If It’s Too Good To Be True…

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True…

I’m sure you may have heard through the media various companies who are offering students help with their student loan debts. Just type in “Help with student loan debt” on Google and you’ll get 23,700,000 results. While many of these are legitimate organizations, many aren’t, and further, they want you to pay for information and assistance you can get for free.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has recently filed a lawsuit against companies trying to scam students. Click here for the full press release.

There are legitimate free services out there that can help you. Without reinventing the wheel here are some very good sources for the same information—without having to pay:

Student Loan Borrower Assistance –They offer a step-by-step guide to help borrowers to determine if they have federal loans or private loans. It also helps determine their eligibility for federal loan forgiveness programs.

U.S. Department of Education Loan Repayment Site –Offers repayment options, to include students in certain professions to lessen the amount they owe on federal loans. There is also information on deferments for such things as unemployment as well as loan consolidation options.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau –Provides a walk-through for students trying to manage their loans.

A full article by Sheryl Harris, The Plains Dealer, from which most of this content was taken is available at The Plains Dealer.

Another report is available at the U.S. News and World Report’s Student Loan Ranger blog.

Highlights from the Student Loan Ranger blog include very true facts about student loans. According to their blog, “There are many lower payment and forgiveness options available, especially for federal loans, they are all strictly regulated and you have to be eligible to benefit from them. Simply put, there’s not a person on the planet that can get you a better option than you can get working directly with your loan holder…”

Student Loan Ranger also describes that, if your loan is already in default, “Other than paying the loan off in full, you can get federal loans out of default in two ways: rehabilitation or consolidation. You have to make some payments to be eligible for either, but the loan holder is required by federal regulation to work with you to ensure those payments are affordable. And while a defaulted loan incurs collection costs no matter what – at an amount that is, again, federally regulated –  there’s never a fee for taking advantage of either of these options.”

In final, be careful… If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.

 

 

Can We Afford A Private College?

Over the years I’ve heard families give various reasons why they think they can’t afford a private university for their son or daughter; I’ve talked to independent students who felt the same way. There have been many times though, when the family actually explores the differences in financial assistance they’ll receive at a private university versus a public, they change their mind.

The information that appears below has been gathered from several of these conversations over the years—not just with students and parents I have dealt with, but also with friends and my family members who have asked for advice.

FALLACY: I can attend a public university much cheaper than I can attend a private university.

FACT: While this will be true in some cases, financial assistance programs help to equalize the financial burden on the family. The purpose of financial assistance programs is to provide ACCESS AND CHOICE to students from all economic backgrounds. In many cases, the financial assistance you will receive from a private university will make the cost very similar to attending a public four-year university. The amount of need-based grants and academically related scholarships given by private universities often equalize the cost.

Example Private University:

  • Resident Student Direct Costs (Average): $37,560
  • Academic Award: 26 ACT/3.50 GPA: $12,500
  • Need Based Grant: $ 6,290
  • Remaining Costs: $18,770

Example Public Four-Year University:

  • Resident Student Direct Costs (Average): $24,090
  • Estimated Gift Assistance (Income $70K-$80K): $ 5,000
  • Remaining Costs: $19,090

(The examples above are based on a family of four with one student in college making between $70,000 and $80,000 per year—academic ability of the student was equal at both schools. Direct costs used in the calculation were comprised of tuition & fees, room & board—not books, transportation or other personal expenses.)

FALLACY: Our neighbors said they didn’t qualify for financial assistance, so we probably won’t qualify either. Both our families own a $190,000 home and make over $70,000 per year.

FACT: Family situations are much different than what meets the eye. Just because you live in the same neighborhood doesn’t mean your financial situation is the same. Financial need is determined on a case-by-case basis. If you don’t apply for financial assistance, you’ll never know what you’re eligible to receive. Additionally, home equity hasn’t been a factor in calculating financial aid in a number of years. Even if you don’t qualify for federal or state gift assistance, private universities have very competitive academic, talent-based and need-based gift assistance programs.

FALLACY: Even after financial assistance is taken into consideration, I don’t think we can come up with the funding to attend a private university.

