What items do I consider when budgeting?
Answer: When creating a budget you need to consider all of your daily expenses such as groceries, utilities, and rent. Review your bank statements from the last few months and start categorizing what you spend your money on. You can also use a spending diary and keep track of how you spend your money every day for a month. Next, you need to add up your monthly income. Finally, compare the two. If you have more expenses than income, you need to find ways to cut your spending. You can use the Budget Wizard to create a budget online. http://www.budget.cashcourse.org
Does the full pell grant amount apply for each semester? or is it spilt up per semester?
Answer: The Pell Grant is awarded for the full academic year and split evenly between Fall and Spring terms. If you are attending school only one term that year, the Pell Grant can be awarded a prorated amount for a single term.
what the best way to budgeting when going shopping
Answer: It is good that you are thinking about budgeting before you go shopping rather than waiting until you get to the store. Here are some considerations:
• Think about what specific items you are shopping for. Are those items necessities or are you simply looking to see what is being offered?
• Make a list in advance of what you need and stick closely to your list. If you are concerned with both budgeting and healthy eating you may want to use the My Shopping List and other tips created by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
• Be aware that retailers know how to attract impulse buyers. Think of the high-margin items they place at the checkout line. Also, be wary of the discounts offered at checkout if you open a new credit card. Their interest rates are among the highest and it becomes even easier to run up debt.
• When shopping for groceries try to stick with basic foods that you can prepare yourself rather than those that are preprocessed and may not be as healthy.
• Pay cash. Leave the credit and debit cards at home. Many students still use the "envelope" method where they budget their dollars into envelopes labeled for groceries, entertainment, etc.
• Take a look at the many suggestions offered by CashCourse such as 25 Tips to Stretch Your Dollars.
• Compare brands. Many stores offer house-brands that are usually cheaper and of comparable quality.
I have very little control over my spending and I need to know the steps I can take to begin controlling my spending if you can help?
Answer: Habits can take control of our lives, for better or worse. You already recognize the need to improve in one area of your financial life. That’s good. Now let’s follow some basic steps to replace old habits that are not working with some new and better ones.
First, let’s take inventory and see just what is causing the problem. A good step is to record everything you are spending for an entire month. That means everything from the smallest expenditure to the most expensive thing you can imagine. Once you have determined where your money is going analyze each item and ask yourself whether you really need (and want) all those items you are buying. A good example is the daily coffee you may be buying at Starbucks. Can you replace it with a cup you brew at home for almost nothing? Some students find a daily savings of $2 or more that can easily turn into hundreds of dollars over the year. You will find some items are fixed (rent, insurance, etc.) and others are variable (food, entertainment, etc.). You have considerable control over the latter group.
The items that remain become the foundation of a budget that will follow to bring your spending under control. You will find several excellent worksheets for this step at CashCourse. Look under Budgeting & Financial Planning>Getting Started With a Budget.
I know I am spending too much money, but I am not sure where to even start with a budget. What should be my first steps?
Answer: As with any “trip” it is a good idea to determine where you are going. Then think about where you are starting. Finally, how will you get there? Consider these steps:
1. Establish a list of the goals you want to achieve
•Some ideas are travel, home, education, family.
2. Determine what you own vs. what you owe
•For example you own a ca, and you owe student loans. This will give you a snapshot of where you are financially.
3. Track your expenses
•Track all your expenses for one month. Consider both fixed (housing, loan repayments, etc.) and variable (food, clothing, entertainment).
4. Become a planner
•Analyze your expenses to determine what you can change or do without.
5. Watch your progress
•Take a few minutes at the end of each day and ask yourself how you did today. Then, at the end of the month look at the big picture by comparing your results with prior months. You should soon see significant progress along with some areas that need more attention.
Consider using the Budget Wizard at http://budget.cashcourse.org/. It makes a tedious process easy.
Credit and Credit Cards
Does a debit card which has the potential to be used as a credit card for transactions get considered as part of a student's credit history?
