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Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

August 19, 2013

Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

by Kevin Ladd

There has been a lot of talk around student loan rates over the last few months, or even the last year or two, depending on how closely you've been listening. With the rising cost of higher education and the harsh reality that most students will need to take out loans to finance at least a portion of their education, federal student loan rates are a concern for many of us. Recently, President Obama signed a student loan deal to bring rates back down from the 6.8% to which they doubled on July 1st, when Congress failed to act before the deadline. Basically, the legislation is connecting student loan interest rates to the financial markets. This offers lower rates this fall because the government can borrow money relatively cheaply at this time and is far better than the 6.8% it has been for the last several weeks.
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The Perks of Joining the Military After High School

August 2, 2013

The Perks of Joining the Military After High School

by Carly Gerber

Are you stressing out because you don’t know how you are going to pay for a college education? Joining the military is one way to help you pay for college and build your resume.

After high school, Richard Coughlin decided to join the U.S. Coast Guard because they would pay for his college education and provide many benefits such as health care. Coughlin was enlisted from September 2006 until September 2012 but he chose to extend his service for two years and thinks of his time in the military as a very positive experience. Coughlin spent most of his service in Hawaii, where he trained and took classes that were transferred to his current university. According to Coughlin, military members who complete their service feel lost and confused because they weren’t proactive about their next step; however, the Veterans Affairs office at one university was extremely helpful at transferring college credit hours and guiding Coughlin through the process of attending a university, which is why he chose to attend the school he will one day call his alma mater.

Also, since Coughlin was enlisted with the Coast Guard, he was able to get a job as a dolphin trainer as soon as his service was completed. Normally, a dolphin trainer needs either a bachelor’s degree or a certificate but the process was quicker for Coughlin because he had experience from the Coast Guard. The G.I. Bill requires the military to pay for veterans’ college tuition, books, and room and board, but Coughlin has money from dolphin training that can be used towards personal expenses.

Though he initially joined the Coast Guard to help pay for college, Coughlin believes that his service has helped him land a job and taught him respect and independence he will carry with him for the rest of his life. Have you considered joining the military before attending college?

Carly Gerber is majoring in journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She loves fashion and hopes to cover the topic for a Chicago-area magazine. In her free time, she focuses on her blog, loves making jewelry and spending time on Pinterest and Pose. She hopes to use this blog to guide and relate to its followers: college students like herself!

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Student Debt Forgiveness Programs Skyrocket

May 6, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you plan on paying for your college education out-of-pocket, completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships are essential in your quest for financial aid. But have you considered federal programs that forgive student loan debt almost entirely? It’s an increasingly popular option: According to reports, government officials are trying to rein in federal programs that forgive some student debt, amid rising concerns over the plans’ costs and the possibility they could encourage colleges to push tuition even higher.

The fastest-growing plan requires borrowers to pay 10 percent a year of their discretionary income in monthly installments. The unpaid balances for those working in the public sector or for nonprofits are forgiven after 10 years while those private-sector workers see their debt wiped clear after 20 years. And while there is currently no limit on such debt, the Obama administration has proposed to cap the amount eligible for forgiveness at $57,500 per student. The cost? A report last week from the Brookings Institution estimated that the plan could cost taxpayers $14 billion a year! “Loan forgiveness creates incentives for students to borrow too much to attend college, potentially contributing to rising college prices for everyone,” the study said. The authors went on to recommend the forgiveness provisions to be scrapped entirely. (For more on this story, click here.)

Share your thoughts on federal student debt forgiveness programs in the comments and check out our financial aid section for more information on how to fund your college education.

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Student Debt Forgiveness Programs Skyrocket

May 6, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you plan on paying for your college education out-of-pocket, completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships are essential in your quest for financial aid. But have you considered federal programs that forgive student loan debt almost entirely? It’s an increasingly popular option: According to reports, government officials are trying to rein in federal programs that forgive some student debt, amid rising concerns over the plans’ costs and the possibility they could encourage colleges to push tuition even higher.

The fastest-growing plan requires borrowers to pay 10 percent a year of their discretionary income in monthly installments. The unpaid balances for those working in the public sector or for nonprofits are forgiven after 10 years while those private-sector workers see their debt wiped clear after 20 years. And while there is currently no limit on such debt, the Obama administration has proposed to cap the amount eligible for forgiveness at $57,500 per student. The cost? A report last week from the Brookings Institution estimated that the plan could cost taxpayers $14 billion a year! “Loan forgiveness creates incentives for students to borrow too much to attend college, potentially contributing to rising college prices for everyone,” the study said. The authors went on to recommend the forgiveness provisions to be scrapped entirely. (For more on this story, click here.)

Share your thoughts on federal student debt forgiveness programs in the comments and check out our financial aid section for more information on how to fund your college education.

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Obama's Student Loan Plan: What's in it for you?

June 10, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you're planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options available. From Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA, the funding is out there but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. Translation: For the majority of students, loans are inevitable. But don't fret just yet because President Obama announced an executive order capping loan payments: In an attempt to ease heavy college debt, millions of student loan borrowers will soon be able to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.

According to the administration, this action will help up to 5 million more borrowers but will not be implemented until December 2015 at the earliest. And while some students taking out loans can already cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes, the president's order will extend this ability to students who took out loans before October 2007. (It’s important to note, however, that President Obama's executive order would cover only those loans from the federal government, not private financial institutions.) "The past couple of years, we've done future students, we've done current students, and now we're trying to take a step back," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Monday. Duncan went on to explain that the expansion of the payment caps would be "fantastic for the economy" by allowing young people to spend or invest that money elsewhere. (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And for more information on federal funding, visit our Financial Aid section.

