MONEY Saving

You’re Giving Away Money By Shopping Before This Weekend

140728_EM_Shopping_1
Getty

No fewer than 15 states offer a remarkably no-hassle way to trim a few percentage points off back-to-school purchases, most with deals starting this Friday.

Every year around this time, states host sales-tax holidays, in which the usual sales tax is waived on a wide range of purchases. In most cases, tax-free purchases are limited to back-to-school items such as computers and traditional school supplies like notebooks, protractors, and pens, but clothing, footwear, and accessories are typically on the table as well.

What’s more, the tax is waived on online purchases as well as sales in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and there’s no actual requirement that the items being purchased are for back-to-school prep, or even for kids. It would be too hard to police any such requirement, so instead most states simply limit purchases to a flat dollar amount—for instance, any article of clothing priced at $100 or less, typically.

Let’s be honest: The savings represented by these events isn’t all that spectacular. Most participating states have sales tax rates of 4% to 6%, so that’s the extent of the savings. Big whoop, you might say. But when the tax holiday is combined with terrific sale prices—and virtually every retailer has back-to-school promotions going on right about now—the net amounts paid by shoppers can be true bargains. Why not get an extra 5% or whatever off what is already a good deal, on stuff you absolutely need to buy? To do so, all you have to do is wait a few days.

There are those who say that sales tax holidays are gimmicks for exactly the reason hinted at above. The argument is that the holidays don’t promote more spending as much as they encourage shoppers to strategically postpone spending, with no net increase in purchases whatsoever. What’s more, while sales tax holidays play well in terms of politics, critics say they are questionable at best in terms of local economic stimulus, and that they cost states and municipalities millions in much-needed revenues. States such as North Carolina have dropped their annual sales tax holiday tradition because of this argument, though shoppers did still get to take advantage of a “Better Than Tax Free” sales event at a North Carolina outlet mall last weekend.

Gimmick or not, if you need to buy any of the many, many items eligible for tax-free purchase, you might as well wait until Friday, or whenever your state has its sales tax holiday. Failure to do so is tantamount to unnecessarily paying an extra 6% or so.

Resources including Bankrate and the Federal Tax Administrators site list the basic details, and below are the states with sales tax holidays starting this weekend. Check the links for all of the fine print about what is and isn’t included in your neck of the woods.

Alabama: August 1-3, limited to $30 per book, $50 for school supplies, $100 on clothing, and $750 on computers

Florida: August 1-3, limited to school supplies of $15 or less, $100 per clothing article, and $750 for computers and accessories

Georgia: August 1-2, limited to $20 school supplies, clothing priced at $100 or less, and computers capped at $1,000

Iowa: August 1-2, limited to footwear and clothing priced up to $100

Louisiana: August 1-2, sales tax is waived on purchases of all items for personal (rather than business) use, priced up to $2,500.

Missouri: August 1-3, limited to school supplies of $50 per purchase, clothing and footwear priced up to $100 each, computer software up to $350, and computers or accessories up to $3,500

New Mexico: August 1-3, limited to school supplies up to $30 per item, clothing and footwear up to $100, computer hardware up to $500, and computers up to $1,000

Oklahoma: August 1-3, limited to clothing and footwear up to $100 per item

South Carolina: August 1-3, with sales tax exemptions for all clothing, footwear, school supplies, computers and electronics, college dorm supplies like pillows, blankets, and shower curtains, and even delivery charges on all of the above

Tennessee: August 1-3, limited to clothing, footwear, school and art supplies priced up to $100 each, as well as computers up to $1,500

Virginia: August 1-3, limited to school supplies up to $20, and clothing and footwear of $100 or less per item

And here are a few more states offering tax holidays a little later this summer:

Texas: August 8-10, limited to clothing, footwear, backpacks, and school supplies up to $100

Maryland: August 10-16, limited to clothing and footwear priced up to $100

Connecticut: August 17-23, limited to $300 on clothing and footwear

Massachusetts: Lawmakers in the Bay State have promised shoppers will get a tax-free weekend sometime in August, but they haven’t gotten around to settling on a date yet.

MONEY Ask the Expert

Why It Pays to Spend Down Your College Savings Plan Quickly

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q. I have enough in my daughter’s 529 to pay her full tuition for freshman year. Should I? — Andrea B., Location withheld

A. Yes, it’s best to use the savings sooner rather than later, says Raymond Loewe, an adviser with United Planners Financial Services. Given that your time horizon is short and the stock market has had a good run, it’s best to realize those tax-free gains now. Plus, spending down the 529 early could improve your odds for financial aid in future years, albeit slightly. Every $100 used can be worth $6 in aid, says Loewe. One caveat: The IRS won’t let you snag an education tax credit and take the 529 tax break for the same expenses. So to get the full $2,500 American Opportunity credit, for example, you’ll want to pay at least $4,000 with other money, says Joe Hurley of Savingforcollege.com.

