During and After College: Despite What You May Have Heard, Public Service Loan Forgiveness is Still Available!

IMG_5373Hey current and future public servants! Are you hoping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will cancel part of your student debt? But do you keep hearing scary things about the program? Well, the PSLF news is both bad and good.

Bad News: Republicans want to kill PSLF. The president’s last two proposed budgets would have eliminated it. So would a Republican bill the House Education and Workforce Committee passed on a party line vote early this year.

Good News: Congress ignored all these proposals. Even if it accepts them in the future, PSLF’s end will probably apply only to those not borrowing qualifying loans (see below) before the following July 1st. If you borrow such loans before that date they’ll likely remain PSLF-eligible.

Keep tabs on PSLF with the U.S. Education Department’s easy to read and very informative PSLF web page.

Bad News: Most who’ve applied for PSLF so far have been disqualified. One problem seems to be that FedLoans, the company administering PSLF for the government, misled many borrowers about PSLF-qualifying repayment plans (again, see below).

Good News: Congress put up $700 million to fund the Temporary Expanded Public Loan Forgiveness program under which PSLF goes on a first-come/first-served basis to borrowers whose PSLF applications were rejected solely because they used the wrong repayment plans.

Bad News: PSLF’s low forgiveness rate is also due to borrower mistakes.

Good News: You can avoid such mistakes. Remember, you must meet four criteria for 120 months to get PSLF. These need not be consecutive months, but they count only if you have:

  1. Qualifying Loans: Only Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) loans qualify for IMG_5374PSLF. The National Student Loan Data System will show you other federal college loans you may have. Replacing them with an FDLP Consolidation Loan makes them PSLF-eligible.
  2. Qualifying Employment: Only months in which you work full-time in public service positions count and you must submit PSLF employment certification forms on which your employers confirm the months you had such jobs. It’s best to submit these forms to FedLoans by certified mail every year or when your qualifying employment with a government agency or nonprofit ends, whichever’s first, and to keep copies and your certified mail receipts.
  3. Qualifying Repayment Plan: As indicated above, a month counts only if you’re making payment under the standard repayment plan or one of the four income-driven repayment plans.
  4. Qualifying Payment: A month counts only if you pay the full required amount on-time.

IMG_5375Don’t qualify for PSLF? Don’t give up! The (Almost) Complete Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness from The Institute of Student Loan Advisors is a wonderful resource for information on over 200 other student loan forgiveness programs in the United States. Use it!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation about your postsecondary debt if you want to take advantage of its 40 years of experience in the field of college borrowing.

During College: Using Campus Services to Boost Academic Performance Pays Off

Performing well academically makes postsecondary learning more affordable. Completing your classes with good grades does this by helping you:

  • Improve your chances of winning scholarships and paid on-campus IMG_5329assistantships or internships
  • Avoid flunking out or dropping classes to avoid flunking out, both of which require you to pay tuition and fees at least twice to finish the same credit hours; an
  • Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward your degree. The government and other providers set SAP standards for the aid programs they fund, so SAP rules may differ from award to award. But whatever they are, you must comply with them to remain eligible for the financial aid you’re currently receiving.

So take advantage of available academic support services even if you’re not at risk of dropping below SAP or flunking out. Given the financial benefits of a good academic record, it just makes sense to use these services as much help as possible as early as possible.

IMG_5332Where to go? That depends on the issue. Of course, if you have trouble understanding or applying anything that comes up in class, see that class’s teacher or teaching assistant right away.

Your institution probably has numerous other services to help resolve situations that make for academic problems. They’re typically free and always confidential. Examples include centers and offices for:

  • Academic Advising: Consult these professionals about classes and course schedules. They can also guide you to other campus resources;
  • Campus Safety or Police: Contact them whenever your security may be in jeopardy;
  • Career and Job Placement: This is for help exploring changes of major and IMG_5335related employment pathways;
  • Counseling: Go here for help with anxiety, grief and loss, stress, and other emotional or mental wellness issues;
  • Disabled Students: This office will help you arrange accommodations and services to overcome functional limitations;
  • Emergency Services: These provide support to help overcome crises, emergencies, food shortages, or homelessness;
  • Learning or Student Success: Go here for tutoring and for coaching, study groups, and workshops to help improve your academic skills — note-taking, public speaking, studying, test-taking, etc.;
  • Legal Services: This’ll help you understand your rights under civil, consumer, criminal, tenant, and traffic laws;
  • Multicultural Students: You can find programs and events to help you understand students from other cultures, deal with prejudice, etc.;
  • Student Health: Get treatment here for physical illnesses or injuries; and
  • Student Housing: Your resident assistant can help you navigate roommate and other living environment issues. He can also guide you to other services.

