Special Bulletin: Your College-Related Tax Breaks Survived a Congressional Move to Eliminate Them

In November College Affordability Solutions urged you contact your members of the U.S. House and Senate in opposition to certain provisions within the House tax bill that was then working its way through Congress.

That bill was supposedly designed to cut taxes. But it would have done away with IMG_0428deductions and exemptions that reduce taxes for you and other students and parents by over $18 billion a year — money that helps pay college costs.

The original House bill was remarkably partisan. It was written by Republican House members without input from Democrats, and it got 227 Republican votes but no Democratic votes

Fortunately, the Senate also opposed eliminating college-related tax deductions, exclusions, and exemptions. It made sure they remained unchanged in the final bill, which is now law. So don’t ever think your voice doesn’t matter — constituent pressure clearly helped preserve these tax breaks!

Here are the college tax benefits that were preserved in the final bill:

  • If you’re a student, you still won’t be taxed on money you use from your College Savings Bonds to pay your educational expenses.
  • Parents, you may keep on making deposits into your Coverdell Education Saving Accounts to build up money for college.
  • The first $5,250 you use from your Employer-Provided Educational IMG_0429Assistance program to pay higher education costs will continue to be untaxed.
  • The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit remains unchanged. So you may keep reducing what you’ll pay in federal income taxes by up to $2,000 a year based on what you spend on tuition, required fees, books, and supplies for any student (including you) taking courses to get a degree or improve job skills.
  • The Scholarship and Fellowship Exclusion will continue to omit from federal taxation what your scholarships and fellowships pay toward your college costs.
  • Borrowers, you’ll still be able to claim your Student Loan Interest Deduction of up to $2,500 for student and/or parent loan interest you pay each year.
  • Your $4,000 per year Tuition and Fee Deduction remains unchanged.
  • Are you or will you be a graduate student? If so, any Tuition Reduction you receive in connection with a graduate assistantship or fellowship still won’t be subject to taxation.

Congratulations on keeping these benefits! But stay active and alert. More bills impacting college affordability will come before Congress soon.

Contact College Affordability Solutions by calling (512) 366-5354 or emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.


After College: Things to Do As Your First Student Loan Payment Comes Due

If you graduated from college last spring, chances are your obligation to begin repaying your Federal Direct Loans has begun. If you’ve not yet heard from the student loan servicer Washington hired to collect your payments, you need to contact it immediately (see below) because you’ve got some important things to do:

Choose Your Repayment Plan. Your servicer sent you a notice by email, U.S. Mail,IMG_0410 or both. This notice invites you to select the repayment plan that works best for you at this point in time. If you don’t select a plan, you’ll automatically be assigned a Standard Repayment Plan under which you’ll pay off your Federal Direct Loans within 10 years by paying the same amount every month.

No matter what your repayment plan, you can change it by contacting your servicer. However, if you’re paying under an income-based or income-contingent plan, you can switch only after making payments for at least three months.

Decide How to Pay. You may pay by cash or check. But the most convenient way to pay is to give your servicer permission to draw your monthly payment out of your bank account via “electronic funds transfer.”

Your Payment Due Date. Your notice will also tell you the date on which your first payment is due. This date is in January for most spring graduates.

Payment must arrive at your servicer within 15 calendar days of this date or you’ll be behind in your payments. But remember, if you’re mailing your payments, assume it’ll take the post office about 10 days to deliver them.

IMG_0411You’ll have the same payment due date every month. However, if at any time this date doesn’t work for you, you may contact your servicer and request a different payment due date provided you’re not behind in your payments.

If You Can’t Afford to Make Payments. Call your servicer. Describe the issues affecting your ability to pay. Ask if you qualify to postpone your payments through a deferment or forbearance. But remember, postponing payments often IMG_0412generates additional interest on your Federal Direct Loans, so you’ll spend more to repay them in the long run.

Contacting Your Servicer. Access your records in the National Student Loan Data System to find your loan servicer’s contact information.

You’ve got lot’s of options. Make well-informed, wise choices to help set yourself up for a smooth and successful repayment experience.

Need advice about your student loan payments? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.

During College: Timely Advice To Help Your Student Manage January Expenses

January can be expensive for college students. A new academic term often means paying for travel back to school, tuition and fees, books and supplies, and room and board. Add leftover holiday bills and January spending can quickly get out of control.

How to best resolve all this without jeopardizing progress toward graduation? These are big, intertwined tasks, so your student may need guidance from you, her parents, or even a skilled money management professional.

Linda Matthew, an experienced Accredited Financial Counselor with Money Mindful Personal Financial Coaching, endorses a four-point approach.

(1) Your student should confirm exactly how much she owes and when payments are due using her records, including credit card and other receipts, to make a list of these.

(2) Urge her to prepare to pay her outstanding debts and soon-to-be expenses by IMG_0367writing out a spending plan for the first quarter of 2018.

This plan should include your student’s school-related costs. If she must pay 100% of these by a certain date to enroll and succeed in classes, she needs to pay them by that date even if doing so means spreading other payments over the next two or three months.