More on college savings:

TIME Newsmaker

TIME Newsmaker Interview: Spelman President on Small College Success, the Flawed Fed Ranking Plan and How to Meet Smart Spelman Women

The Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live"
Beverly Daniel Tatum attends the Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live" at The Newseum on January 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Kris Connor—Getty Images

During an hour long interview with TIME, retiring Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Tatum spoke about race, Historically Black Colleges, and her plans after she steps down next June.

In June 2015, Dr. Beverly Tatum will retire after 13 years as the ninth President of Spelman College. During her leadership of the historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Tatum, 59, raised annual alumni giving to 41%—one of the highest among historically black institutions. Tatum will leave the school having led a 10-year campaign that raised $157.8 million and garnered the support of 71% of the school nearly 17,000 alumnae.

Spelman is an exceptional school in more ways than one: it’s one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., and it has an endowment of $357 million—the average private HBCU endowment is around $38 million. In 2014, Spelman ranked number 65 on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, the next highest ranked HBCU—Morehouse College—comes in at number 126.

But because Spelman is an HBCU, it’s often mentioned in discussions about the overall fate of black institutions, which face dire financial situations, declining enrollment and questions about their relevance in the 21st century. Tatum says the comparisons aren’t always fair. “Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias,” Tatum tells TIME.

In an hour-long wide-ranging interview, Tatum spoke about why we should not consider HBCU’s as a monolith, the problems with the Department of Education’s plan to marry financial aid and graduation rates, and what’s next for her post-retirement. The following interview has been condensed and edited for space.

 

You’re retiring in June of next year. Why now?

In the life of a college president 12, what will be 13 years is a long time. The average span of a college president is about 6 or 7 years. It’s a very demanding job—I’m just ready for a new chapter. But I think it’s also a great time to pass the baton. If you think about being a president as like running a relay race, you get the baton from one person and when you get it you run as fast as you can to make as much progress and then you have to pass it to somebody else. I wanted to pass it while there was a lot of momentum.

Your 10-year fundraising campaign raised $157.8 million, with contributions from 71% of alumnae. Forty-one percent of your alumnae give annually. Can Spelman be a model for other small liberal arts colleges and other HBCUs, specifically?

When I started in 2002 [annual giving] was about 13%. I knew that the future of the college really depended on strong alumni support on an annual basis because when you go to foundations, corporations, and other donors outside the alumnae community one of the first questions they’ll ask you is, “what is the level of support from your graduates?” If your graduates aren’t supporting you, why should anybody else? But, I do know that it’s very labor intensive. When you think about a donor who hasn’t been regularly giving to the college and you call her on the phone or you meet with her in person, the first gift she makes might be a small gift. Maybe $25, $50, or $100, but it’s not necessarily going to be a big check. And you spend a lot of time and energy just to get her to write that first check. There are schools that will likely say it’s not worth my time to focus on that little gift, I need to focus on those big gifts that are going to really help sustain me. What we did, which I think was really helpful, was we got one of our trustees to essentially match the gifts that we got from small donors over a period of time so that we knew we’d be able to build up the level of giving, knowing that there was a safety net, so to speak, of this other donors’ match. I think every school has a trustee who would, if you ask them to, help grow alumni giving by matching.

What does the future of Spelman look like?

I think the future of Spelman is bright. Strong philanthropic support, great students, a wonderful tradition of excellence that I’m sure will continue into the future. But I think the next President will certainly need to be thinking a lot about the impact of technology in terms of this rapidly changing world we live in. There are lots of conversations in higher education right now that any new president should be thinking about. I often say when I’m asked what the characteristics of that new president should be—and obviously it’s the board’s decision to choose— but it should be someone who can be a really fast runner; someone who can take that baton and just go with it.

What’s next for you?

It has been tremendous honor to serve as the President of Spelman College. It’s been a high point of my career and I’m looking forward to this coming year. Before I became the President of Spelman I was a professor, but I was also a writer. I want to return to writing. So my first project will be to work on my next book. One of the books I want to revisit is “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” which was written in 1996. I want to reflect on the last 20 years and figure out what I will say differently, but I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

How has the overall college landscape changed during your time as the leader at Spelman?

