If you are wondering how you are going to pay for your children’s college education amidst this financial crisis, you’re not alone…
In fact, estimates point to as many as 13 million parents of college-bound children struggling right now to send their kids off to school.
A lot of uninformed parents are probably going to end up mortgaging their house to the hilt, or spending their entire life’s savings to muster up enough money to send their child to college. Or, if they don’t have a lot of home equity or money in the bank, they’ll end up sending their child to the least expensive school rather than the best college they can get into… or, worst case, no school at all.
The following strategies will help you avoid the “college struggle” and give you a blueprint of how to beat the high cost of college.
Strategy #1: Smart families maximize the financial aid process
When most parents hear the term “financial aid” they assume they make too much money to qualify for anything. The truth is financial aid is based on a number of factors besides income. Number of children in college, age of parents, divorced or separated agreements, and the cost of the college or university are just a few of the additional factors that go into the financial aid formula.
Choose to ignore the financial aid system at your own risk.
Don’t rule yourself out until you truly understand how the financial aid system works.
Families with combined incomes as high as $180,000 per year have qualified for aid.
This is a system that was responsible for over $183 billion in college assistance last year alone. We can anticipate that that $183 billion figure will continue to rise, perhaps at an even higher rate with President Obama in office. He has pledged to push for significant increases in spending on college financial aid.
Whether your family qualifies for aid or not depends on one number, which brings us to…
Strategy #2: What is your “College Number”?
All successful college plans start with determining your family’s Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) number.
This is the number the Department of Education determines your family can afford to pay for college each year. The figure is based on several factors, including income, assets, ages of parents, and number of kids in college.
Once your family knows its EFC number, it can quickly determine whether need-based financial aid will be a factor or not.
Here is the formula:
COA-EFC = Family Need
In this case, COA stands for “Cost of Attendance” at the college and EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution”. If your EFC is less than the COA, then there is a chance for need-based financial aid.
If there is a chance for need-based aid, your family needs to do everything it possibly can to legally lower the EFC number in order to obtain as much aid as possible.
Strategy #3: Lower your EFC and get the maximum amount of money from each school
Just like proper tax planning can minimize your tax liability, it is possible to set up your financial situation in the most favorable terms legally allowable in order to lower your family’s EFC.
Certain assets are counted much more heavily in the financial aid formulas than others. Where you keep your money could mean the difference between getting $10,000 in financial aid and getting nothing. If you don’t know how to legally and ethically position your money properly for purposes of financial aid, you could end up losing thousands in financial aid.
Here is one example:
Let’s say you have $20,000 in a college investment account for one of your children.
The Department of Education is going to take 20% of that account, or $4,000, and add it onto your family’s EFC which would essentially cause your family to lose $4,000 of aid.
This doesn’t have to be the case. There are certain accounts that the EFC formula does not take into consideration. Moving a child’s college fund into one of a variety of “sheltered” accounts is perfectly legal and is a great planning strategy. These “sheltered accounts,” if set up properly, can be accessed for college expenses almost penalty and tax-free. However, it is highly recommended to work with an advisor who understands how to specifically structure these portfolios so that parents can achieve their goal of comfortably sending their children to college and having a nest egg available for retirement.
Strategy #4: Getting the best rate on a college loan
There are currently over 250 different types of college loans available in the U.S. marketplace right now. Which is the best one for your family? And how do you know if you are getting the best rate and terms?
This used to be a tricky question for families… but not anymore.
There are several companies that compile all the information regarding rates and terms of every type of college loan on the marketplace and put them into one easy-to-research tool.
But, there is a catch. Every one of these “college loan comparison” websites gives preferential treatment to the loan companies who pay them for placement. In other words, they make it seem as if certain loan companies are the best deal even if that is not truly the case.
However, there is one non-profit organization that doesn’t accept paid placement money to list available private loans. That company can be found here:
Go there whenever you are ready to get the absolute best deal on a private college loan for your child.
Strategy #5: Private colleges versus state universities: getting the best deal on both
Some schools are well-endowed and have the ability to award a lot of money to students. Other schools have very little money to give away.
It’s important for you to know this information before you ever apply to a school.
By knowing in advance which schools give the best financial aid packages, you can have your child pick the schools from which they have the best chance of getting money.
This way you don’t waste time and money applying to and visiting school that you will never be able to afford.
When researching a school’s ability to award money, you want to look for three key figures:
- Percentage of need met
- Percentage of gift aid
- Percentage of self-help
A school that is high in percentage of need met has the ability to award maximum dollars for your child’s education. Even better still is a school that awards a high percentage of aid as gifts. Simply put, this is free money. In comparison, some schools will provide a high percentage of self-help money which are essentially favorable loans and work-study programs.
Strategy #6: FAFSA Forms: the key to unlocking $183 billion in financial aid
There is no doubt that filling out government forms can be a challenge. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is no exception.
Why fill out a FAFSA form?
Last year, there was $183 billion in financial aid given out to college students. More than 50% of that money was given out because of information supplied on the FAFSA form. This form is the gatekeeper for all that money. If you don’t fill it out or you fill it out incorrectly, you have lost your opportunity for your family’s share of the $183 billion financial aid “pie”.
Here are three costly mistakes to avoid when completing the FAFSA form:
- Missing priority filing dates. Financial aid is given out on a “first come, first serve” basis. Those who submit the FAFSA form correctly and on time are placed in the front of the line for any eligible aid. Priority filing dates vary by state but typically fall around February 15th of the year your student will be applying for aid.
