Before and During College: A Car on Campus Can Create Colossally Causeless Costs

IMG_8107Most colleges and universities have vast student parking lots, sometimes unpaved areas on the outskirts of campus, generally poorly patrolled and supervised. Apartments near campus may also feature parking lots or nearby on-the-street parking.

The automobiles students bring to college quickly fill such parking places. And what could be more natural? Any young person anticipating the freedom of being on his own will also look forward to the convenience that comes with having a car.

But a vehicle at school also needlessly inflates college-related costs and educational debt. Consider:

  • Parking Fees: One large university near us charges its students as much as $796 per year to park on campus. Increased borrowing to pay this fee for four years at today’s federal college loan interest rates can inflate the total amount repaid by more than $4,000.
  • Maintenance and Upkeep: Gasoline, oil changes, and other auto-related expenses add up as the academic year goes along. Such costs can be deferred, if not skipped altogether, when your student’s car stays at home.
  • Damage and Vandalism: Cars sitting on the street and in remote, under-supervised lots are more prone to damage — from hailstorms, slashed tires, frozen batteries, collisions if others carelessly reverse or cut corners too closely, etc. Sometimes your student may need to pay for a tow job to the nearest repair shop just to get his car working again.

Most campuses are either small enough to cross on foot or have shuttle bus systems that are free to their students. And the municipal transit systems in many college towns also allow students to ride free or at reduced rates.

IMG_8108Your student may ask, how will I ever get home if I don’t have my car? This may be valid. But reasonably-priced bus services and trains often run between your state’s major colleges and large metropolitan areas. And if public transportation isn’t available, your student can probably get a ride straight to your door by offering to share gasoline expenses with a fellow student.

Now if a student commutes from home or to a job at an off-campus location not served by public transportation, a car may be necessary. Otherwise, a vehicle at college is an expensive and unnecessary luxury. So counsel your student to cut his college costs by leaving those wheels at home!

College Affordability Solutions offers guidance on a wide array of strategies to keep higher education costs, and higher education borrowing, as low as possible. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 366-5354 for such guidance.

Before College: Prepare Your Freshmen to Manage Those First-Year Finances

Ever noticed college campuses and their surroundings? All those apartments, bookstores, dormitories, shops, and restaurants. They’re run by people called IMG_8045“landlords” and “merchants” — responsible, solid folks who make good friends and neighbors. But, at work, their job is to separate students from their money, and at this they’re exceptionally talented.

Dropping 17-19 year olds amongst these skilled professionals is almost unfair. For all their academic ability and digital literacy, young people on their own for the first time often aren’t savvy about considering, much less comprehending, the consequences of their financial decisions. Result? They can easily become the victims of slick marketing campaigns and peer pressures.

IMG_8046In the short run, this contributes to stress, frantic calls home for more money, skipping meals, borrowing too much, working too much, and even dropping out. In the long run, it’s one reason why 40% of college students don’t get degrees, 45% of college graduates live with their parents two years after commencement, and 50% of college graduates need financial help from their families.

Fortunately, today’s students and parents are generally close, so your students often want your guidance. This allows you to use your experience from decades of managing (and mismanaging) your money to help them avoid mistakes in managing theirs.

They’ve probably learned some things by observing you. Still, there are important matters you should make absolutely sure they understand — through frank discussions before they go to campus, by “just in time” phone counseling while they’re at school, or both. Here are some of these issues:

Budgeting: How and why to map out monthly income and expenses, track spending, routinely review and modify budgets.

Checking Accounts, Credit and Debit Cards: How to write checks and use debit/credit cards. Associated fees. Avoiding impulse purchases. When credit card interest kicks in and when to make credit card payments.

Comparative Shopping: How and why to comparatively shop for everything from checking and savings accounts to credit/debit cards to apartments, books, and clothes.

ID Theft and Scams: Securing their checkbooks and credit/debit cards. Avoiding scams. Protecting their critical personal information. What to do if their ID is stolen.

Saving: Why and how to save, even if only a little for a short time. How to open and manage savings account

Teaching your students about these first-year financial issues can protect them, and you, this year and for years to come!

After College: Use Your Grace Period Wisely

IMG_6400Hey college graduate, did you know they call it “commencement” because so many other things begin once you earn that degree? If you borrowed to pay college costs, your student loan “grace period” is one of those things.

A grace period is something the government gives so you have time to get your finances organized before you must start repaying your federal student loans. For Federal Direct Loans borrowed by students it goes for 6 full months from the day after you stop being enrolled half-time. It runs 9 full months from this date on Federal Perkins Loans.

