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.

Special Bulletin: Does National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts Supposedly Own Your Loans? Make Them Prove It!

If you borrowed private student loans for your postsecondary education, and if an organization called National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts (National Collegiate) asserts you owe loan payments to it, double check everything it says about how much you owe and whether it actually owns your loans.

The New York Times reports that courts across the United States have dismissed IMG_7740many educational loan debts supposedly owed to National Collegiate because its was unable to prove that it had actually purchased those loans from lenders who originally made them. And in at least one case, a court dismissed part of a college graduate’s debt after finding that some loans for which National Collegiate was billing her were for enrollment at a school she never attended.

Note: National Collegiate is a “secondary market” that buys private student loans after they’re made, giving it the right to collect what borrowers owe in principal and interest on those loans. It has been particularly aggressive in going to court against private student loan borrowers unable to repay their debts.

National Collegiate contracts with American Education Services to provide its borrowers with services and do routine collections on its loans. The Times reports it uses a collection agency called Transworld Systems to collect debts when borrowers fall behind on their payments.

If any of your private student loans are being collected by either of these companies, determine whether National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts says it owns them. To do this, contact American Education Services and/or Transworld Systems to inquire. If they list National Collegiate as the owner of any of your loans, double check your records to confirm whether you actually borrowed them. If not, ask for documents proving you borrowed the loans and establishing what the courts call a “chain of title” to prove National Collegiate’s ownership.

Note: There are no reports of any federal or state student loans being dismissed by IMG_7739courts because of the irregularities described above.

Never stop making payments on and debt you really do owe. This can cost you big bucks and ruin your credit rating. And never, ever, use false or misleading information to try to get out of any of your debt obligations. That’s called a criminal offense called fraud!

But if there are questions about debts National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts says you owe it, retain a law firm or seek help from your local legal aid society if necessary. Don’t get ripped off!

We’re on summer vacation at College Affordability Solutions, but this issue was too important to ignore. Join us next month when we again begin publishing regular weekly blogs.


After College: If Your Student Loan Servicer Mistreats You . . .

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is the lender to which you owe what you borrowed under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP). But ED doesn’t collect payments, answer questions, or provide help related to your FDLP debts. It’s contracted those jobs to one of nine private companies called a “loan servicer,” something many lenders do for their student and other consumer loans.

IMG_6914Loan servicers are usually very helpful. However, in one year alone there were over 30,000 documented complaints about them denying or discouraging the use of loan deferments, forgiveness, and repayment plans to which borrowers were entitled; inappropriately charging late-payment fees or increasing interest rates; losing or misapplying loan payments; and otherwise doing injustices to student loan borrowers.

If your servicer messes you over, here’s what you should do:

  1.  Go to ED’s Federal Student Aid website and review the applicable section under “How to Repay Your Loans” to make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities as a federal loan borrower.
  2. Call your servicer for help in resolving the problem. If necessary, speak with someone in management. Keep detailed notes — date, time, names, what you said, what they said, etc.
  3. Problem not resolved? Submit a complaint on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) website. The CFPB is an independent agency under current IMG_6917federal law. It has the authority to investigate servicers, fine them, and require them to repay the money borrowers lost due to their errors. The CFPB also maintains a publicly accessible database about complaints regarding loan servicers and other financial companies — a database that can be used to determine which servicers ED hires in the future.

The U.S. House recently voted for HR 10. This bill that would end the CFPB’s independence and shut down public access to its complaint database. Also, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed taking servicer misconduct out of the criteria used to award future federal loan servicing contracts.

Nobody’s sure if the U.S. Senate will agree with HB 10 or the DeVos recommendation. So if you have federal student loans call, email or write letters to your Senators now. Tell them what you want them to do regarding these proposals.

And if you ever are mistreated by a federal student loan servicer, be aggressive in standing up for yourself and seeking relief. It’s your right, not just as a borrower, but as a citizen!

This is College Affordability Solutions’ last regularly scheduled blog for the 2016-17 academic year. But we’ll start up again in early August with more strategies to be used before, during, and after college for helping to optimize higher education affordability. Have a great summer. We’ll be back soon!


Special Bulletin: Public Service Loan Forgiveness in Jeopardy for Thousands!

If you work for a 501(c)(3) or some other tax-exempt organization and are hoping to have some of your federal student loan debt discharged under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, you may be in for a rude shock.

In a March 30 story, the New York Times reports that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is taking the position that thousands of PSLF approval letters sent by FedLoan Servicing Servicing, the company ED hired and supervised to administer PSLF, were invalid.

FedLoan’s letters reportedly confirmed to borrowers that the jobs they held with nonprofit organizations qualified them for PSLF. However, many of these decisions wete retroactively declared invalid, and affected borrowers got no explanations or opportunities to appeal. According to the Times, four borrowers and the American Bar Association have gone to court against ED to restore those borrowers’ lost PSLF eligibility.

What should you do if you get caught up in this mess? Ultimately you, too, may have get a lawyer and take ED to court. But you should also:

* Contact your U.S. representative and senators to ask them to intervene with ED on your behalf; and

* File a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau because members of congress interested in passing a bill to fix this problem will no doubt ask it provide accurate input on the problem and how many Americans are affected.

