Is It OK to Spend Your Financial Aid Refund?

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Just a few weeks into their college education, many students receive funds totaling hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars — the “extra” money from the student’s financial aid package. Usually, the money comes with little to no information on how students should spend it, or how to return any funds they may not immediately need.What many students may not realize immediately is, the majority of the time, taking any extra money not truly needed to pay for educational expenses results in them owing even more student loan money and making payments over a longer period of time after graduation.

Simply learning about the money and creating a budget could prevent many students from adding to the average $34,144 student loan balance they are already expected to pay back.

What Is A Financial Aid Refund?

Your refund is the amount of money left over after all of your scholarships, grants, and federal and private student loans are applied toward tuition, fees and other direct educational expenses for the semester. The refund could come as a lump-sum direct deposit to your bank account, as cash or as a check.

The school legally has to disburse any leftover Federal Student Aid money you are awarded. “[Schools] cannot hold onto that credit balance unless the student gives written consent,” says Karen McCarthy, Director of Policy Analysis at National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). In the case of a PLUS loan, the parent must give consent for the school to hold the credit balance.

Most refunds most likely come from leftover federal student loans, but recipients of some grants may receive a refund for unused funds as well.

In fall 2009, Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Crystal Chery, was just beginning an associate’s degree program at Kingsborough Community College. She qualified for the Pell Grant, which covered $5,350 of her tuition and expenses for the school year. After tuition and fees totaling $1,550 were paid, Chery received a credit for about $1,125 to her bank account each semester.

While there is no official record of exactly how many college students end up with a positive balance on their account after all of their financial aid package is applied, each semester possibly thousands of U.S. college students in the United States find themselves in a similar position as Chery did her freshman year.

The total amount of financial aid that a student is able to receive is up to the institution’s calculated cost of attendance, which is a big part of the math that goes into calculating a student’s financial aid award. Sometimes colleges pad their total cost of attendance estimates to include things that aren’t directly paid to the school, like books, housing, transportation or child care. The idea is that the student will use any leftover funds for other things they need in order to go to school.

“Kids going to a $4,000 community college can walk away with about $5,000 of refunded money,” says college aid expert Joe Orsolini, especially if they find ways to save on expenses like housing. In Chery’s case, she lived at home, which meant she didn’t need any funds for housing.

If you received a refund from a mix of loans, scholarships and grants, carefully examine your refund to understand where it came from and if you’ll have to pay back that money.

Grant and Scholarship refunds

Grants and scholarships — truly “free money” — are usually applied to your institutional bills first. There may be restrictions on how you can use money from these sources, as rules vary widely by state, institution and scholarship program regarding how students are allowed to spend the funds they receive.

Usually the amount of “free money” a student gets is smaller compared to loans they receive and is depleted by direct institutional bills, so most students don’t get that money refunded to them. However, it’s possible for some students who received a large amount of scholarships to be refunded “free” money.

Chery isn’t required to repay the leftover Pell grant money she received for her education, as she doesn’t fall under any special circumstances like students who may have withdrawn early from their program, or dropped to part-time enrollment during the payment period. In addition, the school was legally required to issue her a refund credit for the excess federal funds.

Student loan refunds

If you receive a refund from unused federal student loan money, you’re free to keep it, but remember you’re still borrowing that money. You will need to pay any federal loan money refunded to you, with interest, starting six to nine months after you graduate.

Generally speaking, you should return any unused loan money that you don’t need right away to avoid taking out more in loans than you really need. But if you need to keep it, make sure you spend the money wisely.

Whatever you do, “don’t go buy a car or go on spring break with [your student loan refund],” says Orsolini. If you’re spending federal loan money, a $10 pizza today at 6.5% APR will cost close to $20 to pay off in 20 years.

Do that math for thousands of dollars in student loans. Make your best effort to limit any flexible, frivolous or impulsive spending to money you don’t have to pay back with interest.

How you handle your student loan refund may also depend on what kind of loan it is — unsubsidized or subsidized.

Subsidized student loans

Interest won’t begin to accrue on subsidized student loan money until six months after you have graduated. So, if you keep your refund, you don’t have to worry about racking up interest charges on the debt you owe while you’re in school.

For that reason Orsolini argues students shouldn’t give back any “extra” subsidized loan money until they are in their last semester of college.

“Until you know for sure that you’ve made it to the finish line, hang on to that money because you never know what is going to happen,” says Orsolini. He recommends placing excess financial aid funds into a 529 college savings account, where it can grow, and you can use the money if you plan to attend graduate school.

If students don’t want to open a 529 account, Orsolini recommends they stash unused subsidized loan money in an emergency savings fund, to help maintain as much flexibility as possible in paying for college.

Orsolini says this method provides a financial safety net for students, as you never know what can happen to your income. If you choose to do this, you should pay back any unused subsidized loan money the month before your graduation to avoid paying interest.

Warning: Orsolini’s method takes a lot of self-restraint.

Unsubsidized student loans

Students shouldn’t pocket any unsubsidized student loan money, as interest will begin to accrue immediately, and keeping the money won’t be worth it.

“Even if you put it in a savings account for a few months, it’s going to accrue more interest as a loan than it would in the savings account,” says Ashley Norwood, Consumer and Regulatory Adviser at American Student Assistance (ASA), a nonprofit student loan advocacy group that helps students finance and repay their student loans.

Avoid keeping unneeded unsubsidized loan money at all costs if you can.

If you find yourself keeping the loan because you need to live off of it, Betsy Mayotte, Director of Consumer Outreach and Compliance at ASA, suggests you do your best to reduce your cost of attendance.

You could make up some or all of the maximum $2,000 a student can receive in unsubsidized loans by getting a part-time job or a work-study job, for example. If cost of living is too high at the school you’re attending, look at a cheaper school or consider moving home if the school is close enough

Should You Spend Your Refund — or Return It?

Unless you have restrictions on how you can use it, what you decide to do with your refund money as a college student is really up to you.

“The assumption is that the student is using that credit balance to pay for those [indirectly billed] expenses,” says McCarthy.

But students don’t always do that.

“When I was in college, I remember all of my friends getting True Religions and all of this stuff [with their refund money] … I did not,” says Chery. “I was focused on other things.”

Chery used her fall semester “refund” to buy equipment to launch a DJ career, starting with a $1,350 MacBook, which she used to create her own mixes and to use at gigs she booked while in school. With the following semester’s refund, Chery purchased a Canon 60D DSLR camera for another $1,200 because she wanted to “dabble in photography and promote [her business].”

Chery says the investment paid off. After booking larger, professional gigs and gaining some experience, she was able to present work that helped her land an internship with Hollywood, Calif.-based media company, REVOLT TV, where she got to work with big-name music artists like Sean “Diddy” Combs and Damon Dash.

“When I started making these investments, I didn’t know that they were going to alter my career like that,” says Chery, who now hosts and books events with hundreds or thousands in attendance throughout the northeast United States.

After you’ve allocated funds to different areas of your budget, you need to figure out what to do with any extra funds. If the money is “free,” meaning you don’t have to pay it back later, you can keep it, but you may need to look into what you are allowed to spend it on, says McCarthy, as there may be restrictions on how you can use scholarship or grant money.

If you think you have enough money for your needs, the experts at ASA and NASFAA agree students should immediately send back any money they don’t think they need, since students can always ask for that disbursement again later on.

Giving money back or canceling a federal student loan won’t affect how much financial aid you are offered the following semester and if you need the money later on in the current semester, Mayotte tells Magnify Money.

“Let’s say you refused all of the loans. You can go back to the financial aid office and ask for part or all of that loan money up to 180 days after the last day of classes,” adds Mayotte.

As long as you were eligible to receive the student loan funds during that pay period, you can receive a federal loan for a prior or the current payment period without penalty if you ask for it within the 180-day period.

For example, you can technically still receive loan money you denied during the fall semester if you request a late disbursement for that money during your spring semester as long as it’s within 180 days after the end of the payment period.

Ask Yourself These 3 Questions Before Spending (Or Returning) Your Refund

Have you paid for all of your non-negotiable expenses for the semester?

Certain non-negotiable expenses (read: tuition and fees) are usually billed at the beginning of the semester, but the school won’t send you a bill for everything you can’t succeed without, like technology for classes, a working laptop, or sheets for your dorm bed. Here are a few possible spending categories you may or may not include in your budget:

  • Living expenses not billed by the institution
  • Books and other educational supplies you’re going to need over the course of the whole term
  • Transportation (gas, on- and off-campus parking)
  • Child care, if you need this so that you can attend school
  • Miscellaneous personal expenses

Do you need the money to cover other college-related expenses?

There are a host of hidden college costs college-bound families fail to consider for one reason or another, and they can dry an unsuspecting student’s checking account. They are all the little things families don’t think about during move-in, like organization membership fees and paying for food outside of a prepaid student meal plan. If you can’t cover those things with part-time income during the school year, tally up an estimate and keep what loan money you need.

Do you have an emergency fund?

You should have every reason to have savings, especially if you’re paying for school on your own. You won’t get many opportunities to stash away $1,000 in cash working for minimum wage as a barista in school. Pocketing some of the money now will help you steer clear of rainy days and expensive borrowing options in the future when those hidden costs creep up on you. Set one up ASAP.

How to return your refund to the Department of Education

The rule is simple: Return the loan within 120 days of disbursement, and it will be like you never took it out in the first place.

The rule is found in the text of the Master Promissory Note, which all FSA borrowers are required to sign promising to pay the loans back before they can receive any federal aid funds. The following information is found under “Canceling Your Loan”:

You may return all or part of your loan to us. Within 120 days of the date your school disbursed your loan money (by crediting the loan money to your account at the school, by paying it directly to you, or both), you may cancel all or part of your loan by returning all or part of the loan money to us. Contact your servicer for guidance on how and where to return your loan money.

You do not have to pay interest or the loan fee on the part of your loan that is cancelled or returned within the timeframes described above. We will adjust your loan amount to eliminate any interest and loan fee that applies to the amount of the loan that is cancelled or returned.

If you make the 120-day deadline, you’re in the clear. You won’t be required to pay loan fees or any interest already accrued on unsubsidized loans in that time. Sometimes, your university can send it back on your behalf, so your first point of contact should be the financial aid office at your institution. Check with them to see if they can send the unused federal student loan funds back on your behalf, or if you will need to send the money back to your loan servicer on your own.

After the deadline, you’ll need to simply make a loan payment back to your loan servicer. You can begin to pay your loans back while still in college. If you do, you won’t pay any interest on subsidized student loan money (it doesn’t begin to accrue until six months after you graduate), but you will pay any loan fees charged to your account.

When will I get my financial aid refund?

If you’re expecting a refund, you aren’t likely to see that money until after the add/drop period for classes — the grace period during which you can change your choices without penalty — ends. That can be about three to four weeks into the semester, although some schools may disburse funds earlier. According to the Department of Education, schools must pay a credit balance directly to a student or parent no more than 14 days after the first day of class or when the balance occurred if it occurred after the first day of class.

Until then, you’ll have to cover your costs out of pocket.

“Students who are expecting refunds are very anxious for them,” says Norwood.

Norwood adds the anxiety may be because many students who see a refund check are lower income — they may see the money because they qualified for more aid. They may depend on the funds from the refund to pay for important costs related to their education such as rent for off-campus housing or educational supplies for classes.

If you missed something on your financial checklist — like signing the Master Promissory Note or completing Loan Entrance Counseling — over the summer, you may see funds even later than four weeks. Overall, if you’re hoping to use refund money to cover your rent or other school expenses, you may need to come up with the cash by other means.

“If [students] don’t budget well for the whole year, it’ll be the same thing in January,” says Mayotte.

There is a silver lining for you if you received Federal Student Aid (FSA). As of July 1, 2016, Title IV schools are required to provide a way for FSA recipients to purchase books and supplies required for the semester by the seventh day of the semester if:

  • The school was able to disburse FSA funds 10 days before the semester began, or
  • The student would have a credit balance after all FSA funds are applied.

The school doesn’t have to write you a check outright for books. Institutions can award the funds in school credit or bookstore credit, too, but must grant you the amount you are expected to spend on educational supplies according to the institution’s calculated cost of attendance by the end of the first week of classes.

