Four Mistakes People Make With Student Loans

Stay smart with a student loan strategy
Going to college is a life-changing experience that can open doors to new careers and increase your lifetime earning potential. If you are looking for a new student loan or are trying to make the best out of the repayment period, make sure you are avoiding these common student loan mistakes.

Not considering private loans
Many would-be-students shy away from private loans because they have heard that they lack the protections and benefits that come with federal loans. While it’s true that federal loans offer a fixed interest rate in contrast to most private loans, it is often possible for a student to get a lower interest rate with a private loan, particularly if a parent cosigns. If you are able to obtain a much lower rate with a private loan, then it’s worth seriously considering whether the security of a fixed rate with a federal loan is worth it.

Ignoring retirement savings
It is understandable, and even laudable, to want to repay student loans as quickly as possible, but undertaking an ambitious repayment plan at the expense of completely ignoring retirement savings isn’t wise.

“A recent report from Morningstar Inc. subsidiary HelloWallet found that someone with a starting salary of $50,000 who pays off a $20,000 student loan ahead of schedule but skimps on retirement savings—by contributing only enough to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan to receive half the employer’s 3% matching contribution—will wind up with a net worth at age 65 that’s $150,000 below where it would have been had he or she contributed enough to receive the full match and repaid the loan over a longer period, by making the minimum required payment,” states The Wall Street Journal Reporter Anne Tergesen in an article from Sep. 2016.

Not making automatic payments
One of the best steps you can take to make sure the student loan repayment process goes as smoothly as possible is to set up automatic payments. Some people delay setting up automatic payments because they have ambitious goals of paying more than the minimum each month, and want to wait to see what their bank account balance is before determining the payment amount. While it’s great to pay more when you can (as long as you aren’t sacrificing retirement savings), it’s not worth the risk of making a late payment or missing a payment all together. Setting up automatic payments that you can afford each month is the safest bet, and if you find you have extra money after the payment is made, you can always make a supplemental payment.

Paying for assistance
If you are having trouble affording your payments, you may have been tempted by ads that offer to help you figure out your options for paying on a different schedule or seeking loan forgiveness on your federal loan.

“If someone asks you to pay for these services, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education or our loan servicers,” according to Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid in an article for HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. “We don’t charge application or maintenance fees. If you’re asked to pay, walk away (or hang up).”

The cost of an education that can help you start a profitable career or get a better job in your current field is money well spent, and you can make sure you are getting the best return on your investment by avoiding these four common student loan mistakes.

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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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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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Is a Private Loan Right for Financing Your Education?

The private sector is one option to pay for schooling

In its most recent study,commercialstudentloans_featured the College Board found that the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015-2016 school year for in-state public, out-of-state public and private institutions was nearly $22,000.

Where do they expect you to get that kind of money? Private loans are one option.

According to Investopedia.com, private loans are funds you can obtain from financial institutions, without government subsidies, that help cover college expenses not met by scholarships, grants, federal loans or other financial assistance.

“You can apply for a private loan at any time and use the loan proceeds towards college expenses in addition to tuition (books, computer, transportation),” Katie Adams writes in her Investopedia article.

Benefits of Private Loans
Obtaining a private loan is an attractive option to pay for college for a number of reasons:

  • The application process is easy. Most loans do not require you to complete the FAFSA or a federal aid application. If you’ve ever filled one of those out, you know that this is a huge advantage for private loans, as the FAFSA can be painstakingly brutal. Above and beyond the quickness and ease, it is also convenient. “Typically you can apply for a loan online or by phone – no in-person meetings are necessary,” Adams says.
  • Loan funds are available immediately after you are approved.
  • You are usually allowed a co-signer. This is a plus because it can help lower interest rates and improve your chances of approval.
  • Interest on a private loan may be tax-deductible.
  • Fees are low or nonexistent. Most loans do not include a prepayment penalty, or a fee assessed if the loan is prepaid within a certain period of time.

There are potential downsides as well. You will typically have to pass a credit check to be approved, so having adequate credit history is important. You could possibly get around this point by having a co-signer, as mentioned above. Furthermore, private loans tend to have higher interest rates than federal loans, which could affect the amount you borrow and, in turn, have an impact on where you obtain your loan.

“Worse, student loans are not like credit card debt and mortgages, which can be canceled if you file for bankruptcy,” reads the College Loan Center page on the U.S. News & World Report website. “Most bankruptcy courts will not cancel them unless your situation is extremely dire. In addition, most private loans come with floating interest rates, so payments will rise if interest rates rise, which they generally do from time to time.”

What About a Federal Loan?
The official website for Federal Student Aid lists Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans (for graduate and professional students or parents) and Federal Perkins Loans as your options for government-enabled student loans.

Benefits of federal loans include a low, fixed interest rate and flexible repayment options; plus, there’s no prepayment penalty. You also don’t need to pass a credit check for these loans. On the other hand, drawbacks of federal loans include low amount limits, the dreaded FAFSA, limitations on how funds are utilized, strict enrollment stipulations and a small loan fee.

