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.

Before, During, and After College: You Need a Plan!

About 4 million babies will be born in the U.S. this year. Naturally, their parents want each of them to enjoy the American dream. Now, more than ever, that dream includes, even depends on a good education beyond high school.

But the dream is unraveling. It’s coming undone as the rising cost of college outpaces all but the wealthiest families’ ability to pay for it.

In 1998, the total cost of a year at a state college or university averaged $10,458. That was 27% of IMG_9377U.S. median household income. Eighteen years later this cost was $24,610, or 42% of median household income. At this rate, freshman year public college expenses for 2017’s newborns will average $33,224 — an astounding 56% of median household income.

Small wonder educational debt for recent college graduates averaged $34,000, or that 44 million Americans owe $1.4 trillion in such debt. Nor is it surprising that, in 2015, there were a million fewer students in college than in 2010; the first ever 5-year drop in our nation’s college enrollment.

How to ensure your child can afford college when he or she is ready to attend? It won’t be simple, and it won’t be easy. But a College Finance Plan (CFP) can help.

A CFP is like a mortgage — a decades-long undertaking. You (the parent) and your student (son or daughter) are its key players. It involves nothing exotic or fancy; just strategies to be adopted before, during, and after actual college enrollment. You’ll want to start implementing these strategies as early as you can, and stick to them.

A CFP won’t make college free, or even inexpensive. But collectively, its strategies can help make college costs more manageable so your student can access the best possible postsecondary education.

Want a quick look at strategies you should consider for the “Before College” phase? See Before College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan. A review of “During College” strategies will be posted on this website October 2, and “After College” strategies will be outlined here October 9. IMG_9373You’ll also find more in-depth discussions of individual strategies here through the end of academic year 2017-18.

No matter where you and your student are in the college-going process, itake concrete steps to keep the cost of a postsecondary degree within your means. Start building your CFP now!

Got questions about college costs and how to deal with them? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for help at no charge.

Before College: It’s Good to Work as a Freshman, Just Not Too Much

 

Your daughter’s freshman year financial aid offer includes a work-study award which’ll provide her a part-time job while she’s enrolled. Should she or shouldn’t she accept this award?

Many parents don’t want their children to work at school, especially during their first year. Moms and dads worry about their children adjusting to totally new environments and rigorous, college-level course loads. They reason that the pressure of jobs will be too much.

Such concerns are sometimes legitimate. But research shows they’re often wrong. In fact, studies have long shown that freshmen who work while taking classes earn higher GPAs and persist at higher rates than freshmen who don’t. The key is to control the student’s work hours. Ten to 14 hours a week seems to be optimal for most freshmen.

On the other hand, GPAs fall and dropout rates rise as students work more and more hours beyond 14 per week. These “over-workers” report that they find it difficult to attend classes, meet with professors, and get to the library. Think about that last point — no other on-campus service is open longer each day than the library so, if your student can’t get there, she probably can’t access other academic support services.

But working 10-14 hours a week can have several positive effects. It helps reduceXBD201407-00853-03.TIF reliance on loans. It allows students to pay some of their own costs, giving them the motivation that comes from “investing” their blood, sweat, and tears to “earn” an education. And working students typically become better time managers.

On-campus work can provide students with a “home base” at colleges that sometimes seem overwhelmingly large. And on-campus supervisors know their employees are students first, then workers. This tends to make them more tolerant of schedules that work around exams and tests.

IMG_5891Finally, working while enrolled usually helps with job and graduate school searches. Many ex-supervisors — including faculty members — are willing to provide references, and college employment demonstrates “real world” experience, strengthening the student’s resume even if the work she did wasn’t related to her career choice.

So you may want to advise your student to accept work-study. Absent such an offer, point her toward the student employment office when she gets to campus to seek other part-time positions. Don’t let unfounded fears stop her from taking advantage of the many positive outcomes associated with working a controlled number of hours per week.

College Affordability Solutions brings 40 years experience to advising families and students on higher education funding strategies. Feel free to contact us if we can assist you.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retrieval Tool Offline Until October!

Remember back on March 18, when there was the bulletin about the IRS shutting down the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) Americans use to load key data onto their FAFSAs? Now, the IRS and U.S. Department of Education announced that parents and students should plan for the DRT to be offline until the next Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) cycle begins on October 1m.

