MONEY Student Loans

Why Refinancing Your Federal Student Loans Could Cost You

When you consolidate with a private lender, you can lower your interest rate. But in exchange you lose valuable consumer protections.

People with federal student loan debt now have a few options to lower their rates with private consolidation loans, but consumer advocates warn they could be giving up vital protections in doing so.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s Citizens Financial Group recently expanded its student loan refinancing program to include federal as well as private student loans. The bank joins two much smaller, peer-to-peer lenders, SoFi and CommonBond.

All three lenders say they counsel potential customers about the consumer protections lost when federal debt is refinanced into private loans. Those protections include access to federal income-based repayment and forgiveness programs as well as generous forbearance and deferral options.

“Those are very important rights,” says Persis Yu, staff attorney for the Student Loan Borrowers Assistance site run by the National Consumer Law Center.

Yu questions whether the borrowers targeted by these lenders understand how vulnerable they are to financial setbacks such as job losses.

“A lot of people think they’re not ever going to default,” Yu says, “but there are very high delinquency rates on student loans.”

Who’s getting loans

So far the lenders are wooing the lowest-risk borrowers: graduates with steady jobs, good credit and enough income to pay down their loans.

CommonBond, which has refinanced about $100 million in student loans so far, restricts its prospective clients even further to those with business, law, medical, or engineering degrees, says Chief Executive Officer David Klein.

The lenders tout variable rates that start at less than 3%. Fixed rates can be as low as 3.6% at SoFi and Common Bond, while Citizens’ lowest is 4.74%.

By contrast, current interest rates for new fixed-rate federal Stafford loans are 4.66% for undergraduates and 6.21% for graduate and professional students. Borrowers with older federal debt may have rates as high as 8.5%.

While the best rates on consolidation loans are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers, Citizens has been able to lower its typical customer’s rate by 1.5 percentage points when refinancing private loans, says Brendan Coughlin, the company’s president of auto and education lending.

A one-percentage-point decrease corresponds to annual savings of about $50 per year on each $10,000 of debt, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a college finance education site. The savings generally are not enough to make it worth giving up income-based repayment and forgiveness options, he says.

Borrowers who struggle to pay their debt are typically locked out of refinancing due to lenders’ high underwriting standards.

“We’re approached by people who are having a really difficult time with their payments,” says Mike Cagney, CEO of SoFi, which so far has refinanced about $1 billion in federal and private loan debt. “We’re not a good option for them.”

Parents may benefit

Parents who have federal PLUS loans, however, might consider refinancing into a private loan if they can win a large-enough interest rate reduction, Kantrowitz says.

Parent PLUS loans are not eligible for income-based repayment options or forgiveness, although they still offer up to three years of forbearance and deferral options. Private consolidation loans typically offer up to one year of forbearance.

“Generally, refinancing federal parent PLUS loans into a private consolidation loan might be financially beneficial if the interest rate will decrease by at least two percentage points and the borrower has at least $20,000 in [such] loans,” Kantrowitz says.

“Students, on the other hand, should still not refinance their federal student loans into a private consolidation loan.”

Parents with the high credit scores and solid incomes necessary for a private loan consolidation presumably would be able to make informed decisions about the necessary trade-offs between a lower interest rate and the loss of federal education loan benefits, Kantrowitz says.

A proposal to lower rates on existing federal student loan debt died this summer when Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance her bill. The legislation, which would have allowed people with federal and private loans issued before 2010 to refinance at 3.86 percent, received 56 votes for and 38 votes against it.

MONEY Social Security

How Student Loans Are Jeopardizing Seniors’ Retirements

Senior overwhelmed with debt
Chris Fertnig—Getty Images

Old debts are haunting retirees, as the federal government goes after their Social Security checks for repayment.

It’s a rude awakening for a growing number of seniors: They file for Social Security, then discover that the federal government plans to take part of their benefit to pay off delinquent student loans, tax bills, child support or alimony.

This month the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released findings on the problem of rising student debt burdens among retirees—and how the government goes after delinquent borrowers by going after wages, tax refunds and Social Security checks.

Under federal law, benefits can be attached and seized to pay child support and alimony obligations, collection of overdue federal taxes and court-ordered restitution to victims of crimes. Benefits also can be attached for any federal non-tax debt, including student loans.

