s economy, or both, now is the time for you to act!

Need help managing your college debt? Put 42 years of student loan expertise to work for you by arranging for no-charge consultations with College Affordability Solutions. Call (512) 366-554 or email collegeafford@gmail.com.

During College: Courses at Your Nearby Community College Can Enrich an Otherwise Lost Summer

This summer, many university students are taking classes at their local community colleges. You may want to join them so you, too, can make the summer a plus instead of a minus.

Maybe that dream summer internship you were offered got cancelled because of coronavirus. Perhaps your experience-building, well-paying job from last summer fell through for similar reasons. Possibly you’ve been aggressively seeking summer work, but can’t find any in this, the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Or maybe you canceled plans to attend your 4-year college or university this summer after a frustrating spring of online classes taught by instructors who struggled to digitize teaching they’d been doing face-to-face for decades.

Whatever the reasons, you face a choice this summer — sit around until your university classes resume, or salvage something positive out of what could otherwise be the “lost summer” of 2020. Taking classes at your local community college is a way to do this. Here’s how:

  • Cost Savings: You may not qualify for financial aid as a summer-only community college student but, hey, on average, community college tuition and fees are just 37% of those at public universities and only 10% of what private universities charge. And by attending your local community college while at home, you’ll probably avoid room and board expenses, too.
  • Transferable Courses: Don’t pay for anything that doesn’t help you make progress toward your bachelor’s degree. So carefully scrutinize available classes and consult with academic advisers at your community college and university, then take classes that’ll be accepted in transfer by the university. These may not fulfill requirements for your major because universities are sometimes reluctant to graduate students whose career-specific courses weren’t taught by their own faculty. But if you still need classes to fulfill your institution’s general degree requirements, or to complete prerequisites, take them at your community college and transfer the credits.
  • Online Courses: Are your community college’s courses online? Don’t let this put you off. These schools have provided distance education to almost 25% of their students since 2007-08, and they’ve long had heavy commitments to developing their online faculty and infrastructures, unlike some universities that went online as an emergency in March.
  • It’s Not Too Late: But your community college’s already started teaching summer classes. OK. Most community colleges divide summer into at least two terms, so register for two or three courses in the second of those terms.

Don’t let this summer go to waste! Use classes at your community college to get your bachelor’s degree cheaper, faster, and maybe even with higher-quality learning experiences than you’d otherwise enjoy.

Use the Topical Index on the College Affordability Solutions website to find a wide variety of strategies for before, during, and after college to help make your postsecondary educational costs more manageable.

Before and During College: Federal Direct Loan Interest Rates To Be Lower for 2020-21

More than 87% of all postsecondary student loans come from the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP), and interest rates on these loans will soon be lower. FDLP interest rates on loans made for enrollment periods beginning on or after July 1, 2020 and through June 30, 2020 will be:

Undergraduate Students

  • FDLP Subsidized Loans = 2.75%
  • FDLP Unsubsidized Loans = 2.75%
  • FDLP Parent PLUS Loans = 5.30%

Graduate and Professional Students

  • FDLP Unsubsidized Loans = 4.30%
  • FDLP Graduate and Professional Student Loans = 5.30%

FDLP Loan interest rates are fixed for the life of each loan, meaning you’ll never pay a higher or lower interest rate as long as you still owe any portion of the loan. For example, if you have FDLP Loans for enrollment periods beginning July 2019 through June 2020, those rates will continue to be 4.53% for undergraduate student Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, 6.08% for graduate and professional student Unsubsidized Loans, and 7.08% for PLUS Loans.

FDLP interest rates are set annually based on formulas in federal law. College Affordability Solutions will keep you posted as they get reset each year.

Follow the College Affordability Solutions website for weekly articles such as this and about financial strategies for you to use before, during, and after college.

Before College: If You Must Borrow For Your Education, Don’t Do So To Attend For-Profit Schools!

We recently warned you to be careful regarding for-profit postsecondary schools. Now another warning — if you need loans to pay your postsecondary expenses, we believe you should not go to for-profit schools. Here’s why . . .

