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by Agnes Jasinski

New regulations that the federal government hopes will protect college students from excessive credit card debt by making it more difficult for young people to open multiple lines of credit go into effect Monday. The regulations, which fall under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, were approved by Congress last May.

The key pieces of the act include the followin:

  • Creditors will be prohibited from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant’s parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own.
  • Creditors will be barred from offering students perks, such as coupons or T-shirts and book bags decorated with the companies' logos, for opening a new credit card account at campus events.
  • Companies will be required to disclose any existing relationships with colleges and universities annually to the Federal Reserve Board; colleges and universities will be required to disclose any existing relationships with credit card companies as well.

The regulations also included a strong suggestion to institutions of higher education that they provide education and counseling to students who may be struggling with credit card debt, or who may know little about managing credit card usage wisely.

Critics of the act since it was approved say that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. For better or worse, students now are more apt to use credit cards to pay for their college expenses, and critics say they shouldn’t meet obstacles when using their credit cards for those costs. (According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students’ average balances are more than $3,100.) Some consumer advocates also say that while it's a good first step toward keeping students from incurring massive amounts of debt, it doesn't do enough, according to an article today in Inside Higher Ed. It fails to include any cap on the interest rate credit card providers can charge, for example.

We have a number of resources available to you about how to avoid credit card debt, make smart decisions about covering your college costs, and managing your money so that you're spending within your means. It may not mean much to you now, but it isn't all that easy to improve upon a credit score. The spending choices you make today will follow you down the line, so ideally, stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you’re able to each month until you’re done.


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by Agnes Jasinski

While many students – and their parents – will say no amount of student loan debt is ideal, a new report has zeroed in on those at the top of the pile, those who borrow most and may be most at risk for defaulting on their loans and running the risk of hurting their credit scores.

The newest student debt story comes from a report released yesterday by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, which looked at data from 2007-2008 graduates who participated in the “National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.” It paid particular attention to the 17 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients in that year who graduated with at least $30,500 in student loans. Of those, one in six had average student loan bills of $45,700, with much of those loans coming from private lenders who typically lend to students at higher interest rates.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education focused on one particular detail included in the report – that those who borrow more are disproportionately black. Although the sample size was small, and the report’s researchers were hesitant to place too much importance on any breakdowns based on race, the numbers did show some differences in that category. According to the study, 27 percent of black bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $30,500 or more, compared to 16 percent of white graduates, 14 percent of Hispanic students, and 9 percent of Asian students. Those numbers have little to do with income, however. Middle-class students tended to borrow more than those coming from low-income households, perhaps suggesting that those are the students who are more likely to attend private colleges rather than public institutions.

How else did the report describe those students who borrowed most?

  • The frequency of high debt is higher among independent students than among dependent students (24 percent graduated with at least $30,500 in debt).
  • Students who graduated from for-profit institutions are much more likely to have high debt levels than other students.
  • Private loans are most prevalent among students with family incomes of $100,000 or higher.
  • Although black graduates have the highest debt totals, Asian students rely more on private loans. About 12 percent of Asian graduates had no federal loans, with 68 percent of their student loan debt coming from non-federal sources.
  • Higher-income parents of bachelor’s degree recipients are more likely than those with incomes below $60,000 to take out PLUS Loans, and borrow more when they do. Thirty percent of the lowest-income parents borrowed an average of $22,400 in PLUS Loans, while 47 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or higher borrowed an average of $41,500.

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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s rare for a college to tell a prospective student that their school may not be affordable enough for them to attend come fall. For a year, New York University did just that, calling admitted students and their parents and families to talk about the debt they could get themselves into if they chose to attend the pricey college. Citing little effect on enrollment rates, however, the school will not be pursuing a similar effort this summer, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The purpose of the calls was to make sure students and parents were aware how much an education at the school cost long-term. NYU doesn’t offer as much “free money” in scholarships and grants as many other schools, leaving students no choice but to take out student loans to cover the more than $50,000 annual tuition, fees, and room and board bill. According to previous articles on the school’s efforts in The Chronicle, the 58 percent of students who carry debt loads once graduating from NYU do so with an average of more than $33,000 in student loans. (The national average hovers around $20,000.)

