The Student Debt Juggernaut

More and more college graduates seem to be talking about the same thing.  How am I going to pay off my college loans?  We have created a student debt juggernaut that is overwhelming.  According to Student Loan Hero, a website that tracks the student debt statistics, just last year the average student debt of a graduate rose 6% to a new all-time high of $37,171.00.  Nationally, the student debt load rose to 1.4 trillion dollars.  That’s greater than what Americans owe for car loans and credit card debt.  In fact, this issue is so great that it was in the national spotlight during the campaign season last year, with both democrats and republicans seeking to resolve the issue.  If we are not careful, the student debt juggernaut will keep growing and cause many college students to stumble for years after their graduation.  What is the solution?

Student Debt: The Governmental Solution

Student debt has become so large that both republicans and democrats have taken notice.  And, although their solutions are quite different, even their acknowledgement of the problem should cause us to take notice.  President Trump, on the campaign trail, proposed revising the federal loan forgiveness program.  His idea was to shorten the length of the debt forgiveness program by making the minimum payments higher.  But many believe that this would only create a greater rate of default.  The current rate of delinquency and default looms around 11.2%.

Other governmental solutions include: eliminating PLUS loans and privatizing all student loans, using federal loans to refinance private loans, or even using some form of employer contribution system.  No one is turning a blind eye to the situation, however, no solution seems to be within reach.  The only prediction…greater student debt.

Student Debt: Good Financial Planning

Even though there are many who graduate college with a load of student debt, there is another alternative.  But this alternative is not for the timid.  It takes hard work and sacrifice.   It is possible to put a plan together that will allow you to get a college education and not incur a mountain of student debt.  Not many people plan enough for their college years simply because loans have become so readily available.  Again, you can create a college financial plan that will meet your needs.

Do you have a good financial plan for the college years?  The best plans start when the future college student is still in preschool.  But there is no bad time to start planning.  These plans should include both financial planning and college preparation.  Start a plan today.  If you need help designing a good plan, contact us!

 

Student Loans 101: CHESLA

College financial planning is more important than ever.  In a 2016 interview, one parent made the comment that it is “impossible to pay for college without some kind of help”.  This is becoming more and more of a reality for every potential college student.  In fact, finances are becoming the number one reason students attend a particular college.  Because of this immense financial pressure, more and more people are turning to student loans to fill the gap between their college funds and their college needs.  But not all student loans are created equally.

Student loans are not our preferred way to take care of the soaring cost of a college education.  However, we do feel it important to offer some guidance for those who may be searching for college loans.  In particular, we want to highlight Connecticut’s state option for student loans, the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority (CHESLA)

What is the CHELSA?

CHESLA says its vision is to “serve as Connecticut’s leading resource for students as they plan for their college education.”  They continue by stating that they want to “encourage interest in higher education to help the State meet its workforce needs; and enhance economic development through innovative higher education programs.”  As one person said, “It’s Connecticut money for Connecticut students.”  But their mission is greater than just providing student loans.  In their own words, their desire is to “expand higher educational opportunities and enhance the State’s economic development through higher education.”  This is a great offering to those who live in Connecticut.  If you do not live in CT, it would be worth your while to see if your state offers a state sponsored funding option for your student.

Using CHESLA to Pay for college

You can find CHESLA’s loan details on their official website at www.chelsa.org.  But here are a few of the items that make this such a good offering.

  • No application fees
  • Low, simple interest
  • Payment deferral program
  • Borrow up to 100% of your college need
  • No prepayment fee

If you have done any research on student loans, these features are in line with other offerings.  But, what sets the CHESLA apart is that the interest rate is “4.95% Fixed Annual Rate (non-tiered, simple interest)”.  This is almost 2 percentage points lower than most student loan offerings available.  We think the CHESLA is an option that every one should investigate.  It may not be good for your particular financial needs, but then again, you won’t know until you investigate.

Using CHESLA to Refinance current student loans

Recently the CHESLA also became available as a refinancing option.  Starting June 2016, students could apply for the CHESLA refinancing program.   This program offers many of the best benefits of the original CHELSA program.  Again, this option may not be the best option for your specific financial needs, but it is a good offering for you to investigate.

