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Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Get College Scholarship Help

When it comes to college scholarships the more that you can accumulate the better off you will be because you cannot always rely on college financial aid to be enough to get you through college. After all, financial aid is based on your parents salary and their assets, not your own. Therefore, if your parents are not willing or able to help as much as their financial aid sheet says they can, then you may have problems and be in need of college admissions assistance to get into college and then finding a way to afford your tuition. The good news is there are several ways that you can seek out college scholarship help.

Utilize a college financial aid calculator

The first things you are going to want to do are head online and look for a college financial aid calculator. Although the tuition charged may change from school to school, you will have a rough idea of where you stand on what you will owe if you use a certified calculator. This gives you an estimate of how much you will be left to owe so that you can figure out the amount of scholarships you will need to cover tuition. Keep in mind that scholarships can be applied before financial aid if they are sent directly to the school, so this is another factor to remember while shopping for useful scholarships.

Check out your high school guidance office

The second thing you need to do is make an appointment with your high school guidance office so that you can sit down with your counselor and go over your scholarship options. They are the best window into your local scholarship opportunities, and they are the best source of information because they know you. Therefore, they know what you are eligible for and since they have spent years helping other students, they know what you are likely to get. This will help save you a lot of wasted time.

Seek out aid college admission assistance

Another great office to schedule an appointment with is the college admissions assistance office. Their assistance is also invaluable because they have experience helping freshmen every year. They can help guide you through the local scholarships in your college town that are available to help you afford your education. They can also help you see if you qualify for anything directly from the school, because many times schools offer grants and these can be helpful to put towards your tuition.

Online scholarship help

Finally the last thing you might want to think about doing is heading online to look for scholarships. There are actually many websites designed to offer college scholarship help to college freshmen. If you are an upperclassman there are also websites designed to help you find scholarships as well. Online searches can reap a lot of rewards because you can apply for dozens of scholarships with just one click of a button making it a very time efficient way to apply for help.

If you need some college scholarship help instead of wasting time applying for scholarships that you will never have a chance at receiving find scholarships that are tailored to your needs at

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Should You Dump Your 529 College Savings Plan?

By Reuters
When is it worth switching to a better 529 college savings plan, and when isn't it?
These 529 savings plans work like state-sponsored educational piggy banks, using a variety of funds and asset classes to help cover educational expenses. Plans can be targeted for long or short-term savings, depending on how many years there are until college tuition bills start to arrive.
They typically have low mininum contribution amounts and offer significant tax advantages. Though investors feed the accounts with after-tax money, the investment income they earn in the account is tax free if it is used to pay for college. In addition, some states give investors tax deductions if they invest in the plan sponsored by their own states.
But some plans are better than others, and it may be worth investing in an out-of-state plan if its fees are significantly lower and its investment choices better.
College savings plans are becoming more popular among savers, with assets in 529 plans hitting an all-time high of $158.3 billion last March, according to Boston-based Financial Research Corp.
While there's a lot of diversity among the various plans - including performance, fees and management style - they have improved en masse, said Laura Pavlenko Lutton, director of funds research at Morningstar.
"The days of everything being expensive and the choices all being poor for 529 savings are over," Lutton said in a telephone interview. "The likelihood that you are sitting in a plan that is a disaster right now is pretty low."
A study  released by Morningstar on Monday ranked the largest 529 college savings plans in the United States by their investment choices and likelihood of outperforming their peers. Overall, most 529 plans received solid ratings.
Four 529 college savings plans were recognized as top performers among a group that holds about 95 percent of the total 529 assets. To rate these 64 plans, analysts at Morningstar considered factors such as investment strategies and performance, management, parent firms and the value of the offerings.
The College Savings Plan for Alaska and Maryland College Investment Plan, both managed by T. Rowe Price, and the Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan for Nevada, managed by Upromise Investments, were ranked "gold" by Morningstar, along with Utah Educational Savings Plan, which is self-managed.
Four funds - iShares 529 Plan for Arkansas, the Michigan Education Savings Plan, the CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings Plan for Ohio and the College America plan for Virginia - were rated "silver" by Morningstar. Another 19 plans achieved "bronze" status.
Morningstar labeled four plans in three states - Kansas, Minnesota and Rhode Island - as "negative" for factors such as high fees or questionable fund choices.
Higher ratings were awarded to funds that are inexpensive and likely to outperform their peers, according to the study.
More than half of the plans were rated "neutral" by Morningstar, meaning they are unlikely to exceed market returns over a full market cycle. "College savers who choose a neutral-rated plan should expect market-like returns, which is a reasonable outcome. But for those in states with no local tax benefits, it may be worth upgrading to a top-rated plan," Lutton wrote in an article on Morningstar's website.
Does it make sense to switch out of an expensive or poor-performing plan?
Keep in mind that some states such as New York and Illinois require you to pay back the money you deducted from state income taxes if you move money out of that state's 529 plan. And you could also pay a fee of about $50, on average, to make the switch, said Joe Hurley, founder of , a website that offers advice on college savings, particularly 529 plans.
"Sometimes you can find another 529 plan that has essentially the same make-up of mutual funds in another state, with lower fees; then it becomes compelling to make the move. You can expect the same pre-fee investment, for a higher post-investment outcome," said Hurley.
There's no prohibition against having multiple plans, either, so you could always just stop contributing to an in-state plan you don't like and open a new plan in another state, without moving any money and incurring switch fees and taxes.
Before making a switch, it may be possible to improve savings by reallocating the funds that are invested in a 529 that is rated "neutral" or "negative," Lutton said in the telephone interview.
Many plans with options to allocate savings in large equity or bond mutual funds can be reworked to place all or most of the savings in one of these funds. A federal law allows reallocations as well as rollovers to take place no more than once a year.
Lutton said that Morningstar analysts' concerns with some of the "negative" plans were due to the inclusion of a few weak funds. They also largely contained funds groups like Blackrock, however, which provided more stable investment options.
If you are making a small investment, chances are that you won't get much of a tax benefit with your state's deductions. It may be worth shopping for an out-of-state plan with better performance.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nearly 1 in 5 Households Owe Student-Loan Debt, Report Says

