MONEY College

Why an Off-the-Field Win for Student Athletes Could Mean Higher College Costs

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Drake Johnson (#20) of the Michigan scores against Indiana on November 1 , 2014 in Ann Arbor. Leon Halip—Getty Images

As the college football season heats up, the action far from the field could eventually raise the costs of fielding teams.

Wins by college athletes in courtrooms and boardrooms could end up in losses for their non-athlete classmates.

High-profile legal cases and NCAA policy changes are likely to boost the cost of fielding big-time athletics programs. And students—even those who never attend a single college basketball or football game—may have to foot the bill, higher-education finance experts say.

How the Game Is Changing

The most sweeping changes to college sports could come from an antitrust suit against the NCAA pending in New Jersey, in which attorney Jeffrey Kessler contends that college athletes should be paid as much as the market dictates—a salary, essentially. A win for Kessler, who filed the suit on behalf of former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins, likely would spark bidding wars among universities for top recruits by eliminating limits on such payments.

The case is likely to go to trial next fall.

“I do believe that if the Kessler case wins, that could break the bank for the NCAA as we know it today,” says William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system and co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “This would become like a mini NFL draft. It would become a free market.”

Other factors also promise to change the rules of the game.

A federal judge in August ruled in favor of former college athletes, led by UCLA star basketball player Ed O’Bannon, in an antitrust suit against the NCAA that could lead to back payments for as many as 100,000 former athletes and additional scholarship money for future ones.

The ruling came less than five months after the National Labor Relations Board concluded Northwestern University football players were, essentially, university employees, and could unionize.

Some schools have already hinted they would pay athletes thousands of dollars more per year after NCAA officials—independent of any lawsuits—said they might allow universities to cover athletes’ entire cost of attendance.

Who Will Foot a Bigger Bill?

Only a handful of NCAA Division I schools have self-sustaining athletics programs—just 20 of the nearly 130 schools in the top-flight Football Bowl Subdivision, for example—so most universities subsidize those departments, even in a pre-Kessler, pre-O’Bannon world. At public institutions in particular, part of that subsidy is drawn from student fees.

According to the Knight Commission, growth in athletics funding at Division I schools outpaced academic spending from 2005 to 2012. Students at some schools pay $1,000 in athletics fees alone.

Changes to how student-athletes are paid could lead some schools, stuck with nowhere else to turn, to raise other students’ fees. Universities and colleges could also scale back their athletics programs to cut costs. That “would be the rational approach,” Kirwan said. “But when it comes to college athletics, rationality doesn’t often prevail,” he said. “There are so many societal pressures.”

Research shows that some students don’t even know their fees are already paying for athletics. At Ohio University, for instance, 41% of revenue from the general fee of $531 per quarter for full-time students in 2010 went to intercollegiate athletics, but 54% of students didn’t know it, according to a survey by the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

Dividing the $765 per year they paid for athletics through the fee by the number of games the average Ohio University student attended, the center calculated that students were paying the equivalent of more than $130 per athletic event they actually watched in person.

Eighty-one percent said they opposed raising the amount of their fees that went to the athletics program, or wanted it reduced.

If the Kessler lawsuit succeeds, “The institutions that rely primarily on student fees are going to have to make a decision about whether they’re going to try to keep up,” says Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. “When you have schools with $5 million for their entire athletic budget trying to compete with schools that have $5 million coaches, it’s going to strain at some point.”

The Pressure to Stay in the Game

Even some schools in the “Big 5” conferences—the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12—where football and basketball bring in big bucks will have trouble maintaining their programs if bidding for athletes takes off, experts said. Schools on the fringes of big-time sports success, such as UC Berkeley, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Indiana, would have tough decisions to make about whether to pass on costs to students, says Murray Sperber, a UC Berkeley professor who has written several books about the role of college sports.

The most likely outcome, Sperber says, would be for at least some of those universities to drop out of the big-time sports world by eliminating athletics scholarships or otherwise scaling back sports programs rather than risking protests by paying athletes and charging students more. But some colleges in mid-tier conferences will probably choose to stay in the bidding game, he says.

