During College: Help Your Student Avoid Overspending on Holiday Gifts

On average, Americans will spend $983 for holiday gifts this year. For those pressed for funds, even a fraction of this amount can create a new year filled with the stress of buyer’s remorse, exorbitant credit card bills, and insufficient funds for necessities.

IMG_0205Such problems overwhelm many college students just as a new term begins. Stress is the number one impediment to academic success in college. And the top two reasons why college students drop out are their need to work and earn money, and their inability to pay tuition and fees.

But you, as a parent, can help your student avoid overspending on holiday gifts.

First, manage expectations before the gift exchange. Thoughtful gifts don’t need to cost a lot. Tell your student he need not buy expensive presents. Quietly remind family members he can’t afford to spend a ton and, if your family members share holiday wish lists, lobby for some low-cost items he can afford.

Second, coach you student to establish a realistic gift budget fitting his limited finances, omitting gifts to casual friends, and dedicating a certain amount for each person on his list.

Retail businesses are exceptionally good at separating consumers from their money. IMG_0206So help your student avoid getting hoodwinked by marketing strategies designed to entice more spending than he can afford — constant sales, decoy pricing, loss leaders, loyalty cards, retail credit, etc.

Counsel your student to minimize extra fees — convenience fees, credit card fees, service charges, shipping costs, etc. Paying with cash or a debit card can avoid some of these fees. Comparative shopping can help avoid or diminish others, especially if shopping online.

Encourage him to limit self-gifting — i.e. treating himself to something while shopping for others. Whatever he’d buy can probably go on his holiday wish list.

Urge him to pick up some seasonal work to earn a few bucks that’ll help cover gifts and other holiday expenses.

Advise your student to track holiday spending. It’s helpful to establish a gift budget, but only if he stays within it. Tracking his expenditures, which simply requires a pencil and paper, helps him do this.

Finally, remind your student that spending restraint is critical to a truly happy new year!

College Affordability Solutions can provide other strategies for helping to keep your student’s costs low. Feel free to call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost 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.

Before and During College: Help Your Student Avoid Credit Card Traps

There’s nothing inherently wrong with college students having credit cards. In fact, 56% of them posses at least one. But help your student beware of all those offers from banks and other credit card providers at this time of year.

After all, a credit card is an opportunity to rapidly amass high interest debt, and only predatory lenders would push such an opportunity at a naive 18-24 year-old with no regular income. In the words of Bernie Sanders:

What the . . . credit card companies are doing is not really much different from what gangsters and loan sharks do. . . . While bankers . . . don’t break the knee caps of those who can’t pay back, they still are destroying peoples’ lives.

IMG_8287So advise your student to ignore those unsolicited offers. Just the act of applying for multiple cards within a short period can cause her credit rating to take a dive. Instead, advise her to carefully search for and start with a single credit card — one without annual fees and, if study-abroad is in her future, without foreign transaction fees. Adding another credit card later is an option that can actually help build up her credit rating, but only after she’s learned the ropes.

There’s more danger, of course, once your student obtains a credit card. It poses an almost irresistible temptation to a young person facing the pressures of keeping up with more affluent peers in an environment full of spending opportunities.

In short, a credit card makes it far too easy to shell out too much. The credit card IMG_8288provider hopes she’ll do this, because then it gets to add interest and fees that may exceed 20% of whatever’s unpaid by the monthly due date. Her credit rating gets damaged, too. To keep this from happening, the provider figures you’ll cover the unpaid balance for her.

Still, when properly managed, a credit card offers certain benefits — funding for emergencies, small savings if it’s a reward card, a record of purchases. Moreover, if paid in full every month, your student will establish a strong credit score that’ll help her borrow for a car, home, and other big post-college purchases.

Help protect your student from the dangers and reap the benefits described above! Be assertive in coaching her about credit card management both before and after she goes to campus. Make sure her college credit experience is a good one!

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford.gmail.com for more information about how students and families can manage college-related expenses well.