It seems the student loan crisis isn’t just for young people. The GAO found that 706,000 of households headed by those aged 65 or older have outstanding student debts. That’s just 3% of all households, but the debt they hold has ballooned from $2.8 billion in 2005 to about $18.2 billion last year. Some 27% of those loans are in default.

If you’re among the 191,000 households that GAO estimates have defaulted, your Social Security benefits can be attached and seized.

“When that happens, the federal government pays off the creditor, and now it’s a debt to the federal government,” says Avram L. Sacks, an attorney who specializes in Social Security law. “So they can go after you for the loans—and now that students are reaching retirement age, long-forgotten debts are coming back to haunt them.”

The amounts that can be seized are limited, and the maximum amounts vary. In the case of any federal non-tax debt, including student loan debt, the government can take up to 15% of your monthly Social Security check. That’s a painful bite for low-income seniors living primarily on their benefits.

The law prohibits any attachment due to a federal non-tax debt that reduces a monthly benefit below $750. (Federal tax debt is not subject to this limitation.) Retirement and disability checks can be attached, but Supplemental Security Income—a program of benefits for low-income people administered by the Social Security Administration—is exempt.

In alimony or child support situations, garnishment is limited to the lesser of whatever maximums are set by states or the federal limit. The federal limits vary from 50% to 65% depending on how much the debt is in arrears and on whether the debtor is supporting a spouse or child. In victim restitution cases, the limit is 25% of the benefit.

Benefits can be deducted through an “administrative offset” against the amount the government sends you or through garnishment. In the case of garnishment, banks are required to protect the two most recent months of benefits that have been paid into your account, and the bank must notify you within five days that benefits have been attached.

Sacks advises people who have had benefits attached to establish stand-alone bank accounts for their Social Security deposits. “It’s much more simple and safe, and makes it much easier to trace funds,” he says.

Sacks says the government has been going after benefits more often because of changes in federal law and court rulings that have widened its powers. He urges people in their pre-retirement years to make every effort to pay off delinquent debts.

“It can be painful, but consider going to legal aid or finding a non-profit debt counselor who can help negotiate repayment. The worst thing is to ignore it.”

The government can go after delinquent debt while you’re working—but that requires a court judgment. ” are a known asset over which the federal government has total control,” says Sacks.

He adds that people sometimes are blindsided by garnishment for unpaid debts they had forgotten about. If you’re not sure about a federal debt, contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service (800 304-3107), which serves as a clearinghouse for debts.

If the bureau shows a debt that you dispute, contact the agency that is owed. Do the same if your benefits already have been tapped. “Don’t try to deal with the Social Security Administration,” says Sacks. “They don’t have direct responsibility for the attachment.”

Finally, Sacks notes funds not in the bank can’t be garnished. Most people don’t hang on to Social Security benefits for long—they’re used to meet living expenses. “I hate to urge people to keep money under the mattress, but money that’s been sitting in a bank account for more than two months is exposed to attachment.”

MONEY Student Loans

8 Ways to Stop Student Loans From Ruining Your Life

Hello my debt is $127,086 name label
MONEY (photo illustration)—Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Getty Images

New tools and services are making it easier to lower your monthly payments, pay off loans faster, and avoid borrowing too much in the first place.

As tuition and student debt have soared, so has the number of college graduates struggling financially under the weight of hefty school loans. About one in four borrowers is at least a month behind on their federal student-loan payments, the Department of Education reported this summer, and the number of defaulters has jumped by more than 500,000 in the past year, bringing the total number of student loans gone bad to about 7 million. And that’s not even counting the many more borrowers who keep up with their payments but find themselves stretched to make rent, buy groceries, pay everyday bills, or start saving for the future.

The ray of hope in this black cloud: A growing number of government programs and private start-ups are offering new tools and services to help student borrowers avoid borrowing too much, get out from under onerous monthly payments, or dig their way out if they’re in financial trouble.

