MONEY Ask the Expert

Why You Might Want to Take Student Loans Before Using Up College Savings

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “My daughter will be starting college this fall. I’m estimating the tuition will be about $25,000 each year. I’ve got about $45,000 put aside in a 529 for her. When should I tap that money?” —Henry Winkler, Colorado

A: The first thing you and your daughter should do is fill out a FAFSA, the federal financial aid application. Even if you think your household income will be too great to qualify for aid, it’s worth applying just to be certain, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a website that helps people plan and pay for college. “I have seen many cases where families assume they won’t receive any aid, but actually do qualify based on the number of children they have currently attending college or because the high costs of the tuition resulted in a lower than expected family contribution amount.”

Don’t worry that the savings you currently have in your 529 will hurt her chances for aid either. Federal aid will be reduced by no more than 5.64% of the value of the account and account distributions are not considered income, Kantrowitz says.

Next, she should apply for the most available in federal direct student loans. In her first year, she can borrow $5,500. In her second year, $6,500, and any of the years following up to $7,500. Because you only get to borrow a certain amount in these direct federal student loans—which have much lower interest rates than Parent PLUS loans or private loans—it’s worth borrowing the max each year and accruing that interest rather than waiting and trying to borrow the full cost of college her third or fourth year, says Kantrowitz.

If you have other savings accounts you can draw from, Kantrowitz recommends setting aside $4,000 a year from such an account for your daughter’s college education so that you can take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

With this credit, you get 100% of the first $2,000 you spend on tuition, fees and course materials paid during the year, plus 25% of the next $2,000. The credit is worth $2,500 off your tax bill. Also, 40% of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

The caveat: You will need to have a modified adjusted gross income of $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for married couples, a year to get the full benefit. If you earn more than $90,000 or $180,000 for joint filers, you cannot claim the credit.

You cannot use any of the funds from your 529 to qualify for the tax credit since that plan is already a form of tax-free educational assistance. If you do not have an additional $4,000 a year to put toward her education, you can also qualify for the credit by using the student loan amount she received—but just know that you may not be also able to claim the student loan deduction on that amount since you’ve already received a tax break on it, says Kantrowitz. (Right now you can claim both, but Kantrowitz says that could change in the future.)

After deducting any grant aid, her student loan sum, and the $4,000 from another savings account, pay the remaining education expenses with funds from the 529 plan.

“Under this plan it is likely your 529 will be exhausted after her third year of college, or sooner if you don’t put aside that additional $4,000 for the tax credit each year,” says Kantrowitz.

To make up the difference you’ll need to secure another loan. If you own a home, consider home equity financing before PLUS loans, since the latter currently carry a 7.21% interest rate and come with an “origination” fee of about 4.3% of the principal amount you borrow.

If you must take the PLUS, you might be tempted to try to lock in current interest rates by borrowing to cover the first two years’ worth of expenses. But you’d end up having to borrow more since she’ll be getting less federal loan money those first two years, and you’d have to pay two more year’s worth of interest. Even with possible rate increases, you’re still better off taking the PLUS loans in her last two years.

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MONEY consumer psychology

7 Reasons to Pretend You Make Less Money

Trick your brain and your wallet will follow.

We all know you can get in financial trouble by pretending to have more money than you actually do — and most of us know that you can’t make an educated guess at someone’s salary by checking out the car they drive. So you can appear to be wealthy even if you’re not. But can you get ahead by telling yourself (and intimating to others) that your paycheck is smaller than it actually is? There are some pretty compelling reasons to do it, and you could find yourself in a far better position than if your paycheck just barely covers expenses.

Here are some reasons to consider pretending your paycheck is just a bit smaller than it really is.

1. Sock Away Money in an Emergency Fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund (or even if you do), you can pretty much count on having an emergency. Car transmissions break, you need to travel unexpectedly or someone in your family ends up needing help. Experts recommend six to 12 months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund. If you don’t yet have that, you may want to make sure you have access to credit. (You can check your free credit report summary on Credit.com to get an idea of how you would be judged by potential lenders.) But having the money saved is a better alternative.

