Before College: It’s Essential To Calculate Your Unmet Financial Need As Your Financial Aid Award Letters Arrive

If you completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for your freshman year of college in 2020-21, you’ll soon get financial aid award letters from colleges that admitted you if you listed them on your FAFSA.

Unfortunately, many award letters, which offer financial aid, don’t list unmet financial need. But calculating it is essential.

Start with what you’ll pay to attend each college — it’s called your cost of attendance. It includes:

Tuition and Fees: Charges required for you to take a full-time load of classes.

Books and Supplies: What full-time students’ textbooks and class materials typically cost.

Room and Board: Costs for student shelter and meals, plus utilities in off-campus apartments.

Transportation: Expenditures for occasional trips between campus and home.

Miscellaneous or Personal Expenses: Clothing, eating out, event tickets, toiletries, etc.

Warning! Some colleges “fudge” these costs to appear less expensive than they really are. If possible, ask students already attending an institution about its hidden costs.

Next, subtract your financial aid. Your award letter may list:

Grants and Scholarships: Amounts you’ll receive from federal, state, and institutional programs providing aid you need not work for or repay. But remember, colleges may not yet know about scholarships from private sources, so factor those in once you’re sure you’ll receive them.

Federal Direct Loans: What you’re authorized to borrow in Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, up to $5,500. While award letters usually don’t include Federal Direct PLUS Loans, most parents may request and borrow them for up to your cost of attendance minus your grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans.

Borrow conservatively. Federal Direct Loans must be repaid with interest at rates that are currently 5.05% for students and 7.06% for parents, and that could be higher in 2020-21. So remember, you can and should reject or downsize loan offers you don’t need.

Work-Study: You may also be awarded opportunities to earn money through federal and/or state part-time job programs. More about working below.

Most freshmen and their families use two other sets of resources to cover cost of attendance:

College Savings and Family Income: Hopefully such savings and income will meet or exceed your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — costs you and your family are expected to pay. EFC will be the same at every school because it’s calculated by plugging your FAFSA data into a formula set in federal law.

Your Earnings at School: Even without work-study, you can probably still find part-time employment while taking classes. Don’t fear it — 43% of full-time undergraduates work, and research has long shown that freshmen working 10-14 hours a week average higher GPAs than freshmen who don’t work at all.

What remains is your unmet need — what you’ll have to cut from your cost of attendance, find from still other resources, or both. But eliminating unmet need isn’t easy. The most recent data available show it averaged $4,920 at public 2-year colleges, $9,134 at public 4-year institutions, and $13,844 at private 4-year colleges back in 2015-16. It’s often more now.

Here’s the harsh reality: if you can’t eliminate your unmet need at a particular college, you can’t afford that college and shouldn’t enroll there. It’s time to consider your other options.

Grappling with unmet need? Let College Affordability Solutions help. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or to arrange a no-charge consultation.

Before and During College: Plans of the Presidential Candidates for Your Postsecondary Costs, Grants, and Work-Study

The Super Tuesday primaries are upon us. Now’s the time for you to consider the presidential candidates’ plans for resolving America’s postsecondary education affordability crisis.

We’ve already reviewed the candidates’ student loan proposals. Today we focus on Democratic plans for cutting college costs, increasing grants, and boosting work-study (see our February 19 article for Trump grant and work-study plans.

Joe Biden

Student Costs: Would form a federal-state partnership (75% paid for by Washington) to cover 2 years of tuition at community colleges and in job training programs with good graduation and placement rates.

Pell Grants: Wants to double Pell Grant award amounts, index future Pell amounts to inflation, and make DREAMers and formerly incarcerated students Pell-eligible.

Work-Study: Calls for prioritizing Federal Work-Study (FWS) funding for part-time jobs in which postsecondary students learn career skills or mentor K-12 students.

Other: Would provide 2 and 4-year colleges with federal funds to finance emergency grants to students at risk of dropping out due to unexpected expenses. Also promises to seek $18 billion to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities lower student costs and increase graduation rates.