NYU won’t be abandoning all efforts to inform students and parents about the costs of attending the college. Administrators say they’re now looking for ways to make sure those admitted know of ways to finance the “significant investment” that is NYU, according to The Chronicle, and that these efforts need to start sooner rather than later when students are still deciding where to enroll. The college also plans to give students a more “general financial education” rather than giving them advice based on their specific circumstances. However, Randall C. Deike, NYU’s vice president for enrollment management, said in the Chronicle article that he has already told some students it may be better for them to start out at a less expensive college and then transfer to NYU later on.

NYU has gotten quite a bit of criticism lately from students graduating with mountains of debt, degrees in the humanities, and limited job prospects. One article last month in The New York Times took a look at Cortney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of NYU with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt. Munna is saying she wasn’t counseled properly about the true cost of college and what it would be like to repay a loan that high once she was done at NYU. According to The New York Times article, it was NYU that suggested she take out an additional $40,000 private loan when she and her mother found that the lower-interest student loans didn’t cover all of the costs of attendance. The college has since said it would have been inappropriate for them to counsel Munna out of NYU, or to counsel her out of taking on more debt to remain at the school. Who is to blame here? Were Munna and her mother naïve in assuming they could handle the loan? Should private lenders consider students’ existing loan totals when doling out funds? Should the college have been more forthright?


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Oh, How The Small Things Add Up

Tips For Saving Money In College

July 6, 2010

by Derrius Quarles

Your checking account is low. "I'll just call home," you say, but you soon learn that your parents refuse to send you any more money. "What about my savings?" Depleted, and you won’t be receiving your work study check for another two weeks. "Okay," you tell yourself, "I can make it through this." Then you open your mini-fridge to find it has become a vacant box except for the ice cubes in the freezer. "I can make it though this" quickly becomes "How am I going to make it through this?"

Unfortunately, this is a position many college students find themselves in at some point due to the many expenses that come with paying for college and surviving while there. There is no plan that can absolutely guarantee this will never happen to you, however, there is one concept that, if put into practice, can help you make sure this hypothetical story does not become your reality. That concept is money management. For many college students this is a concept that is not understood until after a freshman year crisis like the one above, or even worse, an after graduation crisis. This does not have to happen to you, though. You do not have to face an empty bank account or refrigerator to learn how to manage your money. Rather, by learning how to mange your money early, you can avoid the behaviors and habits that lead to such crises while in college. The three things that all college students should understand when it comes to managing their money in college are:

  1. Frequent Purchases
  2. Infrequent Purchases
  3. Budgeting

Frequent purchases are ironic little things. Ironic because most people constantly buy them and do not believe they make a big difference in their budget. Truth is, these small, frequent purchases are what most college students spend most of their money (not including financial aid) on. Small things like gas, take-out, groceries, flying home, clothing, and entertainment. The reason these small things trick many students is because they do not seem like much at the time of purchase. $40 dollars spent on clothes once every day of the week, is easily perceived as less than $280 spent on clothes one day out of the week. When you take into account all of the purchases where this effect can occur, the small things quickly add up to a large amount of money. For example, if a student buys take-out two times a week at $20, that adds up to $200 a month. Then add entertainment (movies, clubs, restaurants, bowling, etc) at $30 a week and you have $150 for the month. If this were your budget, you would have just spent $350 on take-out and entertainment for the month! In order to alleviate spending large amounts of money on small things over time, you have to keep track of all your purchases, no matter how small they are. Another way of spending less on small purchases is to find discounts and by shopping smart. If you have a roommate, then you could buy food for the dorm with them and you could split the costs of dorm items such as TV’s, mini-fridges, irons, ironing boards, etc. Another way of saving money is to utilize your meal plan as much as possible. Your school is going to get paid whether you choose to eat their food or not, so it is best to eat the food available in the dining hall rather than ordering take out. When buying clothing find places that offer college students discounts, or that have good sales. There are also stores that will buy your used clothes and give you cash for them. If you are buying things online, no matter what it is, always search for online coupon codes before purchasing because it could save you 15-50% on your purchase. The last frequent purchase where you could save a ton of money is airline tickets. Even if you only fly home two times out of the year, it could be ridiculously expensive. Buy your tickets as early as possible because it will be cheaper, pack light because baggage fees are steep, and check out AirTran U, which offers students between the ages of 18-22 huge discounts on flights all across America.