Nineteen percent of households owed student-loan debt in 2010, and that debt burden is greatest at the bottom of the income scale, according to an analysis released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends Project. The analysis uses data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, which is conducted every three years and is sponsored by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department.
The report says that the percentage of households with outstanding student-loan debt increased to 19 percent in 2010 from 15 percent in 2007. Among households that owed such debt, the average outstanding balance increased to $26,682 from $23,349 over the same period. Forty percent of all households headed by someone under the age of 35 owed student-loan debt, which is the highest share among any age group, the report says.
The analysis also found that the increases in debt were greatest at the highest and lowest extremes of the income spectrum. “While those at the upper end of the income scale are more likely than others to owe student-loan debt, when one considers the resources that households have at their disposal to meet their debts, the relative burden of student loans is much greater for those at the lower end,” the report says.

By Nick DeSantis
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saving for College Is More Important Than Ever As Tuition Prices Skyrocket

Parents saving for college recently received more bad news, as tuition prices continued to rise dramatically in the past year. Despite a sluggish economy, weak housing prices, a volatile stock market and persistent unemployment, colleges and universities continue to deliver sticker shock to prospective students and their struggling families.

The increases to college tuition and fees currently outpace inflation and this trend is expected to continue according to most experts.

Tuition Prices Increasing

According to the College Board, published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions average $8,244 in 2011-12, $631 (8.3 percent) higher than in 2010-11. Average total charges, including tuition and fees and room and board, are $17,131, up 6.0 percent.

The College Board also reports that published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities average $20,770, $1,122 (5.7 percent) higher than in 2010-11. Average total charges are $29,657, up 5.2 percent.

Published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities average $28,500 in 2011-12, $1,235 (4.5 percent) higher than in 2010-11, according to the College Board. Average total charges, including tuition and fees and room and board, are $38,589, up 4.4 percent.

Impact of Student Aid

Student aid does lessen some of the fallout from rising tuition. New data reveal that the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which became effective in 2009, increased aid to students through the combination of education tax credits and deductions from about $7 billion in 2007-08 to an estimated $14.8 billion in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Consequently, in 2010-11, undergraduate students received an average of $12,455 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student in financial aid, including $6,539 in grant aid, $4,907 in federal loans, and $1,009 in a combination of tax credits and deductions and Federal Work-Study (FWS), according to the College Board.

529 College Savings Plan Assets Growing

529 plans and other college savings plans offered by the states continue to be popular tools for parents saving for college. Total 529 savings plan assets were an estimated $144.4 billion at the end of 2011, according to a report by Financial Research Corporation (FRC).