In summary, there are many forms of academic assistance on campus. Use them early and often to do your best in every class and keep college as affordable as possible!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free-consultation if you want strategies to implement before, during and after college to make it more affordable.

Before, During, After College: Vote as if Your Student Aid and Loan Repayment Depend on It . . . They Do!

Do you think your family will one day need financial aid for college? Are you or your student now relying on state or federal aid? Are you struggling to pay off your college debt?

If any of these circumstances apply to you, you have until November 6 to take IMG_5103personal actions to make government programs work for you. How? Vote! You’re not registered to vote? Get registered right away!

There are 6,070 state legislative seats, 435 U.S. House seats, 36 governorships, and 33 U.S. Senate seats up for election on November 6, and you can vote for and against candidates at least in part based on what they’ll do about college affordability.

Make sure you educate yourself about candidate records and positions on grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study. To do this:

  • Review their campaign websites for statements about college affordability and student aid;
  • Write and ask what they plan to do about college costs and student aid; andIMG_5105
  • Confront them at campaign events with direct, specific questions — and don’t let them off the hook until they give real answers.

For example, did you know that, over the last decade:

  • Congress increased funding to provide up to $1,160 (37%) more in Federal Pell Grants. But the average cost of one year at a public college or university increased $7,924 (146%), so the nation’s largest college grant program now covers $6,314 less of those costs.
  • State legislatures allocated only 33% more for grants and scholarships even though there’s been a 12% increase in college students who are paying almost 150% more to attend college.

Did you know the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently passed HR 4508 on a party-line vote. If this bill becomes law it would:

  • Eliminate Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, the least expensive form of college IMG_5106debt, which, even if interest rates don’t climb, will raise the typical undergraduate’s cost of borrowing by at least $2,710 (8%).
  • Kill Public Service Loan Forgiveness, leaving tens of thousands of first responders, teachers and others who provide low-paying but essential community services without a way get some of their college debt cancelled in exchange for 10 years of full-time government or nonprofit employment.
  • End the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grant program that currently provides $840 million a year to our neediest college students.

And did you also know that more candidates than ever are pledging to work for free college tuition if they get elected or reelected?

So there’s no shortage of financial aid issues on which you need to pin down the candidates, then use what you learn in voting decisions. Get busy. November 6 is just 35 days away!

Use College Affordability Solutions’ Topical Index or contact College Affordability Solutions to learn about strategies that’ll help you control your postsecondary education costs before, during, and after college.

Before and During College: Everything You Need to Know to Do Your FAFSA on October 1!

 

IMG_5009The 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available in less than 5 days — at 12:00 midnight on October 1. If you’ll need college money for an academic term beginning July 2019 through June 2020, complete your FAFSA right on October 1 . . . or as soon thereafter as possible.

Why? Some postsecondary schools quietly use your FAFSA completion date to determine where you fall in line for getting awards. Also, you’ll need extra time to prove the accuracy of your FAFSA data if it’s selected for verification. And some schools and states set early FAFSA completion deadlines.

FAFSAs are required for federal and state aid, many institutional awards, and some private scholarships, so rapid FAFSA completion gives you a better shot at aid from programs with limited funds.

Here are links to everything you need to know for your 2019-20 FAFSA:

Whose data go on the FAFSA? The student’s? Always. The student’s spouse? Yes, if still married to the student. The student’s parents? Yes, if the student’s a dependent student. Which parent if they’re divorced or separated? The U.S. Education Department (ED) has a checklist to help you figure that out.

What do you need to get a FAFSA? Any student or parent whose data goes on the FAFSA needs a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which you can create right now on ED’s FSA ID web site.