I must restate, that it is never the best idea to use debt as a way to pay for one’s education.  However, if you must take out student loans, make sure you do a little investigating.  Student loans can have many pitfalls, but for some, they are a viable tool available to secure college funding.  One such pitfall about the CHESLA, that is a little hard to find, is that “interest-only payments are required while in school and the repayment period.”  While this was not listed directly on the CHESLA website, it is mentioned on another website regarding CT’s 529 plan called Connecticut’s Higher Education Trust (CHET).  Before you sign any student loans, make sure you have a solution that fits your specific college needs.

Finding College Funds: Investigate State Aid

Finding funds for college is one of the most daunting tasks associated with college financial planning.  Most people start with an internet search for scholarships.  For many, this “simple” search turns out to be not so “simple”.  Not only is it not so simple, but it can be dangerous, as there are many scams to avoid.  However, if you do not search, you will not find.  So today, let’s go on a hunt to find college aid funds.  And let’s be specific in our hunt and investigate state aid.

Now remember there are only two forms of aid, gift aid and self-help aid.  For more information on those types of aid, see our post regarding understanding your award letter.  We are going to do this together.  So go ahead and open up your favorite internet browser to your favorite search engine and let’s get started.

State Aid Search

You can start by doing a simple search of the words, “State college aid”.  Search results will vary among search engines, but my search found 8 million results.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to look at all of them.  For a more specific search, insert your state’s name.  For me that would read, “college aid for Connecticut”.  This time, my search found 19 million results.

On the first page of my result, I see a site that was on both my searches.  So, I am going to open it first.  The site is collegescholarships.org.  This is in no way an endorsement of this website, but rather, just a way to show you what I have found.

State Aid: Gift Aid

On this site, I discovered that there were many gift aid options available.  Remember, gift aid is aid that does not have to be paid back.  We usually refer to this kind of aid as scholarships or grants.  For my state, there are a few options available, but they all carry some kind of restrictions.  There is aid available for veterans; aid available for senior citizens; aid available to those who will be attending an in-state college.  There are even some career specific offerings.  Some of these offerings are tied to individual need, and some are not.  If any of these state aid offerings apply to you, make a note and read the specifics.  Make sure you make note of any deadlines for filing.  When it comes to receiving gift aid, there is always some work to be done, but receiving the aid will be well worth the effort.

State Aid: Self-help Aid.

I also found some self-help aid information on this site.  It appears that my state offers a really competitive loan option.  I need to make a mental note to investigate this further to see if it will be a good option once all other options have been exhausted.

I would not settle to just investigate one site from our search result, but what you will find is that after a few sites the information will all seem the same.  That’s because your state’s aid is the same no matter what site you view.  It is just packaged a little different.  By spending a little time searching, you could save a few thousand dollars in college costs.

Be sure to let us know in the comments section what you have found in you state aid search, or what other sites you may have found beneficial.

 

College Students and Taxes: Student Tax 411

Tax season is upon us.  While most students don’t really pay a lot of taxes, you need to know that tax season is just as important to students as it is to parents.  Let’s examine some important tax preparations that could benefit both students and families, and give you some Student Tax 411.

Student Tax 411: Gather Financial information

The First part of every tax preparation season is gathering your financial information.  There are certain things that both students and families will need before they are ready to prepare their tax returns.  There are the normal forms that disclose your incomes (W2’s, 1099’s, etc.)  But for the college Student, they will also need their 1098-T.  This identifies what you have paid for tuition over the last year.  It also identifies the student as a full time student.  This will be important as there are many tax advantages that are available once a full time student has been identified.  You should have already received this document, but if you have not, you will need to notify your school(s) or log-in to your school financial portal to secure them.

Student Tax 411: File Your Taxes

The big question on students mind is, “Do I need to file a tax return?”  This is a common question, and the simple answer is yes.  There are some benefits to filling you tax return.  One benefit is that you should receive a refund for any taxes you paid from your past years’ work.  A resource worth investigating is the Student Income Tax Return Guide from Efile.com.  They offer some valuable information on why you should file taxes every year.

