Special Bulletin: Now Ask Your Senators to Preserve Your College Tax Benefits!

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its tax bill. This bill would repeal many of the higher education tax benefits on which millions of college students and parents rely. But it isn’t law yet.

The U.S. Senate will soon act on a similar bill. But as currently written, the Senate’s bill IMG_0078would keep the House-targeted college tax benefits in place and unchanged. These benefits include:

  • College Savings Bonds: The House would start taxing students on money they use from such bonds to pay college expenses.
  • Coverdell Education Saving Accounts: The House would prohibit new deposits into these accounts.
  • Death and Disability Debt Discharge: The House would tax student loan debts forgiven for borrowers who die or suffer total and permanent disabilities.
  • Employer-Provided Educational Assistance: The House would subject what your employer spends on your tuition, fees, books, and supplies to taxation The Senate would leave current law as is — so only employer spending above $5,250 would be taxed.
  • Graduate Tuition Reduction Exclusion: The House would make all tuition reductions awarded to graduate research and teaching assistants taxable income.
  • Interest Deduction on Student Loans: The House would end this $2,500 per year deduction.
  • Lifetime Learning and American Opportunity Tax Credits: The House would repeal the Lifetime Learning credit that applies to what you pay on a course helping you get a degree or a job skill. Instead, it would expand the American Opportunity credit from 4 to 5 years. But the American Opportunity credit applies only to degree-related courses. The Senate would leave both credits unchanged.
  • Tuition and Fee Deduction: The House would kill this $4,000 per year deduction for what you pay in tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents.

All these changes would take affect in 2018 unless the Senate causes them to be dropped.

The Senate will amend, debate, and vote on its bill soon after Thanksgiving, so there’s little time to contact your Senators (their contact information is here). Urge IMG_0081them to use the Senate bill to preserve the tax benefits described above.

The House and Senate must negotiate to finalize all differences in the bills they pass, and such negotiations often lead to one or the other bill’s differences being dropped. So the last, best hope for preserving these tax benefits is a Senate tax bill that opposes the House’s plan to kill them.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you have questions.

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Special Bulletin: Stop Congress from Eliminating Your College Tax Breaks!

IMG_9916The Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is finalizing HR 1 and the full House will soon vote on it. It’s called the “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” but as currently written this bill would eliminate federal tax breaks now available to you if you’re a current, former, or future college parent or student.

But HR 1 hasn’t become law yet. You can still influence it by telling your IMG_9919Representative you want these tax breaks left intact. So find your Congressperson’s contact information here and call or write immediately!

The higher education tax breaks you’ll lose if HR 1 becomes law as currently written include:

  • Tuition and Fee Deduction: HR 1 would end your right to deduct up to $4,000 per year for what you pay in postsecondary tuition and fees.
  • Scholarship and Fellowship Exclusion: Under HR 1 the government would IMG_9917tax scholarship and fellowship amounts that pay for your tuition, fees, books, and class supplies.
  • Lifetime Learning and American Opportunity Tax Credits: HR 1 would eliminate the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. For an unlimited number of years, this credit allows you to reduce your federal income taxes by up to $2,000 per student for what you pay toward tuition, required fees, books, and supplies for courses leading to a degree or to acquiring or improving job skills. To partially offset this loss, the American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 per student would be expanded to cover five, instead of four years of these expenses — but only for at least a half-time degree or certificate-seeking student.
  • Student Loan Interest Deduction: HR 1 would end your tax deduction of up to $2,500 per year on student and parent loan interest you pay.
  • Employer-Provided Educational Assistance: Today the first $5,250 your employer pays on tuition, fees, books, and supplies for courses you take is excluded from what determines your federal income taxes. HR 1 would end this, and you’ll be taxed on such assistance.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: HR 1 would make 2017 the last year to make new deposits into Coverdell accounts.
  • College Savings Bonds: HR 1 would tax students on money they use from federal college savings bonds to pay for college.

The House votes on HR 1 soon. So if these or any of its other provisions would affect you, hurry up and exercise your rights as a citizen!

Got questions? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

During College: Save by Prepaying Unneeded Loan Funds Within 120 Days of Disbursement

So your student’s currently in college? And he borrowed a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan for this fall? He can save a lot on that loan by prepaying during the next 6 weeks. This is worth considering, because only 38.6% of college seniors look back and feel all they borrowed was essential to continuing their education.

