Three Things You Need to Do to Your Student Loans Right Now

Stay ahead of this big expense

Recent college graduates already have enough on their plates worrying about getting a job and supporting themselves — the last thing they want to do is stress over student loan repayment. For most, paying off student loans takes a long time, so no matter where you are in that process, there are three things you should stop and do right now.

1. Get organized
Take an inventory of your student loans. You can get a list by signing up at http://www.nslds.ed.gov/. After a short enrollment process, you will have a handy list of all guaranteed loans that were issued to you by the government, as well as those made by private lenders through June 2010. If you have a private nonguaranteed loan, those should all be present and detailed on your credit report, which you can find for free online.

Create a spreadsheet chronicling the name of each lender, the web address, your username and password (ensure your device is locked or encrypted), the loan balance, and the interest rate. The latter will be helpful if you opt to consolidate or pay off any interest early down the road. But be sure to keep your list up to date, as interest rates on student loans can be fixed or variable.

2. Know your repayment options
“The standard repayment schedule extends your loan payments over ten years, or 120 payments,” explained Maggie McGrath of Forbes. “However, if the standard monthly payments aren’t manageable on your budget — or if you’re unemployed or otherwise unable to repay your loans — the federal government has some alternative repayment plans for you, as well as some deferral options.”

Income-based repayment (IBR) and income-contingent repayment (ICR) extend your payment period to 25 years, capping your monthly payments at a fixed percentage of your income. The income on which payments are based and the actual percentage differ between the two plans. Pay-as-you-earn is a 20-year repayment period, with yet another varying percentage of your discretionary income.

You can read about other repayment options from the government here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans. Be wary, as these types of programs can cause your interest costs to increase over time, so always pay as close to your original amount due as you can.

3. Be aware of loan forgiveness opportunities
There are three primary programs that forgive the balance of your loan: Public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness and Perkins loan cancellation.

“To qualify for forgiveness, your loans can’t be in default, meaning they’ve gone unpaid for more than nine months,” noted higher education expert Brianna McGurran of Nerdwallet. “Also, private student loans don’t offer forgiveness, though some lenders will let you make interest-only payments or take a temporary interest rate reduction if you’re having trouble affording your bill.”

Public service loan forgiveness requires you to have been working for a nonprofit or the government for at least 10 years in roles including, but not limited to, firefighting, teaching, the military and nursing. In the teacher-specific program, you must work full time as an educator for five consecutive years. The Perkins loan forgiveness also cancels the balance of that loan if you’ve worked as a teacher, firefighter, nurse, police officer, school librarian or public defender for about five years or more. For a complete description of eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation.

If you take the time to do your homework and gather yourself before — or even while — you are repaying your student loans, the process will seem a lot less scary, and a lot more manageable.

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Tips for Making Safe Credit Card Purchases Online

In today’s digital age, you need to be especially careful when making online purchases

With online shopping becoming the norm, people have also become more susceptible to identity theft. It’s imperative that you be careful and mindful of how you shop online.

A November 2016 article in The Balance by contributor LaToya Irby outlines seven tips for safe online shopping:

Conduct your online shopping only on websites you trust
It may sound obvious, but using your credit card to make online purchases only on those websites you know and trust could save you from becoming a victim of fraud. Never click on links provided via email; instead, type the entire URL of the website into your browser to open the site.

Never shop from a public place
Public computers are susceptible to hacker technology, such as software that captures your keystrokes and retains your personal and credit card information. Additionally, public Wi-Fi is unsecured and, as such, could redirect your device to a fake internet connection that an identity thief can monitor and use to intercept your personal information.

Keep your devices protected from viruses
Always stay up to date with virus and spyware protection software, and make sure you are using antivirus software that is reputable, not the type for which you receive an ad via email or in a pop-up window.

Check with the BBB first
The Better Business Bureau marks websites with poor customer service records, so make sure to check out the credibility of the site in question using the BBB before making a purchase.

Use credit cards, not debit cards
Credit cards have better protection services against fraud than debit cards, so you’re liable for fewer fraudulent charges if they occur. Additionally, you could lose access to your account and your funds while the financial institution sorts out a debit card that has been compromised, whereas with a credit card the only access that’s affected is that line of credit.

