Archive for ‘financial aid’

May 11, 2015

Pinterest is also for college scholarships!

by Grace

20150506.COCPinerest1Suzanne Shaffer give us “10 Scholarship Boards to Follow on Pinterest”.

Check it out!

May 6, 2015

It’s hard to make students understand the severity of college debt

by Grace

The New York Times ran an article in which student loan borrowers explained what they wish they had known before taking on debt.

Federal law makes debt counseling mandatory for first-time borrowers,  but “because the topic is dense and the department’s content is devoid of anecdotes, it’s tough to make the lessons stick”.  Most colleges use the Department of Education’s online counseling module, which apparently most students find difficult to navigate and comprehend.  What type of counseling would work to make students clearly realize what they were getting themselves into before it was too late?

The ideas from the article seem helpful, but some of them, like requiring a course during the first year of college, are only applicable after the money has been borrowed.  Plus that recommendation seems to be overkill and costly.

A TG report, “A Time to Every Purpose“, gives some other suggestions for colleges, including these:

  • Delivering supplemental counseling, ideally in a face-to-face setting, in order to help answer questions
  • Providing sample budget sheets using local cost-of-living expenses

Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to take the time to fully understand the implications of college debt.  Maybe students who borrow should have to pass a pre-entrance exam that covers practical knowledge about how loans will affect their personal financial situation.

Related:  “College students are ignorant about how student loans work”

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Ron Leiber, “Student Loan Facts They Wish They Had Known”, New York Times, May 1, 2015.

May 5, 2015

Why college students should consider summer classes

by Grace

The Value of Summer Classes

A lecture hall is likely near the bottom of your list of preferred summer destinations. After a long year in school, many students prefer to use their breaks to recharge, not re-enroll. In addition, the summer months offer a great opportunity to work a full-time job and earn money to pay for the upcoming year.

However, enrolling in summer classes can actually be a smart way to decrease college costs. For one, the classes themselves can be cheaper, especially if you opt to attend a less expensive community college. You’ll just need to make sure any credits transfer.

Additional costs could be less expensive too. For instance, since fewer people enroll in the summer, you’ll likely have an easier time finding affordable, used textbooks.

The biggest potential savings come from accelerating your graduation date. By taking summer credits throughout college, you could shave a term or even an entire year off your education. That not only equals savings in the form of tuition payments, but it also cuts down on room, board, and other living expenses, not to mention getting you into the workforce and earning a salary faster.

Considering that almost half of all full-time college students take five or more years to graduate, that last benefit listed may make a difference in helping you graduate within four years.

For tips on how to manage your financial aid for summer classes, check out Understand Financial Aid, Payment Options for Summer Classes.

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Ryan Lane, “Understand Financial Aid, Payment Options for Summer Classes” U.S. News & World Report, April 8, 2015.

April 29, 2015

Estimating income tax information for early FAFSA filing

by Grace

It’s best to file your FAFSA early because colleges may run out of financial aid funds for later applicants.  But filing early often means that income tax information must be estimated and then later corrected.

Estimating your income may be a simple matter of using the previous year’s number and adjusting slightly.  Or, if your financial circumstances have changed considerably it may require more work.  FAFSA has an income estimator on their site that may be helpful.

After income taxes are filed, you must submit corrected information to FAFSA.  In most cases, you can use their IRS Data Retrieval Tool for a relatively painless process.  Otherwise, the process is more time-consuming because you will need to request that a copy of your tax return be sent to your school.

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 Alexandra Rice, “Taxes and the FAFSA: What You Need to Know”, U.S. News & World Report, March 30, 2015.

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April 21, 2015

Evaluating college financial aid award letters

by Grace

Among its “tips for deciphering financial-aid letters”, the Wall Street Journal includes information that can be useful in evaluating student loan offers.

Difference between subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans

The federal government pays interest charges on federally subsidized loans while a student is in school, for example, which can help borrowers substantially. Such loans are generally given to students who demonstrate some kind of financial need, but students don’t need to come from low-income families to qualify.

Just over 34% of undergraduates with family income of at least $100,000 received subsidized Stafford loans at colleges where total annual costs, including tuition and room and board, were at least $30,000 in 2011-12, according to an analysis by Edvisors of the most recent federal data available. Just 12% of such students received the loans when attending less-expensive colleges.

Unsubsidized federal loans can be less desirable because interest accrues while the student is in school, which—if unpaid—could result in a significantly larger balance by the time the student graduates. Some colleges don’t include unsubsidized loans in financial-aid offers.

Colleges and universities also may offer their own loans, which may or not be preferable. Compare and contrast the terms on offer, including the interest rate and when interest charges begin to boost the outstanding balance.

Check out this link for the full article:

Annamaria Andriotis, “How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game”, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015.

April 15, 2015

You could lose your tax refund if you have a past-due student loan

by Grace

Say good-bye to your tax refund if you have past-due student loans.