2. Pay Down Debt Faster

If you pretend you make, say, 10% less than you actually do, you can probably cut expenses to accommodate the reduced pay. But the money you will save isn’t pretend — and you can send it to your creditors, reducing or eliminating debt much more quickly. This little fib helps keep your spending in check, which will free you to direct the money someplace else, making some other dream a reality more quickly. You can even figure out a timeline for getting out of credit card debt with this nifty calculator.

3. Save for a Down Payment or Your Kid’s College

Whether you’re looking to buy a house, educate a child or take a trip around the world, your dream is likely to require a significant chunk of change. And one way to get that is to pretend that earmarked money does not even exist. You can have it transferred into a designated account the same day you get paid so that you are not tempted to use it for the heavily discounted camping equipment that you know about because the advertisement for it popped up in your inbox. (Another money-saving hint: Most of us will spend less if we unsubscribe.)

4. Put More Money in Retirement Savings

Retirement seems a long way off when you are in your 20s, and it is. But most people’s expenses grow with time (particularly if you choose to raise children). It is not going to suddenly become easier to save more, at least not until you have far less time to do it, and the money has less time to grow. How many people have you heard complaining that they wished they hadn’t saved so much for retirement?

5. Friends Won’t Pressure You to Splurge

We’re not suggesting you do away with little luxuries altogether. You and a friend want to go get manicures? Go for it (sometimes). But think about whether all of your get-togethers need to involve a meal out, shopping or manicures. Maybe they made a resolution to move more. Walks can do double duty to help get your body and finances in better shape. And if your friends know you are on a beer budget, chances are they won’t assume you have a champagne salary.

6. Friends & Family Won’t Consider You a Human ATM

Do you often or always pick up the tab for groups because you can afford it? If you say, “my treat” too often, it’s possible you’re sending a signal that because you have more, you have an obligation to share it with your friends and family. You may feel that way as well, and if you do, you would be especially wise to pretend you have a little less money than you actually do. If you do choose to give or lend money to friends and relatives, make sure everyone is clear on what is a gift and what is a loan. Money misunderstandings have the potential to damage relationships.

7. Your Income Could Drop

It’s easy — and tempting — to think your salary will be on an upward trajectory from your first day of work until your last. (Don’t the retirement calculators assume that?) And who plans for a furlough or the loss of a big client? During hard times, it’s not unheard-of for companies to levy across-the-board salary cuts. And if you’re acting as if you make every dime that you actually do, it will be harder to adjust than if you’ve been acting as if you made less.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY identity theft

18 College Students Arrested in Tax Identity Theft Ring

Vice President Joe Biden, center, speaks during a graduation ceremony at the Miami Dade College in Miami, Saturday, May 3,2014.
Javier Galeano—AP

Students in Florida allegedly stole tax refunds.

In November, the U.S. District Attorney of Southern Florida charged 18 Miami Dade College students for allegedly using stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns and receive the refunds on their student bank accounts, but investigators think there are more people who have carried out the scheme, the Miami Herald reports.

Higher One accounts allow students to receive their financial aid or student loan refunds directly to a bank account, usually with an associated debit card, rather than wait for the school to cut a check. Many students use their loan refund (the amount left over after the school has taken what it requires for tuition and fees) to handle their education-related expenses like housing, textbooks, food and extracurricular activities.

The investigation identified more than 1,000 student accounts at Miami Dade College, most of which were Higher One accounts, that were used in a tax-fraud scheme, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office. Identity theft is a common crime in Florida — it has the most fraud complaints per capita of any state, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and tax-related identity theft is the most common kind of fraud reported.

It’s unclear how this crime seems to have become a pastime for college students, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was something students see as an easy way to make money: One of the Miami Dade College cases includes a student who allegedly received $53,272 of fraudulent tax refunds to his Higher One account.

That’s a significant sum to most people, let alone a college student, but identity theft and tax fraud are serious crimes, not just for the perpetrators, but also for the victims. First of all, it makes tax season that much more complicated for people whose personal information has been stolen and used to file fake tax returns, and they’ll almost certainly see a delay in receiving their legitimate refund. Some people really count on that money, making the crime a financial burden for victims.

