An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

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Would you Pay for a FAFSA Prep Service

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Student Loans | 5 comments

tax prep

A few weeks ago I posted a review of Dave Ramsey’s College Planning Service. You all had mixed reviews of the product, and many people have come down hard on Dave for the product.

So, because I am not Dave, and because I do not have a cushion of millions to fall back on if a product/idea goes bust, I wanted to float an idea by you all before pursuing it any further.

Considering a FAFSA Prep Service

A coworker of mine was talking to me recently about how the lines at our local community college’s financial aid office are out the door each semester. Their office is woefully understaffed and the people who truly need help filling out a FAFSA, or answering their financial aid questions, are swamped.

Do you think these same people would pay to have help completing their FAFSA? Rather than wait in a long line in a financial aid office, would they rather go sit in a cushy chair across from a personalized advisor, and pay to have help filling out the FAFSA?

Consider this, FAFSA.com, the non-government entity run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. completes tens of thousands of FAFSA applications each year and they charge $79 for each application. People still pay this fee even though the FAFSA can be completed for free at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Why do people pay this? To be fair, I know that many folks stumble across FAFSA.com and think it is the official government site, even though it clearly states it is not. SO a portion of these customers are there because of a lack of knowledge.

The rest however, have made it very clear that they are willing to pay for this professional service, and to have personalized assistance in completing their FAFSA.

In talking with a number of these folks, they view it as no different than paying someone else to complete their taxes each year. They know they could do it themselves for free, but they are too busy/confused/lazy to do it themselves.

Does it Defeat the Entire Purpose of Financial Aid?

Does a service of this kind defeat the entire purpose of financial aid? Most often, the people submitting a FAFSA application are the ones who need to qualify for need-based aid. They don’t have $79 lying around to throw away on professional FAFSA assistance.

Would it be highway robbery to provide this service at a cost to college students and their parents?

These are the questions that I am wrestling with. There are many other physical limitations to a service of this kind, but before I move any further in the planning phase of this business, I need to iron out the ethical dilemmas.

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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I’m Writing My First Book – Help Keep me Accountable

Posted by on Jul 5, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition | 12 comments

my first book

Part requirement for my Master’s thesis, part lifelong dream, part income generation tool, and part social promotion strategy; my first non-fiction book is currently under development. As part of my Master’s course work, I have known that this day would come for a few years now. Getting to this point however, has been a struggle, and it is hard to believe this is actually happening.

Regardless of all of that, the first pages have been written and my book is under way!

I don’t have a title chosen yet, although the working title is “The Smart Way to Pay for College, Post Great Recession”. Please let me know if you have any brilliant ideas for a title.

As you can likely deduce from the working title, the book is a non-fiction guide to helping students, parents, and other family members make smart decisions with college financing. I introduce some unconventional means of raising money to pay for college, and hope to provide a great resource for anyone struggling with the rising costs of college.

I hope that this book can be a handbook to paying for college in 2013 and beyond. The college finance landscape has changed dramatically in the last 5 years, and old tactics won’t work any more. We need to re-tool our thinking if we want to have any hope of being able to afford college when our children decide to go.

As much as I would like, this book’s goal is not to battle the high cost of college tuition. That is a separate beast and one that I can’t tackle alone. My goal however, is to help you manage those rising costs and find ways to negate the rise in college tuition.

Where You Come In

The entire purpose of my book is to help you (students, parents, grandparents, or others) understand and better manage the college finance system.

This is my full-time profession so I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the hot button issues, but I crave your help in letting me know what questions you have!

What are the burning questions you have about paying for college?

What makes you the most angry about the college finance process?

If you could change one thing (besides getting free tuition…) what would it be?

What are your views on working while going to school?

Do you plan to take out student loans?

I also plan to post outlines, chapters, and excerpts from my ongoing book project here on Money for College Project. My goal is to hold myself accountable to you through my blog, and I hope you will help by calling me out on my progress, and checking in to see how things are coming.

Oh, and if you would be up for an interview let me know because I need to conduct a number of them!

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Student Loan Interest Rates Doubled! Are You Ready?

Posted by on Jul 2, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Student Loans | 8 comments

student loan deferments

By now you have likely heard that last Friday, Congress failed to pass an extension which would keep student loan interest rates low. Because of this failure, yesterday, Stafford Subsidized student loans doubled in interest rate from 3.4% to 6.8%!