Infrequent purchases usually costs a lot more up front, which is the main reason they are infrequent. For college students these purchases usually include books, computers, printers, and summer storage for items too big to bring home. The best way to save on these items is pretty simple. Do your research on which stores or companies have the best price for what you need. When it comes to books, remember this one thing: Your campus bookstore will almost always inflate the prices of textbooks 40% or more, and they give small amounts of money if you want to sell your books back. Even the used textbooks at your campus bookstore will be expensive when compared to online resources. When shopping for a computer, price may not always be the thing you want to look at. If the computer is cheap, but it will break in a year, then it may not be the best buy. You should look for a computer that is in your budget but will also last all of your college years. Another way to save on computers is to look for online discounts, discounts specifically for students, and to buy your computer and printer as a bundle package. Summer storage can also be very expensive so it is best to do your research and find the best price.

The most important step in the process of saving money while in college is creating a budget and sticking to it. Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your income and expenses by category. Then set a cap for each expense so that you do not deplete your funds. Create on online sign in for your bank accounts so you can always stay abreast on what you have spent. Also, try to avoid overdraft fees by making sure your account never becomes negative and by only going to ATM machines that do not charge you fees for withdrawals. Remember that the small things add up to a lot of money when you are in college, so monitor and limit your frequent purchases, find ways to save on your infrequent purchases, and create a budget so that you always know where your money is and where it is going.

Derrius L Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the sixth in a series of posts Derrius is writing for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.


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by Agnes Jasinski

An analysis of long-term data conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that the number of students who default on their loans is far greater than what the federal government has been reporting. According to the data, about one in every five federal student loans overall has gone into default since 1995; the default rate for student loans covering costs at for-profit colleges is even higher, at 40 percent. The default rate for community college students is about 31 percent.

The federal government’s numbers are much lower. The U.S. Department of Education reported default rates for federally guaranteed student loans at about 6.9 percent for fiscal year 2007’s cohort. Why the disparity? The Chronicle says the government’s numbers only show those students who defaulted on their loans two years after entering repayment. The Chronicle’s analysis looks at 15 years of data. According to their new analysis, default rates only worsened as time went on, increasing years after those borrowers had left college.

For-profit colleges have already been getting some negative attention lately, with legislators concerned about the share of federal financial aid the schools receive compared to their total enrollment numbers. (The for-profit sector accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements.) This new data certainly won’t help them. If the federal government moves to pass rules on student loan default rates, a number of those institutions could be at risk for losing federal aid if they cannot improve their numbers. According to the Chronicle, there are a number of for-profit colleges out there that have default rates even higher than 40 percent, including the Tesst College of Technology and Chicago’s College of Office Technology.

No matter how you skeptically you look at the numbers—critics of the data have already said the numbers don’t consider the economy and the demographics and total enrolled at community college and for-profit universities versus four-year institutions—default rates should be taken seriously. Defaulting on your student loan is never a good idea. It hurts your credit, and any wages you do have may be seized by the government that issued you that loan. It’ll then be harder to not only make ends meet, but to get other loans years down the line, including mortgages and new credit cards. You may also be faced with higher interest rates if you are able to land that car loan. You can see now how important it is to borrow responsibly and make sure that if you do need to take out student loans, you’re doing so to pay for the costs of an accredited program that will help you land a decent job after graduation.


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by Agnes Jasinski

In response to recent criticisms of for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education announced a rule today that will cut off federal aid to those schools that leave students with loan debts they are unable to handle once they receive their degrees and certificates. The new “gainful employment” rule would also penalize those programs with the lowest loan-repayment rates, meaning for-profit colleges will be more on the hook to make sure those enrolled in their programs are being prepared for the job search and for entering the workforce.

The for-profit sector currently accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements. Congress has also been looking at the issue this summer, with some legislators concerned by the large amounts of debt students were being saddled with at some for-profit colleges when compared to the comparably low salaries they could expect to receive upon completion of those programs, or the difficulty they may have finding work at all. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education today, officials with the Education Department said this was a way to both protect students and taxpayers, as the measure could help prevent both groups from incurring the high costs of student-loan defaults. 

According to the article, the new rule would consider the number of borrowers repaying their federal student loans against the ratio of total student loan debt to average earnings. About 5 percent of for-profit programs nationwide may be affected by the new rule, and thus would become ineligible for federal aid. About 55 percent on the cusp of ineligibility might need to become more forthright with potential students about excessive borrowing. The new rule doesn’t go as far as the Education Department had initially proposed; that first proposal would have cut federal aid to those programs where a majority of students’ loan payments exceeded 8 percent of the lowest quarter of students’ expected earnings over 10 years of repayment, according to The Chronicle.