“You think of it as a big poker game where the stakes keep going up,” Sperber says. “The students in trouble potentially are those at schools beyond the Big 5, because they’ll have to decide whether to stay in the poker game.”

No Price Tag on School Spirit

Students at some big-time Division I schools said athletic success is important not just for the campus but also for the community. The University of Kentucky basketball program, for example, is part of the school’s and the state’s identity, says Jacob Ingram, president of that university’s student body.

“One of the things the state of Kentucky identifies with most is the Big Blue Nation,” says Ingram, a senior from Nicholasville, Kentucky. “What a great way to leverage our brand and share the rest of what the university has to offer.”

At Rutgers, which is in its first year in the Big Ten, the athletics department has taken on new importance with its climb into the Big 5 ranks. Few students seem to mind paying for that prominence, says senior Brian Link, and even fewer would want to see the school to roll back the affiliation.

“Given the state of where our athletic program is, I think if we have a de-emphasis on athletics a lot of people wouldn’t be too happy,” says Link, from Sayreville, N.J. “That’s where a lot of our school pride comes from—our athletic program. A lot of people in New Jersey root for Rutgers because there aren’t other big-time programs here.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

MONEY Thanksgiving

9 Food Blogger-Approved Thanksgiving Leftover Hacks

When you're tired of turkey sandwiches -- and you know you will be -- we've got you covered with tasty alternative ways to use your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Still got pounds of turkey leftover from your Thanksgiving feast? Or a whole bowl of cranberry sauce? Don’t let your extras go to waste. This year, instead of trying to eat ten turkey sandwiches the weekend after, give one of these nine dishes, all crafted and tested by top food bloggers to use up their own Turkey Day food, a try.

 

  • Thanksgiving Croquettes

    Thanksgiving Croquettes
    Thanksgiving Croquettes TheRusticPlate

    Recycle several of your Turkey Day dishes with this croquette recipe by Serena Cosmo of the cooking blog, Rustic Plate. These small pan-toasted rolls are made from your leftover mashed potatoes and roasted turkey, and feature — surprise! — an oozy center of cranberry sauce and cream cheese.

  • Turkey Gumbo

    Work your baggies of take-home turkey into this light and mild version of gumbo created by the Steamy Kitchen food blog. The tomatoes, okra, and Polish sausage in this dish will serve as a nice reprieve from the typical Thanksgiving flavors.

  • Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches

    Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches
    Spicy Turkey Cranberry Pretzel-Wiches

    We all make sandwiches from our leftover turkey, but why not try a more adventurous take on the Black Friday classic? This recipe by $5 Dinners uses up leftover cranberry sauce as well as turkey, and requires only two other ingredients.

  • Halal Cart Style Turkey and Rice

    If you’ve visited Manhattan, you’ve seen the food carts on the street selling Halal-style chicken and rice prepared right there on the cart. But you don’t need to be in New York to get the same taste. The Steamy Kitchen food blog has created a clever hack recipe you can do at home using your leftover turkey.

  • Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza

    Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza
    Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza foodiewithfamily

    By the second or third day of leftovers, you’ll probably be dreaming of ordering pizza just for the sake of change. But you can get all that melted cheesy goodness and still make use of those pounds of turkey. This free-style recipe from the blog Foodie with Family calls for all the pizza classics like crispy crust and multiple cheese varieties but “trashes” it up with BBQ sauce, olives, onions, cilantro, and cubes of avocado.

     

  • Sweet Potato Pancakes With Cranberry Maple Syrup

    Still got mounds of mashed sweet potatoes? Too many spoonfuls of cranberry sauce? Try this recipe by Erin Chase of the cooking blog $5 Dinners for a sweet and easy breakfast-take on Thanksgiving flavors.

     

  • Turkey Pho

    141126_FF_BloggerLeftover_FoodieFamily
    Turkey Pho foodiewithfamily

    Leave behind the classic flavors of Thanksgiving and work your leftover turkey into a warm, spicy Vietnamese noodle soup with this recipe by food blog Foodie with Family. Add a couple of jalapeno slices, sriracha, and hoisin sauce to the bowl and you’ll barely realize you’re still eating turkey all these days later.