- Overstating assets. The FAFSA form will ask for a number of things that your family owns, but not everything. In fact, you are able to legally exclude any “qualified retirement assets.” This includes your 401k and any IRAs you own. In addition, you are able to leave off equity you have in your home. Those are typically the two biggest assets that families own. Don’t include them on your FAFSA. They are not required.
- Waiting to get your taxes done. The FAFSA form and website clearly state that you can estimate your income and tax information from the previous year. But, for whatever reason, a lot of parents wait until their taxes are done to fill out the FAFSA form. This can cause you to miss priority filing dates. Our advice is to provide estimated tax and income information in the base year and then update your information later on the SAR once your taxes are done. If you wait to get your taxes done and miss a priority filing date, you can lose financial aid.
Strategy #7: The truth about private scholarships
Nearly all parents of college-bound kids are interested in private scholarships, and they should be. Who doesn’t want free money?
But the truth is, private scholarships are a tiny percentage of the $183 billion in aid given away each year. In fact, less than 2% of this enormous figure is for these types of scholarships. Therefore, it is not in your best interest to spend tons of time chasing and applying for these types of scholarships but don’t ignore them either.
Here is a great and free resource you can use to search and apply for private scholarships. It can be found on the Web at www.fastweb.com. This is a free resource. It only takes a few minutes to plug in your child’s information and submit it. Once in the system, fastweb.com will alert you to any private scholarships available for application.
It is a good idea to pick five of the scholarships that have the most promise of getting accepted and apply to those. This should only take a few hours in total.
Remember, this is a small percentage of the available $183 billion. Focus your attention elsewhere.
Strategy #8: “College Cash Flow”: What it is and how to make it work for your family
A major mistake that families make is assuming there are no extra dollars that can be allocated for college costs coming from their household income. While every family’s situation is different, there is an overwhelming number of families who can free up $100, $200, $500 for even $1,000 or more per month to put towards their child’s college education without changing their lifestyle whatsoever.
A good cash flow analysis will uncover what strategies can be used by each family, such as debt management/consolidations, budgeting, and tax reduction. Here are three great “cash flow” strategies to get you started:
- Consider switching from a fifteen-year mortgage to a thirty year mortgage. On a $250,000 mortgage, this is a difference of $597 a month (assuming a 6.5% mortgage rate).
- Consider switching to a high deductible car insurance policy. By switching one cat, a family can save as much as $60 a month. Switch two cars and save up to $120 a month, three cars=$180 a month, etc.
- Consider paying off high interest credit card debt with equity in your home. The average family in the U.S. carries $8,000 in credit card debt at an average of 13%, which comes out to a payment of $182 per month. By rolling this into a new mortgage, an additional $132 a month is freed up for college expenses (using a 6.5% mortgage rate over 30 years).
Combine all three of these strategies for an additional $909 a month of college savings. That monthly savings can pay for a lot of college bills. Plus, once college is paid for, it can go towards supplementing your retirement fund.
Make sure to give yourself a solid cash flow analysis. It will not only ease the burden of funding college but will make a major impact on your family’s long-term financial health.
Strategy #9: Where to get help
At this point, you should have the makings for a solid plan on how your family will fund college for all of your children.
But, the job of paying for college is far from over. In fact, the report you hold in your hand is just a starting point. The next step is to put this knowledge to use…a step that can be frustrating.
If you are like most families, this is your first time going through the “college process.”
There is a lot to learn and act upon to make this process work. More than likely, you are going to have questions. There are a couple of things that families in this situation can do. Let’s take a look at each, along with the pros and cons.
- Continue researching and learning how to maximize this process (otherwise known as the “do-it-yourself” method).
Pros: There is little to no cost to search the Internet, attend seminars, or check out books from your local library on this topic.
Cons: This approach is time consuming and can lead to second guessing each decision you make.
- Hire a company or college consultant to help your family with the college funding process.
Pros: You get to draw upon an expert’s experience and track record of helping families pay as little out of pocket as possible for college. This approach saves you valuable time.
Cons: This approach requires an investment of money.
If you enjoy doing things on your own and have the time, then #1 is a good option for you. However, if you are uncomfortable with figuring everything out on your own, then perhaps a combination of self-education and hiring experts for help might be the answer.
One last thing to consider…
If option #2, “Hiring an expert,” is something you want to learn more about, then here is a free offer in which you might be interested…
Knowing that this Special Report was going to be offered this month, Varsity College Planning has freed up a block of time over the next two weeks so that you can take advantage of a NO-RISK, NO OBLIGATION, FREE CONSULTATION for parents of college-bound students.
In less than thirty minutes, this FREE CONSULTATION will take a look at each one of the “Nine New Ways” that have been discussed in detail in this report as they apply to your family’s specific situation.. This includes calculating your family’s “EFC,” and determine if there is an opportunity to lower it. Remember, this is steps #1-3 in any successful college plan.
There will be no high pressure sales techniques whatsoever during this consultation. Quite frankly, it may not be possible for Varsity College Planning to help you. The goal of this consultation is to find out what can be done to take control of your family’s college funding plan. But, if there is anything that can be done, you are free to do whatever you want with the information.
To receive your NO-RISK, NO OBLIGATION, FREE COLLEGE PLANNING CONSULTATION, simply give our office a call at 708-357-2119 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a convenient time. The only requirement is that this FREE consultation must take place in the next two weeks.
We look forward to hearing from you.
P.S. Once again, be assured that there will be NO high pressure sales tactics whatsoever during this FREE consultation. You are free to do whatever you want with the information provided.