The post Is It OK to Spend Your Financial Aid Refund? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Guide to Paying for College in 2017

According to CollegeBoard, the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board has gone up about 162 percent at private nonprofit four-year colleges since 1971 when adjusted for inflation. Public schools have seen an increase of 142 percent in in-state tuition, fees, and room and board over the same time period.

College is an expensive endeavor, yet we know that those who hold bachelor’s degrees make an average of $1 million more over the course of their lives than those who do not. Higher education is still worth investing in, even if prices have increased astronomically.

Today we’ll look at how to evaluate the costs of college and how to get your education funded.

Part I: How Much Does College Really Cost?

When you first look at the cost of tuition and fees, room and board, and meal plans, most colleges appear oppressively expensive. Appearances are sometimes deceiving. The first number most people find is the advertised sticker price, and it isn’t what you end up shelling out for your education.

The number you actually end up paying — the net price — is usually lower for most students. Net price is how much the school charges minus the amount of financial aid you are awarded.

Net price vs. sticker price

If you already know how much financial aid you will be receiving, you can subtract that number from your school’s sticker price. The difference will be your net price.

If you want to get an estimate of the net price prior to applying, you can search for your school’s calculator via the U.S. Department of Education. There are some things to keep in mind as you use these calculators:

  • The numbers they produce will be estimates only, and are not guaranteed.
  • Some calculators base all calculations on in-state tuition. If you’re an out-of-state student, be mindful that your costs may be higher unless explicitly stated otherwise.
  • Some calculators base their numbers on financial aid opportunities available to first-year students. There is usually more funding for freshmen, so you can expect the subsequent three years to be more expensive.

Nonprofit vs. for-profit schools

Nonprofit schools tend to cost a good deal less than for-profit institutions. And, when you look at the net price of for-profit schools, they can cost even more than private nonprofit schools.

This is because for-profit schools offer less institutional aid — or financial aid through the college itself. Instead, they rely heavily on federal financial aid for the funding of their students’ education.

As a result, students who attend for-profit schools generally wind up with far more student loan debt after graduation. With 59 percent of students enrolled in a certificate or associate’s degree program, average student borrowing per year was at $6,179 for the 2011-12 school year compared to an average of just $953 at comparable public, nonprofit two-year institutions, according to a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution.

Because of this, the bulk of their advertising efforts are focused on low-income students who qualify for maximum federal financial aid. These students should be careful to weigh net prices at nonprofit institutions before agreeing to attend a for-profit school based on the sticker price.

Nonprofit institutions will offer more scholarships and grants, reducing the number of loans — and therefore debt — they have to take on.

Public vs. private school tuition

The sticker price on a public college is undoubtedly lower than that of private institutions. However, many private schools have large endowments providing substantial student aid at the institutional level. This aid is often extended to middle-income families even if they don’t qualify for a large amount of aid through federal programs.

For example, Cornell University offers significant grants to students from families with under $60,000 in annual income as long as their assets are under $100,000. In an example generated by the university, a traditional student from a household with $51,000 in annual income can qualify for over $64,000 in institutional grants — even when they hold personal assets of $3,000.

In this example, the student’s net price is a whopping $3,450 for one year at an Ivy League university.

What college expenses should I be prepared for?

Part II: How to Pay for College

There are several different ways to find money for college expenses. If you stay on top of financial aid application deadlines and have a high GPA and high test scores, you can easily shave tens of thousands of dollars off your cost of attendance.

In this section, we’ll cover the most common sources of college funding.

Understanding the FAFSA: The key to financial aid

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important document you will likely fill out as a college student.

Why?

Because without the FAFSA, you won’t be able to access the majority of the best financial aid options we are going to cover in this guide. Those include:

  • Grants
  • Work-study opportunities
  • Federal student loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans for parents

Not only will the FAFSA tell you how much aid you are eligible for through the federal government, but it is also a required step to getting institutional financial aid from your college or university.

How to fill out the FAFSA

It’s important to note that you do not have to pay to file the FAFSA. It is entirely free.

Go to https://fafsa.gov/ to create a Federal Student Aid account and start your application.

Important: You must fill out a FAFSA every year that you attend college.

Learn more with our in-depth FAFSA Guide >

Expected Family Contribution

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is how much the federal government determines you or your parents should be able to contribute to your education costs. This number is then used to figure out how much aid the government is willing to extend to you.

For example, to qualify for a full Pell Grant in the 2017-18 school year, your family’s expected family contribution can’t be higher than $5,328.

Collage-cost-2017-table

Some states have stricter deadlines than the federal government. Check your state’s deadline to be sure you get your application in on time.

It should be noted that students interested in FSEOG Grants and Perkins Loans should apply as soon as possible, as these funds are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis and actually do run out.

Student Loans: Explained

The final form of aid distributed by the federal government is student loans. You will know which federal student loans you qualify for after you fill out your FAFSA.

Because student loans will have to be repaid with interest, they should only be pursued after you have exhausted all grant, scholarship and work-study options.

Types of federal student loans

As an undergraduate student, there are a variety of federal student loans you may be offered.

Direct Loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized, come with the advantage of income-driven repayment options. There are also generous deferment, forgiveness and cancellation programs offered.

Important: You should be absolutely sure that you have maxed out your federal student loan eligibility before turning to private loans. Federal student debt often has better rates than private loans and a range of flexible repayment options.

Private student loans

If federal student loans aren’t enough, you can turn to private student loans as a last resort for college financing. These loans from banks, credit unions and online marketplace lenders do not have the same generous repayment programs, though some may have deferment options in some situations, such as unemployment.

Private loans come with variable or fixed interest rates. At this moment in time, interest rates are low. If you take out a variable interest rate loan, the rate is likely to go up over the course of your loan. Fixed interest rates start higher, but remain stable throughout the course of your repayment.

Should I get a co-signer?

If you haven’t yet established credit, you will likely need a co-signer in order to qualify for private student loans. If you’re a nontraditional student and have a less-than-stellar credit history, you’ll likely also benefit from having a co-signer.

If you have a good credit score, you can skip the co-signer. But if you do need some help, look for loan options with a co-signer release. This lets the co-signer off the hook after a certain period of time — generally once your payment history has allowed you to establish a better credit history yourself.

How much should I borrow?

You don’t want to borrow more than you can reasonably afford to pay back. Certain professions that require extensive education, like doctors and lawyers, will have considerably more student loan debt than other professions.

However, some professions, such as teaching, may require a master’s degree in some regions. Four years of undergrad plus grad school isn’t cheap, but a teacher’s entry salary typically doesn’t make up for all of your education expenses.

In these situations, talk to professionals in the field you want to enter to find a reasonable expectation for entry salary and potential salary growth over the course of a career. While using online sources to find this information is great, it’s not going to replace the regional knowledge of a professional working in the field.

You can then plug that number into CollegeBoard’s Student Loan Calculator, along with how much money you intend to borrow. It will analyze and tell you if your monthly payments will exceed 10 to 15 percent of your monthly income — which is generally considered to be the absolute maximum you should allot to student loan payments.

If you take out federal student loans, you may be able to borrow more as most loan options allow you to pay based on your income level. Just be careful not to bury yourself in debt — you don’t want to be paying student loans into your seventies.

Scholarships

You won’t find scholarships on the FAFSA, but they’re a great alternative to student loans. When you are awarded a scholarship, you receive free money for school that you never have to pay back.

Merit-based vs. need-based scholarships

While the majority of grants are need-based, the majority of scholarships are merit-based. There may be maximum income levels or priority given to those in dire financial straits, but for most scholarships, you’re going to have to do a little bit of work beyond filling out an application.

Most scholarships will require you to maintain a certain GPA, though standards vary wildly. Almost all scholarships will require some type of essay. Traditionally, this is done in written format, but in 2017 some scholarship essays can be done via multimedia such as video.

If your family’s income doesn’t help you establish a strong financial need, don’t lose hope. There are plenty of scholarships out there that have no financial requirements and are completely based on your essay — on rare occasion, they won’t even ask about grades.

Recurring vs. one-time scholarships

Most scholarships only last one semester or one school year. However, there are some you can apply for that will cover your entire tenure as an undergrad. Keep in mind that these options are likely to require you to maintain a certain GPA throughout your studies.

How do I find scholarships?

The first place you can look is your financial aid office. Many schools have endowments not just for grants but for scholarships as well.

After you have exhausted scholarship options at your school, look in places such as:

  • Professional organizations in the field you want to enter
  • Professional organizations or unions your parents may belong to
  • National student organizations related to your major
  • Potential future employers — especially if they’re a larger company
  • Within the community you grew up in
  • Organizations based on your ethnicity or heritage
  • Religious organizations
  • Organizations related to any extracurricular activities or hobbies

You can look for scholarships on major search engines, like Fastweb, CollegeBoard and Scholarships.com, but you’ll find a ton of competition. If you can look for scholarships focused on what makes you unique, you’re likely to find a dramatically smaller applicant pool, boosting your chances of winning an award.

How soon should I start applying?

Start applying for scholarships as soon as possible. It is possible to fund your education this way in its entirety, though you will have to fill out a lot of applications and write a lot of essays. The sooner you get started, the better.

Each scholarship has a window, which is typically opened annually or once a semester, in which you can file an application. While high school sophomores will be able to apply for some scholarships, opportunities really start opening up in your junior year.

Grants

Grants are money you never have to pay back unless you drop out of school or in some other way violate the terms of agreement. In undergraduate studies, they are typically need-based.

In order to qualify for federal grant programs, you must fill out the FAFSA and meet eligibility requirements. There are four types of federal grants:

Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants are distributed based on income-eligibility only. They can be granted to full-time, three-quarter-time, half-time or less-than-half-time students.

For the 2017-18 school year, the maximum Pell Grant awards are:

  • $5,920 for full-time students
  • $4,440 for three-quarter-time students
  • $2,960 for half-time students
  • $1,480 for less-than-half-time students

These awards are distributed in two parts over two semesters.

During the summer of 2017, Summer Pell Grants were awarded for the first time since 2011. These grants gave you an additional 50 percent of the full award to spend on summer studies — particularly helpful to community college students whose course of study typically runs through the summer.

The 2017 expansion was part of a budget deal passed by Congress in May affecting only one school year. Whether Summer Pell Grants will be available for the 2018-19 school year or any other future years still remains up in the air. Legislation for the permanent reinstatement of Summer Pell Grants was introduced in the Senate in April, but received no vote.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs) are available to students with financial needs in excess of what the Pell Grant can address. These funds are distributed to schools up front, and then awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

The maximum award is between $100 and $4,000, depending on your personal financial situation.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

If you lost a parent while they were serving in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan post-9/11, you may be able to get a full Pell Grant regardless of your family income through the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

In order to qualify, you must:

  • Meet all Pell Grant requirements save EFC requirements.
  • Have lost your parent before the age of 24 — or while you were enrolled in college at least part time at the time of your parent or guardian’s death.

Over the next couple of years, the maximum award for this grant will be reduced thanks to budget sequestration. If your grant is distributed prior to Oct. 1, 2017, you will receive a maximum award of $5,511.52.

If your grant is distributed between Oct. 1, 2017, and Oct. 1, 2018, you will receive a maximum award of $5,529.28.

TEACH Grants

If you are planning on becoming a teacher, you may be interested in a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. In order to qualify, you must be enrolled in a TEACH-eligible program. Not all schools participate, and the ones that do determine which of their programs qualify for TEACH Grants, so be sure to sit down with your financial aid counselor to determine your potential eligibility.

When you accept a TEACH Grant, you are agreeing to serve four out of your first eight years in the workforce in a high-need specialization in a low-income area. You can also meet this obligation by teaching at a Bureau of Indian Education school.

High-need specializations include:

If you do not keep your promise to serve in this capacity, your grant will turn into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, which will have to be repaid.

The maximum grant amount is $3,724 if disbursed prior to Oct. 1, 2017. If disbursed between Oct. 1, 2017, and Oct. 1, 2018, the maximum award is $3,736.

State grants

Your state may also issue need-based grants. Generally you will be redirected to your state’s application page at the end of your FAFSA application, but if you want to check out your options beforehand, you can find information from your state’s department of higher education here.

Institutional grants

Your college or university may also issue need-based grants. While your EFC is not likely to be measured in the same way, a FAFSA application is still required in order to be considered.

Some colleges, though typically not Ivy League schools, will offer merit-based grants, as well. Your grades will be a factor here.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs are another form of aid that will not be accessible unless you complete your FAFSA.