Answer: An excellent question, especially now that many banks and credit unions offer the option of a debit card that draws funds directly from your checking or savings account, but can also create a credit transaction up to some pre-approved limit.
If the card is used only as a debit card you are simply using your own money for purchases, thus it is the same as a cash purchase. The good news is that this helps you live within your means.
However, to the extent that you use that same card as a credit card it will be monitored as any other credit transaction. There is always a danger that a student starts to misinterpret the "credit limit" posted on the monthly statement and gradually gets him/her self into trouble.
Likewise, if the student exceeds their bank or credit union balance it could automatically draw on the credit limit. Exceeding that credit limit can create a substantial over-limit penalty (fee) as well as a blemish on the credit report. Therefore it could have a positive or negative impact on your credit rating.
So I just found out I will be getting a $1,000 bonus from work. My gut reaction is to put it all on our credit card which has a balance of $7,000 at 17% interest! But! We don't have an emergency fund. And I have heard that the emergency fund is the #1 priority. But with such a high balance and interst rate on our card it seems more logical to put the money on the card. Advice??
Answer: A good thing to remember is that the interest rate you pay on debt works the same way as the interest rate that you earn on an investment. In your case paying $1,000 to reduce your debt means you get a 17% gain on your money. Chances are you will never find a “guaranteed” return of 17%. Your “gut reaction” is correct…pay down the debt.
How can I request a free credit report?
Answer: You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. The three agencies established a central point for accessing your credit report, at annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228, or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Check out the Protecting Your Credit on CashCourse for more information.
Should I pay off all my credit card bills each month?
Answer: Using credit wisely is a good thing. It can help to develop a strong credit history enabling you to use it for larger, more important purchases in the future. Some basic principles:
Always pay off any balances immediately, or as soon as possible.
If you have more than one outstanding debt it is best to pay off those with the highest rate of interest first.
Going forward try to avoid taking on new debt. However, if it is unavoidable look for the best rate possible. Remember, you are borrowing money from someone else. You want to pay as little in interest as possible.
So, I’ve gotten into a little bit of credit card debt. I just got a part-time job so I can start making extra payments. I have two cards, each with about $800 on them, the difference is the APR. One is for 18% and the other for 10%. I can only afford to make more than the minimum payment ($25) on one. Which one should I try to pay off first?
Answer: The account (or debt) with the highest interest rate should go first. In your example, paying $25 monthly with the 18% account will take 42 months and cost you $269 in interest. The same payment to the 10% account will take 36 months and cost you $125 in interest. You should apply any additional income to the higher interest account as soon as you can. Continue to pay the minimum balance on the card with the lower interest rate, and as soon as you finish paying off the higher interest rate card, start making extra payments on the card with the lower interest rate. You can use the debt repayment worksheet to organize your repayment plans.
How do I get good credit? My friends tell me to get a few credit cards and start using them. But, I want to make sure I do it the right way, and not end up messing up my credit.
Answer: One way to to establish good credit is to to create a track record of on-time payments and spending within the limit on a credit card. You can open a credit card account through a bank, credit union, or store. Be sure to pay your account in full at the end of each month.
Also, check to see if you already have a credit report. A credit report contains information on your credit history, including credit accounts, loans, and late payments. It is possible that you have performed activities that are reflected in you credit report. You can get a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com from the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Make sure that the activity shown on your credit report is correct. Repeat the process with all three of the credit reporting agencies. While you can view your credit report for free, you have to pay a small fee for your credit score.
I know someone who had her identity stolen, and it took her a long time to get it straightened out. Is there a checklist of things I should monitor – or steps I should take to protect myself from identity theft? My friend has been through a lot and I don’t want to follow in her footsteps.
Answer: To protect yourself from identity theft you should:
• Closely guard your Social Security number. Keep that number in your head; never carry it in your wallet.
• Never give out any personal information on the phone or Internet.
• Shred financial documents and paperwork with any personal information before you throw them out.
• Monitor your credit report periodically to make sure that no one else is using your identity. You have the right to a free copy of your credit report annually at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
What financial aid do you pay back and what is free?