Some for-profit schools are good, ethical businesses. But most students found to have been swindled by postsecondary schools attended for-profit schools. In fact, banks and states generally won’t make student loans at for-profit schools at least in part because their fraudulent practices undermine debt repayment. Therefore, your only option for borrowing to attend for-profit schools is usually the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP).

The U.S. Education Department (ED) decides which schools get into the FDLP. It then oversees those schools to protect students and taxpayers. But ED sometimes does these jobs poorly, especially in the for-profit sector, which many believe is also poorly regulated by states.

Therefore, Congress passed a law many years ago requiring ED to cancel FDLP debts owed by students who were suckered by postsecondary schools, and holding schools owners liable for the government’s losses from such cancellations. The law also empowers ED to make regulations regarding such cancellations.

Last September, under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, ED published regulation changes that have been criticized for undermining your ability to have your FDLP debts cancelled if your school conned you. These changes affect FDLP Loans with first disbursements on July 1, 2020 or later.

Specifically, FDLP cancellation will become harder and maybe even impossible to get because the regulatory changes will require students to:

  • Prove schools knowingly misrepresented the students’ educational programs, costs, or outcomes — something that’ll never happen without sworn statements from school employees;
  • Prove misleading school acts financially harmed them in ways going beyond their FDLP debts;
  • Provide individualized proof that schools mislead them — ruling out proof state attorneys generals and others obtain about schools misleading groups of students — even though few students can afford their own individual attorneys and investigators to get such proof; and
  • Apply for loan cancellation within three years of leaving their schools — instead of whenever they realize their schools ripped them off.

Both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution that even 20% of Senate Republicans supported to stop these changes. But President Trump, who in 2016 reportedly spent millions to settle lawsuits brought for 6,000 students who’d attended his for-profit school, vetoed the resolution last Friday. And there aren’t enough votes for Congress to override Mr. Trump’s veto.

So, student loan borrowers, College Affordability Solutions must advise you to skip for-profit schools no matter how good they sound. Instead, attend community colleges, state technical schools, or traditional public or private nonprofit universities with good, long histories.

Comparing different postsecondary schools? Want some help analyzing and matching up their costs? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 417-7660 or by emailing collegesfford@gmail.com to arrange a free consultation!

During and After College: The Worst Employment Market Since the Great Depression, What Can You Do?

If you’re a soon-to-be or current college student, or if you’re a recent graduate, nobody thought you’d be facing the job market you’re now facing before coronavirus.

The unemployment rate was just 3.5% in February. In March and April it skyrocketed to 14.7%. It’ll likely be even higher when May’s rate is published. So it’s no-surprise if you’re having trouble finding a job, or if a previous job offer’s been rescinded.

The what should you do now?

Summer Employment

Keep looking for summer jobs, but be smart. We’ve noted before that some fast food restaurants can be good places to work. They, and certain other employers, provide benefits to help employees pay for college.

Take Taco Bell. It needs 30,000 summer employees. And it’s Live Más program offers scholarships, tuition reimbursements, free academic coaching, and free financial advising to help you make your college money stretch further.

Permanent Jobs

Right now you may not be able to find a job that’ll start you on the career path you’ve wanted. But you’ve got to pay for food and shelter and, if you borrowed for college, you’re monthly payments will start in the next 6 – 8 months.

So it’s essential to be creative, flexible, patient, and persistent in job searching. Ask your college and its placement office to help you network with alumni and other well-placed professionals. And check out employers that provide essential services — not just in emergency responses and health care — but also in engineering, science, technology, utilities, etc.

You don’t have a degree that makes such organizations obvious choices? That’s OK. They need accountants, customer service staff, and other “layperson” workers, too.

Also think about jobs you can do from home, using the internet and telecommunications technology that’s probably second nature to you but not to many older job applicants.

Unemployment Benefits

These are a joint federal-state partnership for workers who involuntarily lose their jobs and are seeking new employment.

In normal times, many students and new graduates wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits because about half the states require applicants to have recently worked hours and earned amounts that exceed those of part-time employees. States also offer different weekly benefit amounts for different numbers of weeks.

However, the March 27 CARES Act temporarily broadened unemployment benefit eligibility, extended time periods, an increased benefit amounts for many Americans.