Many schools participate in federally backed work-study programs for students with a financial need. You are assigned a set amount of hours dependent on your financial need. You may find yourself working for the school, in a community service role, or in a field relevant to your course of study.

Work-study programs pay at least minimum wage and pay at least once per month. You can choose to receive a monthly paycheck or have your pay directly counted against any money you may owe the school.

Your eligibility for work-study will be determined by your FAFSA application.

529 college savings plans

529 accounts are tax-advantaged accounts to help you save for future college expenses. Contributions go in after you’ve paid taxes on your income. That money is invested and grows tax-free — as long as you spend the money on qualified educational expenses.

Types of 529 accounts

Not all 529 accounts are created equal. They are issued by state, and each state has specific rules on how their 529 accounts can be used. However, many states will let you purchase their 529 accounts even if you are not a state resident.

There are two basic kinds of 529 accounts.

College Savings Plans

The College Savings Plan structure allows your money to grow in traditional investments as made available by your state. You can use this money to pay for school at almost any U.S. institution — and even some schools abroad.

When you take money out, it will be based on the real dollar value your investments have grown to. For example, if you have $20,000 in your account, you would be able to take $20,000 out. If school cost $25,000, you would still have to find $5,000 to fund the additional tuition and fees not covered by your 529.

Utah’s 529 plan is a College Savings Plan, and commonly cited as one of the best in the nation.

Prepaid Tuition Plans

Prepaid Tuition Plans allow you to save for tomorrow’s college at today’s rates. There may be different tiers of saving for different types of schools.

For example, Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Savings Plan 529 option currently allows you to buy credits at 2016-17 rates. These credits will be valid when your child goes to school in the future — even if tuition rates have skyrocketed.

One thing to be careful of with Prepaid Tuition Plans is that if you save at the state school level, and your child ends up not wanting to attend a state school when they graduate from high school, you could run into some funding problems. Pennsylvania allows you to change your investment tier at any time, but this is a potential point of friction you should consider at the outset of your 529 decision.

What can I use my 529 account for?

You can only use the money in your 529 account for qualified educational expenses. If you use the money for anything else, you will have to pay taxes on the withdrawal.

Qualified educational expenses include:

  • Tuition and fees*
  • Room and board — though you must be enrolled at least half-time to claim this expense
  • Books
  • Technology required for school — including internet access
  • Required equipment and materials as dictated by your professor

*Some Prepaid Tuition Plans cover tuition and fees only.

How to make a 529 withdrawal

Most programs allow you to make a withdrawal online or via postal mail. Your 529 account issuer will not keep records of how that money was spent. Producing documentation to show that the money was spent on educational expenses falls squarely on your shoulders.

Pros of 529 accounts:

  • Studies show that regardless of how much you save, the fact that you are saving for college makes your child more likely to attend college.
  • If you have a high enough income level, your child may not qualify for need-based financial aid. Saving in a 529 plan is a generous investment in their future given that they won’t have as many funding opportunities available to them.
  • Because you are investing, your money is likely to grow — and grow federally tax-free at that. This means you won’t have to save as much in a College Savings Plan in order to meet your goals.

Cons of 529 accounts:

  • The amount you have saved could reduce institutional aid — especially if you open the account in your child’s name. Open the account in your name and list your child as a beneficiary instead.
  • When saving in a Prepaid Tuition Plan, do your best to ensure you’re saving at a level your child will actually be able to use. If they don’t end up going to school in state, you could hit a bump in the road if you’ve been saving at state school tuition levels.
  • Because you are investing, there’s no guarantee of growth. You could conceivably lose money in a 529 account.

FAQ

To figure out if your college degree is worth the cost, you need to figure out the net price of your education and your expected salary. A good tool to figure this out is College Reality Check.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, College Reality Check helps you estimate the net price of your school based on a number of different factors. Then it shows you how much you can expect to make upon graduation.

Technically, you’re only allowed to spend federal student loans on educational expenses. These can include:

  • Tuition and fees.
  • Room and board
  • Books, supplies and equipment
  • Transportation while at school
  • Dependent child care expenses

No one will be monitoring your bank account. However, if you end up having the money to go on shopping sprees after you’ve paid for all of the above expenses, you’re probably borrowing too much. Consider returning the money rather than paying interest on it after you graduate.
Check your loan agreement with non-federal lenders for specific restrictions on private student loans.

Most of the time, no, you do not. However, some colleges and universities require their traditional freshmen to live on campus. Even these stipulations can sometimes be worked around if you are commuting from your parents’ home.

If at all possible, yes. Make an effort to make at least interest-only payments. This will keep interest from accruing while you’re in school and deferment, which costs you more money in the long run.

The only time it doesn’t matter as much is when you have Direct Subsidized Loans — which will not accrue interest while you’re in school. Even then, making principal payments early isn’t a bad thing if you can swing it.

If you take out a Direct Loan, you will be assigned one of nine loan servicers. You will make payments through your assigned loan servicer.

Those who take out Perkins Loans will repay directly through their school or a loan servicer designated by their school.

You can repay private loans through your lender.

If you miss one payment on your federal student loans, you will have to make it up before 90 days — otherwise you get reported to the credit bureaus.

If you miss several payments on your Direct Loans and don’t make payments for 270 days, you will be in default, which puts you at risk of not only being reported to the credit bureaus but also losing all benefits of federal student loans like income-driven repayment options. You could also end up in court.

Consequences for Perkins Loans and private student loans depend on the agreement you sign prior to disbursement, but they can report you to the credit bureaus as soon as you are 30 days late with a payment.

If you have Direct Loans, get on an income-driven repayment plan. These plans tie your maximum payment to a percentage of your disposable income.

If you have a private loan, you may want to look into refinancing for lower monthly payments.

If you have a Perkins Loan, set up an appointment with your financial aid office or loan servicer to discuss your options.

The post Guide to Paying for College in 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Ultimate Guide to Paying off Medical School Debt

Part I: Is Medical School Worth It?

Getting accepted to medical school is a major accomplishment, but graduating from medical school can be life-changing for your finances. According to The College Payoff, a collaborative study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with a doctoral-level degree enjoyed median lifetime earnings of $3,252,000 in 2009 dollars. This figure compares favorably to degrees that require a smaller commitment of time and resources, showing that pursuing a medical degree can pay off.

Now on to the bad news. While earning more money over a lifetime is advantageous, there’s a notable downside to going to medical school. While doctoral-level degrees can pay off with a lifetime of higher wages, the costs of pursuing this degree can be astronomical.

As the Association of American Medical Colleges notes, the average indebted 2016 medical school graduate left college with a median medical school debt of $190,000. No matter how you cut it, that’s a lot of money to borrow and spend.

Medical school debt

Medical school debt in the U.S.

The Association of American Medical Colleges shares statistics on average medical school debt. As of 2016, indebted medical school graduates left school with a median debt loan of $190,000. At public schools, the median debt load worked out to $180,000. Private medical schools, on the other hand, reported a slightly higher level of debt with a median debt load of $200,000.

The high levels of debt many medical school graduates endure are caused by myriad factors, including the rising costs of tuition. While average medical school tuition hasn’t been tracked since 2009, the price tag of a medical education was $29,890 that year.

In addition to the price of tuition, medical students need to pay for countless other expenses, some of which only apply to those in the medical field:

  • Room and board
  • Rent and utilities
  • Food
  • Travel and transportation
  • Health care
  • Instruments and supplies
  • Textbooks
  • Lab fees
  • Test fees
  • Relocation for residency

Lifetime earnings for a doctor

While the costs of medical school are high, doctors’ higher salaries can take the sting out of the long-term costs. In 2016, for example, family and general practitioners earned an annual mean wage of $200,810, while physicians and surgeons earned $210,170, on average. Several medical specialties earned even more.

The following table highlights profitable medical careers alongside careers that require only a bachelor’s degree:

MSD table 1

Is medical school worth the cost?

If you’re trying to decide between degree programs with varying costs and educational outcomes, it’s important to consider the ROI, or return on investment, for your education. While there’s no hard and fast rule to help you decide, figuring out your post-education monthly payment for medical school debt and comparing it to your potential salary can help.

As an example, the average medical school graduate with $190,000 in debt with a 6% interest rate would need to pay $2,109.39 per month toward their loans if they chose standard, 10-year repayment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the median weekly earnings for someone with a doctoral degree worked out to $1,664 in 2016.

During a month with four weeks of paydays, a doctoral graduate would bring in $6,656 before taxes and $4,659.20 after taxes, considering a 30% tax rate. While a $2,103.39 payment represents nearly half of this person’s income, it’s only for 10 years. Further, the percentage of income will only decrease as their income grows. And if they choose a higher paying medical specialty, the difference could be even greater.

Also keep in mind that doctors don’t have to choose 10-year, standard repayment as there are plenty of other options available, including repayment plans that span up to 25 years. If the graduate with the same level of debt as above chose to repay their loan over 25 years at the same interest rate, for example, they would pay only $1,224.17 per month.

Part II: Paying for Medical School

Federal student loans are usually the first source of funding medical students turn to as they seek to finance their education. Several different types of federal student loans are available, and each has their own benefits, drawbacks and practical limitations. Federal student loans tend to be a good option for medical students since they offer relatively low, fixed interest rates and help students qualify for federal perks like income-driven repayment, student loan forgiveness programs, deferment and forbearance.

Pros of federal student loans:

  • Fixed interest rates that can be competitive
  • Access to federal loan repayment and student loan forgiveness programs
  • Qualifying for subsidized loans means the government may pay the interest on your loans during school
  • Access to student loan forbearance and deferment (if you qualify)
  • No credit check

Cons of federal student loans:

  • Caps on how much you can borrow
  • You may need to take out private loans once you exhaust federal loans

MSD table 2

Private student loan debt for medical school

Private student loans are commonly used once medical students max out the amount of federal money they can borrow for school. These loans are offered through private lenders, which means their rates and repayment terms are not fixed by the government. As a result, they can vary greatly but may be lower than rates offered through government programs.

Pros of private student loans:

  • Interest rates may be lower than federal student loans
  • Loan limits can be high enough to cover the entire cost of medical school
  • Loan disbursement may be faster
  • You can shop around among lenders to find the best deal

Cons of private student loans:

  • You need good or excellent credit to qualify on your own
  • Without good credit, you may need a co-signer
  • Interest rates can be fixed or variable
  • Private loans do not offer federal student loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment, or federally sponsored deferment or forbearance
  • You may need to make payments or pay interest while still in school

When to consider private student loans:

  • You’ve maxed out on federal student loan amounts
  • Private loans offer a better interest rate
  • You don’t plan to take advantage of government programs when it comes to repaying your loans

Private student loan lenders to consider

Grants for medical students

Grants for medical school students are offered through the government, research facilities, corporations and institutions of higher education. Students can seek out information on available grants by asking their school’s financial aid office, searching the internet, or checking government resources that cover the medical field.

Here are some popular grants available to medical students:

This Medical Scientist Training Program grant was created to assist students pursuing degrees in clinical and biomedical research. This program is offered at over 47 universities that help facilitate the grant.

  • Award amount: Amounts vary
  • Qualifications: Available to qualified M.D.-Ph.D. dual-degree students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Depends on the participating institution

The Ford Foundation Fellowship Program seeks to increase diversity and offers grants to medical students pursuing a Ph.D. with the goal of participating in medical research or teaching. Other Ph.D. students are considered as well.

  • Award amount: $20,000 to $45,000, depending on the specific program
  • Qualifications: Medical students in pursuit of a Ph.D. can apply
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Applications open in December 2017

This American Medical Women’s Association grant awards four AWMA student members every year. This two-year fellowship focuses on global health and includes a trip to Uganda.

  • Award amount: $1,000 to fund local project planning and subsidize experiential education in Uganda
  • Qualifications: Must be AWMA member pursuing a medical education
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: The next application cycle is Aug. 1, 2018, to Oct. 30, 2018

This grant, which is offered through the Radiological Society of North America, was created for medical students considering academic radiology.

  • Award amount: $3,000 to be matched by a sponsoring department for a total of $6,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a full-time medical student and RSNA member
  • Deadline to apply: Feb. 1, 2008

This program, which is offered through the American Medical Women’s Association, is available to medical students and residents working in clinics around the world.