In the end, a private loan may be the only option available for some, in which case it does carry merit to explore it as an education-funding alternative.

“College payments are going to be a substantial investment into the future of an individual. Schooling decisions go beyond just the financial numbers and move into the territory of bettering oneself,” Adams says. “Even so, finances cannot be ignored. Exploring your options can save headaches and money now and in the future.”
Stop by today to find out more about the options we have in store for you.

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FAFSA Changes

What to know about the new FAFSA schedule

The process for applyingfafsachanges_featured for financial aid has been changed, so if you are planning on filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) soon, here is some information you need to know.

On Sept. 14, 2015, President Obama announced a new set of regulations that would change the schedule for applying for student aid through the FAFSA process. These changes will impact millions of students who will submit an application when the 2017-18 cycle begins.

Now, students who are submitting a FAFSA will have the opportunity to do so three months earlier than students in previous years could. Instead of submitting the 2017-18 FAFSA on Jan. 1, they will be able to get the process over with in the fall and submit it as early as Oct 1. There is no change to the schedule for the 2016-17 FAFSA, which became available Jan. 1, 2016.

“The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling students to complete and submit their FAFSAs as early as October 1 every year,” states the website maintained by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education.

Families that have gone through the process in previous years now need to get used to this new schedule. Furthermore, it means that earlier income and tax information must be used when filling out the applicable financial information.

“For example, on the 2017-18 FAFSA, students (and parents, as appropriate) will report their 2015 income and tax information, rather than their 2016 income and tax information,” states the Federal Student Aid website.

This change doesn’t just mean you need to pay extra attention when reporting tax information; it has far-reaching implications for families looking to plan their taxes and educational finances most effectively.

“To secure the best aid offer, you may need to tweak the way you manage income and assets that have an impact on financial aid,” says Kaitlin Pitsker in an article from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. “For example, if you plan to realize capital gains on your stocks or bonds, you’ll want to do so before January 1 of your student’s sophomore year of high school to avoid having the money count as income on the FAFSA – a year earlier than on the old timeline.”

Students frequently pay for school using a combination of sources. Money obtained through the FAFSA process is often supplemented by savings accounts from family members, such as 529 educational savings plans. Grandparents who hold 529 savings plans should be aware that the new FAFSA schedule also impacts them.

“Previously, withdrawals from such accounts counted as student income during the first three years of college,” states Pitsker. “Now, distributions made during the last two years aren’t reported on the FAFSA. So if you can, delay cashing in on the grands’ generosity until those final years.”

While adjusting to the new schedule, make sure to reach out to your financial institution for answers to any questions you have about paying for your child’s education. You can also refer to the table outlining these changes that is provided by the Federal Student Aid website at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources/2017-18-fafsa-process-changes-text.

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Should You Buy a Home if You Still Have Student Loans?

What to consider before adding a mortgage to your educational debt

Becoming a homeowner is a hugeCHomeStudentDebt_Featured life step, especially on the financial front, and it should not be taken lightly.

And if you are one of the 43.3 million Americans still with student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, it’s an even bigger decision. There are many factors to take into account before taking the plunge and adding a mortgage to your educational debt.

Here are a few of the main points to consider:

Debt-to-income ratio – The biggest hurdle you may face if you try to buy a home while maintaining a balance on your student loans is what is known as the debt-to-income ratio. The DTI ratio is how lenders judge your likelihood of defaulting on a mortgage. It compares your total household monthly debt payments to your total income. Lenders generally prefer that number to be less than 43 percent, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As Real Estate Columnist Kenneth Harney of the Washington Post reported, new rules from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) could make it tougher to qualify for a low-down-payment mortgage through the FHA, as well as restrict down payment gifts. Previously, student loan debt was not taken into account in the DTI ratio, but now lenders are required to include 2 percent of student loan debt when computing the number. Considering the average class of 2016 graduate has a student loan debt of $37,172 according to Student Loan Hero, that 2 percent could drastically change the chances of getting approved for the FHA loan.

FHA Spokesman Brian Sullivan explains why the new requirements, though tougher, make more sense.

“Deferred student debt is debt all the same and really must be counted when determining a borrower’s ability to sustain both student debt payments and a mortgage over the long haul,” he says. Sullivan also adds that the agency’s primary goal is to put first-time home buyers “on a path of sustainable homeownership rather than being placed into a financial situation they can no longer afford once their student debt deferment expires.”

Down payment woes – With down payments as low as 3.5 percent, according to an article on CNN Money, whether or not you qualify for the FHA loan will determine how much of your saved money will have to be used up front. This is important because higher down payments lower your monthly payments as well as your interest rate. At the same time, you can’t put all your savings toward the down payment because you have other home-buying needs such as closing costs, moving expenses, homeowners insurance and home furnishings.

