During College: Things To Watch For Before Signing An Off-Campus Lease

So your student found an off-campus apartment for next year. And now it’s time to execute the lease, which is strictly binding, and pay the deposit, which can be non-refundable. Guide her to do certain things before signing her name and turning over her money.

IMG_0532Tell her to read the lease thoroughly. This is a boring task, but she needs to understand everything in it. If she doesn’t, have her contact you, the local tenants association, or even an attorney for help.

She should zero in on key leasing terms and conditions. For example, when could her rent be increased, how does she get her deposit back, under what circumstances could she be required to vacate?

Advise your student to try to negotiate provisions out of the lease that’d give the landlord or property manager the right to:

  • Keep part or all of her security deposit for moving out early or normal cleaning and upgrades once she’s gone;
  • Charge her to repair or replace what she doesn’t break; or arbitrarily extend required periods for fixing or replacing things;
  • Enter her apartment without prior notice; and
  • Confiscate her property, unless she leaves it behind after moving out.

Coach her to check out the actual unit she plans to rent, if possible. It may be damaged or neglected in ways that’ll never show up in the model unit, and she’ll have to accept those deficiencies or fight with her landlord to get them fixed.

Tell her to conduct all business about her residence in writing. She needs datedIMG_0535 receipts or cancelled checks on all payments she makes, written commitments about how long repairs will take, and responses to all landlord notices in writing. Have her keep copies in her records in case her property’s management tries to rip her off.

Anything the landlord or his agent promises verbally that runs counter to the lease is a warning sign. She’s may be dealing with an unscrupulous character, so she should probably look for another place.

It’s important for your student to consult current residents or the local tenants organization about landlord/management’s record in living up to their responsibilities. Lease problems today’s tenants are experiencing are lease problems she’ll likely experience, too.

Finally, suggest she review local codes and ordinances on landlord/tenant responsibilities — who does inside and outside maintenance, how are landlord-tenant disputes settled, and so on? She can probably find these rules at public libraries or city offices and websites.

Yes. College is expensive. But if you’re trying to identify ways to make it less costly, do a no-cost consultation with College Affordability Solutions by calling (512) 366-5354 or emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.


During College: What to Consider Before a Student Chooses an Off-Campus Residence

Many students are now looking to move into off-campus housing next year. It’s natural. Leaving the dormitory’s cramped, closely supervised, heavily regulated environment is a natural part of growing into an independent adulthood.

But there are dangers your student may not recognize in the heady rush toward off-campus living. A bad living arrangement may lead to poor grades, dropped classes, and even dropping out, which can cost him (or you) lots of money.

Here are some issues your student should consider while searching for that off-campus apartment . . .

Is it affordable? New off-campus residences tend to be high-amenity facilities with IMG_0526everything from resort-style swimming pools to granite countertops and upgraded cable TV packages. But luxuries mean rent, deposits, and utility bills that may be outside your student’s budget. Costs may be cut by getting one or more roommates, and your student, like thousands of others, will definitely find he can save by selecting an older, more basic residence.

Roommate(s)? Speaking of roommates, your student should be extra careful about who he lives with. It’s not just about friendship. He needs someone he’ll get along with in close quarters, who’ll work to resolve conflicts, and on whom he can count. Off-campus living isn’t like the dorm — if his roommate moves out two months into the lease, your student will have to pay full rent and utilities.

Does the facility have what he needs? Notice the reference to needs not wants. A place offering sufficient space, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen facilities, and parking is more important than all those glitzy niceties.

Getting to and from campus? Easy access to classes is, of course, a necessity. If an IMG_0529apartment’s not within walking distance of campus, can your student get there on low-cost institutional or municipal bus systems?

Safety? Your student should check out issues of crime and safety in and around every facility he’s considering. Have him check police reports and talk to current residents for such information.

Landlord and/or management company? Too often, off-campus residences have crooked landlords and predatory managers. No matter how much they fail to deliver what’s promised to this year’s tenants, there’ll always be new victims who’ll unwittingly rent from them next year. Urge your student not to rent until he’s quizzed current residents and checked with local tenant organizations about complaints against the owner and management.

Look here next Wednesday for what to watch out for in the lease for an off-campus residence.

Got questions about college costs? Need advice on making college more affordable. Contact College Affordability Solutions by calling (512) 366-5354 or emailing collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation.

During College: Timely Advice To Help Your Student Manage January Expenses

January can be expensive for college students. A new academic term often means paying for travel back to school, tuition and fees, books and supplies, and room and board. Add leftover holiday bills and January spending can quickly get out of control.

How to best resolve all this without jeopardizing progress toward graduation? These are big, intertwined tasks, so your student may need guidance from you, her parents, or even a skilled money management professional.

Linda Matthew, an experienced Accredited Financial Counselor with Money Mindful Personal Financial Coaching, endorses a four-point approach.

(1) Your student should confirm exactly how much she owes and when payments are due using her records, including credit card and other receipts, to make a list of these.

(2) Urge her to prepare to pay her outstanding debts and soon-to-be expenses by IMG_0367writing out a spending plan for the first quarter of 2018.

This plan should include your student’s school-related costs. If she must pay 100% of these by a certain date to enroll and succeed in classes, she needs to pay them by that date even if doing so means spreading other payments over the next two or three months.