Here’s what you need to know to get your student loans under control, no matter where you are in the borrowing process:

If you’re currently a student—or will be soon:

Look for colleges that help you rely less on loans. Uncle Sam is making it easier for students to identify and avoid colleges that tend to overload students with debt. The Department of Education is cracking down on colleges with high default rates—an indication that students there routinely have to take on more debt than they can afford. Schools where 40% of borrowers stop making loan payments over a three-year period, for instance, will no longer be eligible for federal loans to students. In addition, the agency is posting each college’s default rate online. Favor schools with low three-year default rates: “At four-year schools, 5% is pretty reasonable,” while anything above 10% should be considered a danger sign, says Ben Miller, a former DOE official who is now a senior education policy analyst for the New America Foundation. You can also check out MONEY’s list of The 100 Best Private Colleges If You Need Student Loans, which identifies the schools with the best records of manageable debt loads, and the 25 Most Affordable Colleges. Keep in mind, however, that all default rates and debt stats are averages, and may not reflect the personalized financial aid package you get from an individual school.

Know your limit. Don’t borrow more to get your degree than the salary you can reasonably expect to make in your first year out of school, recommends Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and the adviser to MONEY’s Best Colleges rankings. (MONEY’s Best Colleges rankings include estimates of student debt loads at graduation for all 665 colleges on the list.) If you stick with that rule of thumb, your payments will likely amount to no more than 11% of your gross income, which is usually considered a manageable amount, Schneider says. The key is to be realistic about your first-year salary, which is sometimes tough given that stats on how much recent college grads make are spotty beyond broad averages. CollegeMeasures.org offers the only data that breaks down first-year earnings by major, and they only have the figures for six states. To get a ballpark estimate, pick a state and school that seem similar to yours and search for the first-year earnings for your anticipated major. The MONEY rankings also include early career earnings data from Payscale.com, but the average annual salaries listed are for the first five years after graduation, not year one.

If you’re paying off students loans now—or will be soon:

Pick the repayment plan that suits your needs. Federal student loan programs automatically enroll all borrowers in a standard 10-year repayment plan, with first payments due six months after graduation. That’s next month for many borrowers who got their degrees in May. But the government offers six other repayment options that may result in lower payments now or allow you to delay paying altogether. The Education Department has created a simple tool that will help you figure out your best choice.The new income-driven plans are generally the most attractive because they adjust monthly bills to your salary and offer the possibility that the loan may be forgiven before you’ve totally paid it off, says Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success. Under these plans, if you work in a government, nonprofit, or other public service job and pay on time every month for 10 years, you can have the remainder of your debt forgiven, without paying taxes on the balance. Other student borrowers who elect income-based repayment may be eligible to have their loans forgiven in 20 or 25 years, depending on when you borrowed, but you will owes taxed on the outstanding amount.

Put payments on automatic. Most lenders cut rates or offer other bonuses if you agree to have payments automatically deducted from your bank account every month. The federal government cuts your rate by one-quarter of a percentage point, which amounts to about $500 if you pay a $30,000 debt over 10 years.

Reduce your principal. Got a little extra cash you want to use to pay down your student debt faster? Make sure it goes toward lowering the original amount you borrowed. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says it has received many complaints from borrowers alleging that their lenders applied extra payments to their next month’s bill instead of reducing the principal. Since it’s financially advantageous to pay down your highest-interest debt first, that can be a costly misstep. To make sure there is no confusion, the CFPB suggests borrowers send a letter to their lender with specific instructions about how to credit extra payments. Here’s their sample letter.

Reduce your rate. If you have a steady job and your monthly paychecks total at least $1,000 more than your total monthly debt, there’s a good chance you can refinance a high-interest student loan into a lower rate one that will lower your monthly costs and allow you to pay off your debt sooner. “The refinance market is heating up,” says Bill Hubert of Overture Marketplace, a loan shopping website. Refinancing a high-rate private loan into a lower-rate private one is a no-brainer. But a growing number of banks and start-ups are offering to refinance federal student loans, some of which have annual rates as high as 7.9%, into loans with rates as low as 3.6%. Weigh that decision carefully. Switching from a standard $30,000 federal Stafford loan at 6.8% to, say, a 4% private loan would cut your payments by about $40 a month, and slash the total interest you’d shell out over five years by about $5,000. But you’d lose other benefits like the guaranteed ability to switch to other payment plans and potential forgiveness of your loan.