But payment may not be required on every institutional charge as the term begins. Some colleges offer payment plans that delay one or more installments until later in the term, freeing up funds for other January expenses. Some also offer short-term tuition loans. However, these usually require extra fees so she should take those costs into consideration.

Your student may also want to investigate refinancing her credit card debt. Doing so could reduce her interest and even postpone a payment on her new card’s balance.

IMG_0366(3) If your student ended up dealing with unexpected January expenses because she didn’t plan for this past Christmas, it’s absolutely critical that she begin saving for next holiday season as part of her spending plan. No sense in courting another problem in another 12 months.

(4) If extra income’s needed, suggest your student search out a short-term, part-time job if she’s not already working. Another way to raise money is to file for her federal tax refund ASAP. The IRS issues 90% of tax refunds within 21 days of receiving 1040 forms.

The holidays are over, but advice about managing expenses is one of the best gifts your student will ever receive!

To contact Linda Matthew at Money Mindful Personal Financial Coaching for help resolving your financial issues, call Linda at (530) 220-3369 or email her at linda@moneymindful.org.
Have questions for College Affordability Solutions? Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com.


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.


After College: Know What — and to Whom — You Owe Your Student Loans

If you graduated last spring after borrowing federal student loans, you’ll need to begin repaying them soon. So now’s the time to confirm what you owe and to whom you’ll make your payments.

Fortunately, the government has two easy-to-use websites through which you can IMG_0137find such information in a matter of seconds. One is the Federal Student Loan Repayment Estimator. It’ll identify your outstanding loan balances and project your monthly and total repayment amounts under each repayment plan for which you’re eligible. It can also compare these amounts if you consolidate your federal student loan debts.

This information is the key to selecting the right repayment plan before you begin making monthly payments. And if consolidation is right for you, now is the time to look into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.

IMG_0138Where can you identify who you’ll repay and/or to whom you should apply for a consolidation loan? That’s the National Direct Student Loan System (NSLDS). You can use NSLDS to identify the loan servicer — and its mailing address, phone number, and website address — for each of your Federal Direct Loans and, if you have them, Federal Perkins Loans.i

Both the estimator and NSLDS are secure federal websites so, to access and use them, you’ll need your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID.

About those federal student loan servicers . . .

They work for your lenders — the government for your Federal Direct Loans and the colleges and universities that awarded your Federal Perkins Loans. Each lender will places all loans you owe it with a single servicer.

If you owe on Federal Direct and Perkins Loans, you may have a servicer for both and you should consider consolidating those debts.

Finally, your servicer doesn’t just collect your debt. It can also to provide services to help you manage that debt — advice about resolving problems; explanations and information on the practices, rules, and systems that apply to your loans; and responding to your requests on consolidation loans, repayment plans, and payment postponements. Make sure your servicer always knows where to contact you in case it needs to reach out to you about such matters.

Knowledge is power, and knowledge about what and who you owe give you a powerful edge in managing your student loan debts. Use that edge — you’ll benefit from it!

You’re always welcome to contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for no-charge consultations on repaying your student loans.


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.


Before College: New Baby? Start Investing for College Now!

When your family assembles for dinner next Thursday, will a newborn be among the blessings for which you give thanks? If so, congratulations!

IMG_0042Of course you want that baby to lead a life of achievement, fulfillment, and prosperity. To do that it’ll need, as President Lyndon B. Johnson said, all the education it can take. For as he observed, “education is no longer a luxury. Education in this day and age is a necessity.”

Mr. Johnson was referring to postsecondary education. It’s costly now and it’ll be even more expensive when your baby is 18. If current trends continue, freshman year at a public 4-year college or university in 2034-35 will average $59,111 — 71% of what’s projected to then be median household income.

So if you’re like most Americans, you’ll not be able to cover all these costs from what you earn while your child’s in college. Therefore, you need to begin investing for college now.

Consider this: if you can only afford is to deposit $100 a month in a regular 1% IMG_0044interest-bearing savings account through your newborn’s 22nd year, you’ll generate $29,500 for college. If, on the other hand, your baby borrows $29,500, even at today’s student loan interest rates, repaying that debt could cost as much as $48,472.

Also, research shows that low and moderate-income students are three time more likely to enroll in and 4.5 time more likely to graduate from college if they have college savings accounts.

There are investment opportunities that generate much higher returns than a regular savings account. However, your unique needs and circumstances should guide your college investment strategies, and rules regarding these opportunities constantly fluctuate. So if you can afford it, you may want to consult a qualified investment professional before making this choice. Another good source of information is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Saving for College website and its related links.

You’ll want to employ various strategies to help make the rising price of postsecondary education more affordable, but Investing should always be among them. And the longer your money is invested, the more it’ll generate for your child’s education. So start putting aside as much as you can afford now!

If you have questions about other ways to help make your child’s college education more affordable, College Affordability Solutions provides free consultations. Seek these by calling (512) 366-5354 emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.