Federal regulations say any prepayment received within 120 days of disbursement must be used to reduce that disbursement’s principal — and interest and loan fees on the prepaid principal must be automatically cancelled, too.

IMG_9849For example, a college freshman prepays $100 of his fall 2017 Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan within this 120 day period. This’ll reduce the total amount he must repay by an additional $175. Actual savings will depend on his choice of the federal repayment plans he’ll be offered — a choice he’ll make after leaving school.

These regulations also apply to upperclassmen. Their savings may be a bit less, but they’re still significant.

How to do this? First, your student should check with his financial aid office to see if it’ll submit his prepayment for film. If so, he should follow its directions. Otherwise:

  • Do Some Research: The National Student Loan Data System has his most recent Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan disbursement date (i.e. “Loan Date”). It’ll also identify his federal student loan servicer and its mailing address.
  • Meet the 120-Day Deadline: He’ll write a check to his loan servicer for the amount IMG_9854he wants to prepay and mail it 7-10 days (for delivery and processing) before the 120th day after disbursement.
  • Direct the Prepayment’s Application: To make sure his prepayment goes 100% to his most expensive federal loan — that Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan — he should write “Apply to [INSERT LOAN DATE] Unsubsidized Loan” on his check’s memo line before mailing it.

But be careful. You student should only prepay funds he doesn’t need to finish the current term. So if he doesn’t already have a spending plan, help him build one when he’s home for Thanksgiving. More about this next Wednesday.

The right to prepay at any time without penalty helps make federal loans superior to most other forms of credit available to America’s college students. And prepaying within 120 days of disbursement saves extra money, making them even better!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years of experience in a wide variety of student finance issues, including student loan debt management. Contact us at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for cost-free consultations.

After College: Save by Prepaying During Your Grace Period

Did you get your bachelor’s degree this past spring? While in college, did you borrow Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans? If so, you’re fast approaching the last day of your 6-month “grace period.” The next day what you’ll repay on those loans could easily multiply.

IMG_9822Lenders charge interest on student and other loans they make, and what borrowers repay equals the principal amount they borrowed and the interest they’re charged. Interest on your Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan installments began building when you received them, and any of this interest outstanding at the end of your grace period gets added to those loans’ principal.

It’s a legal practice called “capitalization.” Many lenders do it, including the government on Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Once capitalized, your outstanding interest gets added to your principal. This inflates the total amount you repay because, the greater your principal, the more interest you get charged as you repay it.

Fortunately, this can be prevented — if you can afford it — by prepaying your IMG_9824outstanding interest before capitalization occurs. Say you borrowed the maximum allowable Federal Direct Loan amount during each of the last 4 years. Assuming you earn the average starting salary for a 2017 graduate, every $100 you prepay during your grace period reduces the total amount you’d repay by an additional $94 to $113.

Here’s what to do:

  • Get Information: Identify your grace period end-date and get a projection on the interest you’ll owe on that date. Your federal student loan servicer should be able to supply both and, if necessary, you can obtain its contact information from the National Student Loan Data System.
  • Prepay Before Your Grace Period Ends: Prepay as much interest as you can. Ask your servicer how to send this prepayment electronically, or mail it a check 7-10 days before your grace period ends.

Any payment made before it’s due is a prepayment. You can prepay any time without penalty on Federal Direct Loans. Prepayments reduce outstanding interest first, then loan principal. So if you can prepay even more than interest during your grace period you’ll also diminish your loan principal, further shrinking the total you end up repaying.

Prepaying during your grace period will save you money in the long run, giving you more to invest and spend on other things. So use your grace period to prepay as much as you can!

Look here next Wednesday for how currently enrolled students can save even more in the total amount they repay.
Seeking ways to manage the repayment of your student loans? Consult College Affordability Solutions at no charge. Contact us at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354 to do so.

 

After College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

We’ve discussed why students and their families need College Finance Plans (CFPs) and IMG_9739summarized strategies to use in your CFP’s “Before College” and “During College” phases. Let’s review some “After College” strategies.