ED and IRS reminded parent and students that the online FAFSA continues to operate and that, to load data onto that FAFSA that would have come from the DRT, they can access paper copies of their federal tax returns and/or pay stubs, then manually transfer those data to their FAFSAs.

FAFSA filers can also get their 2015 “tax transcripts” from the IRS in order to secure the data they need. These transcripts can be downloaded online from the IRS’s Get Transcript Online website.

College Affordability Solutions will keep you posted on new developments regarding this problem in future bulletins that will be posted on this website.

Before College: May 1 is Right Around the Corner!

May 1 is just 34 days away. That’s the deadline for paying a nonrefundable enrollment deposit to hold a spot at the 4-year college your student decides to attend this fall. When it comes to affordability, there’s much to do.

(1) Award Letter: Be sure your student has his financial aid offer from each school he’s considering. If a school’s award letter hasn’t arrived yet, make sure you’ve completed verification (if the school required it), then contact the financial aid office to request one IMG_5726ASAP.

(2) Outside Aid: If you know about scholarships your student’s getting from parties outside the school, report them to the aid office right away. Not doing so will freeze financial aid once the school learns of these awards, because it’s required to determine that the aid it awarded isn’t affected by outside scholarships. Should reductions be required, schools usually cut loans, then work-study and, last, grants or scholarships.

(3) Appeal: File a financial aid appeal ASAP if it might lower your student’s Expected Family Contribution and qualify her for more need-based aid. The aid office can tell you how.

(4) Affordability Analysis: Evaluate the affordability of each school under consideration.

First, use the “Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” on the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website to calculate annual growth in the average cost of attending a school over the last four year. Multiply the school’s 2017-18 costs by this average for each of the next four years to project your student’s 4-year cost.

Now project the financial aid to be received over four years. Some institutional grants and scholarships are for one year only, so be sure to differentiate between them and 4-year IMG_5659awards. And watch out for schools that practice bait and switch. Assume federal and state grant amounts will remain constant each year. Keep your borrowing assumptions within annual federal loan limits.

Subtract your 4-year financial aid projection from your 4-year cost projection. Now the big question — can you and your student cover the remaining gap? If so, keep that school on the list for consideration. If not, it may have to be dropped.

(5) Fit: Fit is absolutely critical. If a college or major doesn’t work for your student, chances are he’ll transfer, which’ll increase the cost of his degree. So consider fit carefully.

Need help analyzing the affordability of the colleges your student is considering? Contact College Affordability Solutions by email at collegeafford@gmail.com or by phone at (512) 366-5354.

Before College: Should You File a Financial Aid Appeal?

Your 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — despite all the information it collects, it can’t cover everything. It doesn’t gather unusual information that could impact your student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — the key to determining his eligibility for financial aid awarded on the basis of financial need.

Since 2015 ended, did you suffer:

  • A big income loss — a layoff or employment termination — that’s still affecting IMG_5702you; or
  • Any major uninsured medical expenses in 2015, 2016, or 2017; or
  • Similarly unavoidable financial problems?

If so, appeal. These may lower your student’s EFC, qualifying her for more need-based aid.

The financial aid office can tell you how to do an appeal. You’ll no doubt be asked to file it in writing and to provide documents proving your income reduction, medical bills, or other financial losses. Why? Because parties funding your student’s need-based aid often audit EFCs. If they’re not convinced that your student’s EFC is correct, the school becomes liable for need-based aid it gives him in excess of his resulting financial need.

DOG_ATTACKKeep copies of the documents you submitted with your appeal. You might need to them to respond to follow-up questions from the aid office.

Because there are so many appeals at this time of year, file yours as soon as possible to give the aid office’s staff sufficient time to review it and make a determination before May 1. That’s when your student must make a go/no-go decision about which 4-year college in which she’ll enroll next fall, and you don’t want this decision made without knowing her financial aid situation.

If your student’s EFC should be changed, the aid office will tell your student. And should additional need-based aid still be available, it’ll send him a revised financial aid award letter showing changes in such aid.

Remember, the EFC can’t be lowered for small, optional, or routine financial matters. A successful appeal will document that your situation is exceptional and unavoidable — e.g. medical bills aren’t for something like elective cosmetic surgery. It’ll also demonstrate that your situation significantly impacts your ability to help pay your student’s college costs — i.e. the loss you’ve suffered costs more than just a few hundred dollars.

If you meet these criteria, file an appeal ASAP. It could make a difference!

Questions about the financial aid process? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.