Use the U.S. Labor Department’s CareerOneStop website to research and apply for unemployment benefits in your state. And if you’re eligible, apply right away. States are often slow to process and pay them, and the temporary CARES Act enhancements expire July 31.

Follow the College Affordability Solutions website for weekly articles about financial strategies to use before, during, and after college.

During and After College: Check Out SNAP If You Can’t Afford Nutritious, Safe Food

Times are tough. Summer jobs for currently enrolled students are hard to find, and their fall financial aid and student loans are at least 90 days away. For this spring’s graduates, in just three months we’ve gone from the best to worst job market in years. All this makes it difficult to afford a truly basic necessity: food!

Many colleges and universities operate food banks and other services to help their students fulfill this essential need. But if such services can’t do enough for you, or if you’re no longer in school, you may also be eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

What SNAP Is

SNAP a joint federal-state program designed to help financially needy Americans buy healthy, nutritious food with food stamps worth up to $194 per month if you’re single and don’t have children; as much as $646 per month for a family of four.

You may use these stamps at the grocery to buy bread, cereal, dairy products, fish, fruit, meat, poultry, and snack foods. But you can’t use them for beer, food prepared for immediate consumption, liquor, tobacco products, or wine.

SNAP Eligibility

To get SNAP’s food stamps, the federal government requires you to:

  • Register for work;
  • Participate in employment or training programs if your state requires you to do so;
  • Accept employment if it’s offered to you; and
  • Not voluntarily quit your job or reduce your work hours.

To get food stamps for more than three months, you must be working or participating in a work program for 20 or more hours per week if you’re able-bodied and have no dependents.

SNAP Websites

More information on SNAP is available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNAP website. State governments administer SNAP, and some have extra SNAP eligibility requirements. To find out about these, and to learn how and where you can apply for SNAP, link to your state’s SNAP website.

Using SNAP is OK

Most students and recent graduates never even consider SNAP. But these are extraordinary times, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to utilize food stamps. After all, you’re not alone. Over 36 million Americans are unemployed. And even before coronavirus, Temple University’s HOPE Center surveys of over 330,000 students at more than 440 colleges and universities found that 39% of those students had suffered food insecurity — i.e. limited or uncertain access to nutritious, safe food; or the inability to get such food in a socially acceptable and legal manner — during the month before completing their surveys.

Stay safe! Stay healthy! And keep yourself well-nourished so you have the energy to pursue your degree and seek employment. If SNAP can help you do that, apply for it!

Need help making your limited financial resources stretch to cover all your basic needs? Let College Affordability Solutions advise you on managing your money. There’s no charge. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

During College: What to Do if Your Financial Aid Eligibility is Jeopardized Because You’re Not Making Satisfactory Academic Progress

College wasn’t easy this spring. Closed campuses. Remote learning. Scrambling for off-campus housing or moving home. Job losses. Illness. Death. The anxiety and depression accompanying social distancing. All this can undermine academic performance.

So once your spring grades are final, we hope you’re not notified that you’ve lost financial aid eligibility because you’re not making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). But if you are, here’s what you need to know . . .

What Is SAP?

Washington requires postsecondary schools to measure student aid recipients against certain criteria so taxpayers don’t “throw good money after bad” by funding students not able or hardworking enough to graduate. Most states and colleges apply these criteria to their aid programs.

SAP is checked when each academic term finishes in programs of study lasting a year or less. In longer programs, it’s usually assessed when each academic year ends.

For SAP you get evaluated against three criteria:

  1. Quality: Your GPA must be at least a “C” or it’s equivalent;
  2. Quantity: For the clock or credit hours you attempted, you must complete enough to be on pace to graduate within the maximum time frame described below; and
  3. Maximum Timeframe: You must graduate within 150% of your program’s published length in clock or credit hours.

Not Making SAP?

If you’re not making SAP, your school may:

Immediately cut you off from additional financial aid;

  • If your program lasts less than a year, give you a “Financial Aid Warning” under which you’ll become ineligible for aid after one more academic term unless you’re making SAP at that term’s end; or
  • If you’ve finished your Financial Aid Warning term without making SAP, or if you’re program lasts a year or more, put you on “Financial Aid Probation” during which you’re not eligible for aid or loans unless you successfully appeal.