FACT: In addition to the gift financial assistance a student can receive, students can get loans from the Federal Direct Loan program. Beyond that, there is certainly the possibility of a Federal Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) if the parent(s) meet the credit requirements. Even if you’re not interested in a loan, many private universities have flexible payment plans to help spread out the cost for the entire academic year. Nobody wants to borrow—I certainly understand that, but students attending both private or public universities commonly borrow student loans to help finance their education.

According to American Student Assistance in the graduating class of 2011, 72% of students attending a private not-for-profit university to obtain their bachelor’s degree borrowed student loans; for students attending a public four-year institution, 62% borrowed. As you can see, the difference is not that staggeringly different.

FALLACY: I’ve been told that if I bring in outside scholarships, the university will reduce the other grants and scholarships that I’m receiving.

FACT: Many private universities encourage students to search for outside scholarships to help offset their costs. You have to check with your specific university, but private universities don’t generally penalize students for their hard work in searching for scholarships. There are cases where your loans or work-study may have to be adjusted, but that is a matter of federal law.

FALLACY: I didn’t receive financial assistance while I attended a community college. I know I probably won’t qualify for financial assistance at a private university.

FACT: Transfer students also receive financial assistance and private universities work with each of them to make a private education more affordable. They offer many special financial aid and scholarship opportunities designed to meet the needs of students transferring to their university.

If you’re attending a Community College that’s near a private university, you should consult with their Admissions staff to determine your possible academic awards and then find out what other aid might be also be available. If you’re planning on getting a four-year degree, not having to pay room & board expenses can save you substantial dollars and you don’t have to leave home.

Gather your own facts before making a decision, but don’t rule out all your options in the process. No matter what you may have heard through the grapevine, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Find out for yourself.

Again, I’ve tried to stay very generic with this information. In any case, consult with the private higher education folks where you’re planning on attending. Every different institution has their own financial assistance policies as it pertains to their own dollars.

If you’d like more information about University of St. Francis you can start here…

Freshman
Transfer
Financial Aid Services
Veterans

Transferring IRS Data to the FAFSA

If your college or university has asked you to “transfer” your IRS data to your FAFSA, then you’ll need to know some information. To help make it easier, this is what you’ll need readily available, and hopefully the student by your side:

• Student Social Security number
• Student date of birth
• Student PIN number (if forgotten the website will let you easily retrieve it)
• Student W2 forms for 2013
• Your Social Security number
• Your date of birth
• Your PIN number (if forgotten the website will let you easily retrieve it)
• You and your spouse’s (if applicable) W2 forms for 2013
(Depending on your particular situation, you may or may not be asked to complete the income from work sections on the FAFSA.)

I’ve given you two possible options to follow below. The first is the “Reader’s Digest” version and you can follow the logical steps in the process through to the end. If you’re a little bit “computer shy” detailed instructions appear below that.

The short version of this process is as shown directly below:

  • Log into your 2014/2015 FAFSA
  • When logged in, select make corrections to your 2014/2015 FAFSA.
  • Go to the Student (and spouse) tax section; follow instructions for the IRS Data Retrieval.
  • Go to the Parent tax section (as required); follow instructions for the IRS Data Retrieval.
  • Complete and submit your FAFSA corrections for processing.

The “long” detailed instructions appear directly below:

Go to the FAFSA website
• Click “Make a correction”…
• Enter the student demographic data—Click “NEXT”…
• Click “Make FAFSA Corrections”…
• Enter the student’s PIN number and create a password (Your student should be present and enter their own PIN number)
• Click “Make corrections to a processed FAFSA”—Click “NEXT”…
• Click “NEXT” until you reach the Income Information page…
• Change tax filing status to appropriate category (normally “Already completed”)…
• You will see the following box appear: You, the parents, may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to view and transfer your tax information from the IRS.
• Answer whether an amended return was filed…
• Answer whether this is a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return…
• Answer whether you’ve filed in the last three weeks…
• You will then see the following: Based on your response, we recommend that you, the parents, transfer your information from the IRS into this FAFSA.
• Answer which parent you are…
• Enter your PIN…
• Click “LINK TO IRS”…
• Click “OK”…
• Once on the IRS screen click “OK” again…
• Enter the address information you used on your Federal IRS 1040 form…
• Click “Submit”…
• You will see the information from your 2013 IRS 1040: Click the box next to “Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA”…
• Click “Transfer Now”…
• You will see the following: “Application was successfully saved.
You’re almost done. The parents’ IRS tax information was transferred, and questions that were populated are marked with “Transferred from the IRS.” To finish, you must sign and submit this application and receive a confirmation page.”
• Page to bottom of the page and click “NEXT”
• Follow the instructions above to transfer the student’s 2013 IRS information (if applicable)…
• Continue to click “NEXT” until you reach the Student Signature Page…
• The student PIN should be entered and click “SIGN”…
• Once the Terms of Agreement is read check the box “Agree”…
• The parent signature can be completed next…enter PIN and click “SIGN”…
• Once the Terms of Agreement is read check the box “Agree”…
• Click “SUBMIT MY FAFSA NOW”…
• Print the confirmation page…
• Click “EXIT”…
• Are you sure?—Click “OK”…
Logout, clear your browser, and you’re done. Your information will automatically be sent to the schools you have listed on your FAFSA.  From there the school will most likely waive/cancel their request for IRS Transcript.