Make sure the website you use is secured
Always look for the green lock symbol at the start of your URL browser, and make sure you type in the website using “https” to ensure the site is secured to encrypt your information when making online purchases.

Keep track of your purchases with receipts
Just as with in-store purchases, printing a copy of the receipt of your online transaction will help you track your credit card activity. Use the printed copy to compare against your monthly credit card statement and watch for fraud.

In a November 2016 article in the Better Business Bureau by APR, CFEE Janet C. Hart recommends checking both your credit card activity and your bank account activity once a week, rather than waiting for the monthly statement. This ensures you catch fraudulent activity shortly after it’s occurred instead of finding out weeks later.

Hart also advises that we be wary of phishing scams—emails seemingly from a business claiming an error with your order or your account and asking you to confirm personal and identifying information. Legitimate businesses do not send these types of emails.

“Beware of ‘GREAT’ deals — if you find a website offering deals that seem too good to be true, they probably are. You may get a knock-off product, a product that is not the brand you ordered, or you may get nothing at all,” adds Hart.

Lastly, Hart recommends always checking the website’s privacy policy before making purchases online, so you know exactly how your personal information will be used.

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Could You Get In-State Tuition at an Out-of-State School?

Ways you can save money on tuition and fees
According to the College Board, in-state tuition at a public four-year university for the 2016-17 academic year runs an average of $9,650; if you’re an out-of-state resident at the same school, tuition runs $24,930. But it is possible for an out-of-state resident to pay closer to that in-state tuition rate.

“A number of regional, state and college-specific programs allow some students to qualify for in-state or heavily discounted tuition at out-of-state public schools,” writes Kaitlin Pitsker of Kiplinger Personal Finance.

Regional level
There are four regional compacts that exist in which certain out-of-state residents can apply for in-state tuition. The Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) and New England’s Regional Student Program (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) allow for this as long as the student pursues a major that isn’t offered in his or her home state.

Meanwhile, the Midwest Student Exchange (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin) and Western Undergraduate Exchange (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) also offer steep discounts to a number of students across the country.

In addition to the stipulation regarding majors for the first two programs, there may be school-specific restrictions as well.

State level
Individual states may also have reciprocity programs. For example, the in-state flexibility could extend to an entire neighboring state or perhaps a few select bordering counties in a neighboring state. Again, the benefits of such programs vary, but in many instances the state-level programs are more advantageous than the regional compacts.

College level
Many colleges also offer discounts in order to attract students from out of state. These often are based on GPA and test scores.

Special circumstances
Children of parents who are in the military or work in public service are often eligible for tuition flexibility. Other times, nonresident fees are waived for children of alumni or those with strong academic credentials.

The bottom line is that you should never take that glaring “out-of-state tuition” figure at face value. Research thoroughly and talk with a guidance counselor, school registrars or financial advisers in order to get the best education for the best value.

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How online banking can keep you from overdrawing your account

Seeing red? Prevent a negative balance in your account by following these simple tips, many of which can be achieved with a simple enrollment in online banking.

TRADITIONAL BANKING SOLUTIONS
Opt out of overdraft coverage.
Debit card transactions cause more overdrafts than any other transaction type, according to a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published by NerdWallet staff writer Spencer Tierney. Luckily, since 2010, consumers have had the option of opting out of overdraft coverage, a service that declines debit card or ATM transactions when your account contains insufficient funds. The alternative would be incurring an overdraft fee from your financial institution for the insufficient funds, as well as a returned item fee from the entity receiving your money. Opting out eliminates the additional fee or stops you from making a purchase that would send your account into the red.

Maintain a buffer balance.
Most overdrafts occur due to relatively small sums, often $20 or less. That means you can avoid a lot of overdraft fees by keeping a cushion in your checking account at all times just in case a deposit is delayed or you make a mistake in your register,” says Marcie Geffner of Bankrate.com. U.S. News contributor Simon Zhen recommends a buffer amount equal to the sum of one month’s recurring expenses (rent, utilities, fuel and groceries).