How To Appeal?

Your appeal goes in writing to your financial aid office. Explain how one or more of three situations — illness or injury to you, a relative’s death, or some other special circumstance (which could certainly be coronavirus-related) — interfered with your ability to make SAP. Explain, too, what’s changed so you can reestablish SAP by the next time your school measures it.

Be honest. Be thorough. Don’t omit relevant details. Discuss how your situation affected your academic performance. Submit supporting documentation if necessary to confirm anything in your appeal.

When To Appeal?

Don’t dawdle in composing or submitting your appeal. Processing them is labor-intensive and time-consuming, and coronavirus has caused layoffs or vacancies in many aid offices, limiting their time to review SAP appeals. Therefore, a decision may take several weeks.

After You Appeal?

If your appeal’s granted, you may be put on an academic plan requiring you to meet certain requirements by certain dates. Meet those requirements and you’ll keep getting aid.

If your appeal’s denied, you’ll get no more aid from your school until you get back into compliance with it’s SAP criteria. So, again, take this very seriously!

Are you struggling with your Satisfactory Academic Progress appeal? College Affordability Solutions will advise you on it at no charge. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

After College: Make Your Voice Heard on a Hot Issue — Student Loan Forgiveness!

If you’re one of 27.7 million Americans who currently owe on federal student loans, you may like the idea of student loan forgiveness. But many others don’t, so you need to offer persuasive reasons for doing it.

This is a hot issue right now. House Democrats want to forgive $30,000 per borrower, and Senate Democrats tried to include a $10,000 per borrower student loan forgiveness program in the CARES Act. But Republicans vigorously opposed these ideas so they’ve not been implemented.

That means this’ll still be an issue in this fall’s political campaigns. Joe Biden calls for forgiving all undergraduate federal student loan debt related to public 2 and 4-year school tuition for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year. Donald Trump sayshe wants to forgive whatever undergraduate and graduate college debt that remains after 15 and 30 years of payments, respectively. But the Trump plan is fake, because virtually 100% of student loan debts are fully repaid within those timespans.

If student loan forgiveness would help you, now or in the next few years, let your congressional representatives know it. Here are some arguments to make:

  • It’ll provide much needed economic stimulus: Federal Reserve economists predict 47 million lost jobs due to coronavirus, causing a 32% unemployment rate by June 30 — worse than that of the Great Depression. Lots of consumer spending is going to be needed to put these people back to work, and forgiving tens of thousands in student loan debt for more almost 28 million Americans will free up plenty of money for such spending.
  • It’s the fair thing to do: A recent Student Loan Hero survey found that 46% of Americans feel mass forgiveness would be unfair to students who’ve repaid their college debts. Not surprisingly, 51% of millennials (ages 24 – 39) support student loan forgiveness but only 31% of baby boomers (ages 56 – 74) do. Of course, millennials owe much more than previous generations, largely because their college costs were the highest ever as state taxpayers’ support for higher education fell 50% from 1981 to 2019. Small wonder one baby boomer confesses that his total college expenses in the 1970s were about 10% of what millennials paid in the 21st century.
  • It doesn’t reward the most affluent: Professionals like doctors and lawyers average the highest incomes (and $145,000 to $246,000 in student loan debt). As noted, however, the Biden plan would deny them forgiveness once their incomes reach $125,000, and even the most generous of the congressional Democrats’ plans would eliminate only $30,000 of their six-figure debts.
  • Taxpayers won’t pay off loans you borrowed voluntarily: First, Federal Direct Loans account for 82% of outstanding federal college loan debt and Washington, which made those loans, doesn’t actually pay itself anything to forgive them, it just stops collecting them. Second, as indicated by the college cost data reported above, it’s not like you borrowed voluntarily.

One way to make college more affordable is to influence government policies governing your student debt. So exercise your constitutional right to “lobby” your U.S. Representative and Senators now, and be sure to vote for candidates who support student loan forgiveness in November!

Struggling to pay your student loan debt? Let College Affordability Solutions use its 42 years of experience in working with such debt help you out. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com three for free consultations.