College Savings Alternatives are Growing in Popularity

Parents are also exploring other college saving plans that may provide growth with less volatility. Ten states now offer the ability to pay for college tuition and fees at prices set today. Juvenile life insurance is another popular way for parents with young children to lock in tax-advantaged savings with guarantees from highly rated insurance companies.

James Garfinkel, founder and CEO of New Amsterdam Life Insurance Foundation. Find out more about Saving for College and and VISIT HERE.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Choose Your Career First—Not Your College

Approximately 80 percent of college freshmen have not declared a college major. Fifty percent of those who have declared a major will switch during college. Seventy percent of all college students will change their major.
These numbers prove that students are not being tuned into who they are before making major decisions—a costly mistake. Most parents who have saved for college plan on their child graduating in four years. What are the chances that a student who changes majors over and over or transfers schools will graduate in four years? Simply put: It’s not possible.

Your College Roadmap

The typical student embarks on the college search by first choosing the college they love, then a major, and finally choosing a corresponding career path. Students should instead embark on their journey with the end in mind—a future career. Instead of focusing on the four years spent in college, turn your attention to the 40+ years you will work after graduation.
The college roadmap should be tailored to the individual student. Students should first ask themselves, “What am I wired to do?” While there’s not one simple answer to this question, conscientiously dialing into one’s personality allows one to easily identify what they are not wired to do. From there they can consult sites like the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*Net Online to categorize job prospects accordingly. Students should hone in on career possibilities that satisfy their individual needs and interests. In that regard, the Birkman® assessment tool can be helpful since it identifies 77 personality scores. When personality data corresponds to a student’s academic profile, the results can be profound. (Find out more about the Birkman assessment here.)

The Back-Up Plan

Once potential careers are established, students should back up to the majors that feed to these careers and research colleges that are respected in those fields. Sometimes it’s one major—as is the case with teaching or engineering—but often there are several options that feed into a given career. Most guidance counselors’ offices contain a copy of Rugg’s Recommendations, which is a great tool to start looking at majors within a college.
On the college-bound journey, career needs to be at the forefront of each student’s choice of major. Choosing career first is actually an investment in college savings, since knowing upfront where your degree path will take you can save a lot of time and money.

Author: Lisa Mader published September 10, 2012


THE FAMILY COLLEGE PLANNING SOLUTION TO HELP PROVIDE THE EDUCATION YOUR LOVED ONES DESERVE!  It’s natural to worry about whether your loved ones can afford a college education.  According to the College Board, earning a degree can now cost from $52,000 to more than $130,000 – and the cost is rising faster than the rate of inflation!  If these statistics cause you some alarm, you may be surprised to discover one of the ways you can help fund a college education. 
Get FREE Guaranteed College Scholarships with a no-obligation consultation today! 
Patrick L. Cole, College Funding Specialist Toll Free (866) 866-687-0790  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Answering Questions on Student Loan Rates and the Murky Future