Hopefully this has been helpful.  As always, check with your intended school(s) for their specific requirements.

After the FAFSA…

Looking at a clock that begins ticking on January 1st, filing your FAFSA on a timely basis is one of the most important steps you can make in your college journey. Not only do many states have deadlines for state aid that are very stringent, colleges and universities are not working with an unlimited supply of money and most need-based funding is given out on a first-come, first-served basis until it’s gone.

What happens after you file your FAFSA though? Since virtually all schools have some kind of financial aid computer system to help manage their applications, things are going to happen in a fairly defined order. The purpose of this blog is to give you a working idea on what’s happening behind the scenes of a financial aid office, and why it’s happening that way.

Step 1—FAFSA is received: Most schools do not begin any processes until such time as you are accepted for Admission. Ensure you have given the Admission Office all requested items such as transcripts, ACT scores and essays (if required).

If you have been accepted for Admission, your FAFSA will be evaluated by the computer system to determine what other documents the financial aid office will need. Sometimes the Department of Education (DOE) will select a FAFSA for verification. This can be based on a number of mathematical reasons contained in the data you submitted, or simply a random selection. This requires the financial aid office to request various items such as IRS Transcripts (tax returns are no longer accepted), W2 Forms, Verification Forms, etc. If you are not selected for verification by the DOE, the school may still select you because of various policies and tolerances in place at your particular school. Schools are required to verify any conflicting information on your application.

In addition, if it’s discovered you’re a male and haven’t registered with Selective Service then you’ll have to go to the Selective Service website to either verify you are registered or register. If you’re an Eligible Non-Citizen and the numbers you provided on your FAFSA don’t match Department of Homeland Security (DHS) you’ll be asked to document your citizenship status.

Requests for IRS Transcripts can be waived if you (and your parent) simply go back into the FAFSA website and allow the IRS to transfer your tax data to the DOE. Once the data is transferred, you’ll likely no longer be required to submit IRS Transcripts. If for some reason you can’t transfer your data, you can go the IRS website and request transcripts that you can then submit to the school.

These requests for information are very commonly communicated to you by E-Mail, the school portal, or a combination of both. It’s your responsibility to monitor these communication tools. Some schools still communicate with freshman and Transfer students via the postal service, but even then after the first “paper communication” it’s likely all the rest will be done electronically.

If you’re not selected for verification by DOE or the school, very little “extra” paperwork will be required. It’s very important to clarify that being selected for verification doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Whenever any government agency or school is going to give you grant or scholarship assistance, they’re going to make sure it goes to the right recipient. Schools don’t like paperwork—schools are required by law to get what’s necessary to ensure the accuracy of the FAFSA data you submitted.

Step 2—FAFSA reviewed: Once you’ve completed the preliminary information requested by the financial aid office, your file will be reviewed to correct any errors (if applicable). You should not be surprised if after you’ve submitted everything you were initially asked for, that further information might be requested from you.

There are various reasons why the review can prompt further requests for information. One reason might be that the number of family members you reported in your household doesn’t match the number of exemptions on your federal tax data—this usually requires an explanation. Another reason might be that you’ll need to explain the value of a business or partnership. Yet another could be that there is evidence your family may have untaxed income that hasn’t been reported and that needs to be clarified. There are several other reasons why a second communication is needed—the school would like to request it all at once, but sometimes that’s not possible until the initial information is turned in for review.