Mike Bloomberg

Student Costs: He, too, wants a federal-state partnership using 67% federal money to support 2 tuition-free years in states and at schools that limit tuition growth and keep overall student cost increases from exceeding inflation. At community colleges, this partnership would only cover transfer and career-oriented programs using “evidence-based” completion strategies. Private colleges could participate only if they already graduate large percentages of their Pell recipients. Hopes to cut textbook costs by doubling the Open Textbook pilot program’s funding, and wants to make low-income students eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

Pell Grants: Would also double Pell awards and open Pell to DREAMers and students once imprisoned. Calls for 2 Pell pilot programs — one directing extra Pell money to schools enrolling and graduating large numbers of Pell recipients, the other extending it to adults and students in quality, short-term training programs. Would notify families of Pell eligibility through the federal tax process and would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so more students apply for Pell.

Work-Study: Advocates for tripling FWS funding, requiring FWS to go to more low and moderate-income students, increasing career-related FWS positions — including in the private sector — and having employers pay more than their current 25% share of FWS wages.

Other: Would triple federal funding for HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), requiring them to spend the new money on need-based student aid and improving graduation rates.

Bernie Sanders

Student Costs: Wants to provide at least $48 billion per year to eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges, HBCUs, MSIs, TCUs, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs. Would partner with states that cover non-tuition and fee costs for families with incomes below $25,000, and do a 50-50 federal match for additional state outlays that reduce other students’ costs.

Pell Grants: Calls for Pell Grants sufficient to cover low-income students’ book, supply, housing, transportation, and other living expenses.

Work-Study: Says he’d triple FWS funding to employ an additional 1.4 million financially needy students.

Other: Would provide $1.3 billion per year to help 200 private, nonprofit HBCUs and MSIs serving 35% of America’s low-income students eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees.

Elizabeth Warren

Student Costs: Promises to give all Americans the opportunity to attend 2 and 4-year public colleges or technical schools without paying any tuition and fees.

Pell Grants: Would inject $100 billion more into Pell Grants so every American, especially low-income students, could afford postsecondary education without using loans.

Work-Study: No proposals.

Other: Seeks $50 billion to ensure that HBCUs, MSIs, and TCUs have the resources they need.

Educate yourself about the candidates and vote in your state’s primary! This election is crucial on countless fronts, including postsecondary affordability.

For the candidates full plans for postsecondary affordability and learning, use the links below.

Joe Biden

Mike Bloomberg

Bernie Sanders

Donald Trump

Elizabeth Warren

Note: This article was edited February 2, after Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Streyer suspended their campaigns.

Before, During, and After College: Plans of the Presidential Candidates for Your Student Loans

March 3 is Super Tuesday. Americans in 16 states will vote for Democratic presidential candidates. Whether you’ll vote then or later, you should understand each candidate’s plans regarding a critical national issue — postsecondary education affordability.

Today, we focus on the candidates’ plans for student loans.

Donald Trump’s campaign website offers no plans about anything, including postsecondary affordability. Nevertheless, on February 12 we reviewed his FY 2021 student loan budget plans. As for the leading Democratic candidates — Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren — here are their student loan plans . . .

Interest Rate

Sanders: Wants to reduce the cap on FDLP student loan interest rates to 1.88% — far below current interest rates ranging from 5.05% to 7.6%.

Collection and Repayment

Biden, Bloomberg, and Buttigieg: Want to cut Federal Direct Loan Program’s (FDLP’s) Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan’s monthly payment amounts in half — from 10% to 5% of borrowers’ discretionary incomes.

Biden: Would also exempt FDLP borrowers from payments and interest whenever their earnings are below $25,000.

Buttigieg: Would automatically put FDLP borrowers into IBR if they fall behind on payments or indicate they’re having trouble making payments. He’d also subject federal student loan servicing contractors to more rigorous oversight and standards. Regarding private student loans, he wants to protect family members from being held responsible for repayment if the borrowers die, and stop such loans from going into default based on co-signer death or bankruptcy.

Klobuchar: Would strive for legislation allowing borrowers to refinance their federal and private student loans at lower interest rates.

Student Loan Forgiveness in General

Sanders and Warren: Offer the broadest forgiveness plans. He’d cancel all existing student loan debt — federal, state, and private. She’d forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt owed by 95% of all borrowers.

Klobuchar: Is on record rejecting widespread forgiveness, but would eliminate undergraduate FDLP debt remaining after 20 years of IBR payments by employees in “in-demand jobs.”