Yes, these are the loans that are made available to students who come from low to middle income families and also qualify for the Federal Pell Grant. Yes, these are need based loans that just received a doubling of their interest rates.

Both isles of Congress seem fairly set on passing legislation that will reduce these interest rates back to their former levels, but for now, the infighting has prevented any actual measures being passed. Until Congress takes action and changes this interest rate back, any new Stafford loan disbursements made after July 1, 2013 will be under the new interest rate increase. The good news is that if Congress does pass this measure, it would be retroactive in time for the upcoming Fall 2013 semester. So please let your Congressman know how much you would like the interest rates to stay at 3.4%.

What Should You Do?

Unfortunately, if you are in a situation where you need to take out student loans, there is really nothing that you can do. Stafford subsidized and unsubsidized loans are the most competitive interest rate student loans available, and their repayment options are by far the most flexible of any loan type you will find. If you need a student loan, this is still your best choice for a loan.

You can however, try to guard yourself from having to take out student loans at all. You should always max out any “free” financial aid before you consider student loans as an option. Many financial aid award packages automatically bundle student loans in with your financial aid award, but you do not have to be so quick to borrow.

You can maximize your scholarships searching by checking out the free listings at your local library, your high school guidance counselor, your department at college, or your professors. These resources are often excellent resources for scholarships, that not many other folks think to explore.

You could also consider becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business to pay your way through college. You could buy and sell used textbooks, you could start a furniture moving company moving stuff into and out of dorm rooms, you could start a computer repair service on campus, you could start a mobile coffee cart business, or you could freelance write online for some extra cash.

All of these methods will earn you money which you can then use to pay your tuition outright. In my mind, there is not much more satisfying than working hard and paying cash for something you are passionate about. Paying your own way through college also makes you appreciate what you are paying for and will likely help you be more invested in your education. You will also pick up some very valuable business skills, and develop an entrepreneurial mindset that will benefit you throughout your entire life.

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Weekly Roundup: Writing Inspiration Edition

Posted by on Jun 28, 2013 in Gifts for College Students, How to Pay College Tuition | 3 comments

I had dinner with an old friend last night, and during our conversation he told me that he had published a book last year. I was floored. It was a fiction novel, and he wrote the entire book in about 9 months. We started talking about his writing and publishing experience, and I found out that he has published using a print on demand service, and is currently selling about 125 books a month on Amazon!

As we talked further, he told me that he has hired a narrator who is currently recording an audiobook version of his novel, and he has even been approached by a producer who is considering purchasing the rights to the book to make a movie. Needless to say, I had to find out more!

We talked for a few hours about the entire process, and before the night was over I was completely inspired to go out and get published myself.

I’ve had dreams of being published before, non-fiction rather than fiction, but I have never felt I had the motivation to actually do it. Rekindling an old friendship and knowing someone who is very similar to me has gone through the process successfully, was all the motivation I needed to start typing words into my new non-fiction book.

So here is to keeping up the progress, and hopefully I can report back within the next year that I have published my first book!

Here is what went on at Money for College Project as well as with my Yakezie friends. Enjoy!

Money for College Project

 

Weekly ROundup

 

 

7 Ways to Earn $1000 Per Month

 

 

 

Yakezie Friends

 

Edward Antrobus – Blue Collar Money

 

 

Funancials – How I Started Investing

 

 

On Target Coach – The 5 Club

 

 

Debt Roundup – Why I Save

 

 

KNS Financial – Traffic Light Camera Scam

 

 

Fat Free Finance – Stop Comparing Rent to Mortgage

 

 

Mom and Dad Money – Liebster Award

 

 

Stacking Benjamins – Sketch Your Goals

 

 

Tie The Money Knot – Bribe Your Kids Read More

7 Ways to Earn $1000 Extra Per Month

Posted by on Jun 26, 2013 in Gifts for College Students, How to Pay College Tuition | 10 comments

earn extra money

Wouldn’t it be great to earn $1000 per month, or more, extra each month?

What freedom would that open up in your monthly budget, in your savings goals, in your wealth creation scheme, in your retirement planning, in your vacation or new car fund?

Regardless of what you would use it for, all of us could use an extra $1000 per month. The trick, is figuring how to actually make that happen. I don’t have any magic formulas here, and certainly no tricks or scams. The ideas I have listed below are all ones that I have either personally tried, or know of folks who have done successfully. Many of these ideas may not be full-time business material, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to create a “muse” or an income generating vehicle that will produce at least $1,000 extra per month, while not take consuming all of our time.

Here are my ideas:

1. Rent Scooters and Bicycles to College Students

College students hate bringing their bulky bicycles down to campus and they hate bringing their expensive scooters from their homes. They also hate having to drive a full size car onto campus, and pay for the ridiculously high parking pass and the unavoidable parking fines. The solution is to buy a collection of used bicycles (both mountain and road bikes) and rent them out to college students. You would charge an upfront fee that would cover the lease for the entire 9 or 12 month school year. You could also rent out scooters, although these would take much more of a significant upfront investment. Your quickest path to profitability is to buy used bikes, and rent these out for $20 to $30 per month. At $20 per month, you would only need to rent out 50 bikes to reach your $1000 per month income goal.

2. Sell Informational Products

You can sell an informational product on any topic, to virtually anyone. If you think hard enough, I can virtually guarantee you that you have a skill that someone would pay you for. Even if this is a physical skill such as woodworking landscaping, plumbing, or fixing cars, these skills can easily be transitioned into informational products. The key to making at least $1,000 per month selling informational products is just that, the ability to sell them. You will need a vehicle for selling, such as a website or a blog, and you will need to understand internet marketing. The upside is huge with this route, and I believe one of the big futures in internet marketing.

3. Create a Membership Site

Similar to the information products above, a membership site allows you to bring in members who pay a monthly subscription fee to be in your special club online. They are willing to pay this fee for the value they receive. This could include exclusive material, private mentoring sessions, one on one examples and coaching, or access to the private membership community. You can base this membership site around any products or genre, but be sure it is one that you are confident you can add value to. Membership sites can be an excellent way to make money, but the members can also be fickle and turn on you if they do not receive the value they expected.

4. Buy and Re-Sell on Craigslist

Last year I was trying to buy a small pressure washer off of Craigslist. I found one I liked, went to the guys’s house, and bought the machine. WHile I was there, I noticed a Stihl chainsaw in his garage. I asked him if this was also for sale, and for how much. He told me yes, he would take $40. I knew the real value, so I offered him $40 and took both machines home. The next day I turned around and listed the Stihl chainsaw for $200 back on Craigslist. I had over 10 calls/emails, and sold it that next day for $190. I made a $150 profit within 48 hours. This can be done consistently through Craigslist as long as you are knowledgeable about the products you are buying. If I was able to replicate this resell 6 times, I would have almost reached my $1,000 mark.

5. Re-Sell Used Textbooks

I do this every semester, and generally make between $1500 to $2000. The trick is to buy textbooks from college students at the end of each semester. I usually hang around the book buy-back trailers around any college campus and find the students walking away from the trailers with books still in tow. Campus bookstores will not buy back a book that has not been requested for the next semester, but that book is still valuable. Often times college students are willing to get a fraction of the value for the book because they are so mad they cannot re-sell their book. Once you have purchased these books from the students, you can then turn around and list these books on Ebay, Craigslist, Amazon, or any number of other book retailers. It involves shipping the books, but it is a great way to make some extra cash.

6. Create a Directory Website for Local Businesses

This is an idea that I have been experimenting with, and am excited about for the future. If you can create a directory website for a local niche business, then you can easily sell marketing space on that website to these same local businesses. The key is to ensure that your website ranks well in search engines for the search terms your customers care about. For example, if you build a website around Nashville Wedding Photography, and your site ranks on the first page of all Google search results for that term, then you can easily sell ad space to all Nashville wedding photographers. Depending on your traffic, you can easily charge anywhere from $30 – $200 per month for a business listing. With a large amount of traffic, you could easily reach $1,000 per month.

7. Perform SEO Services for Real Estate Agents

This sounds like a very niche market, but I can guarantee you that if you spend any amount of time as a blogger, or content editor online then you undersand SEO much better than a real estate agent does. However, for them, their livelihood is increasingly dependent on SEO. Internet traffic now drives the largest percentage of home buyers to their prospective homes. A realtor’s website is their golden ticket. If it ranks well for their local area they can easily see their business double or triple from what it had been previously. This is where you come in. You can offer your SEO services to a real estate agent for a monthly fee. This could include submitting their sites to listing directories, writing blog posts, ensuring their site is optimized properly, tagging their pictures with meta tags, and installing SEO software into their website. Even though you may not be an SEO expert, you will be viewed as one by the vast majority of Real Estate Agents.