September 14, 2012
Figuring out how to pay for college has quickly turned into one of life’s most complicated financial decisions.  This is not because the decision involves the largest number of dollars, although it is getting there for many families. Instead, it is because of a number of confounding factors. There is the uncertainty about a student’s future ability to pay back student loan debt or whether spending twice as much for some schools will lead to a future that is twice as lucrative or happy. Then there is the difficulty of having a teenager participating in an enormous financial decision without much experience to draw on.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that people don’t always know where to find good information about the choices and their consequences. This was readily apparent this week when, in the wake of our continuing series of stories about student loans, we took questions on the topic on our Bucks blog. 
We were able to answer many of the questions fairly quickly, but others were big enough and searching enough that I decided to tackle them here. They fall into two categories: questions about why the rules on interest rates and refinancing are the way they are and how to avoid unpleasant financial surprises after you have taken on all that debt.
Here are answers to four of the most important ones:
High Rates
While one type of federal student loan is (possibly temporarily) available at a 3.4 percent interest rate, others cost 6.8 percent, and loans for parents and graduate students are 7.9 percent. (Private loans from banks are often more costly.) Why are they so high, given the low prevailing rates elsewhere? “I tell Europeans this, and they laugh and shake their heads,” said one reader in Copenhagen. As we learned this year when a skirmish broke out in Washington over whether certain rates were going to rise, it is Congress that sets the rates. And doing so is a political act, not one necessarily rooted in economic science or reason.
“Budgeting for the government starts from the status quo, and the status quo is 6.8 percent and 7.9 percent,” said Robert Shireman, who worked on student loan issues at the Department of Education for the first few years of President Obama’s term. So any change that benefits borrowers means an offsetting cut someplace else, perhaps in Pell Grants for the truly needy.
Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, begins his analysis by noting how different student loans are from loans like mortgages, which have fixed interest rates that are half of what some student loans offer today. There is no credit check for students, no down payment and no collateral or consideration of where you are studying or whether you are majoring in underwater basket weaving.
Also, the loans come with repayment options and loan forgiveness programs that mortgages do not have.  That’s not to say that Mr. Delisle isn’t sympathetic to the call for lower rates, given that the student loan program does take in more than it lends out. But how would you set the new rates? The fixed interest rates that exist today seemed to be a good deal when Congress set them years ago.
“Congress could go back to variable interest rates,” he said. “But then people want a cap on those rates. What should the cap be? Somebody picks a number, and somebody always loses, either taxpayers or borrowers. And variable looks fair, because everyone has the same rate at the same time. But the problem with that is people can’t really plan.”
Rafael Pardo, a bankruptcy professor at Emory University’s law school, frames the issue differently. He would have no problem with the government making money on the student loan program if it were a bit easier to discharge the loans in bankruptcy for people who get in over their heads. But the process is hard enough that he recently spent nearly 650 hours of pro bono time trying to help just one debtor.
Alternatively, he would be fine with much lower rates while continuing to make it very hard to discharge the debt. “But you can’t be hitting them on the front end and on the back end,” he said, which is his view of what the status quo does today.
A reader from New York City consolidated a bunch of loans into a single loan more than a decade ago at 8.125 percent and cannot refinance the loan at a lower rate because of rules that prohibit this. The comment summed things up this way: “I have excellent credit but feel like I am unfairly punished and stuck with this extortionate interest rate for the rest of my working life.”
This, too, is something only Congress can change, and perhaps it didn’t anticipate this problem or worry about it back when it thought it was doing students a favor by letting them consolidate debt at a fixed rate and relieving them of having to keep track of a big pile of individual loans.
Still, Mr. Shireman, who was a champion for the income-based repayment program that now allows people with lower incomes to make more affordable payments and have any remaining debt waived after a certain number of years, doesn’t see this particular complaint gaining much traction.
“There aren’t the votes to make this kind of change,” he said. “And I think one response would be that if these are high-income New York Times subscribers, then their needs are not as great as Pell Grant recipients. And if they’re low-income and struggling, they have income-based repayment and they can get a big benefit from that.”
There are a few exceptions to the no-refinancing rule, and I have linked to an explanation of them (and the best explanations of many of the loan programs, repayment plans and other exceptions) in the online version of the column.
Forgiveness and Taxes
Another reader posted a question about the income-based repayment plan, noting that she will probably have a large amount of debt forgiven at the end of her term and is worried about the tax bill she will face at that point, when she will be 70 years old.
The amount of any debt forgiveness is often taxable income as far as the federal government is concerned. One big exception, however, is for people enrolled in something called public service loan forgiveness.  I have linked to information on how to qualify for that particular program.
If you’re not working in a public service job and are enrolled in income-based repayment, you will have to pay taxes on the debt the government forgives. This hasn’t happened to anyone yet since the program is still new, and bipartisan efforts are under way to grant waivers for people who find themselves in this situation. “I think the odds are very high that it will be fixed long before anyone qualifies for debt forgiveness,” said Lauren Asher, president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success.
Failing that, if your assets (including retirement savings and home equity) are less than your total liabilities right before the remaining student loan balance is supposed to be dismissed, you could declare yourself insolvent and avoid some or all of the big tax bill that way. I.R.S. publication 4681 has the details.
Safe Amount of Loans
And finally, the most difficult reader question of all: “Before starting college, or even choosing which one to attend, how do you suggest families decide on how much borrowing is acceptable?”
There are so many variables here, it’s hard to know where to start. It can depend on the career the teenager seems headed for, the willingness of parents to shoulder some of the debt and the economy.
Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the encyclopedic Web site, has developed one rough guideline: Students should borrow no more, in total, than whatever they think their first-year salary will be once they are finished (though ideally a lot less). That should keep the payments affordable, assuming they don’t change their mind about what they want to study, and manage to get a job in their chosen field.
A slightly more conservative approach may be to limit yourself to $31,000, the maximum amount that the government generally lets undergraduates borrow in federal loans. If you avoid any private student loans from more traditional lenders, every dime of your debt will be eligible for the federal income-based repayment program in case there is little or no income for a while after graduation or later on.
The downside here is that limits like these (and they are caps, not targets, as Mr. Kantrowitz is quick to note) are dream killers for many young people. It may mean no law school at all or community college for two years or the local branch of the state university instead of the flagship.
So how do we get to a point where any college is in reach for every student? It’s a question that no one has a realistic answer for yet.