  • Award amount: Up to $1,000 in transportation assistance costs
  • Qualifications: Students must work in an off-campus clinic where the medically neglected will benefit, be an AMWA member in at least their second year of school, and must spend four weeks to one year serving the medically underserved
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Applications are accepted Jan. 5, April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5

Scholarships for medical students

Scholarships are available to medical students from all walks of life and all backgrounds, although requirements vary based on the program. Medical students can seek out merit-based scholarships, institution-based scholarships and various other scholarships offered through research facilities and corporations.

Here are a handful of popular scholarship options for medical students:

This grant, offered through the American Medical Association, doles out scholarships to medical students who meet certain criteria. The goal of this program is to reduce the debt burden on medical school students across the country.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who is nominated by their school dean and approaching their last year of medical school
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Nomination applications are available every fall

The Herbert W. Nickens Award is available to third-year medical students who have shown proven leadership in the area of medical equality for all.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who is nominated for excellence in leadership; checklist is available here
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Applications due in April each year

This scholarship is open to all students pursuing a service career in health care, including medical students considering any medical field.

  • Award amount: $5,000 to $10,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student with at least one year of medical school remaining
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Application opens at the beginning of May each year and closes at the end of June

This scholarship is available to all medical students with financial need regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity. Applicants are judged on financial need, achievements, essays and community service records.

  • Award amount: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a medical student who can demonstrate financial need and complete the application process
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Applications for 2018 will open at the end of 2017

The Harvey Fellows Program was created for Christian students pursuing higher education in important fields such as medicine.

  • Award amount: $16,000
  • Qualifications: Must be a student who identifies as Christian and attends service regularly
  • Deadline to apply in 2017: Application deadline is Nov. 1 of each year

Part III: Medical School Loan Repayment Programs

Income-driven repayment (for federal student loan debt)

Income-driven repayment programs allow medical students to pay only a percentage of their income toward their federal student loans for 20 to 25 years no matter how much they owe. These programs can be advantageous since they let medical students with large debt loads pay a smaller percentage of their income every month than they would with standard, 10-year repayment. Several different income-driven repayment programs are available, each with their own rules and benefits. The following table highlights each program and how it works:

MSD table 4

Pros of income-driven repayment:

  • Pay a smaller amount of your income for up to 25 years
  • Have your student loan balance forgiven once you complete the program
  • Pay off your debts slowly and at your own pace

Cons of income-driven repayment:

  • You may have to pay income taxes on forgiven loan amounts
  • You may not qualify if you earn too much

Who is eligible?

These programs are available to graduates who have federal student loans and meet income requirements.

How to apply

You can apply for income-driven repayment programs using the U.S. Department of Education website.

Medical school loan forgiveness for doctors

There are numerous loan forgiveness programs available to doctors, each with their own criteria for applicants. Commonly, these programs offer loan forgiveness in exchange for service in a specific field or for a certain type of employer.

Some examples include:

Who is eligible?

Since loan forgiveness programs vary in their details and requirements, you’ll need to read terms and conditions of applicable programs to determine if you qualify.

Is this option right for you?

If you are willing to relocate or know that a loan forgiveness program is already available in your area, then loan forgiveness programs offer a great way to earn a living while having part of your debt forgiven. For this option to be right for you, however, you have to be willing to meet special program requirements such as working in an urban, rural or underserved community.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

This program offers loan repayment assistance for individuals entering qualified health care careers in medical or dental fields. Licensed health care providers may earn up to $50,000 of tax-free loan forgiveness for a two-year commitment to NHSC-approved employment in a high-need area.

Who is eligible?

Medical graduates who agree to work in an NHSC-approved career for at least two years may qualify for this assistance.

How to apply

Contact the National Health Service Corps or visit the NHSC website for tips on the application process.

Is this option right for you?

If you’re willing to work in an area of high need after you graduate, this program may work well at the beginning of your medical career.

U.S. military loan repayment programs

United States Army

Army Student Loan Assistance offers up to $45,000 per year in loan assistance, along with a monthly stipend of up to $2,000. This assistance is available to U.S. residents working to complete an accredited residency.

The U.S. Army also offers up to $120,000 to pay down medical school debt in exchange for three years of service.

Lastly, the U.S. Army offers a Health Care Professionals Loan Repayment Program that provides up to $250,000 for repayment of “education loans for physicians in certain specialties who are serving in an Army Reserve Troop Program Units, AMEDD Professional Management Command, or the Individual Mobilization Program.”

How to apply

For additional information, contact your local Army recruiter, call 1-800-USA-Army, or visit Healthcare.GoArmy.com.

United States Navy

The Navy Student Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in repayment assistance, depending on your loan amount and year in school. Eligible applicants serve in the U.S. Navy and have federal student loans.

You may also qualify for the U.S. Navy’s loan forgiveness and repayment program, which offers up to $40,000 per year in loan assistance before taxes. You must be a final year medical student ready to join the U.S. Navy.

Lastly, the Navy Financial Assistance Program offers up to $275,000 in loan repayment assistance plus a monthly stipend to medical residents who agree to serve in the U.S. Navy. Physician sign-up bonuses may also be available.

How to apply

Contact your local Navy recruiter or visit the Navy Recruiting Command website.

United States Air Force

The Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program offers up to $45,000 per year plus a monthly stipend up to $2,000 for medical students who join the U.S. Air Force and serve their country as a medical professional. Once you complete your residency, you’ll have a one-year obligation for each year you participate in the program plus one extra year.

How to apply

Contact a U.S. Air Force recruiter for more information, or visit the U.S. Air Force application page to apply.

State-level loan repayment programs for doctors

Part IV: Paying Down Your Medical School Debt

While the very idea of medical school debt could have you feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to understand the many options available when it comes to paying off your loans sooner rather than later. In addition to paying off your loans faster, some strategies can help you save money on interest or secure a more manageable monthly payment.

Here are some tips that can help as you pay down medical school debt:

#1: Refinance your student loans to a lower rate.

Refinancing your student loans to a new loan product with a lower interest rate and better terms can help you save money and possibly even lower your monthly payment. With a lower interest rate, you’ll save money on interest each month, which could help you save money and pay off your loans faster, provided you keep making the same monthly payment.

Keep in mind, however, that there are notable disadvantages that come with refinancing federal loans with a private lender. When you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose out on special protections afforded to federal loan borrowers like deferment and forbearance. You also disqualify yourself from federally sponsored income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness programs.

Recommended lenders for refinancing your medical school loans

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.35% - 7.125%


Fixed Rate*

2.815% - 6.740%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.35% - 6.39%


Fixed Rate

2.81% - 6.19%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.35% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.80% - 6.73%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.67% - 6.06%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

#2: Find ways to save on monthly expenses.

While graduating from medical school can be a momentous occasion, you can put yourself in a better financial position by living a modest “student” lifestyle as long as you can. Ways to save money include, but aren’t limited to, finding a roommate to share living expenses, skipping pricey dinners out, living without cable television, driving your older car as long as you can, and preventing lifestyle inflation as you start earning more.

#3: Pay all of your monthly payments on time.

Federal Direct Loans and some private lenders offer interest rate discounts after you complete a specific number of on-time monthly payments. Check with your lender to see if they offer this option. If not, you should still make on-time monthly payments to avoid late fees and keep your loans in good standing.

#4: Pay extra toward the principal of your loans.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of refinancing, you can still pay off your loans faster by paying more than the minimum payment on your student loans each month. Throwing extra money at the principal of your loans reduces the amount of interest you owe with each passing month, helping you save money while paying off your loans faster.

#5: Pay interest while in school.

Some medical student loans let interest accrue while you’re still in school. If you have the financial means to make interest-only payments while you’re still in school, doing so can help you prevent your student loan balance from ballooning before you graduate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tuition at medical schools is not fixed, meaning it can pay to shop around before you choose an institution. Private schools tend to be more expensive than public schools as well, meaning you can usually save money if you decide on a public education for your medical degree.

The amount you can save depends on your current interest rate and your new loan rate and its terms. To find out how much you could potentially save by refinancing, enter your old loan and new loan information in a student loan calculator.

You can lower the payment on your student loans in a few different ways. First, you can refinance your student loans into a new loan product with a lower interest rate or longer repayment timeline. Second, you can choose an extended repayment plan or even income-driven repayment.

Federal student loans come with important federal benefits and protections such as deferment and forbearance. They also leave you eligible for income-driven repayment plans and federal loan forgiveness.

As you shop for student loans for medical school, remember that the terms of your loan can make a big difference in how much you’ll pay over time. Compare loans based on the interest rate, any applicable fees, and the monthly payment amount you’ll need to make. You can also check student loan providers’ profiles with the Better Business Bureau and read student loan reviews for even more insight.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, some of most popular pre-med majors include biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and humanities.

According to Swarthmore College, medical schools are interested in students with excellent academic ability, strong interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and demonstrated compassion and care for others.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Paying off Medical School Debt appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Not-So-Free College: Oregon Changes Requirements for Free Tuition

Some college-bound students in Oregon won’t receive money for college the state promised them for this upcoming school year. In 2016, Oregon became one of the first states to offer to cover students’ community college tuition, setting a $40 million budget for the Oregon Promise Program. However, state funding missed that mark by about $8 million this year.

The funding shortfall and a high turnout of applicants has forced Oregon state legislators to change the program’s eligibility requirements and disqualify students from the highest-earning households.

What’s changing

The Oregon legislature has given authority to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to establish cost controls for the Oregon Promise Program. HECC made a new rule that caps grant eligibility at students whose families are able to contribute $18,000 or more toward the student’s post-secondary education, according to the expected family contribution (EFC) calculation students receive after submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA).

As a result, the state will only be able to award grants to about 80% of eligible new applicants for the fall 2017 semester. More than 15,000 students have applied for the grant for the upcoming 2017-18 school year, starting in September, HECC tells MagnifyMoney. So far, about 8,300 have been told they are eligible for Oregon Promise grants. However, notification of eligibility does not mean a student will receive an award — HECC won’t have an official number of recipients until students enroll in community colleges.

In its first year, the program awarded a total of $4.4 million to about 6,800 students, or 5.4% of fall 2016 community college students. Between November 2015 and March 2016, more than 19,000 people applied, and of that group, 10,459 met GPA, residency, and FAFSA requirements. Among them, 1,091 enrolled in public universities, therefore they didn’t receive a grant, and 6,745 enrolled in community college and received grants.

If you’re one of 6,745 students who enrolled in the program last year, you’re safe. Last year’s participants won’t be affected by the new income criteria and will continue to receive the grant, according to HECC.

The commission says the new limit could change again. Moving forward, the HECC will check the program’s funding annually and may adjust or eliminate the EFC limit, depending on how much funding is available.

What the Oregon Promise covers

The grant covers the gap between what a student receives in scholarships and grants, like the federal Pell grant, and what they need to cover tuition at Oregon community colleges. Legislators set a $1,000 annual award minimum, so even students who have tuition fully covered with federal grant money or scholarships still receive funds. Applicants must be a recent Oregon high school graduate or GED recipient, have high school cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher, be an Oregon resident for at least a year before attending college, and not have attempted or completed more than 90 college credits.

Students left without the money they need for school may be forced to turn to other borrowing options like taking out a federal student loan or personal loan to attend school this year.

Other states with similar programs

Oregon isn’t the only state that offers free tuition to its community college students. The trend, started by the Obama Administration in 2015, gained even more popularity during the 2016 election season, prompting states like New York, Tennessee and Rhode Island and cities like San Francisco to test drive free college programs. Here’s a rundown of some of these programs:

New York

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program allows students to attend a State University of New York or City University of New York college tuition-free. Beginning in fall 2017, New York state residents from households earning $100,000 or less are eligible to receive up to $5,500 per school year for college.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, any state residents who have yet to earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degree can attend community or technical college for free. Starting in 2018, the Tennessee Promise Program will offer scholarships that cover the gap in of tuition and mandatory fees after what’s covered by a student’s Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or the Tennessee Student Assistance Award.

Rhode Island

Residents — regardless of income — can earn their associate degree for free at the Community College of Rhode Island beginning in fall 2017. The Rhode Island Promise program (seeing a trend here?) applies to 2017 high school graduates or those 19 years old or younger who received their GED in 2017.