  • Golden Raisin-Apple Stuffing Cups

    Reinvent your leftover stuffing by turning it into bite-size morsels with any extra pie crust you may have from baking pumpkin or apple pies for the holiday. For advice on how to form your flaky pie cups — or ideas for jazzing up your stand-by stuffing recipe with a few extra ingredients — see $5 Dinner‘s recipe.

     

  • Pumpkin, Sage, & Crème Fraîche Pappardelle

    Noodle dish

    Here’s one that was definitely not served at the first Thanksgiving feast: Try turning your leftover pumpkin puree or even sweet potato casserole into a creamy pasta sauce with this recipe from the food blog Two Red Bowls. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, the recipe includes guidance on making your own noodles.

MONEY identity theft

I Ate Thanksgiving Dinner With My Identity Thief for 19 Years

mother and daughter at thanksgiving table
Juice Images—Alamy

Axton Betz-Hamilton was shocked to discover the truth about her mother.

Nineteen a minute: That’s how quickly people become identity theft victims in the U.S. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 10 and 16 million Americans are defrauded each year in this way. Thanksgiving can be an awkward time of year for some victims, since family members account for more than 30% of the identity thieves.

Axton Betz-Hamilton knows this firsthand. Raised in a middle-class home—her mother Pamela was a tax preparer, her dad a department manager for a grocery store—her identity theft story is both a family affair and exponentially stranger than fiction.

“We lived on hobby farms—one in Portland, Ind., and then another in Redkey,” Betz-Hamilton told me. Thanksgivings were with family. Her paternal grandfather moved in during the ‘90s. (He had been a welder at a tractor factory.) Together, they were a small family unit that looked like many others, though in reality they were ensnared in a mindboggling circle of financial fraud.

“Nineteen Thanksgivings came and went, and [my mother] cooked those dinners for us—me and dad and my grandfather after he moved in in 1995. We were getting robbed by the hand that fed us the entire time,” she said.

The Damage

Betz-Hamilton’s identity theft story spans 20 years, starting in 1993. The charges on credit cards that were acquired using her Social Security number amounted to about $4,000, but the damage rippled out, impacting every aspect of her financial life.

Betz-Hamilton first discovered that she had been victimized when, as a 19-year-old college student, she was moving off-campus, and the utility company asked for a $100 deposit. The reason: bad credit. She ordered a copy of her credit report (while important for everyone, this is a crucial step for anyone who has been a victim of identity theft). She assumed there would be a one-pager featuring a couple student loans. Instead, a large manila envelope arrived. She then contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of identity theft. They told her to file a police report. She did that, and waited as nothing happened.

When she disputed the accounts with one of the credit card companies, she was told that her story did not hold up. “There had been two payments before the account was maxed out.” This was earlier in the evolution of identity theft, so all the various tactics were still unknown, but it is not uncommon for an identity theft to try to extend the value of a target by making things appear to be as normal as possible.

“My credit report was 10 pages long, and my credit score was 380,” she said.

The consequences Betz-Hamilton faced will be familiar to anyone who has ever struggled with a bad credit history. “I had to pay higher interest rates for my car loan and the credit cards I legitimately obtained. My first car loan was 18.23% and my first credit card had a 29.9% APR. I’ve had to pay deposits for electric, phone and cable. I had to pay higher insurance rates through 2009.”

The lifetime cost of identity theft is staggering, since bad credit can impact so many pieces of your financial life, as Betz-Hamilton discovered. You can see how your credit scores stack up for free on Credit.com.

Anatomy of Family Fraud

In 1993, Betz-Hamilton’s parents were victims of identity theft. When she found out that her identity had been stolen, the most logical assumption was that whoever had stolen her parents’ identities had stolen hers as well. Another 18% of identity theft victims are defrauded by friends, neighbors and in-house employees. It took 20 years and a fluke discovery for her to learn the truth.

Pamela Betz died of cancer in 2013, and the details of her secret life emerged. She had stolen her daughter’s identity. She had stolen her husband’s identity. She compromised her father-in-law for around $1,500. And of course she herself had mountains of debt.

