Friday, August 26, 2016

Tips for Repaying Your Student Loans

Did you graduate this spring? If so, chances are you're loaded with student loan debt. In fact,  2016 graduates average $37,172 in student loan debt. Yikes! So what can you do?

Stay in touch with your lender

This is especially important if you decide to move (which many grads do). Your lender needs to know how to reach you. It might be as simple as a website form or a phone call.

 What if you have difficulty making payments? Whether because of unemployment, medical condition or injury, etc. By keeping in touch with your lender, you should be able to adjust your payments or schedule when needed.

Consolidation: pros and cons
How much goes here? When is this one due? Who does this check go to? Where's that address? Yeah. It's overwhelming sometimes. A consolidation loan combines several loans into one. Then, all you have is a single monthly payment and one fixed interest rate. 

The downside is it will usually extend your repayment period. This means you will pay less each month, but you'll be paying longer to get it paid off. The pros? You may get a better interest rate and it is more convenient and easier to budget. 

One important consolidation tip: Never consolidate federal loans into a private student loan. You'll lose all the repayment options and borrower benefits that come with federal loans (like unemployment deferments and loan forgiveness programs).

Take advantage of the tax breaks!

Have you ever filed taxes before? Maybe not. Be proactive and research what deductions you qualify for. The Student Loan Interest Deduction allows taxpayers to deduct up to $2,500 of the interest paid on student loans. The best part is, even if you do not itemize your taxes, you're still allowed to claim this deduction. 

Just watch for your 1040 form(s) to arrive - each lender will send you one - and follow the instruction on them. Even if you use a product like Turbo Tax, you'll still need the information on the form. 

Don't be afraid to ask for help. The financial aid counselor at your alma mater and/or  your lender are great resources for advice.  Another good resource is It has tools like repayment estimators and information on repayment plans for federal student loans.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sending Your Kid to College (the financially smart way)

The years have flow by. Now, your son or daughter is preparing to step into adulthood. How can you help them make smart choices about college? While each situation is different, here are a few ideas to think about.

Different Colleges have Different Costs

Many times it's easy for students to compare colleges only thinking about the programs, dorms, location, or just where their friends are going. They know whatever school they go to will be expensive and a few thousand difference in tuition won't really matter. Obviously, take the quality of education into consider, but all the little costs can add up and determine how successful life after graduation will be. 

When you're comparing college costs, there are several things to look at:
  • Tuition costs (don't just look at one year or semester, but the total cost)
  • Financial aid availability
  • Living expenses (include cost of food, travel, housing, parking if needed, etc)
  • School related expenses (books, computer software, tutoring, equipment, trips, etc.)
All of the above expenses vary greatly across schools. These seemingly small expenses can add up quickly over 4 years. Here is a great resource for comparing the costs of college options:

Look into Alternative Options

The trend right now is to get into a 4-year school right after high school. But, it's important to look into other options as well. If your student is undecided what to major in, it can make sense to attend a technical college for a few years first to earn generals, rather than putting a few years into a major only to change it. Most general courses will transfer between schools, but it's always important to double check. Or, spend a few years in the work force before starting college. Why pay for classes unless you're sure you will use them?

Or, maybe your student could save a few bucks by taking some or all of their courses online. It often has a lower price than the same course taken in a classroom. 

Look into your housing options...does your student need to stay in the dorms or is there a cheaper option? 

Does your student need a car or would public transportation and a bike be the better option?

Each situation will be different, so make sure you are looking at the big picture and not overlooking the less popular options.

Is a Credit Card a Good Idea

Discuss the pros and  cons of a credit card. They can be an effective way to build credit score and are handy in a pinch. But, if used irresponsibly or if payments are missed it may just land them in even more debt.

Do They Need a New Bank

If your student is moving out of town to attend college, consider the pros and cons of opening an account at a bank closer to the school. You may believe it would be more convenient for your student to have their bank close by. On the other hand, if they remain at your local bank it will be easier for you to check up on them and give them a helping hand when needed. If your student has online and mobile banking options, they may not need to bother opening a new account at all. 

Can They Save on Supplies

Books, computers, specialized equipment, dorm room necessities, the list goes on and on. Depending on the class, your student might be better off renting their textbooks or at least buying them used. Also, check with both the schools bookstore AND online or other bookstores. You never know which might have the better deal. 

Check if the college has a laptop rental or how late the school library is open. If your student could get his/her homework done on the school's equipment, maybe a laptop isn't even necessary. 

Start with the minimum for dorm room furniture and supplies. What does your student actually NEED? Probably a lot less than the media would have you believe. Start with the bare necessities and buy more on an as needed basis.