Louisiana

Louisiana’s TOPS, or Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, is a collection of scholarships that pays tuition and some fees for Louisiana residents attending any of the state’s community colleges or public four-year colleges or universities, as long as the student graduated from high school with at least a 2.5 GPA.

San Francisco

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to offer a free college tuition program by introducing its Free City program in 2017. Beginning fall 2017, city residents who have lived in the state of California for a year or longer as of the first day of school are eligible to receive free tuition for the City College of San Francisco. Some lower-income residents are also eligible to receive stipends up to $250 per semester to help cover things like books and other college related expenses.

The post Not-So-Free College: Oregon Changes Requirements for Free Tuition appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Not-So-Free College: Oregon Changes Requirements for Free Tuition

Some college-bound students in Oregon won’t receive money for college the state promised them for this upcoming school year. In 2016, Oregon became one of the first states to offer to cover students’ community college tuition, setting a $40 million budget for the Oregon Promise Program. However, state funding missed that mark by about $8 million this year.

The funding shortfall and a high turnout of applicants has forced Oregon state legislators to change the program’s eligibility requirements and disqualify students from the highest-earning households.

What’s changing

The Oregon legislature has given authority to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to establish cost controls for the Oregon Promise Program. HECC made a new rule that caps grant eligibility at students whose families are able to contribute $18,000 or more toward the student’s post-secondary education, according to the expected family contribution (EFC) calculation students receive after submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA).

As a result, the state will only be able to award grants to about 80% of eligible new applicants for the fall 2017 semester. More than 15,000 students have applied for the grant for the upcoming 2017-18 school year, starting in September, HECC tells MagnifyMoney. So far, about 8,300 have been told they are eligible for Oregon Promise grants. However, notification of eligibility does not mean a student will receive an award — HECC won’t have an official number of recipients until students enroll in community colleges.

In its first year, the program awarded a total of $4.4 million to about 6,800 students, or 5.4% of fall 2016 community college students. Between November 2015 and March 2016, more than 19,000 people applied, and of that group, 10,459 met GPA, residency, and FAFSA requirements. Among them, 1,091 enrolled in public universities, therefore they didn’t receive a grant, and 6,745 enrolled in community college and received grants.

If you’re one of 6,745 students who enrolled in the program last year, you’re safe. Last year’s participants won’t be affected by the new income criteria and will continue to receive the grant, according to HECC.

The commission says the new limit could change again. Moving forward, the HECC will check the program’s funding annually and may adjust or eliminate the EFC limit, depending on how much funding is available.

What the Oregon Promise covers

The grant covers the gap between what a student receives in scholarships and grants, like the federal Pell grant, and what they need to cover tuition at Oregon community colleges. Legislators set a $1,000 annual award minimum, so even students who have tuition fully covered with federal grant money or scholarships still receive funds. Applicants must be a recent Oregon high school graduate or GED recipient, have high school cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher, be an Oregon resident for at least a year before attending college, and not have attempted or completed more than 90 college credits.

Students left without the money they need for school may be forced to turn to other borrowing options like taking out a federal student loan or personal loan to attend school this year.

Other states with similar programs

Oregon isn’t the only state that offers free tuition to its community college students. The trend, started by the Obama Administration in 2015, gained even more popularity during the 2016 election season, prompting states like New York, Tennessee and Rhode Island and cities like San Francisco to test drive free college programs. Here’s a rundown of some of these programs:

New York

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program allows students to attend a State University of New York or City University of New York college tuition-free. Beginning in fall 2017, New York state residents from households earning $100,000 or less are eligible to receive up to $5,500 per school year for college.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, any state residents who have yet to earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degree can attend community or technical college for free. Starting in 2018, the Tennessee Promise Program will offer scholarships that cover the gap in of tuition and mandatory fees after what’s covered by a student’s Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or the Tennessee Student Assistance Award.

Rhode Island

Residents — regardless of income — can earn their associate degree for free at the Community College of Rhode Island beginning in fall 2017. The Rhode Island Promise program (seeing a trend here?) applies to 2017 high school graduates or those 19 years old or younger who received their GED in 2017.

Louisiana

Louisiana’s TOPS, or Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, is a collection of scholarships that pays tuition and some fees for Louisiana residents attending any of the state’s community colleges or public four-year colleges or universities, as long as the student graduated from high school with at least a 2.5 GPA.

San Francisco

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to offer a free college tuition program by introducing its Free City program in 2017. Beginning fall 2017, city residents who have lived in the state of California for a year or longer as of the first day of school are eligible to receive free tuition for the City College of San Francisco. Some lower-income residents are also eligible to receive stipends up to $250 per semester to help cover things like books and other college related expenses.

The post Not-So-Free College: Oregon Changes Requirements for Free Tuition appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Best Ways to Pay for Grad School in 2017

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Graduate school funding is a bit trickier than undergrad funding. Your options for loans and grants become more limited, and while work-study opportunities may be attainable and provide great experience, they often eat up a lot of time but offer low compensation.You do have options, though — whether you’re a grad student or a parent. This guide will take you through them all in detail.

Part I: Financing Options for Grad School

As a grad student, you have three federal student loan options: Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans. Each financing option looks different, and you may need a combination of these loans to fully fund your education.

Federal loan options and programs

Eligibility requirements

In order to qualify for any federal student aid, you must meet certain requirements. You must:

  • Have a high school diploma, home-school high school education, GED, or other certification of equivalency.
  • Be a U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident.
  • Have a Social Security number. This requirement is waived if you are from the Marshall Islands, Palau, or Micronesia.
  • Register with the Selective Service if you’re a male age 18-25. If you do not do so during this time frame, it can impact your ability to access federal financial aid later in life.
  • Be enrolled or accepted into a school with the aim of obtaining a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential.
  • Maintain good grades. Standards for this requirement vary from school to school.
  • Certify that you aren’t currently in default on any federal student loans, that you owe money back on a grant, and that you will only use the money for educational endeavors. This certification happens on the FAFSA application.

If you meet all of these requirements, you now have to look at specific qualifications for each type of student loan.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

In order to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you must be attending a participating educational institution at least half-time. You must also be enrolled at least half-time in a program that will lead to a degree or certificate. There is no need to demonstrate financial need in order to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS Loans have very specific credit standards. In order to qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be pursuing a degree or certificate at the graduate or professional level and going to school at least half-time — or be the parent of a student who is doing so.
  • Cannot have a debt that is currently 90 days delinquent with a balance of over $2,085.
  • Cannot have an item worth over $2,085 sent to collections or written off in the two years prior to your application.
  • Cannot have any of the following appear on your credit report in the past five years: default determination, bankruptcy, foreclosure, tax lien, repossession, wage garnishment, or a write-off of other student loan debt.

These standards apply to both student and parent borrowers. If you cannot meet them, you can still borrow money by finding a co-signer who does meet these standards.

You may also be able to qualify if you can prove the blip on your credit report was caused by extenuating circumstances. In order to qualify in this way, you’ll need to complete credit counseling to the satisfaction of the PLUS program.

Perkins Loans

Perkins Loans are reserved for those with exceptional financial need. You prove this need by filling out the FAFSA as you normally would.

If you are eligible based on need, you need to get in touch with your financial aid office because your school is the actual lender. Not all schools participate, and not every school has sufficient funding for this program to offer the full $8,000 grad students may be eligible for. It’s important to fill out the FAFSA early and to approach your school about these loans as soon as you get your results.

Pros & cons of federal student loans

There are times when taking out federal loans will be advantageous to you as a grad student and times when other options may make more sense. Let’s drill down into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Aside from Perkins Loans, federal student loans give you access to a number of repayment options, including options that allow you to adjust monthly payments based on your current income.
  • Depending on the private lender, credit requirements are typically more lax than they will be in the private sector.
  • Interest rates on Perkins Loans are competitive — if your school participates and if your financial situation is considered dire enough to qualify.

Cons:

  • The fact that there are origination fees on Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans is a major negative as it will cost you money to borrow the money in the first place.
  • Interest rates on Direct PLUS Loans are not competitive if you have a good credit history. You may be able to save money by moving to the private sector in specific circumstances.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans require at least half-time enrollment. If you are pursuing a graduate-level degree while working a day job, this may present a problem depending on how many credits you are able to take on at once.

Federal grant and programs for grad school

While loans are money you will have to pay back, grants and work-study programs are sources of funding that you won’t have to repay. It’s essentially free money. At the graduate level, you have a few federal options.

TEACH Grants

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is a program that pays for part of your education as long as you promise to use your degree in a high-need, low-income area for four of the eight years following the completion of your education. You can also teach at a Bureau of Indian Education school during this time period to qualify.

High-need fields include:

If your grant was disbursed today, the maximum grant amount you could qualify for would be $3,724. If it isn’t disbursed until after October 1, 2017, the maximum amount awarded jumps to a potential $3,736.

Your school will have to participate in the TEACH program, and your school will have specified which programs qualify for the grant. Get in touch with your financial aid office to find out if your program is eligible.

While you’re there, make sure you are eligible by checking your school’s academic requirements for qualification.

After you have confirmed with your school that you are enrolled in an eligible program, you will need to fill out the FAFSA. You will also need to sign a letter of agreement and complete program-specific counseling.

Pell Grants

It is extremely rare for a grad student to qualify for a Pell Grant. In fact, for eligibility purposes, you’re not allowed to be pursuing a graduate degree.

The only time Pell Grants are available after undergrad work is when you are pursuing a postbaccalaureate teaching certificate. Even then, your certificate program must meet the following requirements:

  • It does not lead to a degree.
  • It is a prerequisite in your state in order to work as a primary or secondary school teacher.
  • It comes from a school that does not offer a bachelor’s degree in education.
  • It must be a postbaccalaureate program.

For your part as a student, you must meet the following requirement as well, if you’re going to qualify:

  • Enrolled at least half-time.
  • Pursuing your initial teacher certification/licensure within your state.

For the 2017-2018 school year, the maximum award you can receive is $5,920. The amount you receive will be based on financial need.

To apply for a Pell Grant, all you have to do is fill out the FAFSA.

If a financial need is demonstrated when you fill out the FAFSA, you may be offered a work-study position. If your school participates, you’ll be given an hourly or salaried job where you are paid at least monthly. Your financial need will determine the number of hours you receive.

The kind of job you are assigned will depend largely on your school. You may find yourself in one of these fields:

  • Community service
  • Positions at your school
  • Fields relevant to your course of study

If you end up with a position on campus, you’ll likely be working for the school. If you are working off-campus, you’re more likely to be assigned to a position serving the public good or working in a position relevant to your future career.

You’ll make at least minimum wage, though as a grad student you may have some desirable skills that could land you a position with a pay boost.

Your school is obligated to issue you a paycheck at least once per month. The money will come directly to you unless you set up ACH payments, or you are applying your earnings toward tuition, fees, or room and board.

Grants are a form of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back under most circumstances. However, if you don’t hold up your end of the educational bargain, you may have to return money that was paid to your school, or money you received as a refund check from your school.

You could end up owing money back for your federal grant if:

  • You don’t meet TEACH program guidelines as outlined above.
  • You drop out of school partway through the semester.
  • You reduce the amount of credits you are taking after the grant has been issued.

If you are disappointed by your FAFSA options, you should know that there are other ways to find funding for your graduate-level education. Be sure to review theses resources prior to taking out loans.

Federal grants at the graduate level are admittedly thin. If you’re looking for other ways to pay for school that don’t involve student loans, here are some additional federal agencies outside the Department of Education. They may be able to help.

ROTC scholarships

ROTC scholarships will pay for your education. You’ll also get a stipend for the time you spend at drill on weekends and may have your books covered as well.

In exchange for all of this money, you will be obligated to serve either on active duty or in the reserves after you have completed your education. Because you have a college education, you will enter the military as an officer.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

If you served in the military for at least 36 consecutive months after September 10, 2001, or were honorably discharged due to disability after serving 30 consecutive days after the same date, the Post-9/11 GI Bill may cover your tuition and fees.

If a smaller portion of your service happened after September 10, 2001, you may be eligible for prorated benefits.

All in-state tuition and fees will be paid at public schools, and up to $22,805.34 will be paid at private schools. This number changes annually.

If you still have a gap between how much the school charges and how much the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay under the latest version of the GI Bill, check to see if your school has opted in to the Yellow Ribbon Program. Schools that do so reduce the tuition of veterans to meet the maximum VA payout, leaving you with a bill of zero dollars.