For parents, filing taxes is a non-negotiable.  It’s the law!  And it is especially important during these college years.  The information needed to file the FAFSA will be readily available on your tax returns.  In fact, the FAFSA has a retrieval tool that will auto-populate much of your information directly from your federally filed tax return.  So file your taxes by April 15th and you will be ready to fill out the FAFSA in October.

Student Tax 411: Understand Tax Advantages

Two of the largest tax advantages for college students and their families are the The American Opportunity Credit (formerly The Hope Credit) and the The Lifetime Learning Credit.  These two tax credits can be very beneficial in your college financial planning.  Not every one will receive the same benefit, but they are worth the time to investigate.

The American Opportunity Credit: 

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for the first four years of higher education.” (1)  This tax credit offers a benefit of up to $2500.00.  If you have no tax liability, up to $1000.00 can be refunded to you.  This credit is only available for the first four years of undergraduate college expenses.

The Lifetime Learning Credit:

This tax credit offers a benefit up to $2000.00.  Here is how the IRS website states the possible benefit.  “For the tax year, you may be able to claim a lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students.” (2)  The benefit of the Lifetime Learning Credit is that there is “no limit on the number of years the lifetime learning credit can be claimed for each student.” (3)  There are various restrictions pertaining to who can and can not receive this credit, so you may want to speak with your tax professional or find more information online.

Student Tax 411: Update your FAFSA

Tax preparation is so important to updating your FAFSA.  In fact, once your taxes are filed, you can use the “Data Retrieval Tool” to import vital financial information from your filed taxes right into the FAFSA application.  This will save you vital time and correct some of the most common errors on the FAFSA.

While tax season may be a frustrating time, it is also a valuable time for college financial preparation.  A little preparation now, will benefit you greatly later.  So take time to prepare your taxes knowing you have the Student Tax 411 and that there is a benefit to your college planning needs.

 

(1) https://www.irs.gov/individuals/aotc 
(2) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch03.html
(3) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch03.html

 

The Value of College Mentors

Mentoring is a term that is often used in the college arena.  “Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.”(1)  There is great value in college mentors.  But what kinds of college mentors are most beneficial to your college needs?

College Mentors: College Life

Many colleges are aware of the need for incoming freshman to be connected with an existing student for the purpose of adjusting to college life.  This mentoring relationship provides a vital support for new college students.  As the University of Texas Dallas mentoring program explains, “The mentors in the program are successful undergraduates prepared to engage freshmen in campus activities and refer them to resources that can help them achieve their academic and personal goals.”  The needs of every student is different, so by having an individual college mentor you are setting yourself up for success.

College Mentors: Academic

We sometimes think of academic college mentors as tutors.  But that limits the true value of an academic mentor.  Tutors are mentors, in that they guide the student in a specific subject.  However, an academic mentor is more wholistic in their approach.  They offer advice about class scheduling, particular professors, general study habits, etc.  While a student may need specific academic mentors, they may also need someone to help them adjust to college life.  Many colleges try to meet this need through freshman orientations and student services.  Don’t be afraid to use these services, as they may lead to greater success in your college endeavors.

College Mentors: Sports

Sports mentors have many different names.  These mentors are coaches, fitness trainers, personal trainers and other team members.  But their goals remain the same as any other college mentor.  Their purpose is to help the student athlete perform in peak effectiveness.  For the student athlete, much of their student life revolves around practice, training and athletic events.  Without the help of a sports mentor, many find themselves unable to balance their academic and sports schedule.

College Mentors: Financial

One of the most overlooked areas of college mentoring is the area of finances.  These mentors offer advice on a variety of subjects such as college budgeting, scholarship management, and debt counseling.  For many students, college is the first time they really  need to manage their own finances.  They may have very little money skills, which can lead to improper management and increased debt load.  Developing a college spending plan (a budget) and evaluating that plan from time to time can be very beneficial.  This is one of the many services that we provide families who partner with us for college planning.