Answer: Grant and Scholarship aid is free. Loans need to be repaid.
If you complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the March 1st priority date each year, you have a higher likelihood of being considered for free aid.
Typical free grant aid for undergraduates are:
• Institutional Grants
• State Grant
• Federal Pell Grants
• Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant
You can also look for grants and scholarships in your local community (local church for example) or on free scholarship search engines like www.fastweb.com.
Loans, that you have to pay back, and you can apply for are:
• Federal Perkins loans for undergraduate students
• Federal Direct Subsidized loans for undergraduate students
• Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans
• PLUS loans - which are available for parents of dependent undergraduate students or graduate and professional students.
What are sources for financial aid for a person who wants to become a physician's assistant?
Answer: Physician's Assistant (PA) programs are graduate programs which are eligible for up to $20,500 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans. If the student needs additional funding, they can apply for a credit-based Federal Direct Graduate PLUS loan. These loans are borrowed through your Financial Aid Office and the Department of Education. Federal grant programs are not awarded to graduate students but academic program offices often have institutional grants available for a select number of students.
Check for assistantships with your academic department or Federal Work Study opportunities through your school's Financial Aid Office. You can also search for outside scholarships at http://www.fastweb.com. Check your state's higher education website for student grant aid. Your local church or place of employment can sometimes have small educational credit reimbursement or grants available. Be sure to get your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submitted by the March 1st priority date to avail yourself to the most resources available to you.
I am a single mother, and will be starting my clinicals next year. I have been advised not to work during this time. How can I manage my finances during this time? I also want to prepare to purchase a home when I graduate and need advice on where to start. I have good credit and my only debt is one credit card and current student loans. Thanks
Answer: First, congratulations on your accomplishments thus far! Raising a family and keeping control of your finances is a commendable achievement.
You take on an additional task with your clinicals as your expenses remain (and perhaps increase) while your income drops. It is vital to stay in control and know your financial situation at all times. Start with a bare-bones budget. Make sure to include all of your fixed expenses (rent, insurance, etc.) as well as variable expenses (food, clothing, entertainment, etc.). There is an excellent model at CashCourse at . Make sure you maintain that budget throughout your clinical period.
To get the best terms on a home mortgage you will want to keep your strong credit rating. I suggest you check your credit report at least annually. Hopefully you have accumulated some funds and can continue to add to them over time. If not, you may need to adjust your goal until you have enough for a 20% down payment. Check out the CashCourse website for tips on insurance, budgeting and buying a home.
Saving and Investing
I am going to graduate this semester, and once I get a job, I want to start saving money to buy a home. Where is the best place to put the money I save? I’ve heard a little bit about money market accounts and IRAs but not really sure what they are and that is where I should put my money.
Answer: After you have established an emergency fund (three months of living expenses) for unforeseen predicaments, saving for a home can be an excellent goal. Saving for a down-payment of 20 percent of the value of the home will help you qualify for a mortgage with attractive terms, such as a lower interest rate and no mortgage insurance which can save you hundreds of dollars each month. A traditional or Roth IRA have significant tax advantages and both allow you to make withdrawals from your account for a first-home purchase under certain circumstances. A money market fund, while quite safe offers little in the way of growth. You may want to consider a diverse portfolio of mutual funds to help you reach your goal sooner.
I am thinking about taking out $85,000 in graduate loans on top of my $30,000 in undergrad. Having $115,000 in loans for a masters degree is very scary especially when the field I am studying is not know for the high salary ranges. What are your thoughts on this?
Answer: That’s a good question. We see similar situations almost every day. Let’s look at two possibilities.
1. If you go to grad school now your undergrad debt will likely continue to grow and your new debt will bring your total obligation to more than $115,000. Consider:
• Without knowing what types of loans you will have we can assume annual payments of perhaps $8,000 to $10,000 over a 30-year period. (We can’t know exactly what the rates and repayment requirements will be in the future.)
• Have you made yourself more marketable with the advanced degree?
• If so, how much more income can you expect?