Betz-Hamilton’s father made the discovery after finding a blue plastic file-box in one of the outbuildings on their farm. Inside, there was a 12-year-old credit card statement. The account was in his daughter Axton’s name. It was overdue, and so he called his daughter to give her a hard time about this hidden bit of past ignominy. She told him the card never existed. Upon closer inspection, the account had a card in his wife’s name.

The 20-year fraud began to unravel.

“She had a lot of purses and backpacks, and that’s where she stored the paper trail,” Betz-Hamilton recalled. “It was also between dresser drawers. Papers were folded and shoved into books. We didn’t know my grandfather’s identity had been stolen until I found a credit card statement in one of those purses, and I still don’t know how far back that goes.”

Questions arose. Was there another house somewhere, cars or perhaps another life? On her deathbed, an alarm rose when Betz-Hamilton’s father noticed that his wife’s wedding ring was missing.

“We think she pawned it,” Betz-Hamilton told me. “I have no idea what she was up to. Maybe she had a second life. She had been using multiple names. I’m still looking.”

Dr. Axton Betz-Hamilton is now a professor at Eastern Illinois University where she teaches courses on personal finance and consumer issues. She wrote her Ph.D dissertation on child identity theft; how people experience it, looking specifically at victims under the age of 18 who learn about their situation later in life.

“My mother’s last wishes were to be cremated, and we respected that. She wanted her ashes to be with me. I’m sitting next to my mother right now,” she told me over the phone.

“Sometimes I yell at her. And sometimes I shake the box she’s in. We just don’t know who mom was. It’s hard to grieve for her. To change things up and start new traditions, I had Christmas at my house last year. Mom was here on the shelf. It was awkward.”

Indeed.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY College

20 Private Colleges With the Highest Student Loan Debt

In this photo provided by the University of Hartford, former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre gestures after receiving an honoroary degree during commencement ceremonies at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn., Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Shana Sureck—AP

A new report shows which schools leave students with the worst debt upon graduation.

Tuition at private colleges is often much more expensive than at public institutions, and debt levels among private- and public-school graduates have a similar gap: Of the 20 private and 20 public schools that produce graduates with high debt loads, the average debt loads differ by more than $8,000, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt.

The report, commissioned by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), looks at student loan debt among bachelor’s degree earners in the class of 2013, and it shows the average debt for a 2013 graduate is $28,400, and 69% of students graduated with some debt. Schools report debt data on a voluntary basis, and most for-profit institutions didn’t submit information, so while the list of schools with high-debt graduates isn’t comprehensive, it gives a good idea of the education debt recent graduates struggle with.

Among the 20 public colleges whose 2013 graduates had high levels of student loan debt (which we covered recently), the average loan balance upon graduation was $36,388. The high-debt private schools produced grads with an average of $44,819 in education debt. Here’s a list of the private schools with the most indebted graduates.

20. Adrian College

Adrian, Mich.

Average debt among 2013 graduates: $41,763

19. College of Our Lady of the Elms

Chicopee, Mass.

Average debt: $41,813

18. Lawrence Technological University

Southfield, Mich.

Average debt: $42,044

17. Pacific Union College

Angwin, Calif.

Average debt: $42,153

16. Saint Anselm College

Manchester, N.H.

Average debt: $42,196

15. Wheelock College

Boston, Mass.

Average debt: $42,313

14. Curry College

Milton, Mass.

Average debt: $42,356

13. Utica College

Utica, N.Y.

Average debt: $42,528

12. Alvernia University

Reading, Pa.

Average debt: $42,552

11. Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas

Average debt: $42,585

10. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Terre Haute, Ind.

Average debt: $42,967

9. The College of Saint Scholastica

Duluth, Minn.

Average debt: $43,113

8. Becker College

Worcester, Mass.

Average debt: $43,238

7. Rockford University

Rockford, Ill.

Average debt: $44,459

6. Quinnipiac University

Hamden, Conn.

Average debt: $44,552

5. LeTourneau University

Longview, Texas

Average debt: $44,584

4. Ringling College of Art and Design

Sarasota, Fla.

