Wednesday’s Parent: 7 pre-college costs that can lead to big savings later

Turning pre-college costs into college savings

Turning pre-college costs into College savings

There is a plethora of articles about college costs and how to pay them but little mention is made about college prep expenses. College financial aid doesn’t cover these and they can sizably pile up. Pre-college expenses can cut into personal financial resources way before a tuition bill arrives and add hundreds, even thousands to the total cost of obtaining a higher education degree. Thinking about pre-college costs now can help families plan where they are most likely to get the best return on their investment and allocate their money accordingly. Here are seven pre-college costs that can lead to big savings during and after college:

1. Standardized tests have fees. The PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests and ACT have set fees and students often take them more than once. The expense is there but so is the chance to get a break on college costs. High scorers may qualify for college scholarships. They also may be offered admission with more generous financial aid packages as compared to their poorer scoring peers. Although the list of test-optional schools is growing, many colleges still have SAT or ACT requirements.

2. AP and IB exams have fees. Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs charge students a fee for taking the exams. High schools often tout these as the most challenging and rigorous courses they offer. Doing well can impress college admissions officers by demonstrating college readiness. At many schools, this can lead to college credit and bypassing introductory college courses, both great college time and money savers.

3. Tutors have fees. Some libraries or high schools may offer free programs for individual subjects or test prep, but many tutors charge a fee for their services. If students need the extra help to pass a class or go to that next level, it may be the difference between getting into their college choice and qualifying for scholarships.

4. College visits can be costly. Depending on their location, visiting campuses can be a huge financial hit when they include lodging, meals and transportation. However, they can be the most influential reason for deciding student-college fit for applying and attending. When students do attend, families are one up on finding local stores offering student discounts, signing up for lodging and transportation loyalty programs, and knowing where to make hard to get reservations for crowded times like move in/out, family and graduation dates.

5. Colleges have application fees. This is where a good and succinct college list can pay off immediately. Weigh this against a longer list of greater possibilities but not necessarily better ones.

6. College consultants, financial aid counselors, and scholarship experts have fees. There is a lot of free information available about choosing colleges, writing essays, preparing for interviews, and filling out admission and aid applications but all this may not assist families with unique or difficult issues. A trusted advisor may be essential for them.

7. Student loans have fees and interest charges. Interest and fees add to the overall cost of the loan but federal and state loan forgiveness programs can turn all or a portion of borrowed cash into money that doesn’t have to be paid back. Check out the qualifications necessary like a certain career, length of time in the position and job location before considering borrowing to use as a powerful planning tool.

Note, there are fee waivers for qualifying low income students. But most will pay full fare so it is important to decide where to invest those valuable pre-college dollars and where to save the cash for college attendance.

Read Suzanne’s post: Scoring FREE Pre-College Costs

READ more:

This high school test means college money 

Getting a student loan? Check out forgiveness programs

How to pass the college affordability test (CAT)

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: Sense and cents for college and retirement saving

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Developing dollars and cents saving sense. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

We all know when it comes to saving, it’s never too early to start. But life has a way of moving on with or without plans for college and or retirement savings. No matter where you are in the college process or your financial circumstances, beginning now or reevaluating an existing method makes great sense and cents. That’s because chances are costs have risen more than you expected. It’s also a warning to prepare children with the life skill of saving.

Forbes’ article, How To Save For Both College And Retirement, outlined recent surveys for parent perspectives about saving for both. Many think this is an an oxymoron. About half are saving less than past peers, plan to delay retirement, or use retirement savings for college. The goal of the latter is to avoid students becoming college loan victims like those trapped in the student debt crisis. But parents and students must remember there is no loan for retirement.

Forbes gives eight tips for how to manage savings for both college and retirement. This is something many millennials who watched their families suffer through the recession are doing.

Need more motivation to save? Below is an interesting Infographic about the cost of financial procrastination from Financial Engines, America’s largest independent investment advisor. “Our survey polled a nationally representative sample of adults ages 55 or older. The categories of household income of the respondents span from less than $35,000 to over $100,000,” according to a Financial Engines representative. Check out the dollar difference delaying can make and get started now. Time literally is money.

Read Suzanne’s post: Saving for College

Saving for College

READ more:

How to pass the college affordability test (CAT)

Wednesday’s Parent: Cost and loan, fearsome four letter college words

Too many lack this essential college-bound skill

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound. 