I think the concern about cost and affordability has really gotten more intense. How can we provide [an education] in a cost effective way so that students can afford to come—whether that’s providing more financial aid or figuring out a way to offer it less expensively. Because we know that everyone needs an education, but a lot of today’s students can’t afford it. And I think that that conversation has really gotten more significant for everyone, not just at HBCUs, in part because the vast majority of today’s high school students are coming out of low to moderate income families and are often first generation college students. It’s not just an HBCU question. Everybody has to figure out, how do we make this more affordable?

I know that’s something First Lady Michelle Obama has been focusing on, increasing access to higher education, particularly among African American students. But at the same time the Obama Administration is working to distribute funding based on graduation rates, which have long been a problem for HBCUs. What do you make of that?

There’s an irony there. When you are serving low-income students there are many barriers to their completion, some of which have nothing to do with the school. There are all kinds of circumstantial situations that make it hard for students to persist. If you are providing services to students who are coming from high-risk backgrounds, the odds of their completion are going to be lower. One of the things we take great pride in at Spelman is our ability to graduate students at a high rate, but even at Spelman we have found since the Great Recession it’s become more difficult for us to maintain that graduation rate. More and more students are having to step out because of financial concern. I think when the Department of Education says to an institution that we’re going to judge you by your graduation rate— I hope that they will compare apples-to-apples. If you’re a well resourced institution serving a high-income student body, that graduation rate better be high. You have no reason for it not to be. But if you are looking at the performance of schools that are serving the most underserved student population, you should compare apples to apples to make sure that you are holding all of those variables constant.

Do you think that proposal will have an adverse impact on HBCUs in particular?

HBCUs have historically served those students who are most at-risk. Every HBCU is different. If you’re a school that has more open enrollment, more selective and students who are financially challenged you are hopefully going to transform their lives through the education you provide but your graduation rate is not going to be as high as someone who is dealing with a different socio-economic demographic. Graduation rates of institutions serving high percentages of under-served students should be evaluated in relationship to predicted retention rates for low income first generation students.

In previous interviews you have said people often talk about HBCUs as if they’re monolithic, as if they’re the same school. Where do you think the disconnect is in understanding HBCUs and addressing issues that face them?

That really has to do with understanding African Americans in general. Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias. You don’t regularly read articles about predominately white institutions are in trouble. You know what I mean? You don’t. So why is that when an HBCU closes its doors because of a loss of enrollment or loss of accreditation we read articles in which all of us get mentioned? That is, I think, just consistent with the stereotypes that have permeated our culture about people of color and the institutions of color.

What about the question of HBCU’s relevancy? Is that the same issue?

It’s a very interesting question. Why do people ask this question? We know that the history of HBCUs is that they were created at a time when there was no opportunity because of segregation, at a time when there was no educational access for African Americans. When Spelman was founded in 1881 in the city of Atlanta, there was no other opportunity for black women to get an education. So people will say, well now those majority institutions are available so why do we need those other institutions? But that fails to acknowledge the other purposes of HBCUs. An HBCU not only provides an educational opportunity for those who have been underserved, but it does so in a context in which the culture from which they come, the history that they’ve experienced is affirmed and acknowledged in a way that’s very empowering. And so the need for empowerment is always relevant.

I had a really interesting conversation with a white male educator and he asked me about the relevance. He went to an Ivy League school and said he would have really benefitted from having women like the women who choose Spelman at my college. He said that would have really benefitted his education. I understood what he was saying, but he failed to realize the privilege in his statement. The parent who writes that check for their daughter to go to college is not thinking, “she’s going to help someone else get a good education.” They’re writing that check because this is the best possible experience for their daughter. And one of the benefits for American higher education is that there are a lot of different schools to choose from. If that guy really wanted access to smart, Spelman women he could have enrolled at Morehouse. [laughs].

 

MONEY Careers

Make Sure a Friend’s Unemployment Doesn’t Ruin Your Friendship

140725_FF_FriendshipEmploy_1
Melissa Ross—Getty Images/Flickr Open

Millennials and new college grads still face a tough job market, and that can create strains in your social circle. Follow this script to keep everyone happy.

You and your best friend graduated from the same college and moved to the same city at the same time. But while you landed a promising entry-level position, your friend’s been out of work for months. Even though you know that shouldn’t affect your relationship, you’re starting to feel that the two of you are drifting apart. Or maybe you’re simply sick of hearing yourself repeat the same chirpy platitudes (“I’m sure something will come up!”).