Biden, Bloomberg, and Buttigieg: Support an existing rule forgiving FDLP debt that remains after 20 years of IBR.

Biden and Bloomberg: Would make 20-year IBR forgiveness tax-free, although Bloomberg would limit this to households with incomes below $250,000.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Biden: Calls for legislation making private student loans forgiveable under bankruptcy.

Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar: Seek FDLP debt cancellation for borrowers who attended predatory for-profit schools that put them into unaffordable debts without viable job prospects.

Bloomberg: Wants a pilot program forgiving FDLP debts for borrowers in professions that fulfill “targeted labor-market needs.”

Biden: Wants to fix PSLF, which the Trump administration has mismanaged so badly that 99% of applicants have been denied it. He’d also automatically enroll FDLP borrowers in a new program forgiving $10,000/year for up to 5 years of national and community service.

Buttigieg: Wants to reform PSLF to forgive 5% of borrower’s FDLP debts for each of their first 3 years of public service, 10% after each of their next 4 years in such service, and 15% for each of another 3 years as public servants.

Bloomberg: Calls for all qualified borrowers who applied for PSLF in good faith to get it.

Klobuchar: Would provide more flexibility to meet PSLF requirements while providing borrowers with better information on PSLF eligibility and their progress toward it.


This Friday — the candidates’ other postsecondary affordability plans.

Have questions on these plans? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or

Before and During College: How The President’s Budget Proposals Would Affect Your Grants, Scholarships, and Work-Study

President Trump recently released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget proposals for federal student financial aid. Last Wednesday, we assessed their possible impact on federal student loans. Today, we focus on how they’d affect grants and work-study jobs for financially needy students.

Pell Grant: The administration promises to keep the Pell Grant program fully funded and financially stable, while raising the maximum Pell award from $6,195 to $6,345. But it wants to cut Pell’s appropriation by $134 million while awarding 252,000 more grants. It would extend Pell funds to 3 new groups: those in what it calls “high-quality” short-term training programs leading to certificates and licenses, convicts taking courses during their last 5 years in prison, and Iraq-Afghanistan Service Grant recipients. Give all this, fulfilling the administration’s promises will be impossible, which could cause frozen or reduced Pell awards after FY 2021 even as college costs rise.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): The neediest of financially needy undergraduates are now receiving 1.8 million FSEOGs worth $1.2 billion. But the proposed budget would eliminate FSEOG funding, denying much-needed federal funds to exceptionally needy students. A side-effect would be fewer grants and scholarships for others as postsecondary schools, under pressure to be affordable to all qualified applicants regardless of their economic circumstances, would have to divert other grants and scholarships to students currently getting FSEOGs.

Federal Work-Study Program (FWS): Today, FWS provides part-time jobs to needy graduate, professional, and undergraduate students. Washington covers 75% of their wages. They work mostly on-campus and their jobs are often related to student majors. FWS also supports off-campus public interest jobs with government agencies and nonprofits. Mr. Trump would reduce FWS appropriation by 58%. He’d kick graduate and professional students out of the program and extend it’s payroll subsidy to for-profit employers providing “career-oriented” jobs. He’d also place greater emphasis on the numbers of Pell Grant recipients at FWS schools when allocating FWS funds to schools — further decreasing FWS jobs at some institutions and increasing them at others.

Overall: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said “The budget proposal is about one thing — putting students and their needs above all else.” This is misleading. In reality, the Trump proposals would slash funds for student grants, loans, and work-study by 81%.

There’s so much opposition to President Trump’s student aid budget proposals that one higher education publication has pronounced them “DOA.” But you can’t write them off. The national debt is at record levels, putting pressure on Congress to downsize federal spending. So all or some of these proposals could end up being attached to “must-pass” legislation.

So if you want affordable postsecondary education, it’s essential you tell your U.S. Senator and House member what you think about these proposals.

With 42 years experience in postsecondary student finance, College Affordability Solutions can help you develop strategies to use before, during, and after college to help upgrade your plans for keeping learning after high school within your means. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or to arrange a free consultation.

Before, During, and After College: How The Trump Budget Proposals Would Affect Your Federal Student Loans

President Trump sent Congress his fiscal year 2020-21 federal student loan budget proposals on Monday. As written, they would profoundly change these loans, on which approximately two-thirds of postsecondary students rely. Here’s how . . .