Average debt: $45,274

3. University of Hartford

Hartford, Conn.

Average debt: $45,778

2. Anna Maria College

Paxton, Mass.

Average debt: $48,750

1. University of the Sciences

Philadelphia, Pa.

Average debt: $71,370

Pennsylvania colleges had a strong showing on the public school list, as well as having two private colleges on this one, but Massachusetts leads the pack when it comes to a high concentration of indebted private school graduates. The exceptionally high debt load of University of the Sciences graduates could be tied to the fact that it produces pharmacists and other health professionals, who generally earn high incomes.

The list isn’t perfect: Not only does it exclude schools that didn’t report student debt to college guide Peterson’s, the source of the data used in the report, it also doesn’t include parent loans, debt of students who don’t graduate, debt of transfer students incurred at other institutions, and debt of graduate or professional school students. The reasons for high debt levels among certain schools’ graduates vary and can be difficult to pinpoint.

“There are many factors that affect student debt levels,” said Matthew Reed, program director at TICAS. He listed a few, including tuition and other costs, available grants and scholarships and student demographics. To get a better picture of institutions’ graduates’ debt burdens, it’s also important to look at the default rate.

Defaulting on student loans seriously damages the borrower’s credit, making it difficult to access other forms of credit, not to mention get general consumer services or rent an apartment. If the student loan servicer sues the borrower for the unpaid sum and wins, the borrower’s wages may be garnished, on top of the further credit damage incurred from having a judgment on your credit report. For students looking at colleges, it’s important to consider the success of institutions’ graduates and how much debt you’ll likely take on by attending the school, because it will significantly impact your future. To give you a better idea of how your student loans are impacting your credit scores, you can see your scores for free on Credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY real estate

103-Year-Old Texas Woman Fights to Keep Her House

Man in suit holding foreclosure signs
Pamela Moore—Getty Images

An elderly woman is battling a bank that's trying to foreclosure on her.

A 103-year-old Texas woman is fighting to keep her home after she let her insurance lapse, a CBS affiliate in the Dallas/Fort Worth area reports. Myrtle Lewis told CBS she accidentally let her insurance expire and renewed it after noticing the mistake, but the gap in coverage apparently violated the loan agreement for her reverse mortgage. Now, OneWest Bank, which holds the loan, is attempting to foreclose on Lewis.

It’s unclear if it was mortgage or homeowner’s insurance, and when contacted by Credit.com, a public relations representative for OneWest said the bank declined to comment on Lewis’s case. One thing is clear: Lewis is worried about losing her home. In the interview with CBS, she said it “would break my heart.”

Lewis took out a reverse mortgage on the home in 2003, when she was 92. Reverse mortgages are a type of loan for homeowners ages 62 and older, allowing senior citizens to use the equity they’ve built in their properties without making monthly payments. Repayment is deferred until the borrower dies, moves or sells the home, but the homeowner is still responsible for paying taxes, insurance and any other fees associated with maintaining their home. A 2012 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said 10% of reverse mortgage borrowers face foreclosure because they fail to pay taxes or insurance.

Missing insurance payments may not seem like a huge deal, especially if you correct the mistake, but it is. It’s not unheard of for homeowners to face foreclosure because of something seemingly small, like unpaid homeowners’ association fees, but there are serious consequences for not upholding your end of a loan agreement. Foreclosure will also negatively affect your credit for years.

A focal point of the CFPB’s 2012 reverse mortgage report is that these loans need to be better explained to and understood by borrowers, and it found that many lenders were deceptively marketing reverse mortgages to senior citizens. Lewis’s case may be in the process of unfolding, but no matter what happens, her story is a good reminder to consumers that there’s often not room for error with large loans. It’s crucial to understand your responsibilities before putting your financial future and well-being on the line.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Small Business

Can Ferguson Recover? The Lasting Economic Impact of Violent Unrest

Flames illuminate the St. Louis Fish & Chicken Grill next door to where fire crews worked to douse a burning furniture store.
Riots erupted moments after it was announced Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Several buildings were looted and burned. James Cooper—Demotix/Corbis

The looting and destruction of businesses in Ferguson could have long-term effects.

A grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown has stoked anger in Ferguson, Mo., where peaceful protests have given way to looting and violence, virtually shutting down the city last night. “People don’t want to come into the area,” Jason Bryant, a local pastor, told TIME.

The events echo those in August, when the shooting first caused long-standing tensions to erupt into violence, theft — and shuttered storefronts. TIME reported last night that local retailers have seen sales slow by as much as 80%.

While the loss of local business may seem trivial next to the potential for additional violence — not to mention the civil rights and other legal issues at stake — there is a danger that rioting could disrupt the lives and livelihoods of Ferguson residents for years to come.

In the ten years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, for example, the city lost nearly $4 billion in taxable sales, according to research conducted by Victor Matheson of College of the Holy Cross and Robert Baade of Lake Forest College.

“Social unrest can have a lasting negative impact on a local economy in a way that’s much more persistent than even a natural disaster,” says Matheson. “Though Hurricane Andrew caused more damage upfront, businesses were able to bounce back as soon as cleanup began. We didn’t see that in Los Angeles.”

Matheson and Baade found that the steps toward recovery are relatively clear after natural disasters: Communities tend to join together to build shelters, clean up, and storm-proof structures against future events. After rioting, by contrast, it’s much harder rebuild confidence and community trust among frightened business owners, or to convince new employers to move in. “It’s not as simple to just stamp out violence and anger,” Matheson says. And reluctance to rebuild is dangerous because it is self-perpetuating, he adds.

Concerns about lasting damage to business-owner confidence similarly followed riots in London in 2011 (also triggered by a police shooting), and economic aftershocks are still felt today, despite the commitment of more than $116 million in riot-recovery funding.

While there are no easy fixes that will keep Ferguson from suffering a similar fate, quelling anger is a first step. Various experts and commentators have suggested policy changes that could help rebuild trust in the police department, including a consent decree like the one that eventually helped the LAPD improve relations with residents of L.A.

No matter what path Ferguson takes, says Matheson, the sooner the violence ends, the faster the local economy can begin to heal.

 

MONEY Ask the Expert

Do You Really Need Medigap Insurance If You’re in Good Health?

140603_FF_QA_Obamacare_illo_1
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: We are in good health and have a Medigap Plan N for 2014. With same expected health in 2015, do we need anything more than Medicare A, B, and D plans? —Norbert & Sue

A: Medigap, a private insurance policy that supplements Medicare, picks up where Medicare leaves off, helping you cover co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Some policies also pay for services Medicare doesn’t touch, like medical care outside the U.S.

This additional insurance is not necessary, but, says Fred Riccardi, client services director at the Medicare Rights Center, “if you can afford to, have a Medigap policy. It provides protection for high out-of-pocket costs, especially if you become ill or need to receive more care as you age.” (If you already have some supplemental retiree health insurance through a former employer or union, you may be able to skip Medigap; you also don’t need a Medigap policy if you chose a Medicare Advantage Plan, or Medicare Part C.)

If you purchase Medigap, you’ll owe a monthly premium on top of what you pay for Medicare Part B. The cost ranges from a median annual premium of $936 for Medigap Plan K coverage to $1,952 for Plan F coverage, according to a survey of insurers by Weiss Ratings. The median cost for your plan N was $1,332 a year.

Even if you didn’t end up needing your Medicap policy this year, however, think twice before you drop it.

If you skip signing up when you’re first eligible, or if you buy a Medigap plan and later drop it, you might not be able to get another policy down the road, or you may have to pay far more for the coverage.

Under federal law, you’re guaranteed the right to buy a Medigap policy during a six-month open enrollment period that begins the month you turn 65 and join Medicare, says Riccardi. (To avoid a gap in coverage, you can apply earlier.) During this time, insurance companies cannot deny you coverage, and they must offer you the best available rates regardless of your health. You can compare the types of Medigap plans at Medicare.gov.