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

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Cost of financial procrastination Source: Financial Engines

Wednesday’s Parent: Formula and tools to calculate college costs

Formula and tools to calculate college costs. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Formula and tools to calculate college costs. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

How much will college cost you, exactly? There’s a big range between the most expensive private colleges (over $65,000) and the least expensive public universities (under $10,000) or community colleges (some states’ free tuition proposals). There are plenty of hidden costs that families should know to prevent nasty financial surprises. Because of need-based and merit financial aid awarded to admitted students, college sticker price is rarely what the college bill will be. Fortunately, there are tools to help families estimate costs.

POCS COA

Predicting total college costs depend on what expenses are included. The government and colleges have agreed on this formula for Cost of Attendance (COA):

COA = tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses

Unfortunately, COA doesn’t tell the whole story. There are hidden costs so I came up with this more realistic accounting:

POCS COA = COA + start-up costs + program expenses + parent travel expenses + borrowing costs

POCS COA includes start-up costs like setting up a dorm room, program expenses for those with more costly textbooks and/or special equipment, parent costs because their costs such as for meals, lodging, gas, plane tickets are never considered and neither are student and parent borrowing costs including interest and fees. Check my website for more details.

Calculator tools

Business Insider recently featured 8 Tools To Help Estimate What College Will CostIt’s always wise to check the source sites first. To calculate federal aid that flows from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), use FAFSA4caster for eligibility and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to college costs. Try the federal College Scorecard for information colleges must report like loan default rates and links to a college’s own website for its Net Price Calculator (NPC). The NPC roughly estimates the difference between sticker price less grants and scholarships for which students may be eligible to receive. Since free money from a college’s own funds may also be given to entice students to attend and who a college wants most depends on the entire applicant pool for that year, it is hard to be accurate. The NPC institutions report can also be found via the federal College Affordability and Transparency lists along with how costs are changing from year to year.

Those planning on taking out federal student loans to help pay for college can use the federal Repayment Estimator to estimate the loan payments under various repayment plans. It’s important info to help students plan for an affordable lifestyle after graduation.

Read Suzanne’s post: Talking to Your Kids About Financing College

Read more:  

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Suzanne and I host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Except this month, we are hosting an open mic night on Wednesday, December 17. Bring your questions and comments about college prep over the holidays!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Planning a Budget for Grad School

 Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank by Jenny L. Maxey

Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank by Jenny L. Maxey

When and how should students going to college plan a budget for graduate school? That’s the question author and blogger Jenny L. Maxey returns to answer for POCSmom readers. Take a look at Jenny’s two prior guest posts, also packed with great info: 7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day and The Political Side of Student Loans. Higher education is a huge investment that requires careful planning:

College students can prepare themselves financially for grad school in many of the same ways they budgeted for their undergraduate degrees.  However, a few new problems may arise that make it more challenging.  While there are still many scholarships available for graduate students, scholarships for a particular area of study will be narrow, which means more students gunning for the same scholarships.  Further, those applying for grad school are those that are more academically successful as undergrads.  This means that the competition is fierce for those scholarships.  Moreover, income from part-time work may also be hindered as grad school takes up more time during the school year and some programs even have work-hour caps, causing budgets to be less flexible than during undergrad.  Not to mention, you’ll find costs for grad school to be generally more expensive such as tuition, textbooks, professional networking groups among other miscellaneous costs.

It may seem easiest to just throw your hands up and give in, relying on more loans or credit cards for financial assistance.  Although the budget may be a little tighter in grad school, try to resist this urge because there are ways to continue to save.

Begin planning during the final year of undergrad.  There will be admission exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT) to pay and prepare for.  Keep track of deadlines and take advantage of early bird discounts.  Look for free resources to help with preparation for the exam, personal statements, and building up résumés.

Continue to apply for scholarships.  Look for need-based and merit-based scholarships during the admission process, but don’t stop there.  Apply for scholarships for each year of graduate school.  For example, employers and agencies offer scholarships for reaching a certain level of grad school (i.e. a scholarship specifically for a second year law student).  Some schools even give scholarships based on academic performance throughout the duration of the program.  For instance, most law schools award students with scholarships for achieving a certain rank within their class (such as the top 10%) after the first year.