If you’re having serious trouble making your loan payments:

Act quickly: Although it is human nature to ignore unpleasant confrontations such as those with bill collectors, there’s a big financial payoff to calling your lender as soon as you start missing payments. As long as you haven’t missed more than eight consecutive monthly payments on a federal student loan, you can switch to a more attractive payment plan and get back on track without having to pay any extra collection fees or penalties, says Jason Deslisle, a debt expert at the New America Foundation.

If all else fails, try bankruptcy. Bankruptcy should be a last resort, in part because it remains on your credit record for seven years. What’s more, any relief might be indirect. The laws governing student loans make it very difficult for bankruptcy judges to free borrowers from their student loan debt. But there are two small bits of good news for those in desperate straits: A recent study by a Princeton graduate student found that bankruptcy courts reduced or eliminated student loans for almost 40% of those who asked. Jason Iuliano found that thousands more borrowers would likely also have gotten relief, if only they had asked. What’s more, many borrowers could get relief without having to hire an attorney. Iuliano found that borrowers who represented themselves were just as successful at getting relief as those who hired attorneys.Even if you aren’t able to get relief from your student loans, the bankruptcy court will likely reduce or eliminate some of your other debts—such as credit card obligations—thus freeing up money you can use to pay off your student loans.

MONEY Student Loans

The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt

Almost 650,000 federal student loan borrowers have defaulted on their debt, new data shows. A handful of for-profit schools are a big part of the problem.

UPDATED: September 25, 2014

More than one out of eight students who had a federal student loan and left college or graduate school in 2011 has since defaulted—a total of almost 650,000 Americans, the U.S. Department of Education reported today.

In all, 13.7% of the 4.8 million federal student loan borrowers who graduated or dropped out of a higher education program in 2011 have gone at least nine months without making a payment on that debt.

That number is alarming to many analysts because new flexible repayment programs have made it much easier to repay federal student loans. Some of the government’s new income-driven repayment plans, for example, cap payments at 10% of a borrower’s discretionary income.

Students and parents should be wary of colleges with high default rates, advises Debbie Cochrane, research director of The Institute for College Access and Success. “At schools with both high borrowing rates and high default rates, too many students are clearly leaving school worse off than before they entered,” she says.

A handful of for-profit colleges are responsible for a disproportionate number of the defaults, according to the new government statistics.

The Education Department says it will stop making loans to students at the 21 colleges with the worst default rates. (It will cut off schools with a three-year default rate above 40%, or three consecutive three-year default rates above 30%.) Twenty of those schools are for-profit colleges.

Many of the colleges with the highest default rates are trade schools, and many are comparatively small. The Coast Career Institute, a California-based trade school with a 56% default rate, for example, currently reports having only 169 students. Eleven of the 21 colleges with the worst default records are beauty or barbering schools. On average, 19% of students at for-profit schools who left school in 2011 have defaulted.

What’s more, several other government agencies are looking into whether some for-profit colleges are trying to attract students using false or misleading marketing. Allegations of fraud leveled by the California attorney general have forced for-profit Corinthian College to shut down.

Overall, the default rates for public colleges was 12.9%. The default rate for private, non-profit colleges was 7.2%. But the four colleges with the largest numbers of defaulters were for-profit schools. They produced a combined total of more than 75,000 defaulters in the past three years.

The University of Phoenix, a for-profit company and the nation’s largest higher education system, with 242,000 students, accounted for more than 45,000 of the defaulters in the most recent three-year group. That represented 19% of all of the Phoenix students whose bills started coming due in 2011.

Spokesmen for Phoenix and an association of for-profit schools note that their default rates have been declining. The University of Phoenix’s three-year default rate for students who graduated or dropped out in 2010 was 26%, for example.

The largest producer of defaulters among public schools was Ivy Tech, a community college in Indiana, where 23% of the student borrowers who left there in 2011 have since defaulted on their student loans. On average, 20% of community college borrowers have defaulted over the past three years. Community college officials note that their students generally tend to borrow less than others because the schools charge lower tuition.

These five schools have the highest numbers of defaulters among those who left school in 2011, according the Education Department.