You also have a guaranteed right to buy most Medigap policies within 63 days of losing certain types of health coverage, including private group health insurance and a Medigap policy or Medicare Advantage plan that ends its coverage. You also have this fresh window if you joined a Medicare Advantage plan when you first became eligible for Medicare and dropped out within the first 12 months.

Most states follow the federal rules, but some, such as New York and Connecticut, allow you to buy a policy any time, says Riccardi. Call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program to learn more.

Outside of one of these federally or state-protected windows, you’ll be able to buy a policy only if you find a company willing to sell you one.And they can charge you a higher premium based on your health status, and you may have to wait six months before the policy will cover pre-existing conditions.

MONEY road to wealth

Why This Married Couple Lives With Roommates

The Liebhards have $135,000 in student debt and counting. That's led them to an unusual living situation.

Samantha and Travis Liebhard married right after their college graduation in 2012, and quickly moved to Minneapolis so that Travis could start his graduate pharmacy program at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.

Travis has racked up $135,000 in student loans and expects to incur another $60,000 before graduation. So to save money, this September they moved into a four-bedroom apartment they share with two roommates — single guys who are classmates of Travis’s at pharmacy school.

Samantha complains about dishes in the sink and clothes left on the floor, but the four roommates — plus the two cats in the apartment — get along well. “It’s helping me prepare to have children one day,” she jokes.

To learn more about the Liebhards and their journey on the road to wealth, read Retirement Makeover: Just Starting Out and Overwhelmed by Debt.

MONEY Student Loans

How to Pay Off Student Loans Without Surviving on Ramen

graduate eating ramen on the floor
Datacraft/QxQ images—Alamy

Recent grads: You don't need to live off instant noodles or buy only the cheapest beer. What you really need is a plan.

For some federal student loan borrowers who graduated in May, the time has come: It’s the end of your loan repayment grace period.

If you’re about to start shelling out monthly loan payments, just started or are hoping to aggressively tackle your debt, there are a lot of things to do before you start transferring money.

1. Get a Grip on the Basics

Let’s start with the fundamentals of loan repayment: You owe a certain servicer a minimum amount of money at the same time every month. Make sure you know how all that works. You should have received notification from your student loan servicer, but if you’re not sure who you’re supposed to pay, you can access your federal loan information in the National Student Loan Data System. It’ll tell you who you owe. Private student loans won’t be found in that database, but will likely show up on your credit reports with information about the lender so you can contact them.

Make sure you understand exactly what you’re required to pay each month and your payment due date. Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors and Discover Student Loans Brand Ambassador, recommends organizing your student loan information in a document and setting up calendar reminders for when the payments are due. Look into automatic payment options with your servicer, as well, but you’ll still want to make sure the payment goes through every month. Forgetting about it could accidentally lead you to miss a payment.

2. Figure Out What You Can Afford

As a new graduate, you may be dealing with more life expenses than you have in the past, or you might still be in search of a job you want. Paying your student loans needs to be a priority, because once you fall behind, it can be very difficult to catch up, and missing loan payments will seriously hurt your credit score. You can see how your student loan payments affect your credit score from month to month by getting two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

If you’re concerned about being able to afford your payments, look into student loan repayment options. Federal loan borrowers are often eligible for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness. The application process might take a few months, said John Collins, managing director for GL Advisor, a student loan debt consultancy. Servicers are dealing with a lot of repayment program applications this time of year, so it could take you 60 to 90 days to enroll, Collins said. In the meantime, make sure you can afford your payments.

3. Make a Plan

You may hate the idea of paying debt off over the course of a decade, racking up interest along the way, but before you decide to throw as much money as possible at your debt, consider your entire financial picture.

“What we’ll recommend to everybody is right out of school, limit your required payment as much as possible,” Collins said. “They need to have an emergency savings fund in case something happens. That should be a goal before you start paying down debt.”

Once you have enough socked away to cover three to six months of expenses, then you can consider upping your loan payments, though you’ll want to make sure you won’t incur penalties and your extra payment goes toward the principal loan balance.

Figure out if you want to consolidate or refinance your student loans and what it would take for you to qualify. There are a few companies offering competitive refinancing rates for private loan borrowers with qualifying credit histories, and that could save you a lot of money in the future.