Undergraduate Loans: Subsidized Loans would be eliminated, so every dollar borrowed by financially needy undergraduates would come from Unsubsidized Loans. Unlike their subsidized counterparts, Unsubsidized Loans charge interest while undergraduates are enrolled and during their 6-month post-enrollment grace periods. At that point, they merge unpaid interest with loan principal and interest starts getting charged on interest. This would cause the average undergraduate pay up to $103 more for every $100 borrowed.

Graduate Student Loans: Unsubsidized Loans would stop for graduate students, leaving Graduate PLUS Loans as their only federal borrowing option. Graduate PLUS Loans have 1% higher interest rates than Unsubsidized Loans. Graduate PLUS Loans would also be capped for the first time ever — at $50,000 (annually) and $100,000 (lifetime). At today’s rates, all this would increase graduate loan costs by up to $42 per $100 borrowed.

Parent Loans: The budget would impose a $26,500 lifetime limit on Parent PLUS Loans. Once this limit’s reached, the child’s lifetime limit on Unsubsidized Loans would almost double, from $31,000 to $57,500.

Loan Repayment: Today, student borrowers may choose from up to 8 different repayment plans, 5 of which base monthly payment amounts on borrower income. The budget would replace all 5 income-driven plans with a Single Income-Based Repayment (SIBR) plan. SIBR would require monthly payments equaling 12.5% of what the borrower (and the borrower’s spouse, even if the couple doesn’t file a joint tax return) earn. SIBR would also eliminate the current cap income-driven monthly payments, so those with relatively high incomes would pay more each month.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): There’d be no PSLF for new borrowers on and after July 1, 2021. Those who borrow before that date would be PSLF-eligible, but only for loans they get to complete their “current course of study.”

Other Loan Forgiveness: Under SIBR, those who borrow only as undergraduates would have whatever they might still owe after 15 years forgiven. Those who borrow $1 or more as graduate students would qualify for forgiveness of whatever debt might remain after 30 years of SIBR payments, so they’d wait 5 to 10 more years for forgiveness than they do under current income-driven repayment plans.

Institutional Loan Counseling and Limits: Financial aid administrators would be empowered to limit borrowers to loan amounts below those allowed by federal law, and schools could prohibit students from using their federal loan funds to pay college costs until they complete financial literacy training.

Overall Impact: More expensive loans; fewer and costlier repayment options; less debt forgiveness; new obstacles to borrowing — this sums up the Trump budget proposals for federal student loans.

You can and should communicate your opinions about these proposals to your U.S. Senators and Representative by email or phone. Look here to find your Senators’ contact information and right here to get such information for your Representative.

Next Wednesday — the Trump budget proposals for federal grants and work-study.

Are you concerned about your student loan debt? Looking for some answers? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or for a consultation. We never charge future, current, or ex-students and their parents for consultations.

Before and During College: Ways to Save Money While Getting a Great College Education

Yes, college is expensive. The College Board reports that academic year 2019-20 costs undergraduates an average of $26,590 at public 4-year in-state colleges and universities and $53,980 at private 4-year colleges and universities.

Tuition and fees account for $10,440 and $36,880 these costs at public in-state and private 4-year schools, respectively. That leaves $16,150 and $17,100, respectively, at such institutions that’s spent on books, class supplies, room and board (or groceries, rent, and utilities for those living off-campus), and other living expenses.

Students can generate significant savings by cutting such expenses. Here are some ideas about how to do so:

– Bank Accounts: Use checking and savings accounts that offer students good deals with lower fees, lower minimum balances, and overdraft protections.

– Brown Bagging: Students living off-campus who can’t get home between classes can save about $25 a week, or $900 per academic year, by packing their lunches and forgoing meals from on-campus and nearby eating places.

– Cars: Students who don’t have cars shouldn’t shell out money to buy and ensure them. Students who have cars should leave them at home to reduce their gas, maintenance, and parking expenses. There are plenty of other, less expensive forms of transportation to meet students’ transportation needs.

– Coffee and Snacks: Nobody needs anything from Starbucks and other costly coffee and fast food places. Instead, coffee can be brewed at home, put in thermoses, and carried in backpacks that can also carry grocery store or homemade snacks.