Yellow Ribbon schools may also provide funding equivalent to a Basic Allowance for Housing in addition to a stipend for books.

In certain cases, benefits may be transferrable to minors, so if you are a parent who has unused GI Bill benefits, you may be able to transfer them to your child as they enter grad school.

AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a volunteer opportunity with some perks for college students. When you volunteer, you earn money for school through the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The amount of money you earn depends on how time-intensive your service is.

For example, currently if you volunteer in an approved position for more than 1,700 hours over a 12-month period, you would qualify for an education credit worth $5,920 for the 2017-18 school year. You can only earn up to two full-time education credits. You can find further examples of how much you can earn on the Segal Award Eligibility page.

As a member of AmeriCorps, you may find yourself in one of the following positions or one like them:

  • Relief efforts after a natural disaster
  • Tutoring K-12 students
  • Building affordable housing
  • Working with local nonprofits and community groups

If you have served as an AmeriCorps member after October 1, 2009, at the age of 55+, you may have accrued educational benefits that you can pass on to your child, stepchild, or grandchildren. You can learn more program specifics here.

Other sources of federal grants for grad school

Higher education agencies in your state

Another great place to look for funding is the agency that handles higher education in your state. These state-level organizations typically offer grants. You’ll likely be prompted to visit your state’s website at the end of your FAFSA application, but if you want to learn more about available programs now, you can find yours here.

Your school’s financial aid office

Your school likely has endowments and partner employers — both of whom are likely to offer scholarship and/or grant opportunities. To find out what may be available at your school, schedule an appointment with the financial aid office.

Industry and professional organizations

Many industry and professional organizations offer some type of scholarship program for those studying in the field. Applying for these scholarships won’t just help you pay for school if you’re awarded — if you win one, it will look phenomenal on your future resume.

Some of these organizations will require membership prior to application. While membership fees can be expensive in some organizations, many provide student-level memberships at a steep discount.

Private loan options for grad school: A last resort?

Private student loans are issued directly by lending institutions without the backing of the U.S. Department of Education. You can look to banks, credit unions, or online marketplace lenders to access these loans.

Pros & cons

Pros:

  • If you have a good credit history, you may be able to obtain a loan with lower rates than those currently offered via federal programs.
  • You may be able to access more capital than you would with federal loans, depending on your credit history and the type of federal loan.
  • You can shop around for different options. Some lenders don’t charge origination fees, and some are even willing to work with you in cases of hardship.

Cons:

  • You will not have access to advantaged repayment programs like PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, ICR, and PSLF, which are all covered in sections below.
  • If you do not have a good credit score, interest rates may be higher than federal loans, or you may not be able to get a private loan at all, depending on the severity of content in your credit report.
  • You have to shop around for different options. Some lenders will not work with you in cases of hardship, and factors like variable versus fixed interest rates may throw you for a loop if you’re not careful.

Questions to ask before you borrow private loans for grad school

Before you take out any student loans, you’ll want to get answers to these questions.

This may vary, depending on your income and credit history.

This will typically be a range. If you have good credit, you may qualify for the best rates. If you don’t, you’ll be looking at the higher end of the spectrum.

Variable interest rates start out lower. They may even stay lower for a set amount of time. But after that, they adjust to the market. You may get lucky and have rates go down, but rates are already so low at the moment that you’re almost sure to see them go up instead.

Fixed rates start out higher than variable rates but stay stable throughout the course of your loan term.

Shorter loan terms sometimes mean higher monthly payments, but you’ll usually end up paying less in the long term because of the way interest accrues over time.

If you can’t afford the monthly payments, though, you could end up paying late fees or damaging your credit. Longer loan terms may mean paying more interest by the time you’re through, but they also have the potential to lower your monthly payments.

Some lenders provide payment plans that allow you to defer payments until after graduation. Other payment plans start your payments immediately. Still others require interest-only payments while you’re in school, with principal payments being added after graduation.

Common fees to take note of are:

  • Application fees
  • Origination fees
  • Late fees
  • Prepayment penalty fees

Eligibility requirements to inquire about include credit requirements, citizenship/naturalization requirements, and income requirements.

Does the lender offer any type of deferment in times of economic hardship? Some lenders will even work with you to help you find a new job or temporarily reduce monthly payments while you are in specific employment conundrums.

Compare private sector graduate school loan options here. >

Part II: Repaying Grad School Debt

There are a slew of different repayment options depending on which type of loan you take out. Whether you start repayment during your studies or after, there are some things you can do to prepare.

Federal grad school debt

Students are not required to make payments until six months after their graduation — or nine months if you have a Perkins Loan. Just because you don’t have to make payments during this time period doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

When to start repaying your federal grad school loan debt

The types of federal loans available to you as a graduate student accrue interest while you’re in school and during your grace period/deferment. You are not required to pay that interest immediately, but the unpaid interest will be added to your principal balance.

By making interest-only payments while you’re in school, you prevent these interest rates from multiplying upon themselves, saving you money.

You can pay toward the principal while you are in school as well, if you so choose, as there is no prepayment penalty on federal student loans.

Parents who have PLUS loans are typically required to start repaying immediately after the loan is disbursed. You can, however, request a deferment for the period during which your child is in school. It would be wise to make interest-only payments during this period if you choose to go this route.

Federal loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs

Federal loans give you access to many advantaged repayment and forgiveness programs. Keep in mind that while advantaged repayment plans are designed to make your monthly payment lower, they have the potential to cost you more over the course of your loan — especially if they don’t end in forgiveness — as interest will be charged over a longer period of time.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
If you took out your first student loan prior to July 1, 2014, and your student loan payments are more than 15 percent of your discretionary income, this program allows you to pay a maximum of 15 percent of your discretionary income for 25 years. After that point, your remaining debt is forgiven.

If you took out your first student loan after July 1, 2017, the capped percentage is 10 percent, and you will only have to pay it for 20 years.

Learn more about IBR here.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

If you opt into the ICR Plan, you would make payments for 25 years. After 25 years, your remaining debt would be forgiven.

Your monthly payments would be the lesser of these two options:

  • 20 percent of your discretionary income.
  • What you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income.

Learn more about ICR here.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Take your income and subtract 150 percent of the poverty level in your state. If your monthly student loan debt payments are more than 10 percent of the difference, you may qualify for PAYE. Use this calculator to see if you qualify.

Your monthly payments will be limited to 10 percent of your income and will never exceed what you would pay on a 10-year Standard Plan. After 20 years, the remainder of your debt will be forgiven.

You only qualify for this plan if your first student loan was disbursed after October 1, 2007, and you have received at least one disbursement since October 1, 2011.

Learn more about PAYE here.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

REPAYE does not have the same timing restrictions of PAYE. In fact, the date you took out your loans is irrelevant. There are also no income restrictions.

However, while you will only have to pay 10 percent of your discretionary income, there is no protection stating that your payments will not exceed those of a 10-year Standard Plan. You could end up paying more with this program — especially with a higher income.

Remaining balances on graduate school loans will be forgiven after 25 years.

Learn more about REPAYE here.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The future of this program is uncertain, but it is currently still open.

Under PSLF, you make payments for 10 years while you’re working 30+ hours per week and considered a full-time employee by your employer. This job must be in a position of service, and the remainder of your loan balance will be forgiven. Your 10 years of payments should be made under IBR, ICR, PAYE, or REPAYE.

Qualifying public service jobs include positions at:

  • Governmental organizations
  • 501(c)(3) organizations
  • Non-501(c)(3) organizations providing one of these services:
    • Public or school library services
    • Emergency management
    • Service on behalf of the U.S. military
    • Public education
    • Early childhood education
    • Law enforcement
    • Public interest legal services
    • Public services for the disabled or elderly
    • Public health

Learn more about PSLF here.

State programs

States have regional needs in a number of different fields, including medicine, education, social work, veterinary sciences, law, and more. Across the country there are programs offering to pay off portions of your debt if you agree to live and work in high-need communities.

Repaying private grad school debt

Different lenders will require different repayment terms from their borrowers. Be sure to understand what is expected of you before signing on the dotted line. Ask questions like:
Will I be required to make payments while I am in school?

  • If so, are they interest-only payments?
  • Will there be a grace period after graduation?
  • Do you have any deferment options in case of economic hardship?
  • What is the maximum time allowed for deferment?

When you should start repaying private grad school debt

The sooner you can pay off debt, the better. If your loan requires you to make principal and interest payments, make them without delinquency.

Before you make any payments prior to their due date, make sure there is no prepayment penalty. Otherwise a good portion of the money you think you’re throwing at your debt could end up going toward fees instead.

Learn more: Refinancing grad school debt

If you can get a lower interest rate on your student loans by refinancing, you may be able to save money as long as you pay off your debt in the same amount of time.

In order to avoid ruining your credit score, you may also want to refinance if you cannot afford your monthly payments.

The post The Best Ways to Pay for Grad School in 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

With the Fate of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Uncertain, Here are Tips for Confused Borrowers

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More than half a million Americans are working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), a program that eliminates federal student loan debt for people with jobs in the public sector. But the proposed 2018 White House budget reportedly calls for ending PSLF for future borrowers — and even current participants’ status could be in doubt, with a lawsuit claiming the government has reversed previous assurances given to certain borrowers that their employment qualifies.

Final decisions have not yet been made in either scenario. But even with this uncertainty, there are steps both current borrowers and interested potential future PSLF participants can take to make themselves as secure as possible.

First, a quick primer on PSLF: The program began in October 2007 under George W. Bush, and it wipes clean the remaining federal student debt for qualifying borrowers who have made 120 payments, or 10 years’ worth (more information is available at StudentAid.gov/publicservice). So the earliest any public service worker could receive loan forgiveness under PSLF is October 2017.

“The idea is to avoid making debt a disincentive to choosing public service,” explains Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert and publisher at college scholarship site Cappex.com. “Think about a public defender. They might make $40,000 a year, but they’ll incur $120,000 in debt for law school. That debt-to-income ratio is impossible, so PSLF makes that career path possible — and attracts people who might have otherwise taken high-paying private-sector jobs.”

Public Service Loan Forgiveness — on the chopping block?

At this time, the biggest threat to the future of PSLF is President Donald Trump’s 2018 White House education budget proposal. The budget proposal would eliminate PSLF — citing costs — and replace all current income-based repayment/forgiveness plans with a single income-driven system. While existing borrowers would be grandfathered into PSLF, any new students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018, would not qualify. Still, all of this can happen only if Congress passes the budget — and it remains to be seen whether this section will pass as currently written in the proposal.

If you’re one of the more than 550,000 borrowers who is already working toward forgiveness — that is, you have already taken out at least one federal loan and/or you’ve completed school and are working in public service — the proposed cancellation of PSLF won’t affect you. Again, if the program is cut, it will impact only students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018.

But even existing borrowers working toward PSLF can’t fully relax. As first reported by The New York Times, the Department of Education added a serious wrinkle by sending letters to people saying their employment was no longer eligible for PSLF, after the borrowers had confirmed with their loan servicer that they qualified. Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a lawsuit against the department, and the case is currently in progress.

That may leave many workers questioning whether or not they will ultimately be eligible for loan forgiveness after all — even if they work in the nonprofit or public sector. MagnifyMoney has spoken to experts and reviewed the rules of the program to help.

How Can I Be Sure I Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Qualifying for PSLF depends on meeting several specific requirements, so the first step in determining your eligibility is to make sure your loans and employment check all the boxes.

1. Your student loan must qualify for forgiveness.

PSLF provides forgiveness only for federal Direct Loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans—for parents and graduate or professional students
  • Direct Consolidation Loans

Note that loans made under other federal student loan programs may become eligible for PSLF if they’re consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan, but only payments toward that consolidated loan will count toward the 120-payment requirement. And, according to ED, parents who borrowed a Direct PLUS Loan “may qualify for forgiveness of the PLUS loan, if the parent borrower—not the student on whose behalf the loan was obtained—is employed by a public service organization.”

2. You must be enrolled in the right type of repayment plan.

You must be enrolled in one of the Direct Loan repayment plans, some of which are income-based. The umbrella term for these plans is income-driven repayment plans, which include the Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment plans. While payments under other types of Direct Loan plans, like the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, do qualify and count toward your 120 payments, you’ll want to switch to an income-driven plan as soon as possible — because if you stick with a standard 10-year repayment, you’ll have paid off your loan in full after 10 years with nothing left to be forgiven under PSLF. Check the official PSLF site for more details. And note that private loans, including bank loans that are “federally guaranteed,” do not qualify.