College Type # of federal student loan defaulters, 2011-14 % of borrowers who defaulted on federal loans due in 2011
1 University of Phoenix For-profit 45,123 19%
2 ITT Technical Institute For-profit 11,260 22%
3 Kaplan University For-profit 10,684 20%
4 DeVry University For-profit 9,081 19%
5 Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana Public community college 7,237 23%

Update: This post has been updated to add more information about schools with the highest default rates and to correct the Department of Education’s policy on loans for schools with high default rates.

MONEY

Student Debt Could Cost Housing Market $83B This Year

It might as well be a curse word for young adults. Student loans are now blamed for what would be a staggering, industry-shaking drop in home sales.

TIME 2016 Election

Elizabeth Warren and Suze Orman Call for Student Debt Reform

Democratic Senators Discuss College Affordability
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (2nd L) speaks as Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) (L), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R) listen during a news conference June 5, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Warren didn't touch the question of whether she would run in 2016

Correction appended Sept. 17 at 2:40 p.m.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and personal finance expert Suze Orman teamed up Wednesday morning for a spirited, hour-long discussion about student loans, for-profit colleges and the staggering debt crisis facing tens of millions of Americans today.

The two women, who first met at a 2009 TIME 100 event, clearly saw eye-to-eye on nearly every issue, surprising absolutely no one, anywhere. They often echoed one another in their condemnation of “the biggest banks,” “the crooks” selling exploitative student loans, and corporate control over the lawmaking process.

“Washington works for those who have money and power, for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” Warren said.

“Private banks are financially raping—and I use that word truthfully—raping our children,” Orman said. “It’s ludicrous.”

The question of whether Warren will run for president in 2016 was defused right off the bat, when Orman jokingly announced her own candidacy. Warren remained silent on the issue throughout the panel discussion, hosted by Politico and Starbucks in downtown Washington, D.C., choosing instead to draw attention to her student loan reform bill, which was blocked by a Republican filibuster in June.

The bill would require the federal government and private banks to allow the roughly 25 million Americans, each of whom carry an average of $30,000 in student debt, to refinance their student loans at today’s lower interest rates. It would also cap undergraduate loans at interest rates below 4%. The current interest rate for federal Stafford student loans is as high as 8%; private loan rates often top 14%.

Warren and Orman argued that since Americans collectively carry more than $1.2 trillion in student debt alone—a sum that doesn’t take into account mortgages or other personal debt—they cannot buy houses or cars or make other purchases that would stimulate the economy. Senate Republicans blocked another effort to bring the bill to vote on Tuesday. Warren promised Wednesday to “keep hitting at” it this term.

Both Warren and Orman pointed out repeatedly that student loans, unlike any other type of loan, cannot be forgiven under any circumstances, including bankruptcy or death. Those carrying student debt through retirement “will have their social security garnished,” Orman said, as an appalled Warren echoed her: “Your social security check gets garnished!” Americans who die with student loans often pass on that debt to surviving family members.

One of the challenges in passing the student loan reform bill, Warren said, is that the U.S. government mades $66 billion between 2007 and 2012 off of the interest from federally-backed student loans. Her bill would reduce that profit substantially, but proposes making up the difference through a stipulation in the tax code requiring that those making more than a million dollars per year pay taxes at the same rate middle class families pay, she said.

Toward the end of the discussion, the moderators, Politico’s Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman, changed the topic to the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections. Orman said that while she would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she would much prefer to vote for Warren, who she described as her “political voice.” Warren smiled but didn’t respond.

Allen later asked Warren who her favorite Republican is, to which Warren quickly answered, much to the delight of the crowd, “Living or dead?” When Allen pressed her to come up with her favorite living Republican, Warren suggested Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who voted to advance debate of the student loan reform bill and is working on housing finance reform.

Allen later asked Warren what her reaction would be if Republicans win the majority in the Senate in November, and Mitch McConnell, who is facing a tight race in Kentucky, succeeds and rises to Senate majority leader. “I’ll be blunt,” Warren said. “I hope that he doesn’t come back.”

In one of the final questions, Haberman asked Warren which Republican she would like to see run in 2016. Warren just laughed. “No,” she said. “No.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said that Sen. Bob Corker voted for the loan reform bill. He voted to advance debate of the bill.