Notice the reference to full months. For every loan you owe that hasn’t used up its entire 6 or 9 month grace period, you’ll get a full new grace period when you next drop below half-time.

Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loans don’t get grace periods but, working their loan servicers as listed in their National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) records, parents can defer payment while their students are in school and for 6 months after the students for whom they borrowed drop to less-than-half-time.

A lot happens during your grace period . . .

  • Your loan servicer sends you notices about your first payment due date andIMG_6401 choosing your repayment plan options — stuff you really need to know. So keep your servicer apprised of any changes in your email and mailing addresses. You can find its contact information on NSLDS.
  • You’ll get these notices 60 or more days before your first payment due date. Use those 60 + days to set up a monthly budget including amounts for your loan payments.
  • Interest accumulates on any Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans you have and, when your grace periods end, outstanding interest is capitalized — added to principal — inflating the amount on which future interest is charged.
  • Payments aren’t required during grace periods, but they’re not prohibited, either. Whenever you can afford to make a payment, send a note with it directing your servicer to apply it first to your outstanding unsubsidized loan interest. Anything left will be used to reduce your loan principal.
  • Institutional, private, and state student loans may or may not have grace periods of varying length. To check this out, review these loans’ promissory notes.

But no matter what loans you have, use your grace period wisely to prepare for making monthly payments on them when that period ends.

Need advice on managing your college debt? College Affordability Solutions has 40 years experience on this subject. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if we can help you.

Before and During College: Summer Can Be Used To Reduce College Costs

Spring semester ends soon. After finals, many students will use the summer to cut their college costs. The payoff for doing so can be huge!

Lot’s of employers need student employees to help manage increased summer activity levels. Others look to student workers to fill in for regular employees on summer vacation.

Over the last 4 years — from the summer after high school graduation through the summer before his senior year — Jack banked about $2,000 a year from his summer IMG_6029jobs. This allowed him to forgo the $2,000 per year in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan he would otherwise have needed to borrow for the costs of attending his university. It cut the principal and interest he’ll pay each month on his student loans by a third. It’ll also reduce the total amount he repays on those loans under the “standard” 10-year repayment plan by a whopping $11,200. That’s a darned healthy bite out of Jack’s borrowing costs.

IMG_6030Another cost saver is attending summer school at a community college close to home so the student doesn’t incur expenses for room and board. This is particularly effective during the summers after student’s freshman and sophomore years, when they’re likely to pick up courses that’ll count toward degree requirements at their universities.

Jill took this approach. Over two summers, she completed a total of 15 credit hours at her local community college. Tuition and required fees there were $117 per credit hour, versus $321 per credit hour at the university Jill attended fall through spring.

In doing this, Jill reduced the number of semesters it took to fulfill her university degree requirements from eight to seven. This cut her costs at that institution by $4,825 in tuition and fees and by $5,220 in room and board. So for $1,760, Jill cut her costs by $10,045 — a net savings of $8,285.

And the good news is that this isn’t an either/or proposition. Summer work? Summer community college classes? Many students do both!

Jack and Jill still get lots of summer “down time.” They still get to see friends they missed while away at school. And they still get to eat that good home cooking and to be with family. But their summers are also highly productive, because they significantly reduce the cost of their degrees — and what’s not to like about that?

Looking for strategies to keep college more affordable? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.

Before College: Make Decisions Now That Will Minimize College Debt

Soon after the upcoming college commencement season you’ll begin hearing it. “Who got me into all this debt?” or “My school made me take out all those loans!”

There’s truth in this. College costs keep rising. Grants and scholarships aren’t keeping up. But two other parties also contribute to rising collegiate debt — the student and, often, his parents.

Is your student spending conservatively — e.g. buying used textbooks from an online discount bookstore, not buying all his textbooks but accessing some through the campus library’s ebook collection?

Many off-campus residences sell themselves as “high amenity” facilities. But they’re IMG_5814also high rent. Is living in a new high-rise with a rooftop pool and granite countertops really necessary? Can your student survive someplace that’s older, plainer, and less costly? Can he split rent with one or more roommates, eat out less often, put a brown bag lunch in his backpack and cook more meals at home?

Does he absolutely need an automobile at school? He’ll likely pay hundreds to put it in some remote, vandalism-prone parking lot. Instead, can he use campus shuttle buses and municipal transit lines? Can he share rides home?

Can he work part-time? Contrary to popular belief, students who work 10-14 hours per week while enrolled perform better academically than students who don’t work at all.

Parents? You probably think your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is too high. But EFC is based on a reasonable assumption — that you’ll max out your own financial 20091030family5049resources before asking your neighbors to pay for financial aid to send your student to college.

So can you downsize your vacations; maybe even turn some into “staycations?” Can you get another few years out of your car? Do you really need to hire out the house cleaning or yard work? Or can you redirect such discretionary spending to support your student?

Most colleges offer the maximum loan amounts for which students are eligible. But your student need not accept all that debt. Minimize his costs and maximize your EFC, then reject any loan amount you don’t expect to need. If you miscalculate, what you turn down can be reinstated later.

Remember, students who borrow to live like professionals while in college often live like students while paying off their debts after college! Keep this from happening to your student by downsizing or rejecting loan offers now.

College Affordability Solutions helps families identify strategies for minimizing higher education debt. Contact us at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354 to learn more,

Before College: May 1 is Right Around the Corner!

May 1 is just 34 days away. That’s the deadline for paying a nonrefundable enrollment deposit to hold a spot at the 4-year college your student decides to attend this fall. When it comes to affordability, there’s much to do.

(1) Award Letter: Be sure your student has his financial aid offer from each school he’s considering. If a school’s award letter hasn’t arrived yet, make sure you’ve completed verification (if the school required it), then contact the financial aid office to request one IMG_5726ASAP.

(2) Outside Aid: If you know about scholarships your student’s getting from parties outside the school, report them to the aid office right away. Not doing so will freeze financial aid once the school learns of these awards, because it’s required to determine that the aid it awarded isn’t affected by outside scholarships. Should reductions be required, schools usually cut loans, then work-study and, last, grants or scholarships.

(3) Appeal: File a financial aid appeal ASAP if it might lower your student’s Expected Family Contribution and qualify her for more need-based aid. The aid office can tell you how.

(4) Affordability Analysis: Evaluate the affordability of each school under consideration.

First, use the “Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” on the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website to calculate annual growth in the average cost of attending a school over the last four year. Multiply the school’s 2017-18 costs by this average for each of the next four years to project your student’s 4-year cost.

Now project the financial aid to be received over four years. Some institutional grants and scholarships are for one year only, so be sure to differentiate between them and 4-year IMG_5659awards. And watch out for schools that practice bait and switch. Assume federal and state grant amounts will remain constant each year. Keep your borrowing assumptions within annual federal loan limits.

Subtract your 4-year financial aid projection from your 4-year cost projection. Now the big question — can you and your student cover the remaining gap? If so, keep that school on the list for consideration. If not, it may have to be dropped.

(5) Fit: Fit is absolutely critical. If a college or major doesn’t work for your student, chances are he’ll transfer, which’ll increase the cost of his degree. So consider fit carefully.

Need help analyzing the affordability of the colleges your student is considering? Contact College Affordability Solutions by email at collegeafford@gmail.com or by phone at (512) 366-5354.

During College: Spring Break, Not Spring Bankruptcy

Soon it’ll be spring break, an opportunity for fun, travel, and memories. Many college students consider it a right of passage, and many families want them to enjoy it.

But spring break can be expensive. College students spend well over $1 billion on it every year. But using government loans to pay for it will, even at today’s record low interest rates, cost at least $19.78 in interest for every $100 spent.

There’s still a lot of school left after spring break. So help your spring breaker be tough-minded and disciplined about spending decisions. For example:

  • Travel: The farther away the destination, the costlier the travel — especially img_5569if it involves high March air fares. For example, one major airline’s coach fares show a mid-March round trip Denver to Cancun (2,693 miles) costing $2,333 while its airfare from Denver to San Diego (1,078 miles) is $859.
  • Lodging: The more friends your student bunks with, the lower the cost for shelter, especially if they’re splitting the cost of a short-term rental house instead of hotel rooms.
  • Food and Beverages: Renters can prepare some of their own meals instead of eating out. And caution your student not leave an open tab anywhere. It’s also important to scrutinize meal and bar bills to avoid accidental or “moocher” charges.
  • Purchases: Clothing, swimsuits, footwear, etc. — urge your student to pack it, not buy it there at inflated prices. He or she should also take that student ID because it may generate some discounts.

More and more students are also saving by skipping those stereotypical beech and ski trips. Satisfying but much less expensive activities are out there. For example:

  • Your student can get some friends together for camping or an amusement park visit.
  • img_5570Volunteering can create lifelong memories while helping make the world a better place.
  • Spoil your student with his or her own comfortable bed and favorite meals while he or she comes home to enhance career prospects through job shadowing, searching out summer internships, or applying for post-graduation employment.

Spring break can be a great time — if your student can avoid overspending that generates a self-inflicted wound leading to a ramen noodle diet until finals end.

You can contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.