Review the school’s valuation of costs and don’t accept it “As Is.”  Visit your school’s financial aid website or office to locate the estimated costs.  There are fees that count towards the cost of tuition, but can be opted out of.  If your student prefers to jog instead of using the gym, try to opt out of the gym fee.  Or, did your student get a new computer for an undergrad graduation gift?  Opt out of the computer lab fee or the cost allotted for the purchase of a new lap top (which is included in most grad school costs when calculating the loan).  Every school is different, so be sure to check with the financial aid office to determine what can be cut.

Multi-task experience and income.  Have your student look for opportunities to multi-task.  Building a résumé with experience is a must in this job climate even with a graduate degree.  Positions such as a teacher’s assistant can offer experience and an income, and are generally flexible with school hours.  In law school there are search engine and bar preparation student representative positions, which allow students to receive an income plus discounts on study materials and programs.  If students can receive course credit for internships that also come with pay, definitely jump on the opportunity.

Make sure undergrad loans are deferred.  Most federal and some private loans will allow for continued deferment of payment if the student is enrolled in grad school (varies on full or part-time enrollment).  Make sure the loans are deferred.  This allows the payments to be delayed without interest accruing (although you’ll need to look at your specific loan agreement because terms can differ).  If the loans are in forbearance then interest will accrue, which causes you to pay more over the life of the loan.  If you haven’t talked to the lender about repayment, then payment may become due and may set your student into default if they cannot pay – so make sure undergrad loans are situated!  If your student is able, try to make interest payments on loans, even if not required, in order to keep the outstanding balance low and the amount paid over the life of the loan less.

Create the budget.  Once you and/or your student have implemented these tools to carve out a little more flexibility in a budget, it’s time to set the budget.  Look at spending for a few weeks to a month to see where it’s all going and determine areas that can be cut back.  Ask upperclassman for unexpected costs they came across so you can be prepared for them.  Use student ID cards to get discounts on food and entertainment.  Purchase used books, eBooks, or use books from the library to get textbooks at a lower rate.  Use Microsoft Excel or free smartphone apps to create a budget that is easy to enforce.  And, if the budget goes belly up, don’t quit!  Keep at it until it becomes habit.

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Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on November 17, 2014. Visit www.JennyLMaxey.com for more information.

Wednesday’s Parent: Cost, loan-fearsome four-letter college words

Fearsome 4-letter college words. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Fearsome 4-letter college words. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Cost and loan are four letter words that draw sharp reactions from college-bound families. The truth is loans are the way most people pay for big ticket items. People take out auto loans and home mortgages routinely. What makes assuming debt for a college education so scary is not properly addressing the issue of affordability.

It’s no surprise that too many lack the essential skill of college financial literacy. Before higher ed commitments, high finance is usually something students watch in movies or T.V. shows but don’t directly experience. Parents getting ready to focus on retirement will find college costs have changed substantially since their own attendance. So has the average length of time taken to graduate.

There are government and private loans for student or parent borrowers. Usually students take federal financial aid loans first before considering other types because of their favorable terms. However, the amount offered may not satisfy the college bill. Parents often opt for the federal PLUS loan to make up the difference rather than mortgage their home and risk losing it. Private loans usually require more in depth credit checks and students may need a co-signor. It is always wise to compare and contrast terms, loan forgiveness features, repayment plans and interest rates.

Families may use the parent-student team to meet the monetary challenges ahead. They can balance two facts-there is no loan for retirement and starting a career is different than being in the middle of it. Read the articles for details but here are four points to get a plan going now:

  1. Have a college cost talk. The key is for parents and students to get on the same page about the concept of affordability because most teens’ ideas about money are very different from the adults who support them.
  2. Check out college affordability options. Because of need-based and merit financial aid awards, college sticker price is rarely what the college bill will be. Learn how to estimate your costs and ways to reduce them. (Check out my POCS COA for a more realistic formula of expenses not included by colleges.)
  3. Borrow only what you need and can afford to repay. No one can predict the future, but students and parents can estimate what monies they will need to maintain a particular lifestyle and if their chosen profession will provide enough income. It’s about being prepared, saving where possible, and making smart choices.
  4. Never default. When a car loan isn’t paid, the vehicle can be repossessed. When a home mortgage isn’t paid, the home can be foreclosed. No one comes to take away a diploma when there is a default on a college loan. Instead, credit can be ruined, job opportunities lost and dreams smashed.

