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.

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A Year of College Affordability Solutions

College Affordability Solutions is dedicated to helping families keep higher education spending within their means. It uses this website to highlight postsecondary educational cost-management strategies at the times of the year when you and/or your student are most likely to need them.

21-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-amer-2-20243-1428837186-9_dblbigDespite those who’ll try to talk your student out of college, postsecondary education is still worthwhile even if he or she has to borrow to pay for it. But student loans increase the cost of college, so do everything possible to minimize their use.

Over the last year, we’ve covered several approaches to keeping college and college-related debt affordable. Click on any of the links below to learn more . . .

Before College

Various investment and savings programs can help you prepare for college bills. Among these are 529 plans and college savings bonds, but you should explore them all – the sooner the better.

And be sure to apply for financial for every year of college. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 but, by all means, before your FAFSA priority deadline arrives.

Student dependency status plays a big role in who completes the FAFSA. Other family factors do, too. But it isn’t as hard to complete as you’ve heard, especially if you fulfill 5 key steps, gather all the documents you need, and get answers to your last-minute FAFSA questions before doing so.

Long before the FAFSA, your student needs to begin aggressively searching for scholarships. It’s critical to know about the when and where and the how of doing this.

Pay close attention after you file your FAFSA to make sure you handle what happens next. Then carefully assess your financial aid offers as they arrive from colleges.

But it’s not all about financial aid and scholarships. A critical factor in college affordability is for your student to enroll in a college and major that fits him or her well.

During College

Once college begins, you can help your student keep his or her expenses within reason.140815_FF_BestCollegeCard Limited spending and indebtedness is important even with today’s low college loan interest rates.

Some of the most effective strategies for minimizing student borrowing include your student getting through college in 4 years or less while carefully managing money and avoiding rip offs such as the recent “student tax” scam. A little-known but highly-effective cost-saver involves returning unneeded federal loan dollars with 4 months of disbursement.

Help your student keep college more affordable by giving him or her some holiday gifts that’ll lower his or her reduce expenses upon returning to school and by recommending he or she generate funds through seasonal employment instead of borrowing.

After College

Seven out of 10 students borrow before earning their degrees, and over 90% of their loans come from federal loan programs. Fortunately, the government has designed  post-graduation strategies to help keep educational debt manageable.

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Your student needs to understand what happens to college loans after graduation. It’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of student loan consolidation, an often-used tactic for reducing monthly debt payments. Equally important is knowing how your student might qualify for forgiveness on all or part of what he or she owes.

Coming in 2017

We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but beginning January 4 we’ll start publishing again about plans for keeping college affordable. Here’s hoping you have the happiest of holiday seasons, and that you’ll rejoin us then!

 Find out more about College Affordability Solutions and its services at https://collegeafford.com, or by calling (512) 366-5354.

College Savings Bonds: An Affordable, Safe, Simple College Investment

Do you have a modest income and a limited amount to invest? Are you looking for a treasury-bondssafe, simple way to invest it? Are you interested in tax breaks that’ll free more of your other money for college savings bonds? If so, think about college savings bonds. Here are the fundamentals . . .

The U.S. Treasury Department sells education savings bonds. They’re extremely low-risk because they’re backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

There are two types of education savings bonds. You can buy Series “EE” bonds at half their maturity value and they slowly grow into that amount based on a fixed interest rate 3-ussavingsbonds_590x394that never changes. You can purchase Series “I” bond in denominations of $50 to $10,000 they grow into those amounts by paying interest based on inflation every 6 months.

You, or you and your spouse, may buy education savings bonds for your child (also for your spouse or yourself) directly from the Treasury at http://treasurydirect.gov/. You can redeem them as soon as a year after buying them, but if you do this less than 5 years after buying them you’ll lose the last 3 months of the interest they earn.

That interest isn’t subject to state and local income taxes. It’s also excluded from federal income taxes if:

Your tax exclusion starts to be limited if your MAGI exceed these amounts, and, if your MAGI reaches $91,000 and $143,950, respectively, they’re eliminated.

