Before and During College: Get Answers to These Questions Before Borrowing Private Student Loans (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series we identified answers to get on “up-front” issues when IMG_2699comparing a private versus federal student loan. Today we recommend questions to ask about things that happen after you get your money, but which are nevertheless essential to determining which loan is better for you.

Repayment Begin

  • When must you begin repaying your debt?

Payments aren’t required on federal student loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time and during a “grace period” lasting six months for Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) loans and nine months for Federal Perkins loans. Private student loan repayment start dates vary by loan.

Deferment and Forbearance

  • Under what conditions may payments be temporarily postponed or reduced?
  • What happens to interest that accrues (builds up) during these postponement and reductions?
  • Must you pay a fee to get your payments postponed or reduced?

You may temporarily postpone or reduce your monthly loan payments through various deferments and forbearances. Interest doesn’t accrue on FDLP Subsidized and Federal Perkins loans during deferment, but keeps accruing on other federal loans during deferment and all federal loans during forbearance.

The government charges no fees for deferment or forbearance, but some private lenders do — if they offer deferments or forbearances at all.

Loan Consolidation

  • May my federal and private college loans be consolidated?
  • Does my interest rate change if I consolidate? How much?
  • Does consolidating change my repayment period or other terms and conditions?

An FDLP Consolidation loan pays off whatever federal student loans you choose, but not your non-federal debts.

FDLP fixes your consolidation loan interest rate at the weighted average of all the loans it pays off, plus .125%.

You can usually get lower monthly payments on an FDLP Consolidation loan, which get extended repayment periods based on their size:

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Repayment Plans

  • How long will you have to fully repay your debt?
  • Do you have different repayment options. If so, what are their terms and conditions (monthly payment amounts, etc.)?

The FDLP allows you to choose from seven different repayment plans. The standard plan requires a monthly payment amount sufficient to pay off your debt within 10 years. Four others help ensure you’ll not be overwhelmed by monthly payment amounts by making such amounts a percentage of your Adjusted Gross Income, even if this requires a repayment period longer than 10 years.

Loan Discharge and Forgiveness

  • May any portion of your debt be cancelled? If so, under what circumstances?

Most private student loans offer no opportunities for discharge or forgiveness. Federal student loan debts may be discharged or forgiven under various reasons, including Public Service and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

College Affordability Solutions offers free advice and counsel on college borrowing based on 40 years experience in student financial aid and student loans. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for such assistance.

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After College: Look for Employers Offering Student Loan Repayment Assistance

You have or soon will complete your college commencement. Unless you’re about to begin graduate or professional study, you’re no doubt job hunting. If you have college debt, be sure to learn whether prospective employers offer student loan IMG_2287repayment assistance among their employee benefits.

Currently, only a few employers help employees pay down student loans. A recent survey found that just 4% of companies were doing this in 2017. But the number of companies offering this benefit is expected to grow in 2018, and some of America’s leading corporations — Aetna, Fidelity Investments, New York Life, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Prudential, etc. — already provide it. So do some nonprofits and local governments such as the City of Memphis, Tennessee.

IMG_2288How does repayment assistance work on postsecondary debt? Your employer contributes a certain amount above and beyond the monthly payment you’re required to make. It’s contribution generally occurs on a monthly basis, although there may be annual and/or lifetime caps on its total contributions.

Employer-provided loan repayment assistance means your loans will be paid-in-full faster. Also, since the interest you pay is a product of how much you owe and for how long you owe it, it’ll also lower the amount of your lifetime earnings that you’ll devote to repaying your debt.

The Internal Revenue Service treats employer college debt payments as “taxable IMG_2289income” for the employees receiving this benefit, so put some money away to cover the increased federal income taxes you’ll pay on this amount. Nevertheless, any additional taxes you pay will be considerably less than what you’d spend if you paid 100% of your debt without employer assistance.

Why would an employer spend money to help repay its workers’ student loans? Think about it. Businesses in need of highly educated workforces gain a competitive advantage when recruiting the world’s most knowledgeable and skillful people — U.S. college graduates — 70% of whom borrowed while in school. Also, college educated employees are among the most mobile workers in today’s workforce but, being young and healthy, they often gain more from repayment assistance than medical, dental, or other types of benefits. So a company offering repayment assistance over a numbers of years also gives itself an advantage in retaining them.

You’ll likely earn less early in your career than at any other time. Employer-provided student loan repayment assistance can help resolve this while reducing your student debt, so carefully consider it as you evaluate prospective employers.

College Affordability Solutions brings 40 years of student loan experience to the table when consulting with ex-students about ways to manage their college debts. To arrange for a free consultation, email collegeafford@gmail.com.

During College: You Should Be Protesting If Your Student’s Not Detesting Cryptocurrency Investing!

It’s bad enough that 75% of college students gamble. But now another perilous student behavior has emerged. A recent survey by The Student Loan Report indicates that 21% of student borrowers invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.IMG_1834

As a responsible parent you of course advise your student not to gamble. But also urge him to stay away from cryptocurrency investments!

Unfortunately, these investments are easy to make. After loan and other aid money pays tuition and fees for an academic term, your student gets the remainder to cover that term’s books and other necessary expenses. Now he could have up to a few thousand dollars in hand.

He can invest these funds — hopefully in a safe and secure bank account, but also in high-risk opportunities such as cryptocurrencies. Wherever he invests, he’ll still need to pay for necessities like books, housing, and food as the term progresses.