Read Suzanne’s post: Avoiding Student Loans 

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

The Political Side of Student Loans

Warning sign to keep up with student loan law changes. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Warning sign to keep up with student loan law changes. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Please welcome the return of special guest Jenny L. Maxey, blogger and author about financing higher education with minimal debt and maximum opportunities. Read Jenny’s important post about how to keep up with the frequent changes in student loan laws and get involved beyond staying informed:

Summer seems to be the designated time of year to get down to student loan business on Capitol Hill, attempting to beat whatever impending change will go into effect on July 1st. In 2013, a new law was passed tying Federal Direct Loans and PLUS loans to the rates of the Treasury plus a fixed rate based on the type of loan. These rates are determined in the spring and then are fixed for the life of that loan. This summer, the U.S. Department of Education has made a regulatory change to help those in default calculate a repayment plan similar to those not in default using the Income Based Repayment plan, allowing some to have repayments as low as $5. Further, President Obama signed an executive order to go into effect December of 2015 that alters repayment plans to extend repayment in order to become more manageable, especially for older borrowers.

The changes come from all over – legislative, executive, administrative. How are you or your college-bound student expected to keep up with it all? Can you? Here are a few levels of activity to help you keep informed about the political side of student loans.

LEVEL ONE:  Maybe you and your college-bound student have better things to do than follow the ever-changing squabbles on Capitol Hill. However, it is important to be informed about the influence those changes can have on the debt you and/or college-bound student are taking on. Here are a few easy ways to keep up-to-date.

  • Before you sign the terms, make sure you understand what is in them. You’ll need to do this every year, but it’s only once a year.
  • If you don’t understand the terms, visit studentloan.gov to get the most up-to-date information on government loans.
  • Speak with your Financial Aid office for additional help in understanding any changes.

LEVEL TWO:  If you have an opportunity to dig a little deeper, try these steps in addition to Level One.

  • Add a Google Alert. You can put in keywords such as “student loans” or “federal loans” and receive daily, weekly or monthly updates on what changes are being ensued. Learn how to set up a Google Alert HERE.
  • Do some bill tracking. While this only follows the changes made legislatively, you can follow the debates and where your elected representatives are hoping to steer the conversation. You can track bills HERE.

LEVEL THREE:  Do you want to do more than just stay informed? Get active!  Have an effect on the outcome. After all, it’s you and/or your college-bound student who are taking on this debt. Now that you know the news and are tracking legislation, you can email or call your state and local representatives and ask them where they stand and give your opinion on the matter. Your effort might make the difference in how the issue is amended or voted upon.

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Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank. Jenny earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a J.D., and is licensed to practice law in Ohio. Although her book is geared toward pre-law and law students, most of the information can be easily applied to any level of higher education. Barrister on a Budget is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Nook. You can find more information and follow her blog on www.jennylmaxey.com.

Wednesday’s Parent: 3 steps forward leaving regrets behind

Carrying a backpack of regrets. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Carrying a backpack of regrets. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Every time I hear the phrase, “No worries,” I get this vivid image of someone toting a heavy backpack filled with regrets and hoping for some relief. From children to parents, that someone is anyone who is second guessing an important decision.

The biggest problem with regrets is it prolongs the decision-making process way past the actual making of the decision. To mix metaphors, regrets bring anxious thoughts of greener pastures supposedly at the end of the road not taken. They exert constant pressure preventing peace of mind.

There is only one sure way to lighten the regret backpack and that’s to empty it. Here’s my three step plan to move forward leaving regrets behind:

1. Define regret Think about what really is bothering you. An example for your college-bound teen may be: Is it worry about choosing the right college to attend or not being able to excel there? For parents concerned about college costs, are you stressing about the size of the bill for one family member or the impact on the entire family’s standard of living or your future retirement plans?

2. Make peace It’s time to accept the past defined regret and deal with the emotions it elicits. Perhaps your teen is anxious because he is second guessing his chosen major or embarrassed about a lack of one. Maybe you are sad about your child leaving the nest or fretting about his/her living in a dorm. Identify your emotion, take a deep breath and release both of them, letting reason provide calm analysis.

3. Take responsibility It’s time to resume control logically. Situations are changed by choices but that generates new options. There will always be challenges and consequences and a good plan will help achieve your goals. Learn from the past, focus on your future and move on. Choosing what to do next is a combination of good decision-making skills and instincts – something parents raising college-bound teens are very familiar with and a life skill our children may practice to succeed!