Then there’s the lifelong stress of knowing your personal information has been stolen. You have no idea who has your Social Security number and if it’s being used fraudulently. You can minimize the negative impact of some types of identity theft by monitoring your credit, because any unexpected changes could be an indicator of fraud, but you often can’t detect anything until damage has already been done. Still, keep a close eye on your credit by getting your free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

The investigation revealed some student accounts were used for more than just tax fraud — they seemed to have stolen Social Security benefits, as well. If convicted, the students involved in the fraud could face federal prison time.

Some students’ alleged involvement was limited to allowing their accounts to be used to launder the stolen money in exchange for a few hundred dollars, the Miami Herald reports, and U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said he believes this issue isn’t limited to Miami Dade College.

“We applaud the announcement by the authorities in connection with tax refund fraud at Miami Dade College,” wrote Lauren Perry, spokeswoman for Higher One, in a statement emailed to Credit.com. “We have been working with the authorities on these types of cases in southern Florida for some time now. … We will continue to be vigilant in safeguarding our customers’ personal and financial information and will work with our bank partners to report these illegal activities to authorities.”

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY College

Best Colleges You Can Still Apply To For Fall 2015

Webb Institute
Webb Institute Webb Institute

Don't worry if you slacked off in 2014 ... there are still plenty of colleges accepting applications for the fall.

For many high school seniors and their parents, New Year’s marked the end of the college application season. Quite a few prestigious universities do indeed set a January 1 deadline for admission to their fall 2015 class.

But by no means are you out of luck if you still hope to apply to more schools. In fact, many of the top 250 schools in our recent MONEY’s Best Colleges list have set relatively late application deadlines. A complete list of them, by date, is below.

This article is a great tool for continuing your college search, but make sure to check with the individual school websites for up-to-date information. Many schools that offer rolling admissions have priority deadlines for financial aid, and some schools offer different deadlines for specific academic programs.

If you come across this list after most of the deadlines below have passed, know that each May the National Association for College Admission Counseling releases its College Openings Update, which lets you peruse schools that have not met their enrollment goals by the national May 1 response deadline.

Good luck!

January 5 deadlines

University of Chicago (#101)

Johns Hopkins University (#107)

January 7

Bentley University (#28)

Santa Clara University (#92)

January 10

Georgetown University (#37)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#40)

Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus (#42)

Wheaton College (#101)

January 12

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (#8)

January 14

Florida State University (#223)

January 15

Colgate University (#27)

Lafayette College (#28)

University of Washington – Bothell Campus (#37)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (#42)

Bucknell University (#45)

James Madison University (#53)

University of Georgia (#62)

University of Delaware (#66)

North Carolina State University at Raleigh (#79)

Carleton College (#79)

Kenyon College (#94)

Wellesley College (#95)

College of the Holy Cross (#101)

George Mason University (#101)

University of Illinois at Chicago (#101)

Stony Brook University (#107)

Providence College (#114)

Villanova University (#114)

University of Connecticut (#120)

University of Richmond (#120)

Haverford College (#122)

University of Southern California (#129)

Loyola University Maryland (#138)

Gettysburg College (#138)

Centre College (#138)

Grinnell College (#144)

Fairfield University (#147)

SUNY at Binghamton (#162)

Denison University (#162)

Union College (#166)

Case Western Reserve University (#183)

Auburn University (#183)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (#208)

George Washington University (#214)

Macalester College (#214)

Whitman College (#214)

Salisbury University (#223)

Rhodes College (#231)

University of Massachusetts Amherst (#235)

Clark University (#235)

Colorado College (#235)

Towson University (#235)

Franklin and Marshall College (#248)

Smith College (#248)

January 20

University of Maryland – College Park (#68)

January 31

Washington State University (#138)

Western Washington University (#223)

February 1

Virginia Military Institute (#18)

University of Michigan (#22)

Stevens Institute of Technology (#58)

Grove City College (#58)

CUNY Bernard M Baruch College (#70)

Purdue University (#76)

Presbyterian College (#84)

University of Mary Washington (#107)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (#114)

DePauw University (#134)

Wofford College (#134)

Miami University – Oxford (#144)

Ohio State University (#144)

University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire (#147)

University of Wisconsin – Platteville (#156)

Indiana University (#169)

Saint Joseph’s University (#169)

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (#173)

Gonzaga University (#177)

CUNY Brooklyn College (#189)

CUNY Queens College (#194)