– Convenience Stores: Convenience costs! A price comparison on 10 common grocery items sold at a convenience store and nearby supermarket showed that buying those items at the convenience store costs 45% more than at the supermarket.

– Credit Cards: High interest charges can be avoided by going without such cards or by not using them to buy more than can be paid off each month.

– Eating In: Eating in campus dining halls or preparing them at home costs less than restaurant meals. And when students do eat out, taking advantage of specials (e.g. Applebee’s 2 for $20, Chili’s 2 for $25, Olive Garden’s $7.99 lunch favorites and $11.99 never-ending pastas) is a money-saver.

– Spending Plans: After paying tuition and fees, students generally know how much they have left for an academic term. They also know themnumber of weeks in that term. So doing simple math — with adjustments here or there for special events and happenings — can help avoid money shortages before the term ends.

– Student Discounts: Students should always have their campus IDs with them so they can take advantage of on and off-campus discounts for students.

– Tap The Water: Forget bottled water. Forget sodas in their styrofoam and plastic cups. Simple tap water in a reusable thermal tumbler costs nothing, is healthier, and is better for the environment.

– Textbooks: There are many ways to cut textbook costs — e.g. accessing open texts, buying used books, sharing and trading books, and shopping around.

Students can spend less, and borrow less, while still getting a great college education. They should identify every money saver that works best for them, then do it!

Want more ideas on how students can cut spending on expenses other than tuition and fees? Take a look at College Affordability Solutions’ Topical Index or contact us at (512) 366-5354 or by email at to arrange a free consultation.

After College: What If You Can’t Afford Your Monthly Student Loan Payments?

What if you are or soon will be making payments on your Federal Direct Loans on your Federal Direct Loans (FDLs), but you can’t afford the amount you’re scheduled to pay?

You’ve got a serious problem! The day after you miss some or all of a monthly payment you’re delinquent on your FDL debt. If you don’t pay the delinquent amount within 90 days, you’ll be reported to all three national credit bureaus, which’ll really mess up your credit rating.

And if you’re still delinquent after 270 days, you’re in default.” Now the government’ll inflict some nasty penalties on you — e.g. you’ll be required to pay the full amount of your debt immediately, the Treasury Department’ll take any federal benefits or tax refunds you’d otherwise get to reduce that debt, and your wages will be confiscated for the same purpose.

But there’s good news! You have ways to reduce your monthly payments. Check them out and get into the one that’s best for you immediately upon realizing your monthly payments are too high:

  • Switch Repayment Plans: You’re probably on the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. It’s great if you can afford it because it’s the quickest and, in the long run, least expensive way to repay your FDL debt. But it typically requires the highest monthly payments of all federal repayment plans. You can switch to another plan that’ll lower those payments — some of them by tying them to your family size and income. Use the Federal Student Loan Repayment Estimator to calculate your payments and the number of months you’ll make them under each plan for which you’re eligible.
  • Consolidate Your FDL Debt: You can also borrow an FDL Consolidation Loan to replace all your existing federal loans, and depending on what you owe you can get a longer (12-30 year) repayment period. While this’ll cost you more to eliminate your debt, it’ll immediately and significantly lower your monthly payments.
  • Deferment: Need to temporarily postpone your monthly payments? Consider getting a deferment. You qualify for a deferment by meeting specific conditions associated with economic hardship; graduate fellowship, in-school status, active military duty (current or recent), rehabilitation training, or unemployment. If you qualify, you’re entitled to a deferment for a certain time period, and Washington won’t charge interest on your subsidized FDL debt during that period.
  • Forbearance: Forbearance lets you totally postpone or reduce your monthly payments for a set number of months. There are “mandatory forbearances” for those in AmerCorps, the Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program, medical or dental internships or residencies, national guard duty, high student loan debt burden situations, and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. There’s also a “general forbearance” for borrowers changing jobs, paying off medical expenses, experiencing financial difficulties, and enduring other problems acceptable to their loan servicers. The downside? Washington charges interest on your subsidized FDL debt while you’re forbearance, then adds whatever interest is unpaid to your loan principal when forbearance ends.

If your monthly payments are or will be unaffordable, pick your best option for reducing them and contact your loan servicer to get it — right away!

Need help analyzing your options, contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or to arrange a consultation. We never charge borrowers for consulting with them!