Before and During College: A Car on Campus Can Create Colossally Causeless Costs

IMG_8107Most colleges and universities have vast student parking lots, sometimes unpaved areas on the outskirts of campus, generally poorly patrolled and supervised. Apartments near campus may also feature parking lots or nearby on-the-street parking.

The automobiles students bring to college quickly fill such parking places. And what could be more natural? Any young person anticipating the freedom of being on his own will also look forward to the convenience that comes with having a car.

But a vehicle at school also needlessly inflates college-related costs and educational debt. Consider:

  • Parking Fees: One large university near us charges its students as much as $796 per year to park on campus. Increased borrowing to pay this fee for four years at today’s federal college loan interest rates can inflate the total amount repaid by more than $4,000.
  • Maintenance and Upkeep: Gasoline, oil changes, and other auto-related expenses add up as the academic year goes along. Such costs can be deferred, if not skipped altogether, when your student’s car stays at home.
  • Damage and Vandalism: Cars sitting on the street and in remote, under-supervised lots are more prone to damage — from hailstorms, slashed tires, frozen batteries, collisions if others carelessly reverse or cut corners too closely, etc. Sometimes your student may need to pay for a tow job to the nearest repair shop just to get his car working again.

Most campuses are either small enough to cross on foot or have shuttle bus systems that are free to their students. And the municipal transit systems in many college towns also allow students to ride free or at reduced rates.

IMG_8108Your student may ask, how will I ever get home if I don’t have my car? This may be valid. But reasonably-priced bus services and trains often run between your state’s major colleges and large metropolitan areas. And if public transportation isn’t available, your student can probably get a ride straight to your door by offering to share gasoline expenses with a fellow student.

Now if a student commutes from home or to a job at an off-campus location not served by public transportation, a car may be necessary. Otherwise, a vehicle at college is an expensive and unnecessary luxury. So counsel your student to cut his college costs by leaving those wheels at home!

College Affordability Solutions offers guidance on a wide array of strategies to keep higher education costs, and higher education borrowing, as low as possible. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 366-5354 for such guidance.

Before College: Prepare Your Freshmen to Manage Those First-Year Finances

Ever noticed college campuses and their surroundings? All those apartments, bookstores, dormitories, shops, and restaurants. They’re run by people called IMG_8045“landlords” and “merchants” — responsible, solid folks who make good friends and neighbors. But, at work, their job is to separate students from their money, and at this they’re exceptionally talented.

Dropping 17-19 year olds amongst these skilled professionals is almost unfair. For all their academic ability and digital literacy, young people on their own for the first time often aren’t savvy about considering, much less comprehending, the consequences of their financial decisions. Result? They can easily become the victims of slick marketing campaigns and peer pressures.

IMG_8046In the short run, this contributes to stress, frantic calls home for more money, skipping meals, borrowing too much, working too much, and even dropping out. In the long run, it’s one reason why 40% of college students don’t get degrees, 45% of college graduates live with their parents two years after commencement, and 50% of college graduates need financial help from their families.

Fortunately, today’s students and parents are generally close, so your students often want your guidance. This allows you to use your experience from decades of managing (and mismanaging) your money to help them avoid mistakes in managing theirs.

They’ve probably learned some things by observing you. Still, there are important matters you should make absolutely sure they understand — through frank discussions before they go to campus, by “just in time” phone counseling while they’re at school, or both. Here are some of these issues:

Budgeting: How and why to map out monthly income and expenses, track spending, routinely review and modify budgets.

Checking Accounts, Credit and Debit Cards: How to write checks and use debit/credit cards. Associated fees. Avoiding impulse purchases. When credit card interest kicks in and when to make credit card payments.

Comparative Shopping: How and why to comparatively shop for everything from checking and savings accounts to credit/debit cards to apartments, books, and clothes.

ID Theft and Scams: Securing their checkbooks and credit/debit cards. Avoiding scams. Protecting their critical personal information. What to do if their ID is stolen.

Saving: Why and how to save, even if only a little for a short time. How to open and manage savings account

Teaching your students about these first-year financial issues can protect them, and you, this year and for years to come!

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,