University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (#202)

Alfred University (#231)

Dickinson College (#235)

Colorado State University – Fort Collins (#248)

Radford University (#248)

February 2

Bryant University (#86)

University of Wisconsin – Madison (#99)

February 15

Webb Institute (#2)

College of the Ozarks (#62)

Washington University in St. Louis (#62)

John Carroll University (#95)

Mount St. Mary’s College (#122)

Earlham College (#129)

Ursuline College (#173)

Wagner College (#208)

Iona College (#214)

Lake Forest College (#214)

Muhlenberg College (#223)

Merrimack College (#235)

March 1

Texas Tech University (#154)

Hampden-Sydney College (#156)

University of Dayton (#223)

New Jersey Institute of Technology (#223)

Jackson State University (#231)

Seton Hall University (#248)

March 15

Wabash College (#214)

April 1

Utah State University (#107)

University of Oklahoma Norman Campus (#122)

University of Utah (#122)

Colorado School of Mines (#134)

University of Iowa (#156)

Illinois State University (#177)

University of New Hampshire – Manchester (#231)

North Carolina A & T State University (#246)

April 15

Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College (#95)

New College of Florida (#134)

April 30

Berea College (#57)

May 1

University of Arizona (#99)

Clemson University (#138)

William Jewell College (#156)

Clarkson University (#198)

University of Nebraska (#223)

June 1

University of Massachusetts – Lowell (#235)

July 1

Missouri University of Science and Technology (#86)

The University of Texas – Dallas (#198)

August 1

Illinois Institute of Technology (#92)

Tennessee Technological University (#114)

North Dakota State University (#198)

University of Arkansas (#248)

September 1

Louisiana Tech University (#154)

Oregon State University (#214)

September 7

Oregon Institute of Technology (#76)

Rolling Admissions: These schools accept applications throughout the year. However, make sure you check with the individual admissions departments — most have priority deadlines that can dramatically boost your chances of acceptance and financial aid.

Maine Maritime Academy (#12)

Principia College (#32)

Manhattan College (#40)

Massachusetts Maritime Academy (#50)

Robert Morris University Illinois (#53)

Doane College – Crete (#61)

Montana Tech of the University of Montana (#66)

Holy Family University (#68)

Molloy College (#72)

Saint Vincent College (#82)

Michigan Technological University (#82)

Bradley University (#86)

University of Wyoming (#107)

College of Our Lady of the Elms (#107)

Citadel Military College of South Carolina (#114)

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (#122)

Michigan State University (#122)

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (#129)

Messiah College (#147)

Westminster College (#150)

Elmhurst College (#166)

La Salle University (#166)

University of Toledo (#173)

Pennsylvania State (#177)

Rockhurst University (#177)

Art Center College of Design (#177)

University at Buffalo (#177)

CUNY College of Staten Island (#183)

Neumann University (#189)

University of Tulsa (#194)

Mississippi State University (#194)

Oklahoma State University (#194)

Central Washington University (#202)

Creighton University (#202)

LeTourneau University (#202)

Gwynedd Mercy College (#208)

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (#208)

Xavier University (#208)

Arizona State University (#214)

Valparaiso University (#214)

Indiana Wesleyan University (#223)

Mississippi College (#235)

Hope College (#235)

South Dakota State University (#235)

Augustana College (#248)

University of Kansas (#248)

Check out the complete MONEY’S Best Colleges list

A previous version of this article misstated Clark University’s application deadline. The deadline is Jan. 15, not Feb. 15.

MONEY best of 2014

The 3 Best New Breaks for College Students in 2014

Some good news for students of all ages this year.

Every year, there are innovators who come up with fresh solutions to nagging problems. Companies roll out new products or services, or improve on old ones. Researchers propose better theories to explain the world. Or stuff that’s been flying under the radar finally captivates a wide audience. For MONEY’s annual Best New Ideas list, our writers searched the world of money for the most compelling products, strategies, and insights of 2014. To make the list, these ideas—which cover the world of investing, retirement, health care, tech, college, and more—have to be more than novel. They have to help you save money, make money, or improve the way you spend it, like these three higher-ed innovations.