3. You must make 120 on-time payments while employed full time by an eligible employer.

If you drop to part-time work, those payments won’t qualify. You must also be employed full time in public service at the time you apply for loan forgiveness and at the time the remaining balance on your eligible loans is forgiven. After you make your 120th payment you’ll need to submit the forgiveness application, which the Department of Education says will be available in September 2017.

4. Your employer must count as a public service organization.

This is the big one, and the most complicated step of the process for some borrowers to figure out. While the Education Department does address types of employers that fit under the PSLF program, there are some gray areas.  Broadly, the types of employers that qualify include governmental groups, not-for-profit tax-exempt organizations known as 501(c)(3)s, and private not-for-profits. That last category includes military; public safety, health, education, and library services; and more.

Pro tip: Certify that your employer is included in the program every year.

Each year and whenever you change employers, you should fill out and send an Employment Certification form to FedLoan Servicing. The form isn’t required to be submitted on an annual basis, but it’s highly recommended to fill it out annually so there are no unhappy surprises down the road.  It also helps you keep track of progress toward your 120 payments and gives you a chance to find out whether there is any change to your eligibility status.

What if you fear your job’s eligibility is unclear?

The validity of that FedLoan Servicing certification form is at the center of the lawsuit against the Department of Education. Although it’s important to have your employer’s eligibility certified by the department, the Education Department has said the form isn’t necessarily binding and the eligibility of employers can possibly change. As The New York Times put it, the department’s position implies “that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent … are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the [DOE] said.”

That puts existing borrowers in a tough spot, says Joseph Orsolini, CFP and president of College Aid Planners: “[PSLF] is sort of an all-or-nothing in that you can’t apply for the forgiveness until you’ve already done your 120 payments. So to have someone choose this career path and work for years only to be told, ‘never mind, you no longer qualify even though we said you did,’ it would be hard for them not to see that as reneging on a deal.”

That possibility is “terrifying” for Frances Harrell, 35, a preservation specialist who works for a nonprofit that supports small and medium-size libraries in caring for their collections. She completed a library graduate school program in 2013 and emerged with a total of about $125,000 in debt, including her undergraduate loans.

“Everyone I know is in public service, and we all saw the Times article [about the PSLF lawsuit] and flipped out,” says Harrell, who currently lives in Gainesville, Fla. “I felt like I had been dropped in a bucket of ice. We’re making life decisions based on this understanding, and it feels so precarious not to have any true confirmation that we’ll get the forgiveness in the end.”

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Razo)

Harrell has also dealt with confusion from loan servicers and other experts — and based on incorrect advice, she nearly consolidated her loans in a way that would have reset the clock on her years of payments.

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, is relieved that he is enrolling before the 2018 uncertainty begins. Razo is one of Orsolini’s clients, and he plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney.

“[PSLF] is complex as it is, so my initial thought was, ‘Wow, great timing for me that I’m starting in 2017,’” Razo says. “But I understand the program affects way more than just me. [PSLF] gives you comfort to pursue public-service goals without having to make your employment about the money. I’m optimistic that [lawmakers] will see the good in the program so it can continue.”

When in doubt: Follow the ‘3 phone call rule’

While borrowers may think their loan servicer has all of the answers, Harrell’s situation isn’t uncommon, says Orsolini. He recommends “the three phone call rule”: Call three times and ask the same question, documenting whom you spoke to and when.

“These programs are complicated — which is one of the issues that critics [of PSLF] bring up — and you don’t always get the right information,” Orsolini says. “Before you plan your whole life around the [first] answer you get, you have to double- and triple-check that it’s right.”

If you’re taking out your first qualifying loan on or after July 1, 2018, Orsolini says “there’s not much to do besides hurry up and wait” to see what happens with the White House budget as it relates to PSLF.

“The important thing to remember is that a proposal is just a proposal, and these don’t always see the light of day,” Orsolini adds. “It doesn’t do any good to be overly worried, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on the news.”

Other types of loan forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge:

PSLF isn’t the only option. But not all types of federal student loans offer the same forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge options. See the chart below and check out StudentEd.gov pages here and here for more details.

Still, borrowers should know Trump’s desire to streamline federal programs into a single option means some of these loan types and forgiveness plans could be changed or canceled as well.

The post With the Fate of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Uncertain, Here are Tips for Confused Borrowers appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How to Master the College Enrollment Process and Avoid ‘Summer Melt’

As many as 40 percent of college-bound students never make to campus their freshman year thanks to a phenomenon called “Summer Melt.” The term was coined by researcher Karen Arnold in 2009 to describe what happens when high school seniors get accepted into postsecondary institutions but still fail to enroll.

Students susceptible to summer melt, many of whom are often low-income and first generation college students, may get stuck on one or more of the steps required to complete enrollment. These steps can be as simple as filling out housing applications, taking placement tests and attending summer orientation — but the most common culprit behind summer melt is the financial aid process.

“A lot of the reason why students struggle over the summer is wrapped up in the process of accessing financial aid and following through with the financial aid that they are offered,” says researcher Lindsay Page , who co-authored the book, “Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College”.

Making a mistake on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or missing important financial aid deadlines could mean little or no scholarship or grant money for at-risk low-income students, who may not be able to attend attend school without the aid.

Here are a few steps students and their families can take to make sure they don’t fall prey to summer melt.

Reach out to school counselors and nonprofits for help

Dejah Morales, 19, could easily have fallen into the summer melt trap. As a first generation college student, the East Boston, Mass. teen told MagnifyMoney she wasn’t sure how to navigate the college matriculation process. But rather than giving up, she sought help from nonprofit organizations with experts on hand to guide her.

“I wanted to go find help because I knew all of the paperwork that is filled out needs to be done correctly because it affects how much [money] you get for financial aid and anything that has to do with you living on campus,” Morales said.

She started by contacting her high school college admissions counselor, who turned her on to a program offered by Bottom Line, a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students get through the college application process and provides additional support when students are in school. Bottom Line made sure she correctly completed the application process in order to become a student. The nonprofit also has offices in Chicago, New York City, and Worcester, Mass.

For first generation college students like Dejah Morales, 19, (pictured above) getting accepted to college is only half the battle. Completing the enrollment process is the next hurdle. Photo courtesy of Dejah Morales.

When it came to sorting outout the nitty-gritty details of securing financial aid, Dejah turned again to her high school’s resources. All Boston-area high schools are staffed with a counselor from uAspire, a nonprofit that helps college-bound students get the information and resources they need to complete the college admissions and financial aid process.

“Submitting your actual [income verification] paperwork to the school was the hard part. And then having to get my parents tax information was always a struggle especially my dad since he wasn’t living with me,” says Morales. The uAspire counselor assisted her through the entire process.

Even if your school doesn’t have dedicated college counselors on staff, there are many free programs dedicated to helping students navigate the college financial aid process. Check out national non-profits like the College Goal Sunday Program hosted by the National College Action Network, or Reach4Succes. Also, students and families can contact their school counselor’s office for access to local resources.

Know your national AND state FAFSA deadlines — and submit your forms early

In order to get access to financial aid — that includes federal grants like the Pell grant and federal student loans — students and families absolutely MUST fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

That’s why it is so crucial to stay on top of deadlines to submit your FAFSA. If you miss the deadline, your options for financing school become incredibly limited.

Check out our guide on how to get through the FAFSA smoothly >

What’s more, federal grants and scholarships — ‘free’ money for school that you don’t have to pay back — are typically doled out on a first come, first serve basis. That means the later you wait to submit the FAFSA application, the less likely those funds will be available to you — even if you qualify for the aid.

There are two deadlines to keep in mind: the national FAFSA deadline and your state FAFSA deadlines.

State FAFSA Deadlines:

Your state may have set a different FAFSA submission deadline to qualify for state-specific aid. Check here to find your state’s deadline.

Get your parents on board early

Joe Orsolini, CFP and founder of College Aid Planners, says the majority of financial aid issues he sees occur just weeks before the fall semester begins are a result of parents not getting involved early on. Even small mistakes, like entering an incorrect social security number or miscalculating a parent’s income, could mean delays in receiving aid.

“The parents never really sat down with the kid and asked, ‘Hey. where is the rest of this money coming from?’” says Orsolini.

You’ll need to have important documents like your parent’s taxes and income from the past two years and your social security number on hand to complete the FAFSA form. Those can be difficult to get hold of when you don’t live with one or both your parents or if your parents don’t fully understand what they are being asked to provide.

Easy mistakes that can throw off your FAFSA submission

Incomplete e-signature. The FAFSA can also trip you up on seemingly-easy steps, like providing an e-signature. If you don’t provide the e-signature correctly, or think you hit ‘submit’ but didn’t, you may waste valuable time waiting for an email that won’t come until you sign the form properly.

Missing mistakes on your Student Aid Report. About two weeks after you submit the form, you should receive a Student Aid Report which gives you basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid along with your Expected Family Contribution – what your family is expected to pay. The SAR also includes a four-digit Data Release Number (DRN), which you’ll need to allow your school to change certain information on your FAFSA.The SAR also lists your responses to the questions on your FAFSA, so be sure to review it and correct any mistakes.

Income verification notifications. After you receive your SAR, check to see if you’ve been flagged for ‘income verification’ as about 1/3 of students are required to verify their parent’s income with additional proof to complete the FAFSA process. The government usually follows up on students who are more likely to qualify for the federal Pell grant or other grant-based aid, Page says. If flagged for income verification, you’ll have to submit verification to each school you apply to, and the schools may have different paperwork and processes.

Missing deadlines in e-mail. When you create and submit the FAFSA, you give the Education Department your email address. The Education Department will email you, so you need to check the inbox of the email address you provided for correspondence. Create your FAFSA account using an email account you check regularly. Turn on your email notifications on your devices so you won’t miss any emails reminding you to submit your FAFSA form or letting you know if something went wrong somewhere in the process.

Formally accept your financial aid awards

After submitting your FAFSA, you will receive a student aid award letter from your college. But your work isn’t done there. You’ll have to sign online to officially accept the aid (student loans, grants, work-study programs, etc). Typically, that will be facilitated through your college’s website.

If you applied for federal work-study, this is when you’ll decide if accepting it is best for your circumstances. Work with a financial aid counselor at the college if you need help weighing the pros and cons of accepting or denying any aid you’ve been offered.

Don’t forget to sign your Master Promissory Note. In order to receive federal student loans, you must sign a Master Promissory Note. The MPN is a legal document you must sign saying you promise to repay your loan(s) and any accrued interest and fees to the U.S. Department of Education. If you miss this final step, you won’t actually get any of the federal loans you’ve been assigned.

Log into your school’s student portal ASAP

Income freshman likely have access to a student portal provided by their college or university. There, you’ll likely find a checklist of important steps to complete before you can officially enroll.

The list may include important financial aid actions like accepting grants and scholarships or signing your Master Promissory Note.

Contact your school’s financial aid counselors early

If you’re not sure what your next steps should be in the financial aid process, you should reach out to the school you’re planning to attend. Call or send an email to the financial aid or admissions offices at your school if you are concerned about receiving the aid you need or get stuck completing all of the steps in the process.

In the future, your college may be the one reaching out to you first, as Georgia State University did with it’s Fall 2016 freshman class. The school experimented using a “chatbot” to send a control group of incoming freshmen alerts about the enrollment process.

The chatbot ‘nudged’ students to remind them of things they needed to do, like signing their MPN, or accepting scholarships, but it could also respond to students’ questions or help them get in contact with a human if asked or if it couldn’t answer the question.

“We saw our melt rate drop from 18% to 14%,” says Scott Burke, the school’s’ Associate Vice President and Director of Undergraduate Admissions. “That was 300 more students in our freshman class in fall 2016 than in fall 2015.”

Don’t forget your high school resources

Like Morales, high school seniors can still ask their high school counselors for help after they’ve graduated. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions you may have about your transcripts or other parts of the financial aid process.