Read Suzanne’s post: No Regrets

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: 6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget

6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget. Photo by WendyDavid-Gaines

6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget. Photo by WendyDavid-Gaines

Many kids and parents are fans of the circus. They marvel at the skills of the aerialists, acrobats and animal tamers. They laugh at the antics of the clowns, consume tasty treats and watch the sideshows. There are also powerful financial lessons that may be learned from these performers to help teens learn about managing money.

Many of the college-bound and their parents are about to take on huge college expenses while trying to maintain a certain life-style and prepare for a future one. There will be a host of new purchase opportunities for an already lean wallet. If a house is on the future acquisition list, student debt may prevent the plan. Read Naughty and nice solutions to cut college costs and increase home ownership for more details.

Use these six questions packed into vivid images to start a serious discussion to teach your teen about money management:

  1. When it comes to balancing your budget, are you a juggler or a tight rope walker? Show your child how to create and use a budget by listing expenses and income.
  2. When it comes to spending money, are you the Master of Ceremonies or a clown? Explain the realities of living within one’s means based on their budget compared to a foolish fantasy without a safety net.
  3. When it comes to making decisions, will you choose cotton candy or unbuttered popcorn? Life is about choices including what to spend money on. Parents may help their kids understand how to include occasional splurges into normal routines and still be nutritionally and financially healthy.
  4. When it comes to preparing for your future, are you the lion or the lion tamer? Most teens live in the present but focusing on the future is a great way to prepare the college-bound for what’s to come. Teach your child the benefits of controlling their own finances rather than having debt decide for them.
  5. When it comes to saving for something special, are you the sideshow’s Strong man or the whole three-ring circus? Teach your child how to prioritize financial goals to achieve them one at a time or they may spread themselves too thin and not focus on any well.
  6. When it comes to financial security, are you an acrobat or an aerialist? Both are strong, have great timing and get the job done. The message parents may teach is these are the skills needed to achieve a student’s financial dreams.

For more budgeting tips for teens before college check out Suzanne’s blog:  Wednesday’s Parent: A Crash Course in Money Management 

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

 

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Jenny L. Maxey, author of Barrister on a Budget, and I have teamed up to provide some fresh financial suggestions for parents, the college-bound and students continuing with post-graduate studies. Jenny will focus on tips to help your child decrease student loans BEFORE graduation and I will zoom in on fresh ideas for families to do now, plan for the future, and ask others to step it up.

Enjoy Jenny’s guest post:

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7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

Student debt is becoming a heavy burden, and not just for students.  Parents often co-sign for loans to help their child receive funds or even just to help them get a better interest rate.  The scary thing is that in the current economy, many students are unable to find a job that will allow for cost-of-living in addition to the hefty repayments.  And what happens if the student can’t make the payments?  Well, it can be two-fold.  If you co-sign, you are the one responsible to make the payments.  Plus, your child might move home (if you’re feeling the effects of the empty nest, that’s maybe not a bad thing), which can cause your bills to increase.  You’re likely going to be dipping into your retirement funds (or not saving for retirement at all), and then what happens when you retire?  You and your child are going to be stuck paying that student loan bill.  Even declaring bankruptcy, does not get rid of student loan debt.  So before you or your child sign for another loan, take these steps to better not only your child’s future, but yours as well.