Best Help For College Grads

More borrowers can now cap their student loan payments, so that the bills eat up no more than 10% to 15% of income. Although these programs first got going a few years ago, they became a lot easier to access in 2014—enrollment doubled to 1.9 million in the 12 months before June 30.

One reason: The StudentLoans.gov site introduced a handy new calculator to quickly compare repayment options, as well as a one-stop application that allows borrowers to choose the plan with the lowest monthly payments.

Best Fast Path to a Degree

If you know the material in, say, Econ 101, should it matter whether you learned it sitting in a lecture, by taking a free online course, or by reading the books? More well-regarded schools are saying it shouldn’t—and that could help bring down the cost of getting a degree. The University of Wisconsin system now makes it possible to earn a bachelor’s by taking tests or submitting portfolios of your work.

The University of Michigan, the University of Texas system, and Purdue are also launching “competency-based” degrees. In the first year of UW’s program, one ambitious student aced enough tests to earn 33 credits in three months, at a cost of only $2,250.

Best New (and Returning) Free Courses

The number and quality of free online courses kept improving in 2014, offering everything from guitar lessons to “no-pay MBAs.” These are three of the most proven of the “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs.

A popular newbie in 2014: If Interstellar inspired you to learn about the cosmos, check out CalTech’s The Science of the Solar System, which has gotten five-star reviews on Coursetalk.com. As you would expect from a CalTech course, it’s challenging, according to the 2014 students. It’s being offered again through Coursera starting March 30, 2015.

Two favorites of the year: As computers become ever more essential to our jobs, programming has become a crucial career skill. But which language should you learn? And how can you learn it quickly and cheaply? MITx’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python” teaches what has become the most popular programming language at colleges. Most MOOCs are plagued by high dropout rates. But among all the free courses offered by EdX, the MOOC platform for Harvard, MIT, and many other elite colleges, this three-year-old class is in the top five for number of students who have completed all assignments. The class is being offered again starting Jan. 7, 2015.

Even if you don’t plan to start a business yourself, odds are that you’re working for someone who is trying to be more entrepreneurial. And one of the most popular entrepreneurial gurus of the moment is Steve Blank, a tech entrepreneur who is one of the founders of the “lean startup” movement. Blank’s learn-at-your-own pace “How to Build a Startup” course has been sampled by about a quarter of a million students already, making it one of Udacity’s most popular.

Related:

MONEY College

How College Costs Will Change in 2015

Although college costs are still increasing, they're increasing at a much lower rate than they have in recent years. Interest rates and repayment for federal loans have eased as well.

MONEY College

Here’s How the Government Thinks We Should Grade Colleges

Access, affordability, and outcomes are the three most important factors. But how will the government measure them?

The federal government Friday morning released what it’s calling a “framework” to rate America’s colleges on their performance in three areas: how many low-income and disadvantaged students they educate; how affordable they are; and how well their graduates do financially, in the job market, and in graduate school.

The U.S. Department of Education said it planned to issue the ratings “in time for the 2015 school year” — so, presumably, by August of 2015.

But researchers familiar with the government’s plans say that ambitious and idealistic plan will be stymied by an ugly reality: much of the information needed to rate the colleges on these factors doesn’t exist yet.

While describing the government’s plan as “thoughtful,” Terry Hartle, a spokesman for the nation’s largest association of colleges, the American Council on Education, said “It is not clear how they will get it done.” The problem, he and other researchers said, is that there is currently no easy way to mine the government’s data on citizens to find out, for example, which graduates of which colleges go on to graduate schools, how much graduates of each college earn, or how much alumni of each college are paying on their student loans.

In August of 2013, President Obama pledged to create ratings based on which colleges are “offering the best value so students” and giving taxpayers “a bigger bang for their buck.” He said he hoped the government would provide more financial aid to students at colleges that do the best job providing opportunities, educating students, and helping launch good careers.

In its announcement Friday, the Education Department asked for public comments on its plans to judge colleges by the following factors:

Access: The Education Department said it was thinking of judging colleges’ provision of opportunities to all by examining, for example, factors such as the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which are grants awarded only to low-income students, and the percentage of students whose parents did not attend college. It was also considering looking at the family incomes of students at each college, and giving higher ratings to colleges with more students from the lowest income groups.