High school counselors, like Morales’ uAspire counselor, are usually equipped to answer many of the questions you may have about the financial aid process or with the FAFSA, but they may not be able to answer more college-specific questions. For example, your high school counselor could help you navigate your way through Loan Entrance Counseling, but may not be able to explain the process you need to go through to accept any awarded scholarships or grants from the university.

If a high school counselor can’t answer your questions, they generally direct you to the proper entity or person who can.

The post How to Master the College Enrollment Process and Avoid ‘Summer Melt’ appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Sallie Mae Graduate School Loans vs. Direct PLUS Loans

Taking out a federal Direct PLUS Loan for grad school may not be a bad idea if you need to borrow money for your education. Federal repayment options such as Income-Based Repayment, Revised Pay As You Earn, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness can make Direct PLUS Loans an attractive option for student borrowers.

However, these loans currently come with a high interest rate of 7%. On top of that, you will have to pay an origination fee between 4.264% and 4.267% just to take out the loan in the first place.

Recently, Sallie Mae put a new line of loans on the market that may outperform what is available to grad students through the federal government. While there are some negatives, like not qualifying for the aforementioned repayment programs, there are some major positives, like no origination fees and potentially lower interest rates, which could save students a lot of money over the long haul.

In this review, we’ll see how Sallie Mae grad school loans compare to federal Direct PLUS loans.

Sallie Mae vs. Direct PLUS Loan

Sallie Mae’s recent releases include three classes of loans: one for MBA programs, one for dental and medical school students, and a separate loan program for other health care professionals.

In order to qualify for any one of these loan programs, you must be enrolled in a program at a degree-granting institution with the intent of getting a degree. These loans are not for certificate programs or continuing education.

It is worth noting that you do not have to be enrolled half-time to qualify, which differs from the standards for federal PLUS loans.

Interest rates and terms

With any one of these loans, you can borrow between $1,000 and the maximum your school charges for your degree — as long as you qualify either on your own or with a co-signer. Interest rates and loan terms will vary depending on which loan you take out, though.

In the table below, we’ve compared rates for Sallie Mae’s grad school loans against the current rates for the Direct PLUS Loan program.

Keep in mind that variable rates may be lower at first, but have the potential to change significantly over the course of repayment. Fixed rates, on the other hand, tend to start out higher, but will stay stable and predictable for the course of your loan.

None of the loans come with origination fees, and you can pay them off early without incurring a penalty.

3 options to repay your Sallie Mae grad school loan

When you take out any one of these three loans, you can pick how you’ll repay. You have three options:

  1. Deferred Repayment. With this option, you make zero payments while you’re in school and during the six months following graduation — the time frame known as the “grace period.” While it’s nice that you won’t have to shell out any money while you’re focused on your studies, you will accrue interest to be paid later. This option also gives you the highest interest rate of the three options.
  2. Fixed Repayment. Maybe you can’t afford to make full monthly payments while you’re in school, but you can afford to throw a little bit of money at the interest. During your education and grace period, you’ll make nominal, interest-only payments. You will still have back interest applied to your account when your grace period is over, but the amount will be less than if you chose the Deferred Repayment plan.
  3. Interest Repayment. When you choose this plan, you’ll get the lowest interest rate that your credit history and income qualify you for, but you’ll have to make full, interest-only payments while you’re in school through your grace period. After that, you’ll start making interest-plus-principal payments just like the other two options, but your payments will be smaller as there won’t be any back interest to tack on.

Graduated Repayment Period

Worried that you’ll struggle to find a job immediately after graduation? Sallie Mae does offer a principal deferment option called Graduated Repayment Period. For the first 12 months following graduation, you have the option of making interest-only payments, but it’s not automatic. You have to opt in, and there is only a small time frame where you’ll be allowed to do so. Your monthly billing statement will alert you when you’re eligible. Start looking for the notification beginning two months before your grace period is over.

Residency and internship deferment

If you have a Dental and Medical School Loan or a Health Professions Graduate Loan, you may qualify for deferment for the entirety of your residency or internship. If you chose Deferred Repayment, you won’t have to pay anything during this time, though interest will still accrue. If you chose Fixed Repayment, you’ll continue making nominal interest payments, and if you chose Interest Repayment, you’ll continue to make full interest payments while you’re completing this necessary step.

In order to qualify for this deferment option, your residency or internship must meet one of the following three criteria:

  1. Require a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Be a supervised program that leads to a degree or certificate.
  3. Be a supervised program that is required for entry into your field.

How to qualify for a Sallie Mae grad school loan

To qualify for one of Sallie Mae’s graduate-level student loans, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or be a nonresident with an American co-signer. U.S. citizens and permanent residents can use the loan to study abroad, but all studies for nonresidents must be completed in the U.S. at American institutions.

If you have any other Sallie Mae loans, you must be current on them in order to qualify. That includes not being in forbearance or deferment. You won’t meet this requirement if you’re on a modified payment plan.

Sallie Mae grad school loans vs. federal PLUS loans

Pros and cons of Sallie Mae grad school loans

This new set of graduate school loans from Sallie Mae has a lot of good things going on, but as with any financial product, there are both pros and cons.

Pros

  • You could potentially score a lower interest rate than federal PLUS loans.
  • No origination fees.
  • Ability to pay back early without penalty.
  • Quite a few options for repayment — including deferment options after graduation.
  • The 20-year repayment term on the Dental and Medical School Loan gives you a more realistic timeline for paying back your debt.
  • You can take out a loan even if you’re taking a credit-by-credit approach. Federal student loans require you to attend at least half-time.

Cons

  • There is the potential of getting an even higher interest rate than you’d find on a PLUS loan, though you’d still have no origination fees. This is most likely to impact those with a spotty credit history — especially if they opt for the Deferred Repayment option.
  • Dental and medical school students should take note that while a 20-year term is attractive, you will end up paying more over the course of your loan than if you had a shorter repayment term. Take advantage of the fact that there is no early repayment penalty, if at all possible.
  • Because these are private loans, you will not qualify for advantaged repayment options like the Department of Education’s REPAYE, IBR, or PSLF. Direct PLUS Loans do qualify for these programs.
  • The window for enrolling in Graduated Repayment is short. You may miss it if you’re not paying attention.

How to apply

You can complete the application process online. Before you start, make sure you’re armed with this information:

  • Your address
  • Your Social Security number
  • The name of your school
  • Your enrollment status
  • Your intended degree/course of study
  • How much money you want to borrow
  • Information on any other financial aid you’re receiving
  • Current employer information
  • Current salary information
  • Bank account information
  • Monthly mortgage/rent payments
  • Contact information of two personal references

If you’re a permanent resident, you’ll have to furnish some additional paperwork. Be prepared with either your Alien Registration Receipt Card, or its conditional counterpart accompanied by INS Form I-751. If you don’t have either of those, you can also furnish an unexpired foreign passport with an unexpired stamp certifying employment, or a Permanent Resident card.

If you’re a nonresident, you’ll need to provide an unexpired passport, an unexpired student visa, or an Employment Authorization card. You’ll also need all of the above bulleted information for your co-signer.

There is a separate application page for each loan type: Health Professions Graduate Loan, MBA Loan, and Dental and Medical School Loan.

Who are Sallie Mae’s new grad school loans best for?

Sallie Mae’s new student loans have an extremely targeted audience. If you’re studying in one of the specified fields, they can be a good option for you if you have a good credit history and can qualify for an interest rate lower than the one offered on PLUS loans. Just be mindful that while the repayment options are plentiful, they’re not quite as generous as some federal student loan programs that allow you to repay based on your income or even forgive a large portion of your debt after dedicating a portion of your career to public service.

The post Sallie Mae Graduate School Loans vs. Direct PLUS Loans appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How These Student Loan Borrowers Are Getting Their Debt Dismissed in Court

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Student debt is only forgiven or discharged in special cases, but a new report by The New York Times might offer a glimmer of hope to some student loan borrowers struggling to manage their debt.

If a student loan lender or servicer can’t prove that they own the debt that they are attempting to collect from a consumer, it’s possible that the debt can be dismissed in court.  That’s what happened in a recent case profiled by New York Times reporters Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg involving private student lender National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, one of the nation’s largest owners of private loans.

National Collegiate sued dozens of former students who had defaulted on their private student loans. But in court National Collegiate failed to prove they owned the loans. This happens often when loans are sold to another lender, or otherwise handed to another account manager and paperwork gets lost. Ultimately, the courts dismissed the lawsuits, citing the fact that National Collegiate had no way of proving they owned the debts in the first place.

This isn’t always how the scales tip in cases against consumers for unpaid debts.

If consumer debts are left unpaid for an extended period of time, consumers can and often are taken to court by the companies they owe. Often, consumers don’t answer these lawsuits at all. And when lawsuits aren’t answered, judges usually rule in favor of the plaintiffs. With those judgments in place, companies can then push to have the consumers’ wages or federal benefits like Social Security garnished.

The outcomes in these National Collegiate lawsuits are proof of what can happen if consumers simply show up at court and try to fight back.

“Individuals trying to get rid of student loan debt should be proactive in demanding proof of ownership of the loan documents from the lender that is collecting or trying to enforce the [loan],” says Attorney Evelyn J. Pabon Figueroa, based in Orlando, Fla.

People who are going through the bankruptcy process and are attempting to have student loan debt discharged should also ask their lenders for proof that they own the debt, Figueroa says. If proof isn’t provided, they should dispute the debt.

Figueroa says in some cases borrowers should even stop making payments if they believe the lender doesn’t have the right documents to prove they own the loan. Instead, send the lender a debt verification letter, which asks lenders to provide proof that the debt belongs to a person. You can download a sample debt verification letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

The CFPB suggests asking these three questions in your letter:

  • Why a debt collector thinks you owe this debt.
  • The amount of the debt and how old it is.
  • Details about the debt collector’s authority to collect this money.

If the lender can’t provide proof, you should consider disputing the debt, either in court (if the lender has filed a lawsuit against you at that point) or through the three major credit bureaus (if the debts are appearing on your report and subsequently hurting your credit score).

How student lenders lose track of their debts

If the National Collegiate debacle sounds familiar, it should. It’s similar to the same issues mortgage lenders encountered during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Lenders took borrowers to court to pursue unpaid mortgage debts, but when the lenders could not provide proof that the borrowers owed the debt, courts often ruled that the loans were not collectible. The lack of documentation was so pervasive that many borrowers intentionally defaulted on their mortgage loans on the off chance a lender could not prove they owned the debt.

National Collegiate is already anticipating that it will face the same problem — that borrowers will simply stop paying their debts — as word spreads of its inability to win lawsuits against borrowers. “[A]s news of the servicing issues and the Trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises,” the company said in a recent legal filing.

What to do if you’re sued by a student lender or debt collector

First, don’t panic. The last thing you want to do if you’re ever sued is admit in writing or verbally that you owe the debt. In the event the lender can’t prove they own the debt, this may come back to haunt you. By taking these few key steps, you can protect yourself both legally and financially in the event you’re served with a lawsuit from a lender:

  1. Ask them to verify the debt. If you’re already suspicious your loan lender may have lost your paperwork and can’t prove the debt, start by sending out a debt verification letter. If the lender doesn’t respond (give them 30-60 days), they must cease attempting to collect the debt. If they don’t stop, you’ll likely need to contact a lawyer. You may not need to hire one, but a quick consultation for legal advice for your best course of action will be well worth it.
  1. Never discuss the debt over the phone. If a lender or collection agency contacts you via phone before you are served a lawsuit or receive anything in the mail, be sure to get the the caller’s name, company, and license number. Once you have this information, it’s best to communicate via certified USPS mail to track and document that every correspondence has been received by the legitimate collections company and lender. If you end up in court, this is important, as it establishes a paper trail for your communications. (Email and electronic timestamps can easily be forged.) Keep in mind you don’t ever have to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, and you have a legal right to tell debt collectors to stop contacting you entirely.
  1. Contact a lawyer. Lawsuits involving large sums of money are no small game to play in a courtroom. Most consumers don’t know the intricacies of the laws that actually protect them (and sometimes may not know how to read the contracts they signed), but a lawyer versed in contract law or one who specializes in bankruptcy can easily help dispute the debt and, if it’s valid, negotiate a settlement without ever stepping into a courtroom. The CFPB keeps a handy list of legal aid groups so you can find an affordable lawyer in your state.

 

The post How These Student Loan Borrowers Are Getting Their Debt Dismissed in Court appeared first on MagnifyMoney.