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.

Special Bulletin: Status of IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A key tool used by students seeking financial aid borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans on their federal student loans is still offline. However, a new government announcement outlines a schedule for getting it back up and running.

In March, the government shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), expressing concerns about the need for extra system security. Here’s where things are now according to a recent status announcement from the U.S. Department of Education —

DRT in October for Student Financial Aid Applicants: For the next 5 months, students will need to keep finding and using recent federal tax returns for themselves and their parents in order to accurately complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). The government’s announcement says it’ll be October 1 when a new, more secure DRT will become available to them.

DRT on May 31 for Student Loan Borrowers: Parents and ex-students seeking to certify their eligibility for one of the 4 federal student loan income-driven repayment plans will again be able to access to the DRT beginning May 31, the announcement says. Until then, they’ll need to keep submitting alternative documentation when applying for these plans. Alternative documentation could be paper copies of their federal tax returns or pay stubs.

If and when more information about this problem becomes available, College Affordability Solutions will post another bulletin.

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 . . .

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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 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,

During College: Spring Break, Not Spring Bankruptcy

Soon it’ll be spring break, an opportunity for fun, travel, and memories. Many college students consider it a right of passage, and many families want them to enjoy it.

But spring break can be expensive. College students spend well over $1 billion on it every year. But using government loans to pay for it will, even at today’s record low interest rates, cost at least $19.78 in interest for every $100 spent.

There’s still a lot of school left after spring break. So help your spring breaker be tough-minded and disciplined about spending decisions. For example:

  • Travel: The farther away the destination, the costlier the travel — especially img_5569if it involves high March air fares. For example, one major airline’s coach fares show a mid-March round trip Denver to Cancun (2,693 miles) costing $2,333 while its airfare from Denver to San Diego (1,078 miles) is $859.
  • Lodging: The more friends your student bunks with, the lower the cost for shelter, especially if they’re splitting the cost of a short-term rental house instead of hotel rooms.
  • Food and Beverages: Renters can prepare some of their own meals instead of eating out. And caution your student not leave an open tab anywhere. It’s also important to scrutinize meal and bar bills to avoid accidental or “moocher” charges.
  • Purchases: Clothing, swimsuits, footwear, etc. — urge your student to pack it, not buy it there at inflated prices. He or she should also take that student ID because it may generate some discounts.

More and more students are also saving by skipping those stereotypical beech and ski trips. Satisfying but much less expensive activities are out there. For example:

  • Your student can get some friends together for camping or an amusement park visit.
  • img_5570Volunteering can create lifelong memories while helping make the world a better place.
  • Spoil your student with his or her own comfortable bed and favorite meals while he or she comes home to enhance career prospects through job shadowing, searching out summer internships, or applying for post-graduation employment.

Spring break can be a great time — if your student can avoid overspending that generates a self-inflicted wound leading to a ramen noodle diet until finals end.

You can contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 

Before College: Beware of “Bait and Switch”

Bait and switch is a sleazy practice in which some, though not all, supposedly reputable colleges and universities engage. These institutions include some but, again, not all, schools requiring mid-February enrollment deposits from students offered “early admission.”

Here’s how bait and switch works: (1) Unsuspecting freshmen are lured to a school with generous grant and scholarship (gift aid) offers that seem to significantly discount their 4-year cost of attendance. (2) The school manipulates its awards so all thor most of their recipients lose them after a year or two. The cancelled funds are then switched to bait future recruits. (3) Families suffering gift aid reductions must then borrow more or use more of their financial resources to keep their students at the school.

Not surprisingly, colleges don’t publicize bait and switch. You have to look for it before paying your student’s enrollment deposit. Here are some common practices and ways to spot them.

Renewable Non-Renewable Gift Aid

A big grant or scholarship is renewable for 4 years. But its renewal criteria — e.g. GPA, credit hours completed — are so grueling that few students meet them.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Code of Conduct img_5441requires institutions to disclose grant and scholarship renewal criteria, but the criteria may be obscurely placed or written in a complicated way.

So carefully read the “fine print” on your student’s financial aid award letter or the school’s website, and honestly assess your student’s ability to meet gift aid renewal standards.

The Incredible Shrinking Gift Aid

The overall amount of gift aid awarded drops each year, even if the student’s ability to pay college costs holds steady or decreases.

img_5440To identify this practice, you generally have to pose direct questions to the financial aid staff about whether the school engages in it. Make sure you get clear, comprehensive answers.

Gift Aid Displacement

Gift aid originally awarded decreases as the student brings in other scholarships. They may be outside scholarships, but the financial aid office may also reduce gift aid it awarded due to scholarships from the school’s academic departments. The student typically looses a dollar for every other dollar received.

Federal and state rules sometimes force displacement because they prohibit the receipt of financial aid in excess of cost of attendance. But sometimes displacement is an institutional choice.

Ask the financial aid staff for the order in which it makes reductions if additional scholarships come in. Hopefully it’s unmet financial need first, loans second, and gift aid third. If it’s gift aid first, the school clearly employs displacement.

Need help scrutinizing the financial aid offers you’ve received from colleges and universities? Reach out to College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 

Before College: Shop Comparatively Using the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges have begun sending newly admitted undergraduates “award letters” showing the types and amounts of financial aid they can expect if they enroll in those schools. If your high school senior hasn’t already received such letters, they’ll probably start arriving in the next few weeks.

So dust off your calculator because, just as with any major purchase, the key to college affordability is comparative shopping.

Unfortunately, no two award letters are alike. Each uses its own unique layout and terminology. Few offer consumer information you need to know about institutions. This makes it difficult to compare schools based on affordability.

img_5222That’s why the U.S. Department of Education created the “financial aid shopping sheet.” Thousands of colleges send it with their award letters, making it easier to compare key numbers about them.

The shopping sheet’s left side shows each school’s cost of attendance — the college’s “sticker price” for the upcoming academic year.

Next comes the grants and scholarships your student is set to receive at that college for that academic year. These discount sticker price to determine the college’s “net price.”

Then comes other types of financial aid — work-study, loans — being offered to help your student pay the school’s net price.

The shopping sheet’s right side also has useful data. These include 6-year graduation rates at universities and 3-year graduation rates at community colleges. Such rates show how schools compare to similar institutions in getting undergraduates across the finish line.

The sheet also discloses the percentage of the school’s alumni repaying their federal student loans three years after beginning to do so — indicating how well the school prepares students for gainful employment.

Finally, you’ll see the median amount the college’s students borrow in federal loans, and their median monthly payments. This can give a rough sense of how much debt your student might be burdened with to attend that school.

Schools use shopping sheets on a voluntary basis, but beware of colleges that don’t provide them. Why are they trying to make it more difficult for you to compare them with other institutions? What don’t they want you to know about their aid offers or graduation and borrowing data?

You should select a college based on many factors, but the shopping sheet gives you useful, easy-to-compare affordability information for this all-important decision.

College Affordability Solutions conducts affordability analyses on institutions students are considering, whether or not those institutions provide shopping sheets. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for more information.