Affordability: The government is considering giving poor ratings to schools that provide so little financial aid that families end up having to pay much more than the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) after they fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid is generally in such short supply that 99% of colleges fail to provide enough grants or scholarships so that every student has to pay only their EFC. But currently, colleges are not required to reveal how many students they leave with financial aid “gaps” or how large those gaps are. Additionally, the ratings may ding colleges with high “net prices,” which is the price students (and their parents) pay after all grants are subtracted. The government said it may look at either the overall average net prices, or the average net prices paid by families divided into five income groups, such as those earning up to $30,000, or those earning more than $100,000.

Outcomes: While graduation rates are a commonly used metric for judging colleges, the Education Department proposes adding other gauges such as how many new graduates find jobs quickly, and how much money they earn over the long term. In theory, the Internal Revenue Services or the Social Security Administration might be able to provide the employment and earnings information for graduates of each school, but privacy concerns have stymied efforts to gather that data in the past. The Department says it may also consider what percentage of graduates are paying their loans off, and what percent go on to graduate school. For community colleges, the Department said it may consider what percentage of students transfer to four-year colleges.

To help families gauge the affordability and value of colleges, MONEY hired Mark Schneider, a former head of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, to develop college rankings based on quality, affordability, and outcomes, using the best data currently available, including, for example, a national survey of college graduates’ earnings by Payscale.com. Our rankings of the 665 top colleges in the country were released in the summer of 2014.

Read next: The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

TIME Education

The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.
Patrick Semansky—AP People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.

This sort of thing happens pretty much every year

The news that Carnegie Mellon had mistakenly sent acceptance emails to applicants who didn’t actuallly make the cut was especially cruel for the 800 kids who were actually rejected from their elite computer science program. But—while there is a special irony to this mistaken mass email coming from officials at the school ranked #1 in computer science—this kind of spirit-crushing mixup is sadly common. It’s become a nearly annual rite of college admissions, particularly since application processes went electronic in the early 2000s. Here’s a rundown of some of the worst offenders:

1995: Elizabeth Mikus, a 17-year-old, is among 45 early-acceptance applicants who receive a fat envelope with a form letter that says “Welcome to Cornell!” But it turns out that the envelopes were sent “due to a clerical error.” Mikus suffers a second time in April when she gets a thin envelope rejecting her again. The family threatened to sue the school over the mishap.

2002: Administrators at the University of California, Davis pick a cruel date to correct a mistake. After sending letters of acceptance to 105 high school students the previous month, the school sends follow-up emails on April Fool’s Day explaining that those letters had been sent in error.

2003: Cornell again. This time the university sends an email saying “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” to nearly 550 high school students who had already received their rejection letters in December. The school sends emails explaining the mistake a few hours later, in an era when news outlets still called them “email letters.”

2004: UC Davis has back-to-back mishaps. First, the school allows personal data from some 2,000 applicants, including SAT scores and Social Security numbers, to become viewable by other applicants. Soon after, the school acknowledges that they mistakenly sent emails telling 6,500 applicants that they had won $7,500 scholarships. It is the first year UC Davis had sent scholarship announcements by email. “Clearly, we have bugs in that system,” a school representative told the Los Angeles Times.

2006: About 100 high school students receive a congratulatory note welcoming them to the University of Georgia, only to get another letter a few days later explaining that those notes should be disregarded. Someone picked up “the wrong file,” an administrator explains, and failed to send what the students should have gotten: a letter thanking them for applying.

2006: Thousands of applicants to law school at the University of California, Berkeley are invited, and then uninvited, to an alumni-sponsored party for students who had been admitted early. “Anybody who’s made this sort of error can imagine my feelings at that point,” says the admissions director who had accidentally sent the email to the entire applicant pool. “It was a shocking kind of realization: ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?'”

2007: More than 2,500 students are emailed a congratulatory note on their admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — only to be told the following day that decisions about their applications had not yet been made. “I’d give anything to go back to 3 p.m. yesterday and change what happened,” the director of undergraduate admissions told WRAL.

2008: About 50 students are welcomed to Northwestern University’s renowned Kellogg School of Management, before being informed that they were actually rejected. Officials describe it as a “technological glitch” in their “automated mail-merge process.”

