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Financial Decisions that can sink your college funding plans

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“Well-Intentioned (Or Uninformed)
Financial Decisions That Can Sink
Your College Funding Plans”

 

Optimally preparing for the requirements related to future academic endeavors is no easy task… as college funding professionals who have access to the best and most accurate information regarding the admissions process, we have garnered the experience and understanding for these challenges!

However, we also know that parents can make some very damaging decisions if they make their financial decisions on their own, or if they decide to take some poor advice that would make sense under other circumstances… but NOT when considering the college financial situation. We are certain that it is important to make the best decisions with all factors being considered, and there are a number of excellent reasons for making sure that this is so.

Preparing for college funding does not always follow the traditional common sense regarding savings and planning, because simply put, the rules are different (and they tend to change a lot, making an already confusing situation even more puzzling for most people). For this reason, it makes all the sense in the world to make certain that the correct rules are being followed, and that the efforts are not going to actually turn into more of a problem later on. There are a number of things that can interfere with a family’s best efforts.

For this month’s newsletter, we are presenting some common errors made by well-meaning parents and families when managing these details. Should any questions about these college preparation subjects pop up, or other similar issues arise, please be sure to give us a call. We have all of the pertinent details in these areas and provide the beat and most current information when it comes to managing college preparation efforts.

Please make sure that you do not fall victim to these well-intentioned problems!

1. Not Understanding Exactly What The Financial Aid Offer Says

This seems like it would not be a problem, but, sadly, for many families it is. Many families will receive an aid package from a college and not fully understand the nature of the aid stated in the package. Colleges are not always very clear about making the distinctions between loans and grants and that lack of clarity can get incoming students and their parents into trouble.

Many of the packages do not fully disclose interest rates or reveal the average monthly payments, etc. This can make it very difficult for parents to understand exactly what is being offered to their child. Moreover, many parents will look at the loan offer and make the assumption that it will reduce the cost of the tuition. This is, obviously, not the case. Only grants will reduce the cost of tuition and other college fees.

This lack of clarity may or may not be intentional on the part of colleges. In many cases, mathematicians are the only ones who can fully decipher a financial aid offer and calculate the ultimate cost over time. One of the ways to solve this problems is to ask questions.

Parents should ask whether or not loans will be ‘front-loaded’ meaning that the bulk will be offered during the first year but taper off over the following years. Finding out where the loan money is originated is also important to know.

Ultimately, if it is not explicitly shown… then be sure to ask and verify the answers. It is the only safe course of action.

2. Reporting Assets Incorrectly

Many families end up ‘over-reporting.’ This means that parents will include assets on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that are not actually required on the application. Many parents will state their retirement assets and their home equity on the FAFSA when that is actually not a requirement on the form.

Look very carefully on the form to determine exactly what is and is not required. Or, better yet, ask for your help from your college funding counselor who can guide you in the right direction and help you optimize your situation.

3. Co-Signing for a Student Loan Without Full Understanding

Parents will often gladly co-sign on a loan for their son or daughter thinking that it will release them from any obligation to that loan. That could not be further from the truth. Any person on a loan is equally responsible for the repayment of that loan. If a son or daughter fails to make payments on the loan, then the repayment obligation automatically falls to the co-signer. For parents, that means that they are on the hook as a co-signer.

Many parents think that because they are not the primary person on the loan that it absolves them from making any payments on that loan. It just simply isn’t so.

It is important to understand exactly what is being signed – especially when it comes to student loans. Those obligations can almost never be discharged in bankruptcy, so students (and sometimes parents) will certainly be responsible for them.

4. Opting For a Private Loan Instead of a Federal Loan

Private lenders can be pretty tricky. Many interest rates that are advertised lately are as low as around 3%. Those low rates can look very attractive to prospective students and their parents. When compared to unsubsidized Stafford loans, which might be around 6 %, it  can seem that one is getting a really good deal. That does not tell the full story, however.

The main difference with private loans is that the loans are underwritten. This means that the loan must be scrutinized by an underwriter and will often require a cosigner. The rates are often a ‘come on’ and do not reflect the actual rates that will be received after going through the loan approval process.

Another drawback is that these loans are often variable. That means that after the low introductory rate, the loan will go up in interest even to the double digits. The loans also do not have the same repayment options offered to those who get federally funded loans. The repayment process is often much more strict and that can be a strain on newly graduated students who do not have the income to make the full payments required on the loan.

5. Saving “Too Much”

The old adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” takes on an even stronger meaning when it comes to college funding – and the rules for college funding can even turn this saying right on its ear. Let’s say, for example, that your child has worked hard over many vacations and has $10,000 saved in a savings account under his or her name. That is just terrific, right? Well, maybe… but not so fast.

About 20% of those hard earned savings could well be added to the EFC (or Estimated Family Contribution) when the fed begins calculating eligibility for aid… which can often mean that the overall amount of financial aid eligibility is actually adversely affected by the student’s own hard work and savings!

Now, there are other strategies to help work around this sort of situation legally, including continuing to save for your child’s education – but it may be worth looking into doing so under a parent’s name in another bank account. This is definitely a case where a chat with a professional college funding advisor can make a huge difference.

As you can see, making wise and prudent decisions regarding higher education financial planning – as well as college application strategies – can be an extremely challenging endeavor. It only makes sense to approach this effort teamed up with a college funding professional. Doing so allows families to understand and select the optimal strategies that correspond to their own financial and academic situations, meaning that the chances of success (both financially and academically) will climb.
All of the actions discussed in this month’s newsletter are not rare – they happen each and every year to unsuspecting college-bound kids and their parents – and we view it as part of our professional responsibility to assist families in avoiding these problems, as well and many others like them. We have a number of tools to assist in this effort.
One of our most dynamic and effective options for the education of parents with high school kids who will attend college is through in-person attendance at one of our College Funding Workshops. These presentations are moderated and instructed by some of the finest college funding professionals available. We see these workshops as a dedicated, in-person option for parents who wish to inform themselves with the best informational set about all manner of financial “dos and don’ts,” as well as governmental regulations related to their family and their higher education planning.