TIME

America’s Most Deeply Indebted Generation Will Surprise You

Cash Money Dollars
Chris Clor—Getty Images

The one generation that's taken out way more debt and is reducing it at a slower pace than any other

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Chris Matthews

Millennials may owe more in student loans than any American generation, but their Generation X elders are actually the most in debt.

That’s according to a study released Wednesday by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economists William Emmons and Bryan Noeth. The study showed that the single most indebted birth cohort in the nation are 44 year olds, who owe on average $142,077, most of that composed of mortgage debt.

This figure is actually a marked improvement, as every generation, including Generation X, has made progress paying down or discharging debt. For its part, Gen X has reduced what it owes by between 10% and 15% since 2008. But even on this score, they were beaten out by the much-maligned Millennial generation. These folks, also known as Generation Y, reduced debt even more aggressively than Gen Xers, discharging or paying down upwards of 25% of what they owed in 2008. Emmons and Noeth point out that “millennials were very young during the housing boom and presumably had more limited access to borrowing than members of Gen X.”

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

MONEY Investing

You Told Us: What You Would Do First with an Extra $1,000

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iStock

MONEY asked you how you'd deploy a $1,000 windfall. Your answers made us laugh, made us cry, and made us proud.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do With $1,000

Related: 24 Things to Do with $10,000

Related: 13 Things to Do with $100,000

Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

MONEY College

12 Things We Wish We’d Known When We Were 18

Girl moving off to college
Eric Raptosh Photography—Corbis

Suze Orman and other experts share their financial advice for the Class of 2018. Follow these tips to keep your college experience from becoming a major money mistake.

Prepping for freshman year at college typically includes activities like shopping for dorm essentials, reviewing orientation packets, and Googling your new roommate.

Most students don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they’ll manage their money in this new phase of their lives.

And yet, what you do in those first few years of parental emancipation can affect you for years—or decades—to come. Students graduated last year with an average $35,200 in college-related debt, including federal, state and private loans, as well as debt owed to family and accumulated via credit cards, according to a Fidelity study. Half of those students said they were surprised by just how much debt they’d accumulated.

To make sure the class of 2018 gets off on the right foot, MONEY gathered sage advice from top financial experts about the lessons they wish they, their kids, or their friends had known before starting school.

1. Limit your loans. “Do not take out more in student loans than what you are projected to earn in your first year after college. If you only expect to make $40,000, you better not take out more than $40,000. The chances of you being able to pay it back is close to nil. If you need to take a private loan, you’re going to a college you can’t afford. Remember, going to an expensive school doesn’t guarantee success. The school never makes you, you make the school.” —Suze Orman, host of The Suze Orman Show and author of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke

2. Finish in four. “Many kids are finishing school in five or six years. But every extra year is potentially an extra $30,000 to 40,000 in expenses. Map out your coursework and figure out exactly what you’ll need to do each semester. Be vigilant about sticking to your plan. Try to catch up on any credits by taking classes at a community college over the summer.” —Farnoosh Torabi, author of You’re So Money

3. Study money 101. “Sign up for an economics or personal finance course. This way, when you graduate, you’ll be better equipped to manage money for the rest of your life.” —Brittney Castro, CEO of Financially Wise Women

4. Leave the car at home. “Everyone feels like they need a car, but with the combination of sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and public transport, that isn’t always the case. If you’re living in a major metropolitan center or on campus, consider leaving your car behind. It’s much cheaper to use one of these car services than it is to pay for insurance, gas, parking, car maintenance and car payments.” —Daniel Solin, author of The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read

5. Lead rather than follow. “Especially in college, you’re going to be surrounded by people doing dumb things financially. You’ll see people financing their lifestyle with student loans or their parents’ money. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford the same things as others. I knew a student who was financing his whole college experience with debt and he was always asking people to go shopping with him. If I’d tried to keep pace, I’d have ended up in the same debt-ridden place as him.”—Zac Bissonnette, author of Debt-Free U

6. Find free fun. “You can still do fun things at school, without spending a lot of money. You’re paying an activity fee in your tuition, so you ought to make sure you’re taking full advantage of whatever the school offers for free—be it concerts, trips, lectures. The school I went to provided grants to help students travel abroad and offered free plays and trips through different clubs.” —Farnoosh Torabi