How do you access your FAFSA? Use FAFSA on the Web to complete it IMG_5011from your smart phone, tablet or desktop computer. This is the easiest way to do it, because the online FAFSA skips questions you don’t need to answer. You can print out and mail in a paper FAFSA, but that’ll slow down your FAFSA’s completion.

What’s needed to complete your FAFSA? ED has guidance about the personal information you need to put on your FAFSA, plus a list of documents that’ll supply the financial data it needs. Finally, you can list 1 – 10 postsecondary schools to receive your FAFSA information so they can consider you for financial aid. Go to ED’s school listings to do this.

How do you get help understanding FAFSA questions? Online FAFSAs have blue and white question marks linked to tips for every question. Paper FAFSAs have 4 pages of notes with all these tips.

IMG_5086How can you avoid making mistakes? Read ED’s blog on 11 common FAFSA mistakes, then double check to make sure you’ve avoided these errors.

What’s next? To find out, read ED’s description of what happens after you submit your completed FAFSA.

So be accurate, be complete, and get your FAFSA going on October 1!

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you need help completing your FAFSA, or for other no-charge consultations on ways to make college more affordable.

Before and During College: Fast Food Jobs Can Generate Thousands for College

Labor Day week seems like a good time to talk about where you might want to work as a student . . .

About 40% of high school students and 60% of college students hold jobs. Those who work 15 or less hours per week average better grades and higher graduation rates than non-working students — all while building their resumes, becoming better time managers, and reducing their need for college loans.

There are many part-time jobs out there, but often those in fast food restaurants are IMG_4649particularly well-suited for students.

True, flipping burgers isn’t glamorous, and fast food’s median hourly wage of $8.29 is low. Nevertheless, its frontline jobs require little or no experience. They often have flexible work schedules, too.

And now, in an effort to recruit and retain good employees, some fast food companies are offering student workers benefit plans that provide big bucks for college.

Here are some examples of these plans:

• Chick-fil-A: Offers 2 scholarships. One, based on financial need, awards $25,000. The other, for $2,500, is tied to community service. Both require strong GPAs, management recommendations, and that employee applicants be undergraduates or planning to begin undergraduate studies within a year.

• Chipolte: Reimburses employees $5,250 per year for courses completed at any accredited postsecondary school, including vocational-technical schools. Eligibility begins after one year of hourly employment.

• Kentucky Fried Chicken: REACH Education Grants pay $2,000 – $3,000 in tuition at IMG_46502 and 4-year colleges. Eligibility begins after 6 months with KFC.

• McDonald’s: Qualified crew members can get $2,500 a year in tuition assistance under McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program. Eligibility starts after 90 days as a crew member working shifts of at least 15 hours per week.

• Pizza Hut: After working 60 days, hourly employees — and their families — qualify for the Unboxed EDU program’s tuition discounts of up to 51% for undergraduate and graduate studies in Excelsior College’s online classes.

• Starbucks: Provides a 100% tuition discount in Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree program. Eligibility begins immediately upon employment.

• Taco Bell: Offers 5% – 20% tuition discounts for online bachelor’s or master’s classes offered by a small network of universities. U.S. resident employees aged 16 to 25 may also apply for Live Mas Scholarships provided they’re currently enrolled in accredited postsecondary schools.

Not all fast food chains offer such generous educational benefits. And some don’t IMG_4651offer these benefits at all. For example, the Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Wendy’s recruiting websites mention no such programs.

But postsecondary benefit programs can really help make your education more affordable. So when you seek employment, consider fast food jobs, and always ask any potential employer for details on its employees education benefits.

Looking for other strategies to reduce the cost of a quality postsecondary degree or certificate? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

Before and During College: The Key Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re an undergraduate IMG_4578borrowing for college, you’ve probably borrowed both. What’s the difference? And what’s this mean for how you should handle them?

The most important ways Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans vary are:

•   Interest charges: No interest is charged on Subsidized loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time, during the six-month grace period you get when you stop being
IMG_4579enrolled half-time, and whenever your loan payments are postponed under federally-approved deferments.

Unsubsidized loan interest starts being charged the day those funds get disbursed — i.e. used to pay your tuition, given to you, or sent to your bank account, whatever comes first. This interest keeps getting charged until these loans are 100% repaid.