* Most of all, whether or not you’ve been informed that ED has invalidated correspondence you’ve received from FedLoan, keep working with your employer to submit your PSLF certification form once a year; and stay on top of of this issue by monitoring for developments related to it on the internet, in the news media, or on this website.

College Affordability Solutions will its best to keep you posted on this in the future.


Before College: Check Out Those Hidden Fees

When checking out the cost of colleges your student may attend, you’ll find their tuition and fee charges on their websites. But understand that these charges only include fees required of all undergraduates.

Students are also subject to other fees — sometimes labeled “discretionary” or img_5527“optional” — that can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. These are “hidden” fees because schools typically don’t include them in their published cost of attendance.

Some hidden fees aren’t really optional. For example, most schools charge for summer orientation sessions to help incoming students get familiar with campus, it’s organizations, and it’s services. But orientation is often when students get their initial academic advising and schedule their first semester classes, too, do missing it may not be advisable.

Similarly, some courses required by your student’s major may have computer fees, course fees, course materials fees, or lab fees.

Still, it’s easy to avoid other optional fees. If your student isn’t interested in intercollegiate athletics, don’t pay athletics or sports ticket fees. If your student doesn’t absolutely need a car on campus, keep it at home — you’ll be surprised how many hundred dollars in parking fees (and how much gas, maintenance, and body damage) this can save each semester.

img_5529So research hidden fees. Search the school’s website for terms such as those listed at the end of this article. Call the admissions or business office and request lists of optional fees. Inquire with others attending the school about fees that surprised them.

Maybe you can’t avoid all hidden fees. But the more you know the better you can include them when analyzing college affordability, and the better you can budget for and plan strategies to minimize them.

College Affordability Solutions can help you analyze the affordability of colleges your student is considering. Contact (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Sometimes Hidden College Fees

  • Academic excellence fees
  • Activities fees
  • Add or drop fees
  • Application processing fees
  • Athletic or sport ticket fees
  • Building use fees
  • Change of schedule fees
  • Chapel fees (private, church-affiliated colleges)
  • Commencement or graduation fees
  • Computer or digital media fees
  • Course fees
  • Course materials fees
  • Convenience or credit card fees
  • Digital media fees
  • Diploma fees
  • General student fees
  • Health center of health service fees
  • Health  insurance premiums
  • ID card replacement fees
  • Lab fees
  • Late registration fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Library fees
  • Legal services fees
  • Library fees
  • Intercollegiate athletics fees
  • Internet or telecommunication fees
  • Matriculation fees
  • Orientation fees
  • Parking fees
  • Recreation center fees
  • Shuttle bus fees
  • Student success fees
  • Student government fees
  • Student services fees
  • Study abroad fees
  • Transportation fees
  • Yearbook fees



Before College: Beware of “Bait and Switch”

Bait and switch is a sleazy practice in which some, though not all, supposedly reputable colleges and universities engage. These institutions include some but, again, not all, schools requiring mid-February enrollment deposits from students offered “early admission.”

Here’s how bait and switch works: (1) Unsuspecting freshmen are lured to a school with generous grant and scholarship (gift aid) offers that seem to significantly discount their 4-year cost of attendance. (2) The school manipulates its awards so all thor most of their recipients lose them after a year or two. The cancelled funds are then switched to bait future recruits. (3) Families suffering gift aid reductions must then borrow more or use more of their financial resources to keep their students at the school.

Not surprisingly, colleges don’t publicize bait and switch. You have to look for it before paying your student’s enrollment deposit. Here are some common practices and ways to spot them.

Renewable Non-Renewable Gift Aid

A big grant or scholarship is renewable for 4 years. But its renewal criteria — e.g. GPA, credit hours completed — are so grueling that few students meet them.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Code of Conduct img_5441requires institutions to disclose grant and scholarship renewal criteria, but the criteria may be obscurely placed or written in a complicated way.

So carefully read the “fine print” on your student’s financial aid award letter or the school’s website, and honestly assess your student’s ability to meet gift aid renewal standards.

The Incredible Shrinking Gift Aid

The overall amount of gift aid awarded drops each year, even if the student’s ability to pay college costs holds steady or decreases.

img_5440To identify this practice, you generally have to pose direct questions to the financial aid staff about whether the school engages in it. Make sure you get clear, comprehensive answers.

Gift Aid Displacement

Gift aid originally awarded decreases as the student brings in other scholarships. They may be outside scholarships, but the financial aid office may also reduce gift aid it awarded due to scholarships from the school’s academic departments. The student typically looses a dollar for every other dollar received.

Federal and state rules sometimes force displacement because they prohibit the receipt of financial aid in excess of cost of attendance. But sometimes displacement is an institutional choice.

Ask the financial aid staff for the order in which it makes reductions if additional scholarships come in. Hopefully it’s unmet financial need first, loans second, and gift aid third. If it’s gift aid first, the school clearly employs displacement.

Need help scrutinizing the financial aid offers you’ve received from colleges and universities? Reach out to College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.