But payment may not be required on every institutional charge as the term begins. Some colleges offer payment plans that delay one or more installments until later in the term, freeing up funds for other January expenses. Some also offer short-term tuition loans. However, these usually require extra fees so she should take those costs into consideration.

Your student may also want to investigate refinancing her credit card debt. Doing so could reduce her interest and even postpone a payment on her new card’s balance.

IMG_0366(3) If your student ended up dealing with unexpected January expenses because she didn’t plan for this past Christmas, it’s absolutely critical that she begin saving for next holiday season as part of her spending plan. No sense in courting another problem in another 12 months.

(4) If extra income’s needed, suggest your student search out a short-term, part-time job if she’s not already working. Another way to raise money is to file for her federal tax refund ASAP. The IRS issues 90% of tax refunds within 21 days of receiving 1040 forms.

The holidays are over, but advice about managing expenses is one of the best gifts your student will ever receive!

To contact Linda Matthew at Money Mindful Personal Financial Coaching for help resolving your financial issues, call Linda at (530) 220-3369 or email her at linda@moneymindful.org.
Have questions for College Affordability Solutions? Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com.

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.

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.

Before College: College “Sticker Prices” Aren’t Necessarily Their Final Prices

This summer is the time for rising high school seniors to begin researching colleges they may want to attend. There’s much check out, including each school’s costs.

To get an idea of what it’ll cost to attend different colleges and universities, go to their websites and search for “Cost of Attendance 2018-19.” You might also want to use College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, opening its IMG_6849“Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” page to track cost increases over the last four years.

Here’s an important point — 2018-19 college prices you see on websites and College Navigator are “sticker prices” and not necessarily final. Schools generally engage in “discounting” their tuition and fees and, sometimes, other student expenses.

Colleges offer discounts differently than auto dealers, although the end result is the same. Rather than reducing a student’s tuition and fees, they give him grants and especially scholarships to pay these charges. For recruiting purposes, prestigious institutional scholarship offers often impress families and help bring in students.

Public and private colleges both discount. A new study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that private non-profit colleges and universities provided institutional grants and scholarships to 87.9% of new freshmen and 78.5% of all undergraduates in 2016-17. Collectively, these awards discounted tuition and fees by 49.1% for freshmen and 44.2% for all undergraduates.

Why discount? One reason is increased price sensitivity by families still recovering from the recession. It’s also related to decreased numbers of traditional college-age students and increased competition from other institutions for, like all businesses, colleges must bring in customers to survive.

IMG_6850Not every student should expect grants and scholarships equal to the discounting percentages noted above. Financial need plays a role. So do the characteristics of students an institution seeks to enroll; some want higher SAT scores, or certain types of musicians, or students likely to succeed in various academic programs. Your student won’t know his actual discount rates until winter or early spring, when he receives official financial aid offers from the colleges to which he’s applied.

The important thing is this — don’t let a institution’s “sticker price” discourage your student from putting it on the list of colleges to which he’ll apply. If that price gets discounted, it may be much more affordable than he thinks.

During College: Pell Grants Can Help Pay for Summer School 2017

Got an undergraduate who could benefit from summer school? Did she receive a Federal Pell Grant in the fall/spring? If so, here’s good news — Pell Grants will be available this summer!

Undergraduates who earn bachelor’s degrees in 4 years or less borrow 35% less in student loans, so this presents an opportunity for your student to speed her time to degree and reduce her college debt.

A new law funding the government through September includes an exception toIMG_6269 rules prohibiting Pell Grants for most summer students. So summer Pell recipients may get up to the same amount they received for a single semester or quarter earlier this academic year.

Summer Pell Grants rules are due by July 1, so we’ll have to wait for the actual terms and conditions of these grants. Also, Pell funds may not be available until early July, so your student should contact the financial aid office to explore short-term options (emergency loans, payment plans, etc.) for covering summer expenses until then.

Other things to remember about Pell and summer school . . .

Enrollment Status: To receive federal student aid for which she’s eligible, including Pell, your student must be a regular student in an eligible program of study. So she probably needs to take summer classes at the institution where she’s pursuing her degree, not at a community college as a “transient” student.

Grant Amount: Pell amounts are based on enrollment status — i.e. undergraduates enrolled full-time (generally 12 or more hours) get 100% of what they qualify for; students enrolled three-quarter time get 75%; half-timers get 50%; and those enrolled less-than-half-time get 25%.

IMG_6270Summer Costs and Other Summer Aid: Make sure your student avoids the trap of enrolling in summer courses but lacking sufficient funds to finish them despite her Pell Grant. The aid office’s website displays summer costs. Check out whether your student can get federal loans or other aid for summer — many Pell recipients use up their annual loan eligibility during fall/spring and some schools award all their work-study and state/institutional aid during fall/spring. Have your student call the aid office to see what’s available for summer.

This Summer Only: Summer Pell is currently available for 2017 only. Whether it’s there for future summers depends on what Congress does.

Affordable summer enrollment where she’s getting her degree may benefit your student more than summer employment or community college summer school. Check it out!

For strategies on getting the most out of the financial resources available to your student, contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.