Step 3—Your Financial Aid Award is processed: After your file has been reviewed and found to be accurate, the school will process your financial assistance awards.   This process involved taking the various forms of aid you are eligible to receive and building a financial aid package. This package will normally consist of various grants, scholarships, loans and work-study dollars. I’ll cover the definitions of these forms of aid in another blog.

As with the document requests mentioned above, you will be informed of your award via electronic means such as E-Mail, school portal, or a combination of both. Again, as mentioned above, very often freshman and Transfer students will receive paper award letters—at least for the first time. With your award notification you’ll also likely receive other documents such as a “Federal Shopping Sheet” and very likely instructions for what you need to do next as it pertains to your awards.

If you have been offered federal loans or work-study awards, these need to be accepted before further processing can occur. This “acceptance” process will very likely be done on-line through the school portal, and you’ll have to physically check “Accept” or “Decline” for what’s been offered. Your schools computer system may also allow you to reduce the amount of loan or work you’re accepting. The important thing to remember is that anything with the word “loan” in it will need to be paid back after you graduate or cease being enrolled.

Step 4—You accept the loans and/or work you’ve been offered: Just when you thought the requests for information were done… As we all know, loans require paperwork. When a student accepts a Federal Direct loan or a Federal Perkins loan, a request will be generated via the school’s financial aid system for an Entrance Interview and a Master Promissory Note.

The Entrance Interview is generally an electronic process required of all first-time borrowers, although some schools require the student to do the entrance interview in person. If the school uses the Federal Direct Loan entrance interview process the student can complete both the Entrance Interview and Federal Direct Loan Master Promissory Note on the same website.

The Entrance Interview process informs the student of their rights and responsibilities under the Federal Direct Loan Program. At the end of the interview, the student must correctly answer a sequence of questions to help ensure that those rights and responsibilities are understood. The promissory note is the electronically signed document that signifies the student promises to repay the loan after graduation or ceasing to be enrolled at the school.

This process takes a minimal amount of time, and the good news is that normally, once it is completed, doesn’t have to be done year after year. The important part to remember is that until these steps are completed, the loan can’t be credited to the student’s account at the school. The school will receive electronic confirmation from the Federal Direct Loan Program that the entrance and promissory requirements have been met.

Step 4a—A parent accepts a Federal Direct Parent Loan (if offered): This process is very similar to the student process mentioned above. Prior to going to the website though, the school will request demographic information from the parent who is borrowing the loan. This information will be submitted to the Federal Direct Loan Program and a credit check is performed.

If the loan is approved, then the parent can go to the Federal Direct Loan website and complete the Master Promissory Note. If the PLUS loan is denied then the parent would have the choice of getting and endorser for the loan, or if not, it may be possible for the student to borrow additional Federal Direct Unsubsidized loan funds.

I hope this gives you some general insight as to what happens “after the FAFSA.” As I’ve alluded, this is very generic information and may vary from school to school. Always check with your individual school about their specific procedures.

I’d like to close with some very important tips that will help make your life easier as it pertains to the financial assistance process:

  • The student (and parent) should monitor their electronic communications and read all communications from the school(s) where they’ve applied. If information has been requested, try to get it in as soon as possible so the process can move on.
  • If the school offers the parent the option of having a proxy account (being able to view the student’s financial aid information) “encourage” the student to set this up so you can have access. These way things are much less likely to slip through the cracks.
  • If you have questions, communicate with the school. Official there should be very happy to help with your questions.
  • Allow some processing time for documents you submit to the school. In this electronic age, we sometimes get upset when we don’t get immediate feedback. The fact is though, after materials are mailed, go through the hands of the post office, are received and entered into the school’s computer system it is entirely possible and automatic request will be generated asking for the information again—it can’t really be helped.

Stay tuned for a future blog explaining the various financial assistance awards that a student might receive and how they should be viewed.

 

Applying for Veterans Benefits

You’ve decided on a school and now you want to apply for your GI Bill Benefits. The following is a generic guide to the steps involved in the process. Since each individual college or university may have a different form they want you to complete, it’s an extremely necessary step to check their website or call and find out for sure.

Step 1–Apply for Admission: While it may seem obvious, the first step in the process will be to apply for Admission at your intended school. This can generally be done at the school’s website and in many cases it’s free to apply. The school may request information from you—provide it to them in a timely fashion. Once you’re accepted you’ll receive an acceptance letter from the school.