As you can see, college mentors play a vital role in success during the college years.  However, many students do not know or choose not to use the resources available to them.  Make sure you connect with and utilize these services.  For more information about financial mentoring, contact our offices today.

 

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentorship

College Financial Misconceptions

There is plenty of college financial advice available to the American family.  A quick internet search, and you can find pages of content.  But that does not mean that we are more educated about college financial planning.  As we travel our area presenting our educational college financial workshops, we find that many people are more confused than ever about college finances.  Here are some of the top college financial misconceptions that we come across.

College Financial Misconceptions: College is or will be  Free!

This was one of the rallying points of the recent election cycle.  There are a few colleges out there that offer free tuition, but for the most part college is not free, nor will it be free for the foreseeable future.  Some countries, such as Germany, have tried to make college free for all students.  But it isn’t really a free ride: it’s paid for by taxes.  I think maybe we should just remember, that there is no such thing as a free ride.  Even if it was label as “free”, there is a cost somewhere.

College Financial Misconceptions: There is plenty of time to plan!

Most people we meet have little to no plan to pay for their college needs.  In fact, the words we hear most often are, “I wish I’d heard this sooner!”  With college costs soaring, the average family can expect their college cost for a 4 year college degree to be between $80,000 – $120,000.  In a recent article (October 2016) entitled, “Here’s What the Average American is Saving for College” is was reported “According to Sallie Mae, the Average Family has socked away $16,38o….to meet their [college] goals.”  You can see that there is a great difference between what college actually costs and what the average person has saved for college.   The secret to saving more is to start a good plan early.  The longer you wait to plan, the more difficult it will be to attend your college of choice.

College Financial Misconceptions: My child will get scholarships!

Scholarship and Grants are certainly a part of most college awards letters, but the chance of obtaining a full scholarship is pretty rare.  How rare?  According to Mark Kantrowitz, editor of FinAid.org, only about .3% of full time college students received enough to cover the total cost of college.  This number again highlights the fact that you cannot rely upon scholarships to pay for your college plans.  You need to have a plan, and you need to follow that plan.

College Financial Misconceptions: The EFC is all I will have to pay!

A phrase that is common in college financial planning is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  The EFC is used “to determine an applicant’s eligibility for need-based federal student aid, and in many cases, state and institutional (college) aid.”*  But the term EFC is a bit misleading.  The EFC is not the maximum that you will be expected to cover, but rather the starting point of your responsibility.  For instance, let’s say your EFC is 17,000.00.  The award letter arrives and the total college cost is 32,000.00 you receive 5,500 federal help in the form of an un-subsidized loan and 3,000 in school scholarships and grants.  There is still a difference of 6,500.00 between total award and EFC.  This difference is the family’s responsibility.  You can submit an appeal letter, but ultimately the family is responsible.

Don’t let these college financial misconceptions keep you from developing a financial plan for college.  Don’t be confused by all the information you are presented regarding college finances. Develop a plan today and start to follow that plan toward your college dreams.  If needed, obtain help from a financial planner who specializes in planning for the college years.

 

 

 

College Planning Consultation

The college planning process can be overwhelming at times.  And there is no shortage of people to offer advice.  You can turn to your guidance department at high school or you can listen to the advice from the college admissions officers.  You can even search the internet.  But one of the best resources available for your college planing needs is a college planning consultation.  The college planning consultation will offer you an opportunity to sit down with a specialized college financial planner to see how well your college dreams match up to your financial planning.

What are your plans?

When meeting with our college financial planner there are two main areas of interest that we will investigate.  First, the planner is going to inquire about what kind of college you want to attend.  What college you attend will impact your financial picture more than any other area.  For instance, if you want to attend an in-state school and live at home (roughly $10,000 per year), then your financial picture will look much different than if you want to attend a private college and live on campus (roughly $30,000 – $60,000 year).  The strategies used for funding each of these options, and all the options in between, will differ greatly.  During your college consultation, the planner will step into your plans and begin to see the picture that you have created for yourself.