As millennials and new grads enter the job market together, one friend’s unemployment can easily become a point of tension. Landing a position is an uphill battle for some young job seekers. The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds stood at 10.5% in June. Although that number has been on the decline, it’s still higher than the overall unemployment rate of 6.1%

“This mirrors a lot of other life-stage issues, whether it’s getting married or getting pregnant. One person is moving forward, and the other one is stuck,” says Ken Clark, a certified financial planner and psychotherapist.

The good news? You can take steps to ensure that your relationship doesn’t crumble as your friend scrambles for a job. No matter how long this stretch of unemployment lasts, here’s what you can say (or not say) to preserve your friendship.

YOU SAY: “A couple of people are coming to my place for happy hour this week—want to join?”

While your friend looks for work he or she may pull away from you or your group of friends. It’s normal—many people are embarrassed and reluctant to spend money on socializing when they’re unemployed. But if you notice your friend hasn’t been around much, try to draw him or her back into your social circle.

“A sensitive friend should take a leadership role among their circle of friends,” says Clark.

If your group of friends tends to spend a lot of money at bars or eating out, subtly push for a change. Invite a close group over for drinks at your place, or suggest a half-price movie or a free concert you can all attend. If spending time together doesn’t mean spending money, your unemployed friend may find it easier to join in.

“People have a tendency to self-isolate when they’re trying to be careful with their money,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and author of financial behavior blog The Good, the Bad and the Money. “Go above and beyond in terms of making offers to your friend.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “How’s the job hunt going this week?”

Avoid the impulse to dig for details on the job search. Trust that you’ll hear when a major development comes up.

“Stuff doesn’t change that much in a week,” says Clark. “If you’re asking more than once a month, it’s too much.”

That said, don’t stop checking in. Retreating from your friend could cause him or her to become even more isolated.

“Your presence and availability is huge for someone who’s hurting,” says Maggie Baker, a psychologist specializing in money and relationships. “The worst thing you can do is pull away.”

YOU SAY: “I could really use a running partner tomorrow.”

Be aware that unemployment can quickly give way to depression. Exercise is an easy, natural way to shake the blues. Invite your friend out for a brisk walk or run with you. It’ll give you two time to talk one-on-one and help your friend re-energize.

“Physical exercise outside is both beneficial and free,” says Clark. “You’re helping elevate her mood, decreasing anxiety, and building your relationship.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “I can give you feedback on your résumé if you’d like.”

You might want to offer to help edit your friend’s résumé or forward job listings that seem relevant. Tread lightly. Your offers could backfire if they come off as condescending.

“Just having a job doesn’t make you an expert on résumés,” says Clayman. “Don’t presume that you have the solution.”

Instead, make a gentle, broad offer to help in any way you can. Beyond that, let your friend’s reaction guide you.

“Usually if people are scrambling to find whatever work they can, they put off a very strong signal. If you aren’t seeing them ask for help, better safe than sorry.”

Read more Face to Face columns:

 

 

TIME Education

FAFSA Application Confusion Led to Some Students Getting Aid in Error

And others who needed aid didn't get it at all

Thousands of students’ federal student aid could be at risk due to a change on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Students’ may have input incorrect income due to the system’s requirement that families round to the nearest dollar. In many cases, the Department of Education believes students entered unnecessary decimal points and cents that went unrecognized and as a result, some students who needed federal aid were denied and others received it when they weren’t eligible.

“For example, an applicant with an Income Earned from Work value of $5,000.19 who, as a result of entering both the dollars and cents would have, instead of the correct value of $5,000, a value of $500,019 used in the calculation of the applicant’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC),” an announcement dated July 18 reads. “This would likely result in an incorrect determination of the applicant’s eligibility for a Federal Pell Grant and for other subsidized aid.” The Associated Press first reported the story Wednesday.

The Department of Education believes fewer than 200,000 applicants will be impacted by the glitch. The form has since been changed and the Department is working to contact students and schools to have forms resubmitted.

MONEY Financial Planning

The One Time Raiding Your Kid’s College Savings Makes Sense

Broken money jar
Normally, breaking into your college savings accounts is a no-no. Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

It's never a great idea, but in an emergency tapping funds earmarked for education beats sabotaging your retirement plans.

Lauren Greutman felt sick.

She and her husband Mark were about $40,000 in debt, and were having trouble paying their monthly bills. As recent homebuyers, the Syracuse, N.Y. couple were already underwater on their mortgage and getting by on one income as Lauren focused on being a stay-at-home mom.