2009: Yet another unwelcome April Fool’s surprise. About 500 applicants to New York University’s graduate school of public service receive emails announcing their acceptance. About an hour later, they receive emails saying they had not, it turns out, been selected.

2009: Perhaps the largest ball-dropping yet occurred when the University of California, San Diego sent 28,000 students an email saying they had been accepted. Of course, they were not.

2010: Roughly 200 students who had sought early admission to George Washington University receive notes that, as the Washington Post put it, “welcomed them to the Class of 2014 — for several hours.” The mea culpa follows shortly after. The same year, 56 applicants to Vanderbilt University are mistakenly sent acceptance letters, as well as 2,500 applicants to Middlesex University in the U.K.

2011: About 2,000 students are sent acceptance letters from Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, followed by a apology (and take-backsies) about four hours later. The culprit is a database error committed by a human.

2012: Nearly 900 students are informed, wrongly, that they got into UCLA. Hundreds are told, in error, that they’re welcome to attend Ireland’s University of Ulster. And 76 students are led to believe, for 30 minutes, that they have been accepted early to Vassar College.

2013: About 2,500 early-admission applicants to Fordham University are sent financial aid notices congratulating them on their acceptance to the school, though their fates had not actually been decided. “Fordham and its undergraduate admissions staff are acutely aware of the high hopes prospective students and their families have regarding college acceptances,” the school told the New York Times. “The University deeply regrets that some applicants were misled by the financial aid notice.”

2014: Johns Hopkins University mistakenly sends acceptance letters to about 300 applicants who had already been told they didn’t make it into the cut among early decision applicants. Their misfired “Embrace the YES!” email was soon followed by another a few hours later saying that the real news was the bad news.

MONEY Student Loans

The Most Terrifying Stat About Student Loan Debt Isn’t What You Think

About half of student loan borrowers underestimate the amount of education debt they have.

It seems some college students need to work on their reading comprehension. Or their vocabulary. Whatever the problem is, some students aren’t grasping the concept of loans: 17% of first-year students who have federal student loans responded to a survey saying they had no student debt, according to a Brookings Institution report.

There are scores of stories and reports about the difficulty borrowers have repaying education debt, and that’s a serious issue, but the statistics about borrowers’ understanding of their loans and the cost of college are much more troubling.

The report from Brookings “Are College Students Borrowing Blindly?” cites some shocking figures, based on two data sets. The first, a survey conducted in spring 2014, included responses from first-time, full-time freshmen who applied for financial aid at their college, a “selective four-year public university in the northeastern U.S.” The second is the most recent result of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a nationally representative analysis of first-year, full-time undergraduates with federal loan information available in the National Student Loan Data System.

The data reveals that students are generally clueless about the costs of higher education and how they’re paying for it. Nearly half of students underestimated their debt loads by at least $1,000, with 25% of students underestimating their debt by $5,000 or more.

I’m in Debt? Really?

There are a lot of reasons students may not fully understand their student loan debt: Students may be confused about the different kinds of loans (like federal or private), their parents may have taken charge of figuring out their education expenses, they’re simply not keeping track of their finances, or they really don’t understand the fact that borrowed money must be repaid. There’s not really a good excuse, considering the students had to sign paperwork saying they’ll repay the loan as agreed.

The gap between perceived and actual student debt is potentially more troubling than the growing student debt load itself. Failing to understand the costs of college and how you’re paying for it sets students up for an unpleasant reality check and regret if they can’t afford the debt they incurred along their chosen career path.

Student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, and failing to repay them has serious consequences on the rest of your financial life. Missing loan payments is one of the worst things you can do to your credit, and if you default on student loans, you may face wage garnishment and calls from debt collectors.

Consequently, a low credit score can leave you unable to secure other forms of credit at affordable interest rates, not to mention rent an apartment or get a job. To see how student loans and your other financial behaviors affect your credit score, you can review two of your credit scores for free every 30 days on Credit.com.

Ideally, you’re well prepared to handle your student loans when you enter repayment, but if you think your loan payments will be unaffordable, you have a few options. If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for a variety of student loan repayment and forgiveness options. If you have private loans, you may be able to refinance. At the very least, you should reach out to your student loan servicer to see if there’s any way to avoid defaulting on your education debt.

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