Use these 3 tools to gauge college costs and returns

It’s no secret that college is expensive, no matter where you go. Many university administrators recommend that parents and their college-bound students prepare sooner rather than later to figure out how they’re going to afford it and get familiar with all of the terms.

Our friends at U.S.News & World Report recommend you check out three tools, which will help you get familiar with the ins and outs of college costs and post-graduate success.

  1. Net price calculators 
    Each college and university has one online, which will give you an idea – it’s only an idea, not an exact amount – of how much a particular school will cost.
  2. Loan calculators
    These will show you your estimated monthly loan payments, so you’ll know whether you can manage the payments. FinAid.org’s calculator is one such tool you can us.
  3. Graduation comparisons
    On NerdWallet, a personal finance website, you can find a college comparison tool to see what percentage of graduates from specific university departments are employed and what their average salary is. That way, you can get a better idea of the employment rate of the schools you’re interested is and an estimate of what you’re future salary might be.

We hope this helps. If you know of any other helpful tools just let us know so we can share.

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Ways to help your college student manage credit card debt

It’s so tempting to get a credit card and use it – a lot – when a student gets to college. And many students do. In fact, statistics from 2012 indicate that the average undergraduate amassed more than $3,000 in credit card debt.

What can you do to help? YourCollegeKid.com has a few suggestions that will help you help your son or daughter.

Co-sign on a credit card with caution
People under 21 are required to have a parent or another responsible adult co-sign on any credit card account unless they can prove they have sufficient income to pay off the debt. Co-sign only if you know your son or daughter is responsible enough to handle this responsibility.

Add your son or daughter to your own credit card account
If you add them as an authorized user of your account, you can monitor their credit card use. You can tell them how much they are allowed to spend track their spending. And, they’ll have a credit card in case of an emergency. Remember, though, that you’ll be responsible for all of your son’s or daughter’s charges.

Secure their credit card
Consider getting them a secured credit card, which limits how much your son or daughter can charge to the card. This kind of card is linked to an account where a user – you or your child – deposits cash. So, if $500 was deposited into the account, that’s all he or she can spend. Keep in mind that these kinds of cards usually have annual fees.

Have “The Talk”
No, we don’t mean that talk. You’ve probably already had that one. We mean talk about credit card use and debt management.

If you’re looking for a credit card for your son or daughter, there are several you can choose from.

Next: Tools to gauge college costs and returns

5 things to keep in mind as you apply for financial aid

We’ve been talking a bit about financial aid this month and thought it would be important to point out that there are some things you need to keep in mind when you file for financial aid. These suggestions come from The Huffington Post.

  1. If you’ll be filing the FAFSA electronically,obtain a PIN, which you’ll use to electronically sign the FAFSA once you complete it. Also, gather all of the school codes for the schools you want to list on the FAFSA (for example, ours is 008815). Write them down ahead of time so you’ll have them handy when you fill out the FAFSA.
  2. Gather everything you’ll need before you get started, including federal tax return, social security numbers of parents and student, student’s driver’s license number, current bank statements, investment statements, mortgage information, untaxed income statement, veterans’ benefits, child support received, etc.
  3. Make sure you answer all the questions. If a question doesn’t apply to you, insert a zero or N/A, whichever is appropriate. You don’t want to leave anything blank.
  4. When you file any form, keep a copy for your records. Also, make note of the date when you submitted it. If you file electronically, you usually will get a chance to get a copy of the form with a time-date stamp. If you mail your FAFSA, use delivery confirmation. You’ll need these records if questions arise about when you submitted your form.
  5. Consider if there is anything occurring in your household that may affect your ability to help pay for your child’s education that isn’t included on the financial aid forms — for example, if you know you’ll be laid off or your hours will be reduced this year.  Let the college know about your situation through a special circumstance notice. Colleges have the ability to adjust your Expected Family Contribution based on such a situation.

Financial aid experts suggest families apply for financial aid even if they think they may not be eligible. Don’t assume you make too much money or that you won’t be eligible for some other reason.

Next: Helping your college student manage debt

6 steps to figure out how much to borrow for college

Since college is expensive, many students need to borrow money to help pay for it. But, how do you know how much to borrow.

Our friends at U.S. News & World Report offer six steps to help you figure out how much to borrow.

ForFeb.18postDollarSignEstimate your full cost of college
This is a biggie. You need to figure out how much it’s going to cost, and we mean more than just tuition. If you’re living on campus, you’ll have room and board fees. You’ll be buying books. Most colleges charge assorted fees. You may have transportation costs. Consider it all.

Borrow only what you need
This is important because you’re going to have to pay back what you borrow – plus interest. So, you don’t want to borrow more than you’ll need so you can live large. It’s better to keep your living and entertainment expenses as low as possible.