THE FAMILY COLLEGE PLANNING SOLUTION TO HELP PROVIDE THE EDUCATION YOUR LOVED ONES DESERVE!  It’s natural to worry about whether your loved ones can afford a college education.  According to the College Board, earning a degree can now cost from $52,000 to more than $130,000 – and the cost is rising faster than the rate of inflation!  If these statistics cause you some alarm, you may be surprised to discover one of the ways you can help fund a college education. 
Get FREE Guaranteed College Scholarships with a no-obligation consultation today! 
Patrick L. Cole, College Funding Specialist Toll Free (866) 866-687-0790  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Behind the Admissions Curtain: Three Most Common Questions on How Colleges Process Applications–Answered!

As a student or parent, your role in the college admissions process is fairly straightforward: Complete the basic application requirements—which vary little from school to school, and usually include submitting an application fee, letter(s) of recommendation, and transcripts—and be ready to shine in face-to-face interviews.
But what happens once you’ve completed the application packet and submitted it to your school(s) of choice? This article offers a glimpse into the basic admissions review process.
Note: Many schools admit students on a “rolling” basis, so students are encouraged to submit applications as early after January 1 as possible to compete for financial aid and housing opportunities. It’s also important to keep in mind that colleges almost always receive more applicants than they have open spots, so presenting a complete, organized file that showcases your best academic attributes is key.

1. Who Reviews Your College App?
Once your application arrives on campus, it is sorted and forwarded to the appropriate office. In general, applications are reviewed by a combination of:
• Directors of Admissions (who usually get the final say)
• Associate Directors
• Administrative Assistants
These career administrators are continually versed in the admissions policies of their respective schools. Depending on the admissions staff’s workload—as well the school’s level of selectiveness—your application could be reviewed by one person or an entire committee. Most commonly, applications are seen first at the lowest level and then flagged up for review by subsequent overseeing faculty members.
A checklist of required contents usually accompanies each admissions file. At colleges where the admissions process is more open, students may still be considered even if portions of their application packet are missing or if they came close but didn’t quite meet established requirements. Naturally, schools that carry stricter selection guidelines are generally not inclined to make such exceptions.
2. What Do They Look For?
For starters, admissions review boards are looking for applicants who meet the minimum requirements for GPA, standardized test scores, high school course completion, and any extracurricular or nonacademic criteria that may apply. A detailed list can usually be found on the institution’s website, but if not, call the school’s admissions office directly.
Further, admissions boards are motivated by their institution’s unique administrative goals, which often include things like meeting diversity requirements, bolstering athletic organizations, and protecting existing programs by admitting students in pursuit of that specific degree.
3. How Can You Boost Your Chances for Acceptance?
While most colleges and universities adhere to a prescribed set of admissions requirements, there are always a few intangibles that are up for grabs. For example, a fantastic personal essay or stellar letter of recommendation can (and does!) often mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Be sure that your application packet reflects the full spectrum of your abilities—academic or otherwise—keeping in mind that schools are ultimately looking for proven thought leaders who will excel in their chosen programs. When applying to your college(s) of choice, do yourself a favor by emphasizing those qualities that reflect your eagerness to succeed.

THE NEW SOLUTION FAMILIES USE TO HELP PROVIDE THE EDUCATION YOUR LOVED ONES DESERVE!  It’s natural to worry about whether your loved ones can afford a college education.  According to the College Board, earning a degree can now cost from $52,000 to more than $130,000 – and the cost is rising faster than the rate of inflation!  If these statistics cause you some alarm, you may be surprised to discover one of the ways you can help fund a college education. 
Get FREE Guaranteed College Scholarships and a no obligation consultation today! 
Patrick L. Cole, College Funding Specialist Toll Free (866) 866-687-0790