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Understanding Obama’s New Student Loan Plan

August 15, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

With the final month of summer rapidly slipping away, now is the time to buckle down and finalize how you're going to fund your college education. Whether that entails a full-ride scholarship (way to go!), an impressive financial aid package or even necessary loans, it's important to understand your options. Some of you might even be considering President Obama's Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan...if you can figure out what it involves or if it's even an option. If you're confused about this plan, you're in luck: U.S. News and World Report has broken down the big questions you need answered below:

  • Will these updates help me? If you have federal student loans, maybe. Starting in 2015, borrowers who took out loans before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011 will be eligible to take advantage of the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan. Government officials estimate this includes an additional five million people.
  • How much could I save? Now, most federal loan borrowers are eligible for income-based repayment – a different repayment plan that has the same premise as Pay As You Earn. Unlike Pay As You Earn, however, IBR caps payments at 15 percent of one's disposable income and forgives the balance after 25 years of payments. Those differences could mean a lot, both in monthly payment amount and in the total amount paid over time.
  • Didn't the president mention loan refinancing too? He did, but in relation to a bill that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced last month called the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. This legislation would allow federal and private student loan borrowers with older, higher interest loans to consolidate them within the direct loan program at today's lower fixed interest rates. That bill still has to pass both the Senate and the House, something that may not happen because Republicans are opposed to paying for the bill with a gradual increase in tax rates for those in the higher income brackets.
  • What else should I know? There is still a long way to go before the president's executive action takes effect: December 2015 is the target implementation date. The overall plan includes quite a few other ideas that will make a difference to student loan borrowers, like improving financial incentives for federal student loan servicers to help borrowers stay out of default, making it easier for active-duty military to receive benefits and increasing communication partnerships with entities such as the IRS and tax companies to ensure consumers are aware of their higher education rights and benefits.

What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And for more information on federal funding, visit our Financial Aid section.

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Community College Students: Avoid These Student Loan Challenges!

June 27, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be intimidating. No one wants to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives, full-tuition scholarships are rare and federal student aid seldom covers all college costs, so considering a community college to curb the financial strains is smart! But attending a community college doesn't necessarily dismiss the likelihood of defaulting on your student loans: According to the most recent cumulative default rates, the percentage of two-year public school students who default is 18.7 percent and 13.2 percent for students at two-year private and nonprofit institutions – that's more than double their four-year counterparts! If you're a community college student, check out U.S. News and World Report's three tips you can follow to avoid defaulting on your student loans.

  • Think before you borrow. Just like your other obligations, a student loan is a commitment. You are responsible for repaying it whether you complete your education or not. By thinking before you borrow, you can help ensure the former comes true.
  • Maximize your federal financial aid. Contrary to popular belief, financial aid is available for community college students. And while you should think before you borrow, you can be less reluctant if you go with federal loans.
  • Stay in school. Maximizing federal financial aid can help community college students in an additional way: It can keep them in school if they run out money. Taking out student loans without going on to complete your program of study can lead to big repayment problems. So whether your goal is a formal credential from a community college or to eventually transfer to a four-year institution, it’s important to stay on target so you don’t end up with debt but no diploma.

Can you think of any tips to add to this list? If so, please share them in our comments section. For more information on the pros and cons of attending a community college, head over to Scholarships.com College Prep section.

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What’s in a Decimal Point?

Online FAFSA Error Makes Low-Income Filers Look Like Millionaires

July 7, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

When it comes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a decimal point could make a world of difference: An update to this year’s FAFSA has cost some low-income filers a chance at some serious federal student aid.

For the 2014-15 FAFSA, the government expanded several income and asset fields in the online form to accommodate higher incomes. Herein lies the problem: Some lower-income filers are missing the .00 outside the box and entering cents into the text field. And when the do that, an income of $28,532.79, for example, is converted into $2,853,279. Big mistake. Huge. If the error isn't caught or corrected on individual forms, the filers could lose out on Pell Grants or other need-based student aid. According to Jeff Baker, policy liaison at the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, the department has already identified 165,000 individuals who've made the mistake. He's estimated that a majority of colleges have at least one affected student, while some may have hundreds. "It's a serious problem," said Baker at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ annual meeting. "We have to fix it." (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the headaches that typically go into applying for federal aid using the FAFSA, what are your thoughts on the current roadblocks? Why not just have filers round income to the nearest whole dollar amount? For more information on the FAFSA, the importance of applying and what you'll need before you get started, check out Scholarships.com’s Federal Aid section.

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Five Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid

July 11, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely stressful. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid (aid based on a student’s attributes like (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! – so we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed and college aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off; institutions can also make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  2. Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  3. Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  4. Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have leverage when it comes to negotiating your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact your first choice institution (which one is “that institution”...first or second choice?)! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

Can you think of any tips that we might have missed? If so, please add them to our comments section! For more information on finding money for college and how to properly fund your college education, check out Scholarships.com Financial Aid section.

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College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

October 25, 2013

College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors heading to college in the fall, listen up: The average cost at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades (yay!) but the slowdown in tuition increases have been offset by reductions in federal grant aid (boo!).

According to a new report from the College Board, public colleges have raised tuition prices so sharply in recent years not to gouge students but to bank on the increased state aid. And although the increase is moderate, "this does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable," says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid. "It does seem that the [upward tuition] spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating." Unfortunately, students continue to suffer from the constant cycle of rising costs and serious college debt. Shrinking state aid for public colleges and universities has translated into the cost of public schools to jump $1,770 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The amount of government aid received last year fell $6,646 for every full-time student at those institutions while just five years ago, each student received $9,111 in today’s dollars. (For more on this report, click here.)

If college is in your forecast, what do you make of the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.

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