Link an account or line of credit.
Your financial institution may offer the option of linking a savings account, credit card or specified line of credit to your account that would cover an overdraft if needed. “When a transaction causes a negative balance, a [financial institution] will automatically perform an overdraft protection transfer from the linked account to cover the overdrawn amount,” Zhen explains. “Note that [financial institutions] may charge an overdraft protection transfer fee. With a line of credit, you’re simply borrowing from this credit line and you’ll be subject to interest charges, just like any other loan.”

ONLINE BANKING SOLUTIONS
Use online bill pay rather than auto pay.

Automatic bill pay is a great service as far as convenience goes, but it can wreak havoc on maintaining a budget. Instead of setting up auto pay with billers, utilize online bill pay through your financial institution’s online banking. Making the payments manually gives you control over the transaction, so you won’t have to worry about any forgotten expenses pulling your account balance below zero. It’s also a better option than mailing in a physical check, which could take weeks to clear.

Dutifully monitor spending.
Another benefit of online banking is the mobile aspect. Today you can check your account balance anywhere, anytime—sometimes without even manually signing in. Taking full advantage of that increased potential for vigilance can save you big.

Create account alerts.
If you find manually checking your balance to be a bit tedious, automate the process instead. Sign up for alerts through your online banking, which will notify you via email or text message anytime a certain event occurs, such as unusual account activity, an overdraft or falling below a certain amount. Some platforms will even allow you to do this in real time. “When you’re alerted to an overdraft, you may be able to deposit money in time to avoid the overdraft fees,” Zhen says.

By simply being observant and taking advantage of the tools and resources provided to you by your financial institution, you should be able to circumvent overdrafts and their corresponding fees.

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Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans for Students

The difference between these two types of student loans

If you or a family member is in the process of applying to schools and seeking information about the various ways to cover tuition and the associated costs, you may have already learned that you can choose between applying for loans that are either subsidized or unsubsidized.

There are key differences between these two types of loans that you should learn to make sure you choose the type that better suits your financial needs.

One of the things that make the loan application process slightly more confusing is that different people or organizations may use different names when referring to the same loan. Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are sometimes called Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans, respectively, so if you’ve heard those terms, you should be aware that they are the same and not two additional loans out of four different types being discussed. Regardless of what these loans are called, when trying to figure out which type of loan is which, the most important criterion to look at is whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized.

Both loan types are offered by the U.S. Department of Education to eligible students who attend participating schools. They can be used at four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, technical and career schools.

Qualifying for either type of loan requires the student to be enrolled at least half time at a school participating in the Direct Loan Program. Typically, the student’s chosen program must be one leading to a degree or certificate.

Direct Subsidized Loans offer students slightly better terms. This is because they are intended to go to students with financial need.

The website run by Federal Student Aid, an office of the Department of Education, defines financial need as “[t]he difference between the cost of attendance [COA] at a school and your Expected Family Contribution [EFC],” and states, “While COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend.”

Although your EFC will not change depending on your chosen school, your school will be responsible for determining the amount that you can borrow. That amount may never exceed your financial need, however.

The biggest advantage of a Direct Subsidized Loan is that the Department of Education pays the interest on the loan while the student is still in school at least half time. The federal government will also pay the interest on the loan if the student has postponed his or her loan payments with an authorized loan deferral. Furthermore, the six months following the student’s graduation are considered a “grace period,” during which time the federal government continues to pay the loan interest. This is intended to make it easier for students to make payments while searching for a job.

Although the party responsible for paying the loan interest differs, the interest rate itself does not depend on the loan type.

“As of 2013, interest rates charged for Federal Direct Loans began to be tied to the 10-year Treasury note, with an additional margin added on to cover expenses,” states Mark P. Cussen, CFP, CMFC, AFC, in an article for Investopedia. “They do not depend on the borrower’s credit score.”

In order to qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan, the income level of the student’s family must not be above certain levels. The exact criteria that define low family income and sufficient financial need are detailed in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). More information about the regulations and processes of applying for student aid with FAFSA can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov.

While Direct Unsubsidized Loans don’t have an income requirement, the student is responsible for the interest accrued during all periods. One advantage of Direct Unsubsidized Loans is that they are available to graduate students, which isn’t the case with Direct Subsidized Loans. A further advantage is that it is possible to take out more money with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, so students with very large educational costs to cover may find it necessary to use a loan that is unsubsidized.