IMG_1779What makes cryptocurrencies so dicey for college students? It’s what investment professionals call “volatility.” Cryptocurrencies can become really volatile really fast!

For example, Bitcoin’s value on January 10 was $14,890.72. But by February 5 it’s value dropped to $6,914.26 — a 54% loss! So if your student bought a $2,000 share in Bitcoin on January 10 and sold this share just 25 days later, he lost $1,080 of his investment! Meanwhile, thousands in costs for the term remain to be paid.

Some call Bitcoin the potentially biggest “bubble” in history. A $1,080 loss from his IMG_1782limited pool of funds could easily place your child among the 52% of college students facing high levels of food insecurity, or the 12% college students who are homeless.

Difficulty paying for basic needs undermines academic performance, and money shortages have long been among the most common reasons why students leave college without degrees, so cryptocurrency financial losses could also end up placing your student among the 25% who drop out every year.

Far better for your student to spend as conservatively as possible and, toward the end of the term, if he has money he doesn’t need, return it to the government. For every $100 of his spring Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan he returns within 120 days of its disbursement, Washington will immediately cancel all fees and interest applicable to that $100. The result is that for every $100 he returns, the total amount he’ll ultimately repay on this loan will be cut by up to $191!

There’s an old saying, “Never gamble unless you can afford to lose the money.” If your student needs loans and/or other financial aid to help pay for college, he certainly cannot afford to lose money on erratic investments such as cryptocurrencies!

College Affordability Solutions has 40 years of experience in counseling students and parents on ways to manage their dollars for college. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation.

After College: Help! I Can’t Make My Student Loan Payments!

You’re repaying loans you borrowed to pay for college. But you often find yourself IMG_1086choosing between paying for essentials and making monthly loan payments. What should you do?

You’re in luck if, like 90% of today’s college borrowers, you borrowed federal loans. Washington offers multiple ways to get relief from your predicament. The question — which is best for you?

IMG_1087If you’ve not already done so, consider replacing your federal loans with a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan. These offer longer repayment periods and lower monthly payments if you owe more than $7,500. But look into consolidation’s advantages and disadvantages before going this route.

You can also tell your loan servicer will change your repayment plan. To check out how this’ll affect your payments use the Federal Student Loan Repayment Estimator. IMG_1090It already knows your loan balances and can tell you the repayment plans for which you’re eligible plus monthly payment amounts in each available plan. It can also determine how consolidation would impact your loan repayment.

If the reason you can’t afford monthly payments is temporary, look into getting a deferment to postpone your payments for up to a year. You’re entitled to deferment if you’re:

No deferment? Another temporary solution is asking your servicer for a forbearance. You’re not entitled to forbearance. It depends on your situation. But you can totally postpone or partially reduce your payments while in forbearance.

But be careful about deferment and forbearance. During the former, interest continues to build on your unsubsidized and PLUS loans. During the latter, interest keeps building on all your loans. Unpaid interest from these periods then gets capitalized (added to principle) when your deferment or forbearance ends.

If your trouble making payments is because of your monthly due date, ask your servicer if you may change your payment due date to another day that works better for you.

Act fast, because missed and late payments have really bad consequences.

College Affordability Solutions offers 40-years of experience working with various educational loan repayment strategies. Call (512) 366-5354 or email College Affordability Solutions for a no-cost consultation.

Special Bulletin: Congress Considering Cuts to Student Aid Programs

On Monday the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins this coming October. The prospective budget is similar to HR 4508, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform” IMG_0890(PROSPER) Act. This is a bill designed to revamp federal higher education programs. It will soon to be debated in the House.

If your student is now or likely will be a federal financial aid recipient, contact your  U.S. Representatives and Senators to let them know your thoughts on the proposed budget and HB 4508. Why? If Congress passes either as written, several federal student aid programs would be reduced or eliminated.

Subsidized Federal Direct Loans: Currently, no interest is charged on these loans until six months after their undergraduate borrowers leave college. But they would end for those first borrowing on or after July 1, 2019. Even at current interest rates, which are expected to rise, this would increase the cost of borrowing the $27,000 maximum allowed over 4 academic years by at least $2,800.

Income-Driven Repayment: Four repayment options would be replaced by one repayment plan requiring ex-students to pay 12.5%, instead of the current 10%, of their discretionary income toward their federal college debts. The repayment period would last 15 years instead of 20 to 30 years for undergraduates, and 30 years for graduate students. Discretionary income is the amount a borrower’s income exceeds 150% of poverty-level.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Any student first borrowing a federal loan on/after July 1, 2019 would be ineligible for PSLF.

Federal College Work-Study (FCWS): The budget would reduce FCWS funding by 49.5%. FCWS currently helps over 630 thousand students earn more than $1 billion a IMG_0891year to pay college costs. Graduate students would become ineligible for FCWS.

Federal Pell Grants: College costs keep rising, but the budget proposes to limit Pell Grants to the same amount as in FY 2019 as this year.

Pell Grant eligibility would be extended to students in short-term programs providing certificates, licenses, or other credentials for “in-demand fields”. For-profit vocational schools usually offer such programs, but their certificate earners average 1.5% higher unemployment rates, 11% lower earnings, and $5,000 more in student debt than students earning similar certificates at community colleges.

Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs): The FSEOG program, which provides extra grant dollars to approximately one million of the nation’s neediest Pell Grant recipients, would be eliminated.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation you have questions about how to pay for college.

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: 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.