  1. Avoid borrowing loans altogether.  Okay, this might sound obvious, but have you and your child looked for opportunities?  I mean really looked?  Scour the internet, local and state organizations, your employers, and corporations, anything you can do to find scholarships.  Then, apply for all of the ones your child qualifies for.  Yes, this can be time consuming, but you could avoid thousands in debt for not much work.  Joining the military is also an option that many don’t consider.  The military can offer partial and sometimes full tuition assistance among other benefits.  And, as some employers give preference to the military, can be the difference in acquiring a job or not in this market.
  2. Graduate early.  If your child is still in high school, take Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  While the exam to receive the college credit can cost $80 – $120 (plus any fees added by the high school), it can be cheaper than the same course in college.  Be sure to inquire about any financial assistance the high school may provide for these courses.  If your child is currently in college, take the full credit load every semester if the tuition is a flat rate (every school is different, so check the policies).  Also, they should use their summers wisely and do an internship that will give them course credit (and maybe some spending money) as well as experience and references!
  3. Pay attention to loan agreements.  Apply for subsidized loans and other need-based loans that will usually cover part or all of the interest payments while your child is in school.  Shop around for the lowest interest rates. Keep documents organized and be aware of your repayment schedule to avoid late fees.  Know the options to make repayment manageable to avoid fees and default.
  4. Negotiate tuition fees.  Schools have some fees that are negotiable.  Fees that are automatically put into your tuition bill, such as gym membership and athletic tickets, can sometimes be opted out of and removed from the bill.  Check with the financial aid office and discuss these options.
  5. Get a job.  If your child can handle working while in school (make sure they are able to maintain a high GPA to open up employment options upon graduation), then get a job…maybe two.  Colleges offer Resident Advisors (RA) and work study programs that are flexible with school hours and offer benefits – reduced housing expenses and free meals for RAs – or payment to pay for educational expenses.  If they get a job off of campus, they can also use the income to pay for educational expenses, decreasing the amount they may be inclined to borrow.
  6. PAY INTEREST!  This one is a biggie! Most student loans have compound interest, which means, if you don’t pay your interest, it adds on to the total amount owed and the next time you are charged interest, the payment is based on the new total.  This can quickly add up!  The original balance owed will be maintained and your child will pay less over the life of the loan if you or they make the interest payments during school.
  7. Teach them how to budget.  Keep track of spending for a month or a semester and create a budget.  Review the spending and determine what areas can be cut back.  Do they really need the $7 Starbucks coffee or the newest iPhone?  Can they buy used books or eBooks for lower prices?  Have they been flashing their student ID as much as possible to get all the discounts on food, entertainment, and transportation possible?  There are free apps available that can easily keep track of budgeting for you, making it readily accessible at each purchase and keeps you in check or there is always Excel Spreadsheet.

Now hop over to read my 10 $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students)

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Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.  Jenny earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a J.D., and is licensed to practice law in Ohio.  Although her book is geared toward pre-law and law students, most of the information can be easily applied to any level of higher education.  Barrister on a Budget is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Nook.  You can find more information and follow her blog on www.jennylmaxey.com.

New college cost comparison tool

Calculating and comparing college costs, Photo by Derrick Coetzee

Calculating and comparing college costs, Photo by Derrick Coetzee

College choice would be much less stressful if costs weren’t part of the decision. But they are and calculating and comparing them can be difficult. That’s where a new tool from College Abacus can help parents and students.

Calculations Wouldn’t it be helpful if parents and students could calculate and compare costs of attending different schools before paying application fees to schools they can’t afford?

A recent federal law mandates schools to include a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on their website to give families a general estimate of the net price of attending that school. The goal is to figure out how college sticker price may be reduced by financial aid the student is qualified to receive.

The actual amount is contained in a financial aid award letter that shows grants, scholarships and student loans the student is eligible for if he attends that school. However, students won’t get their award letter until they have applied and were admitted to that school.

Note that qualifying students won’t be eligible to receive monies from federal and state government financial aid programs and many college endowment funds without first submitting financial aid applications. And merit awards are often based on student abilities as compared to others offered admission.

Also note there is no one NPC that all colleges use. Schools can use the federal Department of Education (ED) NPC template, use another or create their own so the amount and type of info parents and students enter for each college to get a calculation may vary.

Answers Learning potential costs from each college’s site can help families form a college list that is more affordable. Discovering costs on one website can save time and stress. College Abacus does this. Families enter information once to get their answers. They also get details about which NPC the school uses and a description of the type of aid-grant or scholarship, and source-college or government.

Best of all, it provides different ways for families to get this information, depending on their needs and budget. The first way is free and allows comparison for up to three schools. There is a charge for the other way which gives financial aid estimates for the top 100 colleges and/or top 100 universities ranked by US News & World Report.

Tips To get the best cost estimates, consider the following tips:

  • Answer questions as accurately as possible because they are based on financial aid questions federal and state governments and colleges will ask on financial aid forms.
  • The federal College Navigator also provides school NPCs but like going to each college or university’s site, parents and students must input their info per school. College Abacus saves the data so info is entered once. Also it is available for use and not affected by government shutdowns like federal sites
  • Education consumers have to be savvy when it comes to college costs. NPC’s do not take into account hidden costs. It is up to families to add in POCS COA costs.
  • For more info about financial aid costs, read the new blog from College Abacus. POCSmom’s readers  receive a 20% discount for Abacus100 by using the code POCS20.

Give College Abacus college cost comparison tool a try and let me know how it helped you make better college choices.

UPDATE: On August 5, 2014 @CollegeAbacus sent a tweet informing me that “College Abacus is now a #nonprofit!”