Federal loan borrowers have some decent options for making payments affordable, and all it requires is a little planning. For example, when you’re gathering documents to prove your income level, make sure you’re providing the most accurate information — your earning situation may have changed drastically since you filed your taxes — so your loan repayment is accurate, Collins said.

“Ultimately I think borrowers have a great opportunity to reduce their debt payments through the federal loan repayment options,” Collins said. “A lot of people recommend eating only Ramen, and live in a studio apartment, and only buy toilet paper if necessary. You should never feel that pressure. Use the many tools that are out there, educate yourself on what they are, and if you need help, there are plenty of resources out there.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY College

Why It’s So Tough To Find Out the True Cost of College

calculator missing keys
Good luck finding your college's net price calculator. Larry Washburn—Getty Images/fStop

Schools are supposed to help prospective students figure out the real price in advance. Actually finding the calculator is another matter.

U.S. colleges have started, however reluctantly, to share more information about what students might actually pay to attend—the so-called net price. But the calculators that Congress has forced schools to provide since 2011 are often hard to find, vary widely in quality, and should be used with some caution.

The idea behind the law was to give families a rough, individualized estimate of what college might cost them once scholarships and grants are deducted from the sticker price. (Loans are not supposed to be included in the net price figure since borrowing increases rather than decreases the cost of education.)

A realistic estimate of costs would give families much better information before a child applies. Previously they only got true cost information after the student was accepted and had been offered financial aid.

But many people, including parents and even high school counselors, are not aware the calculators exist, said college consultant Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who runs TheCollegeSolution.com website.

Some colleges do not seem eager to enlighten them, even though the U.S. Department of Education last year urged schools to post the tools prominently in logical places.

One quarter of the 50 colleges randomly selected by the Institute for College Access and Success did not have links to their calculators on the financial aid or costs sections of their sites. Even when the calculator was on a relevant page, it was rarely posted prominently, the survey found.

Five of the 50 schools confused matters further by using some other name for the tool, such as “education cost calculator” or “tuition calculator.”

The survey was conducted in 2012, but not much has changed, TICAS president Lauren Asher said last week.

To find New York University’s calculator, for instance, users must click on three tabs—”Admissions,” “Financial Aid and Scholarships,” and finally “Financial Aid at NYU.” At University of Pennsylvania, it takes four clicks to find the net price calculator, which is highlighted in a small blue box.

Harvard College, by contrast, posts its calculator on its financial aid home page, under the headline “You Can Afford Harvard.”

Families often can find the elusive tools by entering the college’s name and “net price calculator” into a search engine.

Another place to find links to net price calculators is on each college’s information page on the College Board’s Big Future site. This provides other critical aid information, such as the percentage of financial need each college meets.

One other potentially helpful tool is average net prices by income, or what other people actually paid. It can be found at the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Wide Range of Results

The relevance and accuracy of all this information can be questionable, though.

The difference between calculator estimates and actual costs for many families will be as little as $500, but for some, the gap could be as wide as $5,000, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of education resource website Edvisors.com.

The TICAS report said many colleges used outdated cost information in their net price calculators. In addition, 40% included estimates of “self-help,” including work study and loans, and most made this lower “estimated remaining cost” figure more prominent than the federally required net price.

The calculators also vary dramatically in their design and the amount of information they require. The number of questions range from eight to 70, as some schools want the calculator to be as easy to use as possible, while others try for the most accurate results.

College access advocates such as TICAS worry that fewer families will complete the calculator if it is too complex or requires information that can only be gleaned from tax returns.

On the other side, consultants like O’Shaughnessy say the simplified versions’ estimates can be far off base.

“Generally, the more questions asked by a net price calculator, the more accurate the results,” Kantrowitz says. But he cautioned families against relying too heavily on the result of any calculator.

“Net price calculators provide a ballpark estimate of the real cost of the college,” Kantrowitz says. “They tell you whether the college is inside or outside the ballpark of affordability but do not distinguish between home plate and center field.”

More on college costs:

 

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