Second, the planner will ask about your financial plans.  Here are some of the questions you can expect to be asked:

  • How much can you afford presently to pay toward college expenses?
  • How much do you have saved already for college?
  • Will you receive help from any outside sources such as family or trusts?

In essence, we are asking how well prepared are you to meet the expense of college?  What we have found is that many people have college aspirations that are no where near their level of financial affordability.

This is why meeting with a planner for a college planning consultation is such a great idea. The planner will be able to show you the difference between your college dreams and your current college plan.  If you meet with them early enough you can make some small changes to your plan that could align college dreams with your college financial plans.

What is your “EFC”?

Here is how College Board describes your “EFC”.

“Colleges figure out how much financial aid they will offer you, in part, by calculating your expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength. It’s a number that’s calculated using information you give about your family’s circumstances.”

But a better way to look at this number is the minimum your family can expect to pay out of pocket for college expenses.  Notice we did not say the maximum.  You simple cannot expect the college to pay everything above your “EFC”.  So while the “EFC” will identify the minimum, more than likely, you will need to plan for much more.  We have spoken about some of these costs in our post, Unexpected Costs of College.

In fact, one reports says, “More than 97 percent of colleges don’t have enough financial aid money to guarantee that every student will only have to pay their EFC.”  Kim Clark, “5 Big Financial Aid Lies |Paying for College | US News.”  That means the costs of your college dream will not be limited to your “EFC” nor are we talking about a few incidental costs.  These items will be discussed in your college planning consultation.

Who is helping me?

A college planning consultation is really about building a relationship.  It’s really about answering the question who is this that’s helping me.  You can use the internet to answer many of the questions regarding your college plans, but do you know who it is that is actually helping you?  Further more, do you know what their motive is for helping you?  A personal, private college planning consultation will offer you the opportunity to build a relationship with a planner who looks at your needs and builds a plan around your college dreams.

 

 

Turn Daycare Dollars into a Diploma

Lately we have been focusing on early planning for your college needs.  We believe that the secret to saving for college, or saving for any reason, is to capture funds before they get re-allocated into other ares of spending.  This has been commonly referred to as Parkinson’s law.  This law was first outlined in a 1955 edition of the Economist magazine.  This simple law states that expenses will always rise to the level of income.  This is true: think of your last pay raise.  Where did that raise go? If you did not capture it for a particular purpose, it just got absorbed into you normal spending habits.  Well, here is a plan to help you resist Parkinson’s Law and turn daycare dollars into a diploma.

The Soaring Cost of Daycare

What would you say the average family spends for daycare?  The number may surprise you.  There are many sources to check for the actual numbers in your specific area, but a quick search lead us to 2-1-1 Childcare where we found that the average cost of daycare in our area was around $250.00 per week.  Even that cost varies significantly from area to area.  With a few punches on the calculator keys we found that the annual cost of day care is around $13,000.00 per year.  Over the course of 4 years, that would be roughly $52,000.00.

But what happens at the end of the daycare years?  First, there is usually a large sigh of relief, maybe a night on the town, but then the money usually gets absorbed into the normal spending habits.  If you fight that temptation and make a plan, you can save some substantial money for college.  This will take some discipline, but it will save your student thousands of dollars in debt later.

Turn Daycare Dollars into a Diploma

Let’s do some math.  If you were to capture $1,000.00 of those day care expenses and set it aside in a small savings account.  Let’s say that that savings account was earning 1%.  You would have to search high and low to find such a thing, but let’s just use it as a simple illustration.  We used bankrate.com to run a quick illustration.  At the end of 12 years you would have saved $144,086.83 for your student’s college education.   That is just one expense that can be captured.  Can you find some more?  Probably!

You can resist Parkinson’s law and turn daycare dollars into a diploma!  Want to know more?  Make an appointment with our office today.  We can help you design a plan to capture these expenses and not create a debt crisis for you and your student.

Turning Diapers into a Diploma

Having children in n expensive proposition.  Depending upon whom you speak with, the average family will spend between $252,000 – $412,000 caring for their child over the 21-22 years of their life.  This of course includes everything from diapers to a diploma.  With all these expenses, it’s no wonder why so few people have plans when it comes to paying for college.  We need a plan for turning Diapers into a Diploma.