• Consider the total of the additional education expense and the lost opportunity of earning additional income.
2. Ask yourself why you are going to grad school right now.
• Have you considered working for a while and then going to grad school with a bit less debt and a lot of valuable experience to make the education even more meaningful?
You should have access to the interest rates and repayment options on your existing loans and the new ones you are considering. Why not use a good student loan calculator such as:
Your best choice will be clear.
What items am I allowed to spend financial aid funds on? i.e.: mortgage payments, food, credit card bills, etc.?
Answer: Refund checks issued from financial aid can be used for any cost of attending the college or university which includes transportation, housing, food, and clothing. Also bills, utilities, and living costs the student must maintain while enrolled are considered part of the student’s costs of attendance and can be paid using a financial aid refund check.
Should I use private loans for study abroad during summer? My school does not offer summer financial aid. Study Abroad will help me reach a minor in Spanish.
Answer: If your study abroad trip is offered by your school or is eligible for a consortium agreement with your school, a private student loan can be certified by your school for the amount of credits your study abroad program will earn you. Be sure to borrow absolutely only what you need and to compare loan products before borrowing. Private student loans are products that may have a fixed interest rate, but most have a variable interest rate. Though variable interest rates can start as low as 3%, they can also increase over time to as high as 14% - so be aware when evaluating your rate. Some private loans come with a grace period of up 6 months, or an in-school deferment allowance of up to 4 years. Some require repayment to begin right after the first disbursement date. When choosing a private student loan, look for the loan terms that best fit your situation and affordability.
Hi, I've been denied student financial aid and was looking to get a private loan, likely from a credit union. Do you have any advice or suggestions?
Answer: Private student loans are loan products sold by a private vender and the terms and conditions vary greatly from loan to loan. Be sure to check the borrower benefits as well as the terms and conditions of the loan before accepting. Private student loans may have a fixed interest rate, but most have a variable interest rate. Though variable interest rates can start as low as 3%, they can also increase over time to as high as 14% - so be aware when evaluating your rate. Some private loans come with a grace period of up 6 months, or an in-school deferment allowance of up to 4 years. But, others require repayment to begin right after the first disbursement date. When choosing a private student loan, look for the loan terms that best fit your situation and affordability.
Process of Applying for a Private Loan
Apply for the private student loan through your lender of choice and once you are credit approved, the school will be sent a "certification request" by the lender in order to complete the processing of the loan. Once that "certification request" is processed by the school, the private loan lender will provide a disbursement date that is typically a three weeks after the certification date. This gap in time allows the borrower to cancel the loan if they choose to before the disbursement date.
Can a student apply for and use an unsubsidized loan to pay for housing off campus?
Answer: Students are awarded federal aid up to their eligibility including Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans based on their budget, known as a Cost of Attendance (COA). This includes off campus housing as a budget item. The federal aid package a student receives first disburses to their tuition and fee balance. Any remaining aid not paid to the student's term balance results in a refund check. The refund check can be used to pay any outside expenses including off campus housing. If additional loan funds are needed, dependent undergraduate student's parent borrowers can take out a Federal Direct Parent Plus loan. Graduate and professional student borrowers may take out the Federal Direct Graduate Plus loan to cover outside costs.
I see that to get financial aid I have to e-file my 2012 taxes by February 15. Is there any way around that? I can't get my taxes back by then.
Answer: Complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) using estimated numbers based on last year's taxes. Once your taxes are complete, you must update your FAFSA information accordingly on www.fafsa.ed.gov. If you are selected for verification by your school after submitting your FAFSA, the school will request a copy of your tax transcript. Wait until this years taxes are complete before requesting a copy of your tax transcript be sent to the school from www.IRS.gov.
Hi, I am currently an Australian Resident and was wondering if I came to university in the USA, would I be eligible for loans?Thanks.
Answer: International students are only eligible for Private Educational Loans. Many lenders will consider an international student private loan application if they have an endorser to co-sign. That co-signer needs to be a U.S. citizen with a U.S. mailing address. The endorser’s credit history will be evaluated as well as the borrower’s. The endorser and the borrower will have equal responsibility to the loan.