Step 2—Request Transcripts: Request academic transcripts from all previously attended colleges and universities (if applicable) are sent to your intended school. If you’ve never attended college, you’ll very likely need to request a High School transcript. Your intended school will notify you of this when you first apply for Admission.

You should also request military transcripts be sent to your school. If you were in the Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard this request can be performed at the Joint Services Transcript website. If you served in the Air Force, you can go to the Air Force University website.

Step 3–Apply for GI Bill Benefits: Go to the VA’s VONAPP website  .

Forms:
• VA 22-1990 (Veteran has never used GI Bill before)
• VA 22-1995 (Veteran has use GI Bill before)
• VA 22-5490 (Dependent has never used GI Bill before)
• VA 22-5495 (Dependent has used GI Bill before)
• VA 28-1900 (Vocational Rehabilitation)

(Since the VA currently has a “first-pay” policy, your school may require you to apply for state benefits and other financial assistance also. Check with your school regarding this step.)

After the VA has approved your request for benefits, whether you’re a veteran or dependent/spouse, you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Safeguard this document as you school will ask you for a copy of it. It tells the school what you are eligible to receive and how long you’re eligible to receive it. The school may also ask for copies of your DD214 (Report of Separation).

Step 4–Complete the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if you qualify for other federal or state financial assistance. It may be possible you can receive addition funding above and beyond your GI Bill benefits.  The school code of your intended college or university can be found at the Federal Student Aid website.

Step 5–Register on e-Benefits: Go to the VA eBenefits website and create an account.  eBenefits is the VA veteran information portal that can provide you with information on your remaining VA education benefit entitlement, enrollment certification information and payment
schedules. If you have previously attended another college or university, your new school may require a printout showing your remaining entitlement.

Step 6—Placement Tests: Many college and universities require placement test prior to registration to determine your level for various subjects. The placement tests combined with your past transcripts will let school officials know what classes you should take and in what order you should take them.

Step 7—Register for Classes: This step will probably put you face to face with an Academic Advisor, or perhaps your Faculty Advisor. They will attempt to ensure your schedule meets your needs as far as the times and days of your course schedule.

Step 8–Complete Deferred Payment Plan (varies at each individual school): Inevitably once you register, you’re going to be billed for tuition and fees. While your tuition might be completely paid by the Veterans Administration, the Business Office/Bursar’s Office might not know that. Let them know through either their “deferred payment plan” or other means–stop by or call for the correct procedures.

As I mentioned before, this is generic guidance. Always check with your intended school for their specific guidance. While the steps above are listed as 1, 2, 3, etc., they aren’t necessarily set in lockstep order–I just put them in an order that makes the most sense.

In closing, I’d like to give you some tips that will help you on your journey:

• You can see by the number of steps, getting these things done in a timely manner is very important. Last minute decisions should be avoided as these things take time.
• You have to let your school know in some way or fashion that you’re a veteran (or dependent/spouse of a veteran). They are not going to know unless you tell them.
• When schools send requests for information, communicate with them as soon as possible with that information. They are naturally going to wait to get the information from you before they move to the next step in the process.
• If you are contemplating making changes in your student status (change your major, change your class schedule in any way, withdraw, etc.) ask beforehand to find out what ramifications may have with your GI Bill benefits–if you owe end up owing the VA money, they’re going to get it back. Save yourself the heartache.
• Many schools request information via their version of a “Student Portal”, E-Mail communication, or a combination of both. Consider it your duty to monitor these forms of communication. Schools don’t communicate to chat, they communicate because they need something or they want to tell you something.
• Considering you stay at the same school, you are only required to apply through the VA once for benefits. Your Free Application for federal Student Aid (FAFSA) requires you to apply every year of attendance.
• If you are having problems with a class, talk to the instructor, seek tutoring through the VA representative at your school, and actively try to help yourself out. Don’t stop going to a particular class because you’re not “getting it”.

I went through college on the GI Bill myself. I know what it’s like to jump into the higher education environment. You will be surprised to find though, if you’ve dealt with the rigors of the military, you can do this, and if you put forth the effort, you’ll do it well!

If you’re interested in applying to University of St. Francis, you can contact me and I’ll help you through the process.