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!

After College: What Will My Monthly Student Loan Payments Be?

Congratulations! You’ve finished your bachelor’s degree and are about to begin your career. If you borrowed for college, you’ll soon wonder how much you’ll need to spend each month to repay your student loans.

IMG_6700The answer is . . . it depends! It depends on how much you’ll owe when your grace period ends, the combined interest rates on your loans, the student loan repayment plan you select and, under some plans, your earnings and family size. Consider, for example, a new bachelor’s degree recipient who borrowed the annual maximum in Federal Direct Loans during each of his 4 years in college which, when his grace period ends, will amount to a $28,187 debt at a combined interest rate of 4.2%. He just accepted a new $40,000 per year job:

Repayment Plan         Monthly Payment       Number of Payments    Total Amount Paid

Standard                      $276                               120                                     $33,086

Graduated                   $155                               155                                     $34,696

Extended                     This Borrower Not Eligible for This Repayment Plan

Income-Based            $274                                121                                     $33,097

income-Contingent   $202                                165                                     $35,787

Pay As You Earn       $183                                142                                     $36,849

Revised Pay As You Earn     $183                   133                                     $34,193

Want a precise projections of your monthly payment amounts? Open the government’s Federal Student Loan Estimator with your Federal Student Aid ID to IMG_6699get them. Different federal repayment plans have different eligibility criteria, so this’ll also help you identify plans for which you do and don’t qualify.

Such research will help you evaluate the repayment plans for which you’re eligible in preparation for the day you tell your student loan servicer the plan under which you want to begin repaying your loans. It’ll also help you know how much you’ll need to budget for your monthly student loan payments — at least during your first year of repayment.

It’s important to remember two things about loan repayment. In general, the longer your repayment period, the lower your monthly payments will be. But also, the longer your repayment period and lower your monthly payments, the more you pay on your college debt in the long run. So it’s usually best to pick the plan requiring the highest monthly payments you can afford.

Also remember — for federal student loans, you may change your repayment plan as necessary. So if your situation changes and the plan you’re using no longer fits your needs, you may always research and pick another loan repayment plan. This makes federal student loans preferable to most, if not all, institutional, private, and state student loans.

Speaking of non-federal loans, to discover how much you owe and your repayment plan options for them, you’ll need to check your lender website(s) and, maybe, call your lender(s).

Forewarned is forearmed so, no matter what type of student loans you have, start now to research what you owe and your options for repaying it!

Want help considering your repayment plan options? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.

Special Bulletin: Proposed Federal Budget Would Reportedly Makes Big Cuts in Programs for College Students and Graduates

The Washington Post reports it has received what a U.S. Education Department staff member described as “near final” documents showing the administration will IMG_6510recommend a 13.6% reduction in federal education spending next week. The budget proposal would reportedly affect federal financial assistance for college students as follows:

  • Child Care for Enrolled Parents: End a $15 million program helping to make child care affordable for low-income parents attending college.
  • Federal Direct Subsidized Loans: Make as yet unannounced cuts that could end this program, which currently serves financially needy students. If this happens, all federal loans for such students would be unsubsidized and begin compiling interest the day they are made — significantly increasing student borrowing costs.
  • Federal Pell Grants: Hold Pell Grants for the nation’s neediest undergraduates at their current levels ($606 to $5,920 for fall and spring combined). Due to inflation, this would decrease Pell’s future “purchasing power.” Some good news is that the budget would fund an extension of 2017’s summer Pell Grants in future years.
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS): Cut FWS funding by $490 million (almost half), significantly reducing federally subsidized on and off-campus jobs that financially needy students use to pay for college.
  • Income-Driven Repayment: Close down all current income-driven repayment plans available to federal college loan borrowers. These plans offer loan forgiveness for balances remaining after borrowers pay 10% to 20% of their incomes over 20 to 25 year periods. They would be replaced with a new income-driven option requiring payments equal to 12.5% of income and limiting loan forgiveness to balances still outstanding after 30 years of such payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Eliminate PSLF, which offers tax-free debt cancellation on federal student loan balances owed by ex-students in public service jobs after 10 years of on-time payment. Over 550,000 federal, state, local, and nonprofit employees are already registered for PSLF. It’s not yet clear whether they or public servants not yet registered would be cut off from It.IMG_6511

Presidents propose federal budgets, but Congress ultimately decides them. So if you support or oppose any of these proposed cuts, call or write your U.S. representative and senators to tell them how you feel.

College Affordability Solutions will post more bulletins on this website as additional information becomes available.

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.

After College: Give a Graduation Gift Worth More Than It Costs

About 2 million undergraduates will receive their degrees this year. Almost 70% of them will graduate after having borrowed, on average, over $30,000.

That’s a lot for someone just beginning his adult life and career. But the worst thing is, it probably isn’t all the debt students owe at commencement. Most undergraduates must borrow Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans — which begin accumulating interest the day they’re made — to supplement their Federal Direct Subsidized Loans and meet their college expenses.

This interest keeps accumulating during each student’s 6-month post-graduation grace period. Students may pay down interest while in school and their grace periods, but most can’t afford to do so. And when the grace periods ends, outstanding interest is capitalized — i.e. added to principal — inflating the principal amount on which future interest gets charged.

Let’s say you’re giving a graduation gift to a fairly typical student who’ll receive his bachelor’s degree later this month. He borrowed the maximum amount of subsidized and unsubsidized loan for each of his 4 years — not unusual given the financial need of students from even middle-income households. By commencement, he’ll owe $19,000 in subsidized loan principal and $8,000 in unsubsidized loan principal.

But when his grace period ends in November, he’ll also owe almost $1,500 more in accumulated unsubsidized loan interest. If all that gets capitalized, he’ll repay a total over $34,000 for the $27,000 he borrowed. And that’s if he uses a 10-year standard repayment plan — the repayment plan that yields the smallest total amount repaid.

This is where your gift comes in. Give your graduate money to pay down some of the interest accumulated on his unsubsidized debt. You’ll actually help him reduce the total amount he repays on his total college debt by more than what you give. Take a look . . .

IMG_6172

The easiest way to do this? Specify that he use your gift solely to pay down outstanding unsubsidized loan interest, which he can look up on the National Student Loan Data System, and send that amount to his loan servicer (also identifiable through NSLDS) with a note saying he wants it all applied to his unsubsidized debt. Your gift will immediately be applied to lower interest on that debt.

Not a “sexy” graduation gift, but it’ll provide value in excess of what it costs, and that’s not a bad deal for you or your student!

For more strategies to minimize what gets paid on student loans, contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.

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,