•   Interest Capitalization: You may pay Unsubsidized interest while you’re enrolled and during your grace period, but you’re not required to pay it until your grace period ends. At that point, interest you’ve not paid gets capitalized. This means it’s added to your loan’s principal. Then you’ll pay interest on your new, larger principal amount.

Suppose you borrow $1,000 in Subsidized and $1,000 in Unsubsidized loans at the beginning of this fall semester. Your loans’ interest rates are 5.5% (the rate for these loans in academic year 2018-19). But suppose you can’t afford to make any loan payments while enrolled, nor can you afford to pay anything during your grace period.

When your grace period ends, you’ll still owe $1,000 on your Subsidized loan. But what you owe on your Unsubsidized Loan will have grown by 23.5%, to $1,235. This is your original principal amount of $1,000 plus $235 in unpaid interest that gets added to your Unsubsidized principal. By the time it’s paid in full, it’ll cost at least $2,600 to repay your fall Unsubsidized loan of $1,000.

But you may be able to minimize your Unsubsidized loan debt. Here are three ways:

•   Reduce Borrowing: You’re not required to borrow all, or any, of the loans you’re IMG_4582offered so, if you don’t need all your Unsubsidized loan, tell the financial aid office to downsize or cancel it before it’s disbursed.

•   Pay During School: Return Unsubsidized loan funds within 120 days of the day they’re disbursed. This’ll reduce your principal amount, and the government will cancel any interest and fees charged on the returned amount. Your aid office can usually help you do this.

•   Pay During Grace: Anything you pay during your grace period will reduce interest you owe. Contact your loan servicer about this.

So because Unsubsidized loan interest always gets charged, and because it’ll inflate the amount you repay, minimize Unsubsidized borrowing whenever you can, and prepay Unsubsidized interest whenever you can.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies that’ll reduce your costs of borrowing for college.

Before and During College: Tried and True Ways to Reduce Textbook Costs

IMG_4449Textbooks. They’re vital for postsecondary learning, but expensive. This past June the University of Northwestern — St. Paul’s Dr. Tanya Grosz observed

Textbook prices have risen up to 6 times the rate of inflation. . . . And according to a 2016 study conducted with . . . 40 public colleges in Florida, the high cost of textbooks caused 66.5% of students not to take a certain course, 47.6% to take fewer courses, 37.6% to earn a poor grade, 26.1% to drop a course, and 19.8% to fail a course.

But textbook costs can be shrunk. Most colleges provide lists of required textbook titles and ISBN numbers at or before registration so you have time to save by:

Ÿ•   Shopping Around: A booklist for each class is usually available on-line. Get it, and then compare prices for electronic and physical books — new, used, rental — at various retailers. College bookstores often charge more than you’ll pay elsewhere.

Ÿ•   Going to the Library: Campus and local libraries often have textbooks you can check out. If not, contact your instructor and ask to have books required for you class placed in the campus library.

Ÿ•   Using E-Books: Textbooks may be available electronically — sometimes, but not IMG_4450always, for less than physical books — from online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Textbooks.com, etc. You can download them onto Kindles, laptops, mobile phones, or tablets and can do searches, highlight and copy text, insert bookmarks, and make your own notes in them. But remember – rented e-books eventually go away, so buy it if you need to keep it.

Ÿ•   Accessing Open Textbooks: These are digitally accessible texts written by experts, then edited by instructors if needed. Open textbooks are particularly useful for fields of study that require few updates (e.g. mathematics). Ask at your school’s library or maybe check out OpenStax College, a nonprofit based at Rice University, which publishes open textbooks that are free online and low cost in print.

Ÿ•   Getting Used Texts: You can buy or rent used physical books for less than new books. But check their condition. Watch out for broken spines, missing pages, and pages falling out, or books with too much that’s been marked up by others.

Ÿ•   Book-Sharing: Split textbook costs with classmates, and then share. But set clear sharing-schedules, and make sure classmates can be trusted to abide by them so IMG_4453you’ll get the books when planned.

Ÿ•   Book-Trading: Another cost-cutter trading books that are no longer needed for books need in a new term’s classes. Just double check to be sure you have the edition required by your instructor.

These strategies can help cut your expenses, which can help you borrow less for postsecondary education.

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation on other ways to cut college-related expenses.