“We were in a really bad financial position, and just didn’t have the money to make ends meet,” remembers Greutman, now 33 and a mom of four.

There was one pot of money just sitting there: their son’s college savings, about $6,500 at the time. That is when they had to make a tough decision.

“We had to pull money out of the account,” she says. “We thought long and hard about it and felt almost dishonest. But it was either leave it in there, or pay the mortgage and be able to eat.”

It is a quandary faced by parents in dire financial straits: Should you treat your kids’ college savings—often housed in so-called 529 plans—as a sacred lockbox, or as a ready source of funds that may be tapped when necessary.

Precise figures are not available, since those making 529-plan withdrawals do not have to tell administrators whether or not the funds are being used for qualified higher education expenses, according to the College Savings Plans Network. That is a matter between the account owner and the Internal Revenue Service.

TIAA-CREF, which administrates many 529 plans for states, estimates that between 10% to 20% of plan withdrawals are non-qualified and not being used for their intended purpose of covering educational expenses.

It is never a first option to draw college money down early, of course. Private four-year colleges cost an average of $30,094 in tuition and fees for 2013/14, according to the College Board. Since that number will presumably rise much more by the time your toddler graduates from high school, parents need to be stocking those financial cupboards rather than emptying them out.

Joe Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, has a message for stressed-out parents: Don’t beat yourselves up about it.

“The plans were designed to give account owners flexible access to their funds,” Hurley says. “I imagine parents would feel some guilt. But I don’t think they should. After all, it is their money.”

Why the Alternative Might Be Worse

Keep in mind that there are often significant financial penalties involved. With non-qualified distributions from a 529 plan, in most cases you are looking at a 10% penalty on the earnings. Withdrawn earnings will also be treated as income on your tax return, and if you took a state tax deduction on the original investment, withdrawn contributions often count as income as well.

Not ideal, of course. But if your other option for emergency funds is to raid your own retirement accounts, tapping college savings is a last-ditch avenue to consider. That’s not only because you do not want to blow up your own nest egg, but because it could make relative sense tax-wise. And as the saying goes, you can borrow money for college, but not for retirement.

“If you think about it, a parent who has a choice between tapping the 529 and tapping a retirement account might be better off tapping the 529,” says James Kinney, a planner with Financial Pathway Advisors in Bridgewater, N.J.

If the account is comprised of 30% earnings, then only 30% would be subject to tax and penalty, Kinney explains. And that compares favorably to a premature distribution from a 401(k) or IRA, where 100% of the distribution will be subject to taxes plus a penalty.

Lauren Greutman’s story has a happy ending. She and her husband made a pledge to restock their son’s college savings as soon as they were financially able. It is a pledge they kept: Now eight-years-old, their son has a healthy $12,000 growing in his account.

She even runs a site about budgeting and frugal living at iamthatlady.com. Still, the wrenching decision to tap college savings certainly was not easy—especially since other family members had contributed to that account.

“We tried to take emotion out of it, even though we felt so bad,” Greutman says. “Since we didn’t have money for groceries at that point, we knew our family would understand.”

Related: 4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Saving for College Just Yet

MONEY College

Here’s How to Get Your Parents to Pay for Your Kids’ Education

Grandma opening coin purse
Getty

A 529 plan can help grandkids with their education -- and provide a tax break for Grandma and Grandpa.

Many grandparents want to help their grandchildren pay for college, but don’t know the best ways to do that. Good news: They can make those contributions while reaping financial advantages for themselves.

Nearly half of grandparents expect to contribute to their grandkids’ college savings, with more than a third expecting to give $50,000 or more, according to a 2014 Fidelity Investments study. That generosity can also be channeled toward significant tax and estate planning benefits for the grandparents.

Enter the 529 plan, a college savings investment account that provides tax-free growth as long as the money is put toward tuition and most types of college expenses such as fees and books. What’s more, grandparents can score their own financial perks, said Matt Golden, vice president of college savings for Fidelity Financial Advisor Solutions.

Grandparents can use 529 accounts to reap tax deductions or reduce the value of their taxable estates.

Furthermore, 529 plans have limits that might be comforting for grandparents who worry that their grandchildren might spend the money frivolously, or that they might end up needing it themselves. Grandchildren must use the funds only for certain college expenses, such as tuition and books. What’s more, grandparents can keep the money if they need it, subject to penalties and taxes, say advisers.