The cost of education is rising at an alarming pace, but thankfully there are many financial tools, including Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, to help students and their families cover it. To delve more deeply into the details of these loans and explore the wealth of information available online for students and their families in the application process, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.

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What to Know About Trading in Your Existing Car

The steps you should be taking as you head to the dealership
Are you thinking about trading in your current car for a new one? Before rushing to the dealership and signing any papers, there are a few things you should consider.

What is your current car’s appraisal value?
“To determine [whether] you’re being offered a reasonable price on your trade-in, you first must know what your car is worth,” says Edmunds senior consumer advice editor Ronald Montoya.

You can do this via any appraisal resource, like Edmunds’ True Market Value tool or Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Be honest with yourself when assessing options and condition, or you may find yourself with a vastly inaccurate assessment.

What does the dealership say?
Next, you will want to take your current vehicle to a dealership to have the experts there appraise it and give you a trade-in amount offer. This number will not be the same at all dealerships, as it depends on various factors, including current inventory levels, probability of sale and current trade-in promotions.

How much do you still owe on your vehicle?
Find out how much you owe on your current car by requesting the payoff amount from your lender.

“This is the amount it will take to pay off your existing loan, and it may be different from any outstanding balance listed on your statement or [in your] coupon book. This difference may be because of a prepayment penalty or the way interest is calculated,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website explains.

Compare that amount to the appraisal quote and the trade-in value given to you by the dealership. If you still have equity in your vehicle (that is, you are not “upside down” — owe more than your car is currently worth), you can use that to your advantage.

Can you negotiate?
As previously mentioned, don’t settle for the first number spit out at you. The first offer always starts low, as dealerships expect buyers to negotiate. Use your original appraisal from Edmunds or KBB as a basis for what is fair and see if they’ll match that number. If you are upside-down on your current car, see if they will give you a bit more for your trade-in if you plan to get your new car there that day. However, be sure to keep negotiations for your trade-in and your new car separate. In most cases, your trade-in can be used as a form of down payment and will be written into your new car contract as a credit against the price of the car.

Following these steps will set you on the right path to having a positive vehicle trade-in experience.

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How a Personal Loan Impacts Your Credit

The relationship between loans and credit scores
It’s well-known that your credit score has a big impact on your ability to take out a loan, as marchfeatured_prsnllnimpactwell as on the total amount of the loan and interest rate your lender offers. But did you also know that the relationship works in the other direction as well?—that a loan can impact your credit score?

To understand this relationship, you have to consider where your credit score comes from. Your credit score is calculated using a variety of factors, including your payment history, the total debt you owe and the number of credit lines recently opened. When you take out a personal loan, the last two factors are affected.

Even just applying for a loan has an impact, since your credit score goes down slightly each time an inquiry is placed on your credit report by a lender checking your credit.

The financial advantage of finding a great loan far outweighs the negative impact that an inquiry has on your credit score. If you take out a personal loan to pay back a high-interest credit card, for example, you would benefit from the reduced interest and your credit score could be improved overall.

“A personal loan may help your credit score by moving credit-card debt over to the installment loan column,” states NerdWallet staff writer Amrita Jayakumar. “The way credit scores are figured, borrowers who use all or most of the available credit on their cards get hit with a significant penalty.”

Another thing to know about the impact that loan applications have on your credit score is that each inquiry may not count fully against your credit score if you are just comparing the rates of more than one loan. For example, if a car dealership places an inquiry on your credit score in the process of offering you an auto loan, and you want to check with your local financial institution to find a better deal, the second inquiry may not count against you.

“Generally any requests or ‘inquiries’ by these lenders for your credit score(s) that took place within a time span ranging from 14 days to 45 days will only count as a single inquiry, depending on the credit scoring model used,” according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “You can minimize any negative impact to your credit by doing all of your shopping in a short amount of time.”

Once you have taken out your loan, it is important to make regular payments in order to maintain and improve your credit. A strong payment history goes a long way toward achieving a good credit score, and as you pay down your loan, your overall debt will decrease, further benefiting your credit.

So if you are considering taking out a loan, don’t let fear of a negative impact on your credit score stop you from exploring your options.

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