Our  workshops have no admission cost, and are being held in larger venues to allow for social distancing.  If you don’t want to venture out quite yet, we have a short virtual talk which runs daily. Despite having no admission fee for attendance, we must make certain that each event has a group size that manages both space limits and our experiences with creating a successful learning environment. Because of this, we insist on advance reservations for the best possible planning and delivery of a quality event. Thank you for understanding.

Until next month

 

College Planning 101: the ‘B’ word(Budget)

     

“Cost-Saving Strategies For College

That You Can Begin To Implement NOW

We do not rest, however, and if you have followed our blogs in the past for even just a short time, you probably are aware that we believe there is no wrong time for us to introduce and discuss some of the most important cost-saving elements for tomorrow’s college students.

Some of these things involve proper financial planning and a good understanding of the college funding process – but others are skills that can – and should – be mastered by parents and students as early as possible, to make the costs of college more manageable no matter where a child ends up going to school.

Getting through the undergraduate degree is a big undertaking, there is no question about it, and it is also a significant financial challenge with the current cost of higher education.  However, we have become experts in recognizing ways that these costs can be best managed and even minimized in many cases, and we are eager to share these tips with families of future college students.

Strategy 1: Tallying Pooled Resources

If your child will be receiving funds from grandparents, aunts and uncles, employment, or other sources while in college, it is important to create a budget including all of these amounts.  When this is done then everyone is made aware and everyone is on the same page. Include all sources of income from grandma’s birthday money to income from a summer job. These sources should all be included in the budget to get a clearer picture of what there is to work with. Here’s a comprehensive to further assist with what should be included as part of the budget:

  • All income received: This income should include the money that your child will have once at school, any relief given from the financial aid package and any money that comes in regularly to your child.
  • Monthly income: If there are funds that are coming in from a part-time job or other sources on a monthly basis, include these funds.

Strategy 2: Creating a Budget

Yes, we are not afraid to mention the dreaded “B-word” in our newsletters.  Managing college finances can ONLY be effectively done when a budget is created and followed – trust us, we have seen this simple fact played out both ways (for better and for worse) many, many times.  When creating the budget, it’s important to include the following items:

  • Overall Income: All income listed above which includes all income received and any monthly or income that comes in on a regular basis.
  • Discretionary Income: This is ‘fun’ money. It’s important to have fun while in college. The point is often that too many college students have TOO much fun and blow the money they receive while in college, and end up in bad financial circumstances. Students should learn to set some aside just for having fun, manage it well, and be sure to not go beyond it.
  • Necessities: Items that are absolutes while in college. These include books, computer, etc.
  • Wants: There are always nice things that can make college life a bit easier. These items can go in the ‘wants’ category.
  • Fixed Expenses: Include all expenses that occur on a monthly basis.
  • Variable Expenses: Include all expenses that occur but vary from month to month.
  • Savings: Even in college, there should be money set aside that is an emergency fund or simply savings for a rainy day. Include this amount that is done in the beginning or on a regular basis.
 

Strategy 3: Saving Money in Unexpected Ways

There are numerous ways to cut costs while in college. Here are some ways to painlessly cut costs without sacrificing fun or depriving oneself.

  • Purchase used textbooks or, better yet, rent them if possible. This option is available at many universities and can save considerably on costs. College textbook prices have simply gone through the roof in most cases!
  • Set a designated amount aside for fast food or restaurant meals per week, if needed, and cook the rest at home. Alternatively, utilize a dining plan which can also save time and money.
  • Set money aside for needed purchases and/or fun purchases.
  • Avoid late fees on credit cards or other bills by always paying on time.
  • Don’t purchase cable television. Instead watch shows on a computer.
  • Use eBay, craigslist, or other online resources to sell unwanted or unused items.
  • Look for campus activities to socialize, etc. There are often movie nights, campus museums, etc. that can be utilized instead of spending a lot of money going out.
  • Skip Starbucks and make coffee/tea/hot chocolate at home. There will be significant savings!
  • If a loan is necessary, make sure that it’s only related to college expenses.
  • Bike around campus! At most colleges and universities, there is really no need for a car.

 

Strategy 4: Re-think The “Four Year Experience”

I hope there’s no misunderstanding from this heading. This is not to mean AT ALL that one should miss out on college, or not complete a bachelor’s degree. Quite the opposite, in fact. We fully support and base our efforts around students completing a four-year degree in the most successful and expedited manner possible.

 

While the average time spent in college is creeping ever higher (to our chagrin), there are still some motivated and organized students who complete a 4-year degree in as little as three years – and looking at the annual costs of college, that saves families and students a significant amount of money!  It also allows graduates to enter into the workforce earlier, or move on to graduate or professional training earlier, which means that the overall financial benefit from early graduation is magnified even further.

If cutting costs are a priority for your college student then one very effective way to do this is to complete advanced placement credit in high school, complete junior college credits during high school (if that option is offered where you live), take summer classes between academic years, or in some cases even head first to another less expensive institution, and then apply to transfer to the desired four-year university afterwards.

There will always be general classes that are a requirement for most universities. These classes can be taken at a community or junior college for significantly less money, as long as the acceptability of the credits is cleared in advance, of course! It can sometimes be a wise choice, financially, to use community college – or even an associate’s degree, in some cases – as part of the foundation for undergraduate education.  After all, the bachelor’s degree only has the name of one school on it!

Paying for college starts by understanding your budget and planning for the future.