An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

Would you Pay for a FAFSA Prep Service

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Student Loans | 6 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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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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The Case for Adjustable Student Loan Rates

Posted by on Jun 3, 2013 in Student Loans | 10 comments

student loans

Maybe that title is a little misleading…

I struggled with what to title this post because I could not figure out what would get my point across the best. What I am suggesting is a way to mediate the student loan debt crisis going forward by offering different student loan interest rates for different students.

On Federal Stafford Loan disbursed through June 30, 2013, the interest rate for subsidized loans is 3.4% and on unsubsidized loans is 6.8%. Unfortunately, if an extension bill is not passed, these low rates are set to expire at the end of this month. Both of the rates are set to effectively double.

Millions of students receive Stafford Loans every year, and every single one of them pays the exact same interest rate regardless of their situation. No other loan that I know of charges a set interest rate to every borrower. It is very un-capitalistic.

A Discriminating Student Loan Interest Rate

When you apply for a home mortgage you understand that the bank will take into account your personal situation before they come back with a loan offer. They will look at your credit score, your income, your payment history, the term of the loan, the home you intend to buy, your down payment, and the loan to value on your home. All of these factors play a role in determining how risky of a borrower you are, and therefore the interest rate and amount of money they will lend to you.

Student loans should operate on the same principle.

Student loan interest rates should take into account the student’s major, proposed course of study, career and education plans, grades, student loan repayment history (if applicable) and the outlook on job’s in that major.

The easiest way to do this would be to set a standard rate, and then give rate deductions for having qualifying criteria in each of these categories.

For example, let’s set the Subsidized Stafford Loan rate at 5% and the Unsubsidized Stafford at 8%. If you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA then you automatically receive a .25% reduction. If your major is in a critical need area, then you can receive another .25% reduction. The private job market on the lookout for employees with your skills, get a .50% reduction. Majoring in a critical research area, another .25% reduction.

This information could all be captured when submitting the FAFSA, and the interest rate would be returned through the FAFSA application. This would not increase the work on a school’s financial aid office, and would be a relatively simple process for student borrowers.

It would also give student borrowers an incentive to keep good grades, to major in a critical needs area, or to pursue a career field that was actually in demand, guaranteeing a job, and therefore the ability to repay those student loans.

Private Loans Could Also Join The Party

Private loan lenders would be even easier to incorporate into this flexible student loan interest rate model. Their loans are already based on credit and income so they have underwriting criteria in place already. They could also work on the interest rate reduction model, giving incentives when certain criteria are met.

This would likely increase the amount of quality student loan borrowers in their ranks, and increase their chances of receiving all of their money back.

The Bottom Line

There is not a quick fix for the student loan debt crisis. However, so many students receive loans to fund an education that does not benefit them. Students in courses of study that are not employable, and student who receive loans with a failing GPA are simply milking the system. They will graduate with student loan debt and no hopes of repaying those loans.

This system could at least show the importance of being selective in the major you choose, and highlight the importance of a course of study which will teach you the skills needed to get a job!

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What Happens if I Don’t Make My Student Loan Payment?

Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Student Loans | 0 comments

First, I think it is very important to dispel a common myth about student loans: They are required to be repaid, and they can ruin your financially if they are ignored!

If you don’t make your student loan payment or make your payment late, your loan may eventually go into default. If you default on your student loan, that status will be reported to credit bureaus, and your credit rating and future borrowing ability will be damaged. In addition, legal action can be taken to require payment through garnishment of wages and withholding of tax refunds.

Unfortunately, I meet too many students who admit they did not realize the money they were receiving for college was from student loans, and that they would someday have to repay these student loans. This is a heartbreaking realization, but also one that is easily avoidable.

Don’t ignore the fine print on your college financial aid award letter!

With that said, let’s suppose that you do understand your need to repay your student loans but you run into financial difficulties and are struggling to repay your monthly loan payment.

What Happens if I Don’t Make My Student Loan Payment?

The Good News

Student loans have the most flexible and generous repayment terms of any other loan on the market.

The Bad News

Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy so you will need to eventually figure out a way to repay them.

Where to Start?

First, you will need to determine what type of student loans you are repaying. There are a number of student loans, and each of them will likely have a different repayment servicer.

Here is a handy chart from the Department of Education:

Which Organizations Handle Which Loans

Type of Loan

Whom to Pay

Direct Loans and FFEL loans owned by ED You will make your payments to your loan servicer. Your loan servicer will provide you with information about your repayment terms and your repayment start date.
FFEL loans not owned by ED You will make your payments to your lender, the organization that made the loan initially. The lender could be a bank, credit union, or other lending institution. Your lender will provide you with information about your repayment terms and your repayment start date.
Federal Perkins Loans Your loan servicer will most likely be the school you were attending when you received the loan, but in some cases, the school will have a separate organization handle the billing and other services for your Perkins Loan. Contact the school about making Perkins Loan payments.

As indicated in the chart above there are three main types of student loans: Federal, Private, and Campus Based. Each of these loans will have different methods for handling payment arrangements so it is imperative that you know which loans you have.

Second, you will need to evaluate your own financial situation to determine if your financial troubles will only cause you to be late for one month, or if you anticipate this to be an extended financial situation. If you just lost your job for example, you would treat this differently than if you spent too much on clothes this month.

If you expect your financial troubles to extend beyond one month, then you should consider applying for a financial hardship forbearance. You will need to contact your lender or repayment servicer and fill out their form to begin this application process. The key is to begin this process as soon as possible. Waiting until the day your payment is due to begin this process will not help you!

Third, you should consider a loan consolidation if you have multiple student loans to repay each month. Many student complain about forgetting to pay a student loan each month. If you have multiple student loans that are repaid to different lenders, this can be confusing. One way to alleviate some of this confusion is to consolidate your loans into one monthly payment. This allows you to have one payment to focus on each month and can generally allow you to pay your loans off faster.

You should be careful however, as consolidating your student loans also may cause you to lose deferment and forbearance options in the future.

The Bottom Line

It is important to understand that student loans do have to be repaid and they can hurt your credit if they are not repaid.

You have many options available to you and all of these can be accessed with a simple phone call or a visit to your lender’s website.

The worst thing you can do is shrink into a hole and hope that your financial trouble goes away. There are people willing to help, but they cannot help you unless you reach out t them!

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The Pay As Your Earn Calculator for Student Loans

Posted by on Apr 23, 2013 in Student Loans | 0 comments

pay as you earn

Towards the end of 2012, President Obama introduced a new student loan repayment program called: Pay as You Earn. It was activated on December 21, 2012, for all eligible borrowers.

Here is the information on the repayment plan according to the Department of Education:

To qualify for Pay As You Earn, you must have a partial financial hardship. You have a partial financial hardship if the monthly amount you would be required to pay on your eligible federal student loans under a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan is higher than the monthly amount you would be required to repay under Pay As You Earn.

For this purpose, your eligible student loans include all of your William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans that are eligible for Pay As You Earn, as well as certain types of Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans. Although your FFEL Program loans cannot be repaid under Pay As You Earn, the following types of FFEL Program loans are counted in determining whether you have a partial financial hardship: Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans Federal PLUS Loans made to graduate or professional students Federal Consolidation Loans that did not repay any PLUS loans for parents

You also must be a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, and must have received a disbursement of a Direct Loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011. You are a new borrower if you had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan as of Oct. 1, 2007, or had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan when you received a new loan on or after Oct. 1, 2007. Your payment amount may increase or decrease each year based on your income and family size. Once you’ve initially qualified for Pay As You Earn, you may continue to make payments under the plan even if you no longer have a partial financial hardship.

Under this plan your monthly payments will be capped at 10% of your discretionary income. What is discretionary income? As defined by ED: “Your income minus the poverty guidelines for your family size.”

Here is an example if you are a family of 4 and your income is $50,000 annually. You would take $50,000, subtract the poverty level for your family size, which is $23,550, and your remaining “discretionary income” is $26,450. $26,450 divided by 12 months is $2,204. So under the “Pay As You Earn” scenario your monthly loan payments would be capped at 10% of this discretionary income or $220 per month.

Another advantage of this plan is that if you make 20 years of consecutive on time monthly payments under this program, the remaining amount of your student loans will be forgiven.

20 years is a long time…

The Bottom Line

This new repayment program only scratches the surface of the real problem with student loans: high college costs and students having zero financial sense.

It does however, give some respite for families who are struggling under the burden of student loan repayment. It may not help you pay off your student loans any faster, but it may help ease your monthly budget. Especially if you have a large family size, as your discretionary income fluctuates based on the poverty guidelines for family size.

If you are wavering on whether to switch to this new repayment plan or not, you can use the handy calculator at the Department of Education’s website, and it will tell you if this new repayment plan will save you any money or not.

Do you think this is worth a try? Or this just another government bailout is disguise?

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Payoff Student Loans with a Business Mindset

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Student Loans | 0 comments

payoff student loans

I will assume that we are all aware of the current student loan crisis. You might have heard the term “student loan bubble?” This term was created because, just like the housing bubble, student loans were given out in excess to students who had no means of paying these loans back. Now these students have graduated and are struggling to find a job in a sluggish economy. Students are behind on loan payments, and student loan lenders are buckling under a mountain of defaulted student loan debt. Just as the housing market did in 2008, the student loan bubble is on the verge of bursting.

Unfortunately, I do not think there is any way to stop this “bubble” from bursting. The damage is already done. Billions of dollars in student loans are now on the books, and unlike a mortgage, many of these student loans cannot even be discharged in bankruptcy.  In fact, student loan debt just recently surpassed the total credit card debt in the United States and continues to rise to shockingly unsafe levels.

What have we gotten ourselves into?

A Way Out?

When the bubble bursts, and I don’t believe that event is too far into our future; students, legislators, lenders, and colleges and universities will all be clamoring for a solution to the problem.

The clearest solution I see to this problem is for colleges and universities to find an intersection of education and business.

In practice, I think that colleges and universities should be a hotbed for economic innovation. College students should be encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial mindsets while on campus. Corporations should be given access to students, and vice versa, so that both can learn from each other. After all, the point of a college degree is to get a job, right?

College career centers spend time and money trying to attract businesses to their doorsteps to hire college graduates, but what if these same corporations played an integral role in the fabric of the university.

I am not proposing that colleges and universities adopt a profit centered business model, but rather that students themselves adopt a business mindset.

The Business Mindset

A business, whether large or small, has to protect their bottom line. Any business owner understands that they have to meet certain profit margins to maintain a profit, and they need a certain gross income to meet their financial obligations. They cannot leverage themselves too thin, or they will not be able to pay their bills.

This same principle can be applied to students who are borrowing way more money than they need to fulfill their college goals. They are essentially leveraging themselves too thin, with no hope of being able to repay their bills.

College students with a solid understanding of business principles could easily relate their personal financial situation to that of a business. They will quickly see that they need to view their education and their student loans as an investment. If they treated themselves as a startup company, would they be able to secure funding to complete their education?

This simple shift in perspective could open up the eyes of many college students. I love NBC’s show “Shark Tank”. The “sharks” are brutally honest with the  entrepreneurs who come on the show because they know what it takes to succeed in business. They understand what constitutes a good and profitable investment. College students need to have the same view of their education and their future career goals.

The question is: “How can you as a college student ensure that your education is a solid investment?”

This question should drive your education, and be the basis for the decisions you make in your career. After all, you likely have a mountain of student loan debt following you that is more than happy to bury you if you stumble.

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