My boyfriend and I of four years are thinking about getting married once I graduate with my BA. I plan on attending graduate school. Neither of us have great jobs. We are both students are work part time. How would this affect financial aid?
Answer: Graduate students are offered up to $20,500 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans regardless of married status. If one of you is remaining an undergraduate student, then that student would be considered an independent student which increases their Federal Direct loan eligibility from the dependent limit of up to $7500 to $12,500 in Federal Direct loans. Both of your incomes will need to be reflected on each student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Otherwise, federal student loans are not combined in any way in marriage. Each borrower maintains their own student loan debt. In student loan repayment, both married persons incomes are evaluated when calculating income-related repayment plans. The married couple can change their income evaluation to only the borrower’s by filing taxes separately.
I have worked as a non profit worker directly working with highrisk youth for almost five years now, will that count towards a loan cancellation program even though I have been doing while I go to school?
Answer: You may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/public-service). This program allows borrowers to forgive a portion of their loan after making 120 monthly on-time payments in a qualifying repayment plan while a full-time employee in public service. Please check the link for details. This forgiveness program requires 10 years of service while in repayment and can count service worked as early as 2007. It also requires annual income reporting. The borrower must be enrolled in one of three repayment plans - Standard Loan Repayment, Income-Contingent Loan Repayment, or Income-Based Loan Repayment plan in order to qualify.
Will I still get my subsidized and unsubsidized loans if my financial aid became ineligible?
Answer: Your Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loan eligibility is part of your financial aid package. If you are no longer eligible to receive financial aid, you will not be awarded Federal Direct loans. Your only other aid option is private educational loans. Most financial aid eligibility issues can be appealed and resolved. Contact your financial aid office, inquire as to the reason for ineligibility, and request an appeal opportunity or resolution option.
i am an international student and would like to know what is required for me to be eligible for a loan and if i am eligible, how do i apply for one?Thank you
Answer: Many lenders will consider an international student private loan application if they have an endorser to co-sign. That co-signer needs to be a U.S. citizen with a U.S. mailing address. The endorser’s credit history will be evaluated as well as the borrower’s. The endorser and the borrower will have equal responsibility to the loan.
So i'm having this problem where the government figures my parents will contribute around $10,000 for my education where in reality they won't give a dime. Is there any way around submitting my parents on my FASFA other than getting married or having a child?
Answer: Dependent students are required to use both their income and their parental income when completing the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is generated as a result of the FAFSA and is considered by the Department of Education to be a measure of your family’s financial strength. Many families are not able to literally contribute the total amount of the EFC to the student’s educational cost each year. The primary purpose of this number is to evaluate the student for federal need-based aid based on their financial picture.
Information about the difference of dependent and independent student: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/dependency
How is the amount of student loans determined:
I am transferring to a different college. What do I have to do to make sure my financial aid goes to my new school?
Answer: Update your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.FAFSA.ed.gov with your new school code. Have your old school cancel your financial aid for the semester(s) you are no longer enrolled. If you are a federal loan borrower or Pell Grant recipient, be aware that those award programs have annual and lifetime limits that can impact you. If you are transferring mid-year, make sure your new school knows what you have already for this current year so that you are awarded within your annual limit. Be sure to pay off any outstanding balances at your previous school so your transcripts are accessible to you.
I'm a senior and almost done with college. When I graduate, how do I figure out what loans I borrowed and how much I owe? How do I know who I am supposed to pay? I haven't gotten any statements or anything so I don't know where to start.
Answer: First you need to make an inventory what you have borrowed and who is servicing your loans. The servicer is the organization who handles the repayment processing of your loan federal, institutional, and private loans. To find what federal loans you may have borrowed, go to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) at www.nslds.ed.gov. By clicking on the number next to the loan you will find who your servicers are. Call your school's financial aid office to find out if you ever borrowed a private or institutional loan and who is servicing them. You can also see private loans borrowed on your credit report.