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Weekly Roundup: Expensive Landscaping Edition

Posted by on Jun 24, 2013 in Gifts for College Students | 10 comments

My wife and I really enjoy having a well kept yard. We enjoy a yard where the grass is mowed, the beds are neatly arranged, the flowers are pruned and orderly, and the beds are freshly mulched each spring. This is a priority for us, and we have built money into our budget to pay for these expenses every year. The biggest expense in maintaining a well kept yard though, is time!

I often do not feel like working in our yard in the evenings when I come home, and I find myself running through blog post ideas as I am mowing our grass. I am great at multi-tasking, but there has to be a balance. A person can only do so many things in one day.

In the end, it comes down to priorities. My wife and I have decided that we are ok to let our yard slip a bit to focus on more income generating tasks (like blogging, and our side businesses). We also enjoy these things, and the freedom/money these extra activities affords us more than compensates for never winning another “yard of the month” sign again…

Here is what went on at Money for College Project as well as with my Yakezie friends. Enjoy!

Money for College Project

 

My First Father’s Day

 

 

How to Negotiate Financial Aid

 

 

 

Yakezie Friends

 

Edward Antrobus – Blue Collar Money

 

 

Funancials – How I Started Investing

 

 

On Target Coach – Small Business Week

 

 

Debt Roundup – Weekly PF Digest

 

 

KNS Financial – Have a Budget Account

 

 

Fat Free Finance – Stop Comparing Rent to Mortgage

 

 

Mom and Dad Money – Bad for Budget Good for Soul

 

 

Stacking Benjamins – Big Drugstore Discounts

 

 

Tie The Money Knot – Why Buy Life Insurance Read More

How to Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 8 comments

money for college project

This is the time of year when the rubber meet the roads for college admissions. At this point in the year, most college freshman have already committed to their college of choice. You have paid the admission deposit, you have signed up for Orientation, you are registering for classes, and you are making plans to move into the dorms in August. The final piece of this on-boarding process is your financial aid and your student bill.

Most colleges send out their incoming freshman financial aid award letters well ahead of their returning students. This is done for a number of reasons, but mainly for recruiting purposes. Incoming freshman need to know what financial aid they have been offered in order to accurately assess the best college for them.

SO what do you do when you receive your financial aid award letter? It is negotiable? Can you contact the financial aid office and request/demand that they give you more funds? Are there awards that you can swap out or adjust?

The answer is yes to all of the above.

Demand More Scholarships and Grants

This process will vary from one school to the next but if you have received competitive academic scholarships, you will likely have room to negotiate these amounts. The trick is that you will need to determine who awards the scholarships and who sets their levels. Often, the financial aid counselor you will speak with when calling the financial aid office, cannot adjust anything for you. They will tell you that your awards were ran though the “packager” which looks at a large list of criteria, and you were awarded everything you qualified for. This is true, but there are ways around it.

If you received scholarships from a department, from a program (such as the Honors College, or Graphic COmmunications…) you can contact that department or program directly to request an increase. As these programs manage their funds independently, they are often more flexible in increasing awards than the financial aid office is.

This process also depends on the type of school you choose to attend. A large public institution will be much less likely to be able to adjust your awards than a small private school would be.

The key here is whether or not your school is an enrollment drive school. This means that your school does not receive any state funding and relies solely on the tuition paid by their students for their operating budget. Enrollment drive private schools have a quota of students they must reach each semester, and they will go to great lengths  to keep you on their campus. You have a much more powerful negotiating position at a school of this type, than a large public institution.

Loans are Always Adjustable

If you have gone through the negotiation process and requested all of the free grant and scholarship money that you can, you can always adjust your student loans. Decreasing the amount of your student loans is as simple as putting this request in writing or an email to your financial aid office. Increasing this loan may be a bit trickier.

If you receive Direct Stafford Loans, and you have not reached your yearly maximum, you can contact your financial aid office and request an increase. As long as you have not met your cost of attendance for that semester, they will be able to increase your loan.

If you receive private student loans, or a Parent PLUS loan, and they have not certified the entire amount that you or your parent were approved for, then they can go back to increase this amount up to the maximum that was initially approved by the lender. This can be as simple as putting a request in an email and sending it to your financial aid office.

The Bottom Line

Negotiating your financial aid package is all based on your negotiating position. If you are a highly recruited students, or if you attend a small private school then you will have a much greater negotiating position.

However, every student has the right to negotiate their financial aid package. As with job offers, it is much easier to get the free money before you begin your college career than it is to ask for raises once you have already started.

It never hurts to ask!

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