Most for-profit schools do serve an important purpose, especially for students changing careers or looking for a flexible alternative. If you’re interested in a career college, just make sure you do your research. There are programs out there that are accredited, or that meet a set of standards from the Education Department, and qualified to give you an advantage in the job market.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A financial aid officer at a for-profit college that closed this week has been charged with felony theft of more than $7,600 in students’ tuition payments. The school, Ascension College in Louisiana, closed quite suddenly to the surprise of the students there, and has been under investigation for what officials say is a misuse of federal aid.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school had to close when the U.S. Department of Education ruled that it was no longer eligible for federal aid, the school’s primary source of income, based on new rules targeting for-profits. The school already had financial problems before the Education Department’s decision. In recent weeks, students had begun to complain about the cost of their educations there versus the quality. The school had been awarding certificates in fields like office administration and dental assistance.

The news comes on the heels of a report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) pointing to evidence that recruiters at for-profit colleges encouraged prospective students to lie on financial aid applications in order to receive more federal funding. The report also shows widespread misinformation from the recruiters about the cost of their for-profit programs, their quality, and how much money graduates would be expected to make once they received their degrees.

The GAO used four undercover investigators posing as potential students at 15 for-profit colleges to get the information. Recruiters at four of those 15 encouraged financial aid fraud; in one example, a recruiter suggested an applicant not report $250,000 in savings when applying for aid. All 15 of the for-profit recruiters made statements the GAO described as “deceptive or otherwise questionable” in their report. In one example, a recruiter based tuition costs on nine months of classes rather than 12, making the total costs seem much lower than they actually were. In another, a recruiter told an applicant that barbers can earn up to $250,000 a year, a gross exaggeration. The GAO also discovered how incessant some recruiters can be once they know a student is interested in a for-profit education. According to the report, one of the investigators received 180 phone calls in one month at all hours of the day and night after registering to receive information on for-profit colleges.

The GAO was quick to note, however, that there were instances where the investigators were given helpful information, such as warning students about borrowing beyond their means. While the report overall doesn’t bode well for for-profits, especially at a time when legislators are watching the industry more closely and calling for more federal review, there are good options in the for-profit sector. For students looking to get into a particular trade, a flexible schedule, or alternatives to a traditional four-year university, for-profit schools do meet a need. The most important thing is to get your facts from a reliable source. Don’t ever take everything a recruiter at any college, for-profit or not, says at face value. Do your own research in the college search to make sure you’re making the right decision and investing wisely.


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Credit Card Crack Down

SUNY Adopts Credit Card Reform Agreement

September 10, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, the emergencies only credit card. Sounds great in theory but when a student’s cash flow is low, the term “emergency” can take on an entirely new meaning (some sweet new sneakers or a floor dinner at Chez Fancypants, perhaps?). If Mom and Dad aren’t too keen on the idea – maybe they’ve been there, done that and have the credit score to prove it – there hasn’t been much they could do to prevent their child from stopping by the student union during the first week of classes and signing up for myriad cards and repercussions…until Andrew Cuomo stepped into their corner.

Reuters recently posted an article detailing the State University of New York’s agreement with the New York Attorney General to adopt practices to protect students from unnecessary debt. SUNY, with 465,000 students on 64 campuses throughout the state, is the first university in the country to adopt this sort of reform, which calls for mandatory financial literacy programs to educate students on loans, credit cards and finances in general to minimize the nearly $4,100 in credit card debt and $20,000 in loans that most four-year college students graduate with. Letters have also been sent to the state’s approximately 300 higher educational facilities insisting that they evaluate any existing contracts with credit and debit card companies, prohibit the sharing of students’ personal information with card companies without authorization, limit on-campus marketing and never accept percentages of charges imposed on students.

When I began my freshman year at UConn in 2001, I made the decision not to sign up for a credit card for one simple reason: I knew that when I tired of my wardrobe or dining hall food, it would have been all too easy to bust out the plastic. That being said, I knew plenty of people who were tempted by the free t-shirts and bottle openers and they would have surely benefited from Cuomo’s reform and tips like these. Now to our readers: Have any financial wins or woes from your college days you'd care to share? Would you have made different choices if more information was available? Were the sneakers worth it?


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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?


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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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