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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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Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

Dem. Senator Jeff Merkley Proposes Income-Based Loan Repayment

August 20, 2013

Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

by Kevin Ladd

The new student loan bill Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) plans to introduce is a progressive idea intended to battle high loan repayment costs and hopefully restore the middle-class in the United States. The announcement of this proposal came after President Obama signed a student loan bill into law on August 9th. The new loan bill sets interest rates for undergraduate loans to the 10-year Treasury note plus 2.05% with a cap of 8.25%. While some Democrats oppose the bill as they feel Congress shouldn't "profit off the backs of students", it seems widely to be seen as an improvement over the default doubling of rates from 3.4% to a flat 6.8%. Merkley's goal is to make much bolder steps and pursue steps that more favor the middle-class and promote more affordable post-secondary education. As always, any ideas or comments you have are welcome and we will be sure to pass your ideas onto both the President and Senator Merkley!
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For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

3% Over 24 Years Not a Bargain for All

August 22, 2013

For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

by Kevin Ladd

Dreamed-up in Portland Oregon and soon lauded in New Jersey, Washington, Ohio and elsewhere, the "Pay it Forward" plan could cost some folks more than simply taking out loans at 6.8%. With the plan calling for approximately $9B in start-up funds and requiring college grads to pay 3% of their income for the 24 years following graduation, only those making below a certain amount would benefit. Certainly, it would be great in the beginning and sounds easier than securing loans, but anybody looking at the big picture and planning to earn over $55K per year upon graduation should probably consider a more traditional path. As always, we recommend finding as many scholarships as possible to keep student loans to a minimum. Free money is better than either of the aforementioned options!
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College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

Community College Tuition & Fees Up 24% More Than Inflation Over Last 5 Years

August 21, 2013

College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

by Kevin Ladd

Even community colleges across the country are increasing costs much faster than inflation, causing concern among those attempting to use what most would consider the most accessible of forms of higher education. Even with lower interest rates recently signed into law by President Obama, the costs for just about every aspect of post-secondary education continue to rise. Last year, the average cost to attend an in-state, two-year school was $3,131. That's an increase of nearly 6% over the previous year, larger than all other types of schools.
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Student Loan Bill Approved by House

March 23, 2010

by Administrator

In addition to the expansion of health coverage for Americans, another significant change has been made and another major economic issue addressed with the termination of the bank-based system of federally subsidized student loans.

With a vote of 220 to 211, the controversial bill, HR 4872, was passed by the House on Sunday and is expected to gain Senate approval within a few days. The bill, known best for the health-care provisions it contained, also addressed and closed the twenty year debate over whether to include private lenders in the federal student loan system.

Most of the savings expected to be derived from this major change (estimated at approximately $61 billion over the next decade) will be used for increasing the value of the Pell Grant for low-income students. Historically black colleges and community colleges are also expected to benefit from the savings this program offers. The House passed a similar bill in September of 2009, but didn't garner enough votes to pass the Senate. This time around, it was packaged with the health-care measure, and the amount dedicated to education has been reduced.

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Scholarships, Grants, Fellowships, Internships and Loans Explored

August 28, 2007

by Administrator

In the world of financial aid there are many different forms of assistance available to students and each serves a slightly different purpose than the other. Many students assume that words like scholarship, grant, fellowship, internship, and student loan are interchangeable. They are not, however, and the consequences of misunderstanding which form of financial aid you are looking for or receiving can be far reaching. For each variety of assistance there are different tax stipulations, service requirements, and repayment expectations attached. Any student on the hunt for financial aid should know what he’s looking for, what he’s found, what the award requires and how it will help him achieve his college goals.

Scholarships

Most scholarships are financial awards given to eligible students with no strings attached. Typically, if you win a standard scholarship, unless it is renewable, your interaction with the donor ends the day you receive your check. According to the IRS, if you are not pursuing a degree, the entire scholarship is taxable. For those students using the scholarship for college, any portion used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies is not taxable. Any funds remaining after your expenses are paid for, however, are subject to tax. There is not typically a service requirement or other stipulation attached to the scholarship upon receipt of the award, however, you should check to be certain. Scholarships are offered in many varieties—sweepstakes, essays, competitions—for traditional and non-traditional students alike. Occasionally scholarships require that you do a specified amount of community service after receiving the award.

Grants

Like scholarships grants are a cash award that does not need to be repaid. There are federal grants, state grants, and grants issued by private businesses and organizations. Many undergraduate students greatly depend on government grants to get them through college. Why shouldn’t they? As long as students qualify financially, all they need to do is fill out a FAFSA. Aside from the government sponsored grant program, most grants are awarded to graduate students who need help funding research or who intent to enter a specific field. Grant amounts range greatly. They may be $100, $100,000, etc. Graduate school grants are not typically used toward tuition, but rather, they are usually used for any expenses necessary to complete your research.

Fellowships

Fellowships are typically awarded to pursuers of graduate or doctoral degrees. Although providers don’t seek repayment, they will frequently ask that students perform research work as a part of the deal. The work may be tedious, but it is usually worth the effort; it is not uncommon for stipends, in addition to tuition coverage, to be a part of the fellowship package. Fellowships tend to be lucrative, and they can get pretty competitive. Students who demonstrate exceptional merit are usually the top runners.

Internships

Most students know the difference between a scholarship and an internship, however, for those that need clarification an internship is an opportunity to work within a business or organization that you would otherwise need a degree to hold a position in. While some internships offer monthly stipends for students participating in their programs, others are unpaid. There are many professions that require students to have participated in an internship program before they can be hired as an employee. It’s a good idea to find out how most professionals in your field of interest secured a position in their field because you will likely discover that without the help of an internship most would not be where they are today. When you are considering an internship there are several things to think about before you accept a position. Ask yourself: How will it help me? What is the time commitment? Is there a stipend? And of course, is there a possibility for employment after the internship?

Student Loans

Believe it or not, student loans qualify as financial assistance; however, loans are a form of low-interest debt that must eventually be repaid. There is a limit to how much financial assistance a student can receive from student loans which is usually determined by how great the financial need of the student is. For the students who do not qualify for a need-based grant but do not have enough cash to pay for tuition, student loans are a good option. An added benefit is that most loans do not begin accumulating interest until 6 to 12 months after you graduate and monthly payments are also delayed until then.

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