The Cost of Living is on the Rise

Where you live is a huge factor in determining the costs associated with raising a child.  Where we live, the cost is around $18,700 per year.  (We live in CT)  This includes costs associated with housing, transportation, education, food, health and the all important miscellaneous category.  Check out this calculator to see what your estimated costs will be.  And these are just the costs of living today.  These costs are not going to stay the same, and we are fooling ourselves if we think these costs are going to get less.

Student Debt is Out of Control

This is not a new topic.  We speak often about the rising debt load being placed upon the future of students.  In 2009, a concerning change in the national debt picture happened.  In that year student loan debt surpassed both credit card debt and auto loan debt.  Student loan debt has risen between 400-700% in the last 10 years.  This means that with each passing year, students will graduate with a greater and greater debt load.  We can not say this often enough, financial planning for the college years is essential.

Turning Diapers into a Diploma

So when should a parent start financial planning for their children?  Parents need to think diapers, not high school.  If you start planning for the college years when your child is in diapers, then you will be well prepared for the college years.  In fact, there are many opportunities where parents can set money aside through the years if they are willing to capture those finances before they are reallocated back into the budget.  One such expense is the diaper find.  Diapers cost the average family $1,000.00 per year.  If a family was to capture that $1,000.00 per year for 14 years at 1 % interest, they would have around  $17,000 dollars saved by the time the student was ready for college.  And that is just one expense that could be captured.

By making some simple adjustments, parents can turn those diapers into a diploma.  It is not too early to start preparing for the college years.  Do you have a plan?  If not, start today!  We can help in your planning process, give us a call.

Get Ready for Early FAFSA Filing

The new early FAFSA filing deadline is approaching fast.  This year the deadline to file your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is October 1st.  Do not be surprised by this early date…be prepared.  While the early deadline may catch some by surprise, it was fashioned for the student’s benefit.

The Intent of the Early FAFSA Filing

There are many benefits to the new early FAFSA filing deadline, but the most beneficial intent was to give the student and family more time between receiving their award letters and having to make their college selection.  When the FAFSA deadline was January 1, the student and family would receive award letters around March and then would have only a month or two to decide which college to choose.  Theoretically, with the deadline pushed three months earlier, the student and family should receive that important award letter earlier.

However, this idea may not materialize for many colleges.  The college will need to adjust their internal time lines to match the new early FAFSA deadline.  According to a recent Time Magazine article, colleges may not be ready to give these early award letters.  “So this year, there will be a variety of responses to early FAFSA: Some colleges will move their deadlines up and release their aid offers months earlier. But most will not. And the burden largely falls on students to keep track of where the colleges they’re applying to stand.”

Other Benefits of the Early FAFSA

Our college financial planning advisor sees great benefits even if the colleges are slow to respond.  First, there is the benefit of using “known” numbers.  The old FAFSA deadline had the student and family use projected numbers in its calculations.  The student and family would fill out the FAFSA in January using projected numbers from the previous year’s income.  These numbers would then be verified by the student and family’s tax returns filed after the FAFSA was already filed.  As you can see, this method has a few drawbacks.  Now, the student and family simple use the past two year’s tax return for filling out the FAFSA.  This information is not a projection, but the actual numbers found on the previous two years’ tax returns.

Second, there is the benefit of having a greater time to appeal any specific financial information.  There may be special circumstances regarding a previous year’s income that may not be an accurate reflection of one’s continuing annual income or expenses.  Having known numbers allows the student and family to craft an appropriate appeal letter to make these special circumstances known.

Third, the earlier FAFSA deadline demonstrates the need for early planning.  The greatest deficiency that we see in college financial planning is that people start planning way too late.  The early FAFSA forces the student and family to start thinking about college at least one year earlier.  Even that is not early enough to start thinking about your financial plan for college.  How early should one start financially planning for college?  The earlier you start financially planning for college, the better plan you will have.

If you do not have a plan or are running behind in developing a plan, you can call our office today and schedule a free appointment with our College Financial Planning Advisor.