Almost 70% of college graduates borrow. They leave averaging more than $34,000 in student loan debt. Hence, most strive to keep their initial monthly payments as low as possible. Toward this end:

Ex-students also strive to reduce the overall amount they repay to free up money for other uses. To IMG_9744do this:

  • Prepay: Cut the total interest you repay by prepaying – i.e. paying early or paying extra — whenever possible.
  • Reassess Your Repayment Plan: Annually compare monthly payment amounts under your current plan to such amounts under other repayment plans. Switch plans if you can afford to pay more each month. This’ll create big savings.
  • No Negative Amortization: Some federal repayment plans allow you to pay less than the monthly interest charged on your debt. It’s better than defaulting, but you’ll pay more in the long run.
  • Use Loan Forgiveness: Washington offers some generous forgiveness plans on its loans. Pursue them if you qualify.

Being late or delinquent on your student loan payments generates extra fees and penalties. To avoidIMG_9747 this:

  • Call Your Servicer: Ask to change your repayment plan or due date or to explore repayment deferments and forbearances if you have problems making your whole payment on time.
  • Dispute Servicer Errors: There are steps you can take if your loan servicer causes you repayment or other problems.

It’s your debt. Manage it aggressively to avoid problems and save money.

Look here next Wednesday morning for a more extended review of a strategy for your CFP. Need some personalized guidance on one or more of these strategies. Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.

During College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

Your College Finance Plan (CFP) needs strategies for you and you student toIMG_9592 implement before, during, and after college. Let’s look at the “During College” phase.

Research at a major university indicates that, looking back, almost 4 out of every 10 seniors conclude part or all of their student loans weren’t essential for their educations. Therefore, some of these strategies focus on personal money management so students can spend and borrow less of the interest-bearing educational debt that, over time, increases college costs. These include:

IMG_9555Also, the faster your student gets her degree, the less cost and debt she’ll incur. Still, the latest national data show that only 39.8% of undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degrees within 4 years. Here are some strategies that’ll help your student graduate on-time, if not before:

 

Look here for why you need a CFP. You can find summaries of strategies for your plan’s “Before College” phase here. And next Wednesday there’ll be samples of “After College” strategies for your CFP here.
Beginning October 16, check this website every Wednesday for a more detailed account of a strategy you may want to use in your CFP’s before, during, or after college phase.

After College: Should You Refinance Your Federal Student Loan Debt?

If you owe on federal student loans borrowed to pay for college, and especially if you watch late night TV commercials, you may be wondering what “refinancing” is and whether it’s the right thing for you?

When you “refinance” you borrow a private loan to pay off your federal loans, IMG_6807pledging to repay the new loan according to terms and conditions stated in its promissory note.

This sounds a lot like a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan but it’s not. Your new loan isn’t coming from the U.S. government so your rights and responsibilities on it are no longer based on laws governing federal student loans. Instead, the promissory note you’ll sign with your new lender defines your rights and responsibilities, and certain benefits and protections you now enjoy most likely won’t be available on your new, private, refinancing loan. Here are some key examples:

Interest Rates: Your federal student loan interest rates are generally fixed for the life of those loans. Refinancing lenders stress that their loans offer lower interest rates than you’re currently being charged — thereby lowering your monthly payments and saving you money in the long run. However, their promissory notes IMG_6803may allow their lenders to raise their interest rates later, perhaps many times.

Deferment and Forbearance: You may defer or forbear payment on your federal loans under certain conditions — returning to college, part-time employment, financial distress, etc. But such postponements may not be available once you refinance, or at least not available for the same circumstances.

Repayment Flexibility: When you owe the government, you get a 6-9 month grace period and the right to make payment under any of 7 different federal repayment plans that best meet your needs. Some of these plans will lower your monthly payments. Your grace period may not be the same on a refinancing loan, and refinancing lenders don’t usually offer you all the same repayment options.

Debt Cancellation, Discharge, and Forgiveness: Federal law creates opportunities through which your debt to the government may be cancelled, discharged, or forgiven. Understand none of these opportunities exist on refinancing loans.

How can you tell if a refinancing loan is good for you? Closely scrutinize its promissory note. If that note doesn’t explicitly guarantee benefits and protections you may need or want, don’t borrow it!

Looking for ways to make your college debts more manageable? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions for help.