Working the Angles

For financial advisers, conversations with clients about these issues can build trust, said Charles Wareham, a Hartford-based adviser specializing in college funding strategies. Wareham’s firm holds Sunday brunches for parents and grandparents to teach them about college funding. The events have become relationship-builders, he said.

One way to showcase 529 accounts is by highlighting their advantages over other savings strategies.

“Many grandparents give EE bonds for holidays and birthdays, which can hurt more than help as far as tax purposes,” says Wareham.

For example, grandchildren who receive Series EE bonds as birthday gifts can later be socked with federal income taxes on the interest if they don’t use the funds for college, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

A 529 plan, in contrast, provides for tax-free distributions for college. It also allows grandparents to give the funds to another grandchild if the intended recipient does not go to college or need the money.

Grandparents may also be eligible for state income tax deductions when they make 529 contributions – they are available in 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to FinAid, a website about financial aid. They can also take required minimum distributions from their IRA accounts and transfer those funds to the 529 plan, where they can continue to grow tax-deferred, Fidelity’s Golden says.

Savvy advisers can compare plans from various states and help their clients find the best ones, though usually tax breaks are only available to people who invest in their own state’s plan.

A 529 plan is also a unique way for grandparents to reduce the value of their estates: they can contribute up to five years’ worth of allowable gifts in one year without triggering federal gift taxes. That means clients filing jointly can invest $140,000 in one lump sum per grandchild.

One caveat: 529 accounts could make a grandchild ineligible for financial aid, says Golden. That is because the money, once withdrawn for the beneficiary, counts as income that schools use to determine financial aid awards. But grandparents can avoid the problem by waiting until the recipient’s junior or senior year to hand over the money, when students may not need as much aid, Golden says.

MONEY Debt

Have You Conquered Debt? Tell Us Your Story

Have you gotten rid of a big IOU on your balance sheet, or at least made significant progress toward that end? MONEY wants to hear your digging-out-of-debt stories, to share with and inspire our readers who might be in similar situations.

Use the confidential form below to tell us about it. What kind of debt did you have, and how much? How did you erase it—or what are you currently doing? What advice do you have for other people in your situation? We’re interested in stories about all kinds of debt, from student loans to credit cards to car loans to mortgages.

Please also let us know where you’re from, what you do for a living, and how old you are. We won’t use your story unless we speak with you first.

TIME Thailand

And Then There Was the College Lecturer Who Gave Out Grades in Return for 7-Eleven Coupons

Inside A 7-Eleven Store Ahead Of CP All Pcl Full-Year Results
A customer exits a 7-Eleven convenience store, operated by CP All Pcl, in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Dario Pignatelli—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” said her boss

A university lecturer in Thailand has been caught offering top grades in exchange for 7-Eleven coupons, or stamps, redeemable at the convenience store chain for small gifts or discounts.

When a class at Kalasin Rajabhat University, in northeast Thailand, complained to the lecturer about the selling of test scores, she rebuked them, and someone in class filmed her doing so.

From the conversation, it appears that 25 coupons earned a one-grade bump, with one student shelling out 400 coupons for an A+, reports the Bangkok Post.

“Khanittha got 17 points in psychology class. She gave me stamps,” the teacher says on the video. “Then, I gave her A+. Do you think you got that grade by your own brain?”

Thailand boasts some 7,000 7-Elevens nationwide — the third-largest presence for the chain after Japan and the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand — known by its unfortunate acronym CRUPT — ordered an investigation.

“Teachers should never exploit their students for any purpose,” said CRUPT president Niwat Klin-Ngam.

Despite suspending the lecturer, who worked for the university’s pre-school education department, acting Kalasin Rajabhat University rector Nopporn Kosirayothin said there may be extenuating circumstances.

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” he said. “Judging from what I heard, some lecturers at other places also exchange grades for some beer.”

[Bangkok Post]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 15

1. With the $3 billion annual cost of fighting piracy at sea, we could invest in economic and infrastructure development on the Somali coast to take down piracy’s root causes.

By Anja Shortland and Federico Varese in The Conversation

2. Simply by letting students understand their financial aid picture earlier, we can improve college access and post-secondary options for low-income students.

By Fawn Johnson in National Journal

3. The story of ISIS, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice.

By Jessica Tuchman Mathews in the New York Review of Books

4. Giving a supercomputer “life after retirement” means investing in the future of technology in Africa.

By Jorge Salazar at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, UT-Austin

5. Europe has a role – and a responsibility – to stay engaged as the U.S. ‘rebalances’ toward China.

By Joseph S. Nye in Project Syndicate

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser