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.

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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: Pick Your Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Carefully

If you graduated this past spring after borrowing Federal Direct Loans, your loan servicer will soon contact you about how to repay them. You can pick from as many IMG_8761as seven different repayment plans.

There’s information about these plans on the government’s federal repayment plan website. To see how each plan will work for you, use the government’s Federal Student Aid Repayment Estimator. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Standard Repayment: You get a standard plan if you don’t select any other repayment approach. It offers fixed monthly payments for up to 10 years (30 years for Direct Consolidation Loans). It’s the quickest way to eliminate your debt, and you’ll repay the least amount possible over time. But it’ll also generate the highest monthly payments of all the plans at your disposal.

Other plans lower your monthly payment amounts but generally increase the total amount you repay:

  • Extended Repayment: This is available only if you owe $30,000 or more in Federal Direct Loans. You’ll get a 25 year repayment period, but no loan forgiveness when it ends.
  • Graduated Repayment: This begins with low monthly payments that increase every two years regardless of your income. Your repayment period will be 10 years — 30 years if you consolidate. But there’s no loan forgiveness after 10 or 30 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Depending upon when you borrowed your IMG_8763first Federal Direct Loan, IBR sets your payment amount at 10% to 15% of each year’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for a 20 to 25 year repayment period. If you still owe money when your repayment period ends, it’ll be forgiven.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): ICR payments equal 20% of each year’s discretionary income, with debt you still owe after 25 years forgiven.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): PAYE requires monthly payment amounts equal to 10% of your discretionary income every year for 20 years. Anything you may then owe will be forgiven. Discretionary income resets every 12 months based on your family income and size. Spousal college debt and AGI are also factors if you’re married and filing jointly.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): REPAYE is identical to PAYE, except it gives you 25 years to repay and to await the forgiveness of any remaining loan balance.

Don’t forget, you can change repayment plans any time, so pick a plan and then, as your financial situation evolves, decide whether to switch to another plan.

College Affordability Solutions offers no-charge consultations on student loan repayment strategies. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Before College: Make Sure Your Freshman’s Loans Are There When Needed

IMG_7991Soon you’ll be taking your new freshman to college. If you or she are borrowing Federal Direct Loans for the fall term, and if those loans’ proceeds are needed to help cover start-up costs that accompany the beginning of school, make sure they’re ready in time to do this.

How? Use your respective Federal Student Aid (FSA) IDs to make sure the following steps are complete on the government’s studentloans.gov website:

1. Your student should open “Complete Entrance Counseling” and get the 20-30 minute online briefing that’s full of information she needs about her rights and IMG_7990responsibilities as a borrower. If you’re a parent borrowing a PLUS loan, you need
to not do this.

2. Your student should then open the “Complete Loan Agreement for a Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan (MPN)” link and fill out its online promissory note — the legal document through which she promises to repay all the federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans she borrows for 10 years. It’ll ask for her permanent and email addresses, her phone number, and for this information on two “references” — U.S. residents who’ve known her for at least 10 years.

3. If you’re borrowing your first parent PLUS loan for your freshman, open the “Parent Borrowers” page and provide the data requested under “Apply for a PLUS Loan.” Then open “Complete Loan Agreement for a PLUS Loan (MPN)” and execute its online promissory note, which’ll cover the PLUS loans you borrow for her for 10 years.

When everything described above is complete, each loan’s proceeds will arrive at the school within school 5-8 days. The school may apply them to tuition and other amounts owed 10 days before classes begin, then turn whatever’s left over to your student.

What if you or your student haven’t done everything and have enough funds to not need federal loan dollars until later this fall or even next term? Then delay the steps described above until about two weeks before the loan money is needed.

Why? Washington doesn’t charge interest on unsubsidized and PLUS loans until the school applies their proceeds. At today’s unsubsidized loan interest rate of 4.45% and PLUS loan interest rate of 7.00%, postponing this event from, say, mid-August until early January reduces the amount of interest to be paid on $1,000 of unsubsidized and PLUS loan by as much as $33 and $15, respectively. Small savings, but if you can do this every year, they’ll add up!

College Affordability Solutions is back for the 2017-18 academic year! Look here every Wednesday for a new post about strategies you and your student can use before, during, and after college to make higher education as affordable as possible! And check out what we can do for you by opening the “Services Offered” link on this website!

 

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!

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.