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. 

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.

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.