Research your earning potential
For student debt to be manageable, you shouldn’t owe more than your starting salary once you graduate, according to Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FastWeb.com and FinAid.org. He says that if you owe less than your annual income, you should be able to pay off that debt in about 10 years. You may wonder how you can figure out what your future salary may be. Remember, there are many published resources that include starting salaries of recent graduates and what their college majors were. Nerdwallet.com is one of them.

Think long term
It’s a good idea to figure out how much your monthly loan payment will be when you graduate. How? Online calculators are
available at FinAid.org and PayBackSmarter.com.

Weigh loan options
Research the two student loan options: federal and private. Federal loans come with fixed interest rates and borrower protections, including the opportunity to lower or postpone your payments if you fall on financial hardship. Private loans can have fixed or variable rates and typically don’t offer repayment flexibility.   

Keep a healthy mindset about debt
Debt doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, the experts say that a reasonable amount of debt can be one of the best investments a student can make.

Next: 12 insider tricks to pay for college

5 ways to enjoy Valentine’s Day without a date

RedHeartsFeb11and13Happy Valentine’s Day – a day early.If you’re going to be alone tomorrow, we have some suggestions on how you can have a nice V-Day. Evan Edinger has some interesting and funny suggestions:

Our friends at the Student Advisor Blog also have more:

  1. Spend time with friends
    Let’s face it, you’re not the only one who’s going to spend Valentine’s Day alone. Find a few other single friends and have some fun.
  2. Treat yourself
    Being single means you don’t have to pay for someone else or split the check. You don’t have to buy a gift. You don’t have to go to a movie you don’t want to see. Take the money you would spend on a date and spend it on you. Buy yourself a gift or a delicious dinner – just for you.
  3. Circulate
    Or, you can spend the day trying to find a mate. Many colleges have college towns have Valentine’s Day-related events you can attend in the hopes of finding “the one.”
  4. Spend time with your family
    If your college is near your family, why not visit and have dinner with them? If they don’t live nearby, you can also call, Skype or Face Time.
  5. Do something you love
    Not having a date gives you the time and freedom to do something you really enjoy. Watch whatever you want on TV, whether it’s the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” or ESPN. Read a good book. See a movie you want to watch. Play a game. Whatever you choose, enjoy it. 

Hope you have a great Valentine’s Day.

6 cheap Valentine’s Day date ideas

In case you didn’t know – or weren’t paying attention – Valentine’s Day is three days away.
RedHeartsFeb11and13Even if you’re a little short on funds, you and your loved one can still have a nice day. Our friends at the Student Advisor Blog offer inexpensive ideas for Valentine’s Day dates.

Go out the day before
That way, you’ll avoid the crowds and the added expense that is often included in events or meals on V-Day.

Free is good
Find a free event. Many colleges and universities offer a full schedule of events, including free ones on Valentine’s Day.

Go out for dessert
Avoid the expense of dinner out by going out for dessert only. So, you can eat in the dining hall on campus or cook in your apartment and then take your sweetie to a fancy restaurant just for dessert, which probably won’t cost more than $10.

Explore your city or town
No matter where your school is located, there are probably local or regional sites you haven’t seen yet. Use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to check one of them out.

Your date can go to the dogs (and cats)
Feb11PostA great way to have fun on a date is to visit the local animal shelter and play with the dogs or cats for a while. Most shelters welcome visitors who will spend a little time with the animals.

  1. Find a free class
    Many places offer one free – or discounted – class to people who are interested in trying something new. This will give you and your date a chance to try out a new skill or hobby and have some fun.

Do you have any suggestions? If so, please let us know so we can share them.

Next: How you can enjoy V-Day all by yourself.

5 financial aid assumptions you don’t want to make

As we mentioned Monday, financial aid can be confusing. You might start assuming things that may — or may not —
be true. Our Friends at U.S. News & World Report explain some of those assumptions so you  can make well-informed decisions.

  1. Your financial aid package will include just free money, money you won’t have to pay back.
    As our financial aid director Melissa Ibanez likes to say, “Free money is good money.” What do we mean by free money? Money you don’t have to pay back, such as scholarships and grants. However, there are other types of aid, such as loans, that you’ll have to pay back, and work-study employment that you’ll have to work for.
  2. Your awards are renewable.
    On our campus, if you get a merit scholarship it can be renewable for us to four years, but you have to meet certain criteria. However, there are other types of aid that may not be renewable.
  3. The total you see is actually what you pay.
    When researching colleges, remember two things: The tuition price that is listed in the college’s or university’s materials or website may not be what you’ll pay because of financial aid you’ll get. For example, on our campus, 94 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. Also, there are other costs besides tuition, room and board, such as assorted fees, textbooks and other miscellaneous needs.
  4. The total cost will remain the same until you graduate.
    Most likely, tuition will increase. Maybe not every year, but mostly likely at least a couple of times before you graduate.
  5. You can’t negotiate.
    It doesn’t hurt to try, particularly if there has been a drastic change to your family’s financial situation.

Do you have any financial aid assumptions to share? If so, just let us know.