7. Be purposeful with plastic. “The idea that you need to build credit in college is wildly overrated. It’s not a bad idea to build credit, but having built up a bad credit history will hurt you more than having no credit history. You don’t need to feel pressure to get a credit card. You can get by just fine with cash and a debit card; no one is expecting you to have a ton of borrowing history when you’re getting your first apartment anyway.” —Zac Bissonnette

8. Put your budget on autopilot. “Keep track of the money you’re getting in from loans and your parents, as well as your expenses. Use an app like Mint.com, which lets you link your debit and credit cards to your online account to track your spending and easily help you keep on budget.” —Daniel Solin

9. Enlist Mom and Dad. “Check in with your parents once a month and review your spending with them. Talking about this will help you to avoid what I call ‘budget creep,’ where all of a sudden you’re spending $30 a day on food and entertainment. All those little extras add up and you could be spending over a hundred a week… on what?”—Neale Godfrey, chairwoman of Children’s Financial Inc.

10. Protect your stuff. “College students may not think they have a lot of valuable possessions. But think about the value of electronic devices alone, not to mention textbooks, clothes, even that ratty futon. The good news is that renters insurance is typically inexpensive and can protect you from fires, theft and other incidents. The even better news is that students’ stuff may be covered by their parents’ homeowners insurance. Check the policy prior to hitting the books.”—Kara McGuire, author of The Teen Money Manual

11. Establish rules with roomies. “If you’re renting an apartment with friends, be sure everyone and their parents sign the lease. Try to have everyone’s name on the utilities bills as well. Kids will take advantage of other kids, and you don’t want to be the one who is stuck being responsible for everything. If you can’t attach everyone’s names to all the bills, have them prepay. Also, make sure everyone chips in for general expenses like cleaning supplies and toilet paper, so you don’t end up paying for all of that as well.” —Neale Godfrey

12. Share with discretion. “Social networks are a public record. Your future employers will look you up on your social sites and judge you based on what they see. So something that you thought was cute in college could keep you from getting the job. Know that every move you make on those sites could have a direct consequence on your ability to land a job.” —Suze Orman

 

MONEY College

The Important Talk Parents Are Not Having With Their Kids

College tuition jar
Alamy

The new Fidelity College Savings Indicator survey reveals that parents are only on track to pay a third of college tuition—and that they're keeping mum on the topic.

Moms and dads expect their children to pay for more than one-third of college costs—but only 57% of parents actually have that conversation with their kids, according to a new study out by Fidelity today.

The cost of college has more than doubled in the past decade, and parents are having a hard time saving for it, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator study shows. While 64% of parents say they’d like be able to cover their kids total college costs, only 28% are on track to do so.

That jibes with reality: For current students, parents’ income and savings now only cover one-third of college costs on average, according to Sallie Mae’s recently released report How America Pays For College. Kids use 12% of their own savings and income. Loans taken by students and parents account for 22% of the funds, while another 30% comes from grants and scholarships.

Experts urge parents to have a frank conversation well in advance with their children about how much college costs and how much they are expected to contribute, either through summer jobs, their own savings or part-time jobs while in school. “If children know that they are expected to contribute to their college funds, they are more likely to save for it,” says Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

A T. Rowe Price study released earlier this week found that 58% of kids whose parents frequently talk to them about saving for college put away money for that goal vs. just 23% who don’t talk to their parents about how to pay for school.

There’s also reason to believe that parents shouldn’t feel so bad about not being able to take on the full tab. A national study out last year found that the more money parents pay for their kids’ college educations, the worse their kids tend to perform. In her paper “More Is More or More is Less? Parent Financial Investments During College,” University of California sociology professor Laura Hamilton found that larger contributions from parents are linked to lower grades among students.

Apparently, kids who don’t work or otherwise use their own money to pay for school spend more time on leisure activities and are less focused on studying. It’s not that these kids flunk out, according to Hamilton. She found that students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school, but they just dial down their academic efforts.

Given all these findings, parents should feel less pressure pay the full ride for their kids—especially if it means falling behind on other important goals like saving for their own retirement. “Putting your kids on the hook for college costs is better for everyone,” says Ward.

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