Your tax exclusions will cover whatever savings bond principal and interest you use to pay tuition and required fees at an accredited U.S. public, nonprofit, or for-profit college, university, or vocational school. If your student receives money from scholarships, other college investments (e.g. 529 plans), and carious educational benefits such as VA benefits, employer-provided educational assistance, etc. your tax exclusions could be limited.

Want to know more? Check out the Treasury Department’s publication called Using Savings Bonds for Education and its Education Planning webpage. And remember, every penny you invest and save makes your child less reliant on student loans to pay for college!

 College Affordability Solutions can help you evaluate various strategies for paying for college. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com.

Give Your Student Money-Saving Holiday Gifts

Some call it the “latte factor” — small, regular purchases that add up over time. This holiday season, give your student gifts that’ll offset such expenses. Here are just a few ideas:

529 Plan Contribution: Got a college-bound relative of friend? Do the latte factor in reverse. Contribute to their 529 college savings plan. If they lack such a plan, start one for them. No federal income taxes on 529 earnings, and 529 contributions are exempt from federal gift taxes while many states offer contributors tax breaks.

Auto Club Membership: If your student drives to college and your insurance doesn’t cover his or her emergency roadside assistance, various auto clubs will. They can save lots of money in case the student’s car breaks down.

Backpack-Sized Thermos: Help your student minimize those expensive campus coffeeshop trips, especially when you match this with a home coffee maker.

Filtered Water Bottle: Your student can avoid expensive bottled water. Fill one of these from any tap and it’s internal filter will remove bacteria and other impurities.img_4559

Cash, Gas, or Gift Card: Help your student cover purchases at his or her book store, grocery, movie theater, favorite restaurant, etc.

Home Cookbook: Students, especially those who live off-campus, spend huge amounts eating out — partly because they don’t know how to fix their own meals. So create a cookbook with their favorite recipes, especially the fast and easy ones.img_4560

Non-Perishable Bulk Items: Save your off-campus student on weeks or months of necessities — canned goods, spices, cleaning and laundry supplies, toiletries.

Piggy Bank: Encourage your to put leftover pocket change in it at the end of each day and see how much builds up over a week, a month, or a semester!

Pizza Dish: Making pizza can be fun and cheaper than eating out.

Popcorn Popper: Popcorn’s an inexpensive snack, and machine-popped can be healthier than microwaved. The old fashioned (not air) poppers can also be used to heat soups and other light foods.

Space Heater: Does your student live off-campus in a northern climate? A small, efficient speed heater can save money by heating one room — e.g. the bathroom or bedroom — without paying to warm up the whole apartment.

Whether these or others, this year, give gifts that keep on giving by helping to reduce your student’s college expenses!

College Affordability Solutions offers expertise in strategies to help reduce what students spend to go to and attend college. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 366-5354 for assistance.

Is College Worth It? Damn Right It Is!

Many so-called experts claim college isn’t worth what students and families pay for it. This is especially true, they say, because students must borrow so much and, besides, there are lots of great job opportunities right out of high school.

This is rubbish! Pure baloney! How do we know? Because almost everyone who says it has a college degree. And they’re in jobs requiring college degrees.

Want to earn more and reduce your chances of unemployment? Get as much education as you can handle:

2015 Earnings and Unemployment by Education Level of Americans 25 and Older

Education Median Weekly Earnings Unemployment Rate

All

$860

4.3%

No High School Diploma

$493

8.0%

High School Diploma

$678

5.4%

Some College, No Degree

$738

5.0%

Associate’s Degree

$798

3.8%

Bachelor’s Degree

$1,137

2.8%

Master’s Degree

$1,341

2.4%

Doctoral Degree

$1,623

1.7%

Professional Degree

$1,730

1.5%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Small wonder College Board found that 90% of college graduates from America’s lowest-income families moved up to higher income levels than their parents.

And that student debt? 2015 college graduates borrowed an average of $30,100 while in school. At the very most, it’ll cost them $69,356 to repay such a debt. That’s a lot! But median lifetime earnings for Americans with bachelor’s degrees is $954,000 more than for those with high school diplomas. Result? At least $13.75 earned for every dollar repaid — not a bad return!