In most cases, creditors are unable to touch tax refunds. Not so with student loans.

While credit card companies and other private debt collectors are barred from garnishing money coming to taxpayers from Uncle Sam, some federal and state creditors can help themselves to tax refunds via a process known as ‘offsetting.’ Under the Treasury Offset Program, these entities get a whack at your tax refund if you have an outstanding debt in certain categories, including:

  • past-due child support payments
  • back taxes
  • any unemployment compensation owed to the state
  • past-due student loans

This is another reason to pay your student loans on time, or better yet, make sure you only take on as much debt as you can afford to pay back.

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Aron Macarow, “You Can Lose Your Tax Refund if You Have Student Loans”, Attn:, March 21, 2015.

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April 14, 2015

A college financial planning timeline

by Grace

Don’t wait until your child’s senior year of high school to begin planning how to pay for college.  The first 18 years go quickly, and it’s never too soon to begin preparing.

Here’s one simplified approach showing some important steps along the timeline to college, with a focus on the financial planning aspect of the process.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

 

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to consider strategies such as not selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, or defer bonus or other income.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the acronym for Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide your eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is a financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.


It’s important to get started.

While this outline only hits the highlights along the road to paying for college, it can be used as a springboard for further research and action.  It makes sense to start with an outline, and then fill in the details as you go along.

April 13, 2015

Only some colleges count home equity in financial aid calculations

by Grace

While most colleges that use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE do include the value of your home in calculating eligibility for financial aid, there are some exceptions.

PROFILE Schools That Ignore Home Equity*

  • Bard College
  • Bucknell University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • DePauw University
  • Hamilton College
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Santa Clara University
  • University of Virginia
  • Washington University, St. Louis
  • Whitman College

*This list was compiled last year, and changes may have occurred since then.

Additional information about how other PROFILE schools treat home equity can be found by clicking the link above.

Summary:

  • Schools that only use the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to determine eligibility for financial aid do not use home equity in the calculation.
  • Schools that use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to determine eligibility usually use home equity in the calculation, but often the amount is capped as a percentage of a family’s income.

Running the Net Price Price calculator for a particular college will usually show if home equity is counted, but the best way to be sure is to ask the school.

Schools can be flexible in awarding financial aid, and Lynn O’Shaughnessy reminds us of this important point:

By the way, how schools treat home equity can also depend on how desirable an applicant is.

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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, “Will Your Home Equity Hurt Financial Aid Chances?”, The College Solution, August 7, 2014.

April 8, 2015

How to ask for more college financial aid

by Grace

College financial aid letters have just been sent, and you may want to think about how to negotiate for more money.

Many families don’t realize it, but there is often a little wiggle room in financial aid awards. FAFSA, the form the government and colleges use to determine need- and some merit-based aid, doesn’t capture all circumstances that might affect a family’s ability to pay for school. For instance, there’s no line to include the cost of caring for an elderly parent or special needs child, the kind of expenses that could warrant more aid, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a college planning Web site. So if you weren’t able to share that kind of information with the school, now is the time to bring it up to see if that shakes free some more assistance.

You can request a professional judgement review.

If you do decide to negotiate, you can appeal to the school’s financial aid administrator for what’s known as a professional judgment review. Gather up every piece of documentation of any changes to your family finances or special circumstances that could impact your ability to pay for school. If the financial impact is significant enough, the school may adjust your child’s award.

Don’t attempt to haggle.

“Colleges are not car dealerships, where bluff and bluster can get you a better deal. Very few colleges will make a revised financial aid offer when a student gets a more generous financial aid offer from a competitor,” he said.

But some schools, like Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, will consider matching offers of peer institutions.

You “should be careful in the language and manner” of your approach.

“We won’t ‘negotiate,’ but we might ‘review.”

Looking for more tips?  “Want to appeal your college financial aid? Go for it”

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Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “How to negotiate a better financial aid package”, Washington Post, April 2, 2015.

April 6, 2015

Stanford just became free for more students

by Grace

Stanford University just got more affordable for upper middle-income families.

Stanford University announced last week that tuition will be free for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year. The standard had been $100,000. Students whose families’ annual incomes are lower than $65,000 will also be exempt from paying room and board, up from the current $60,000 cutoff.

Wealthy students help pay for the free ride received by other students. 

… Stanford is able to fully subsidize the tuition of these students because of the high number of wealthy students who attend….

Cost of attendance at Stanford before financial aid is “roughly $65,000″ per year.

Of course, before getting the great tuition deal, students will have to gain admission at the “Toughest College to Get Into in the United States”.

… Stanford University is the toughest college to get into in the nation. Yes, harder to get into than Harvard.

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Fred Imbert, “Stanford just made tuition free for these students”, CNBC, April 2, 2015.

Liz Dwyer, “What’s the Toughest College to Get Into in the United States? Hint: Not Harvard”, TakePart, April 01, 2015.

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