Before and During College: Games the Government Plays — Federal TEACH Grants

Maybe your high school senior is planning to be a teacher, or your college student’s already an education major. Her 2018-19 financial aid offer may include a Federal TEACH Grant. If so, she needs to be extremely careful about that grant!

IMG_1648TEACH Grants aren’t grants at all. Financial aid pros call them “groans” — grants that all-too easily turns into loans.

TEACH Grant Basics

TEACH Grants provide up to $4,000 per academic year. Their eligibility requirements include financial need and:

Teachers must submit forms for each year they plan to fulfill TEACH Grant service requirements in low-income schools, then submit proof they completed those requirements — all to FedLoans, a private company hired to administer TEACH Grants.

The Risk

If your student fails to timely document four years of required service within eight years of leaving the major for which she got a TEACH Grant, her grant will turn into a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Interest then gets charged going back to the dates her TEACH Grant was disbursed. For example, if a $4,000 TEACH Grant received eight years ago converted to an unsubsidized loan today, your student could end up repaying $9,360 in principal and interest.

So it’ll be quite costly if your student receives a TEACH Grant but then moves to IMG_1651another major (80% of all students change majors), doesn’t teach, or teaches in a school or subject that doesn’t fulfill TEACH Grant service requirements. Small wonder a recent U.S. Department of Education study shows that 63% of TEACH Grants have been converted to unsubsidized loans.

Compounding the Risk

Some teachers also allege their TEACH Grants were falsely turned into loans due to minor paperwork errors or FedLoans losing their documents.

IMG_1658The situation’s so bad that at least one state’s Attorney General is trying to sue FedLoans for “callous disregard” of ex-students’ needs. But the current Secretary of Education is protecting FedLoans by asserting that it’s immune from state consumer protection lawsuits as a federal contractor. Ultimately, the courts will have to resolve this matter.

A Bad Deal!

If your student’s awarded a TEACH Grant, suggest she request other grants instead. If she must take the TEACH Grant, stress the importance of completing its service requirements and carefully documenting everything she does to provide FedLoans with proof that she fulfilled them. Even then, that TEACH Grant may still be a bad deal!

Need help deciphering financial aid offers? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation!

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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: 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.

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.