Do you want to help make America great again? Get more education. The Congressional Research Service reported that, in 2013, 21% of Americans who only finished high school lived in poverty while just 7% of those with bachelor’s degrees were in poverty.

The College Board found that households headed by parents with high school diplomashappy graduates were as much as six times more likely than those with bachelor’s degrees to rely on expensive public assistance programs, and that Americans vote more, volunteer more, and pay more taxes as they become more educated.

Don’t overspend on college. Don’t seek a bachelor’s degree if you’re after a career requiring a less-expensive associate’s degree. And don’t borrow more than you absolutely need. But don’t let the phonies fool you, either! A college degree is the best investment you’ll ever make in yourself!

College Affordability Solutions brings 40 years of experience to help students and families figure out ways to pay less for college. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.msn for such help.

Reduce the Need to Borrow With Seasonal Student Employment

With the holidays approaching, merchants and other businesses are looking for part-time employees to help them through their busiest time of year. For college students, img_4463such jobs can turn into a great opportunity to earn money that will help reduce their reliance on loans.

Consider Bob, a first-year marketing major. Bob just landed a job at a restaurant near campus. From mid-November through mid-December he’ll wait on tables — not very glamorous, but his 14-hour per week work schedule offers sufficient flexibility to study for and pass all his final exams.

Even after FICA taxes are withheld, Bob’s going to clear $500 in wages and tips. That’ll buy his spring semester book, so he can reduce the spring loan he would have needed by $500. This will save Bob as much as img_4480$880 in the principal and interest he’ll repay after college. Imagine how much Bob will save if he also does seasonal work during his three remaining years of college!

To be sure, part-time work is not for everyone. If your student can’t manage priorities or is having academic difficulties, the end of the semester may not be the right time for him or her to take on additional responsibilities.

On the other hand, research has shown that students who work a reasonable number of hours (10 – 14) per week while enrolled average higher GPAs and graduation rates than their non-working classmates.

Bob will also boost his resume by adding workplace experience. And he’ll line up an employer who’ll serve as a reference for future job opportunities — about his ability to deal with people, understand customer needs, and other qualities marketing firms seek. These, too, are advantages of “working your way through college,” at least in part.

So talk with your student about looking into seasonal work. This can be done by visiting the school’s student employment office, inquiring with employers near campus, or both. The results could help reduce indebtedness . . . and in other ways!

College Affordability Solutions offers a wide variety of suggestions designed to help lower college student borrowing costs. Call (512) 366-5353 or email collegeafford@gmail.com if such guidance might be helpful to you.

Things to Do When Applying for Scholarships

img_4082Once a scholarship search turns up an opportunity, how does your student win it. A great scholarship expert once said that many providers are looking to help students that remind them of their younger selves. How do they know who these students are? It all comes down to the scholarship applications they receive.

(1) Apply for Scholarships that “Fit”: Make sure your student fully understands scholarship eligibility requirements. No need to waste time going after money for which he or she won’t qualify.

(2) Don’t Omit Anything: Coach your student to submit applications that are thorough and complete — especially about community, extracurricular, and leadership activities. You can never tell when a particular detail might be just the thing that helps an application reader identify your student as a worthy candidate.

(3) Write Strong Essays: Readers use scholarship application essays to really get to know your student — where he’s coming from, where she wants to go, and why. So img_4084these essays need to be both personal and passionate. And now isn’t the time for your student to be shy in describing his or her strengths and triumphs, to write timidly about what he or she wants to accomplish in college and life, or to downplay what drives and inspires him or her.

(4) Do It Right, Do It On-Time: Make sure every application is proofread for grammar and spelling, and for irrelevant information to distracts or slows readers. Also pay close attention to deadlines. Applications that arrive late go straight into the “no” stack.

(5) Beware of Cons and Frauds: Some businesses and individuals promise scholarship recommendations if you pay them. They may also request confidential personal information. Most of these are scam artists! Stay away from them!

Nobody really knows how many scholarship dollars are available, or how many of them might be available to your student. But with effective, timely searches and well done applications your student — with your help — can improve his or her chances of claiming such them!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years experience in helping students secure financial aid, including scholarships. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.