Renting vs. buying – Some renters feel as though they are “throwing away money” by paying a landlord each month rather than investing that money in an asset all their own. However, rushing into buying a home for that reason alone is a mistake, especially if you still have student loan debt, as a mortgage would just add to your debt, possibly to the point that it cannot be surmounted.

Furthermore, you have to think about non-monetary aspects as well. For example, are you in a place in your life where you want to put down roots in one particular area?

“Low mortgage rates and high rents make buying an attractive option, but you should be ready to put some roots down,” says CNN Money. “If you’re planning to stay in a home for at least two years, buying is more financially advantageous than renting in 70 percent of housing markets, according to a recent report from Zillow.”

Homeowners’ responsibilities – Another aspect that differentiates buying a home from renting is the fact that with a home all the responsibilities are your own. You’ll likely need a lawn mower, and other landscaping tools. If the dishwasher breaks, you will have to contact a professional and pay for their services. You have to be ready, willing and able to take on those responsibilities — which all come with costs up front. Will you have the funds for that?

If you are set on buying a home despite your student loan debt, you do have some options to make it more manageable financially. Come talk to us today to find out if you can afford purchasing a home.

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Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Process (FAFSA)

A guide to some of the most important FAFSA questions

The heavy burdenFafsa_Featured of student loan debt that so many people in our country face is always in the news, so new students and their parents know exactly how important it is to minimize their costs. Obtaining financial aid is dependent upon filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which means there is a lot of pressure surrounding the task of filling it out correctly.

The first thing you should know is that the form is very important, and you should fill it out no matter what. This may seem obvious, since it is required for anyone who hopes to receive federal loans or grants or who may be admitted to a work-study program, but a surprising number of students do not submit the application at all.

“Unfortunately, the standard FAFSA has over 100 questions asking for everything from your net worth to your parents’ assets, causing many overwhelmed students to never complete it,” says Alexandra Rice for U.S. News & World Report.

The length of the application isn’t the only reason students might forgo submitting it. One of the most common reasons is that students think their parents’ income level is too high to qualify for financial aid.

“This is a costly misconception,” states Rice. “It’s important to be aware that many colleges offer merit-based aid that doesn’t even consider financial need; it’s based on achievements such as grades, SAT scores or athletics. In other words, the amount of money your parents make doesn’t matter for this type of aid, but you can’t get it if you don’t fill out the form.”

So when it comes time to fill out your FAFSA application, you should be aware of some of the most important questions and answer them carefully to help ensure you get the most aid that you are entitled to.

Kim Clark from Time Inc.’s Money.com points to questions 24 and 25, which deal with the education level of your parents.

“Don’t brag!” cautions Clark. “If either parent attended but did not graduate from college, then just click on high school. There are some extra scholarship programs for people whose parents never finished college.”

Question 31, dealing with work study, is another one to watch out for. You should answer yes regardless of whether or not you currently think you want to work while attending school. You aren’t obligated to take a work-study position even if you answer yes, and it keeps you in the running so your options are open when the time is closer and you can assess how you feel.

Not only do work-study jobs help you earn some money to put toward your tuition, but the income doesn’t impact your financial aid eligibility in future years. On the other hand, if you don’t try to gain a work-study position and later decide you need to work and take an off-campus job, those earnings could impact that future eligibility.

“Also, research shows that students who spend 10 to 15 hours a week on work-study jobs do better in college than those who don’t work,” states Rice.

Questions 41 and 42 deal with the student’s savings and investments, which have a big impact on how much aid you receive. It is important to pay extra attention to these questions in order to accurately calculate the exact sum of investments and savings that belong specifically to the student.

“Every dollar of savings in the student’s name reduces need-based aid by about 20 cents, while money in parents’ accounts — even if it’s designated for the student — reduces need-based aid by a maximum of 5.64 percent,” states Rice.

If you take the money that the student has saved up for college and contribute it to a 529 college savings account, you can make a big difference in how much need-based aid you are eligible for. This may seem strange, since that money is intended for the student to use during school, but 529 accounts are technically parental assets, which you will disclose in question 91.

“Notice that the question asks how much the student’s savings and investments are worth ‘as of today,’” states Rice. “That means you have until the day you fill out your FAFSA to move the student’s money into a 529.”

This brings us to question 91, which is where one of the most common and expensive mistakes can happen. That error is mistakenly reporting parental assets as too high by double reporting certain assets as being owned by both the parents and the child. If the student’s parents are divorced or if they meet other separation criteria, the student needs to include only the assets of the parent they live with most of the time.

Another important thing to keep in mind with this question is that retirement savings and the net value of your home are exempt according to FAFSA’s fine print. This means that while you do need to include the value of 529 savings accounts and other taxable investment accounts, you do not need to include pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs or the value of life insurance plans.

Even though college hasn’t started, this is one questionnaire that it truly pays to take seriously, so keep these tips in mind when it comes time to fill out your FAFSA application.

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