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Archive | February, 2010

New GI Bill Update

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Tuition Freeze for Minneapolis College

Tuition Freeze for Minneapolis College

mcadThe Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) has responded to the needs of its families and students by not incorporating an increase in their tuition and fees for the coming academic year.

The tuition rate at MCAD is currently set at $29,500 a year and students can expect to experience this same tuition rate next year. A minimal increase of 2.5% is scheduled for housing costs and the general fees will remain the same for next year. The total cost of attendance (Room, Board, Tuition, and Fees) will be about $41,000. Complimenting the tuition freeze,MCAD has stated that they will also increase their amount of financial aid awarded to students by 4%. It is not clear whether this increase in aid will be for incoming students, returning students, or a blend of all the students receiving financial assistance.

President Jay Coogan states that that tuition freeze will only be for a year and it may be followed by a moderate tuition increase in the year following. However, he vows that the percentage increase in subsequent years will not be something drastic to make up for the lack of increase this coming year.

Whether MCAD is making this financial gesture to boost enrollment in a declining educational market or they truly are looking out for the best interest of their students is uncertain. The bottom line is that they are embracing this tuition freeze and ultimate economic benefit of this decision will instantly go to the students. Any goodwill and increase in enrollment will be a potential bi-product down the road for MCAD. Kudos to MCAD for helping their students to make college affordable!

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The Sleeker & Cheaper Bachelor’s Degree

The Sleeker & Cheaper Bachelor’s Degree

graduation

If your goal is to decrease the amount of money you invest in your undergraduate degree, then you may want to consider enrolling in a three year baccalaureate degree program.

This type of degree program has been available in the higher education sector for a while and really has not gotten much attention let alone many participants. However, given the state of the economy and students’ focus on cutting costs, more and more colleges across the country are starting to roll out this three year option. The abridged degree program is gaining support by colleges and universities because it provides them the opportunity to attract financially savvy students that would otherwise enroll at cheaper public institutions or community colleges.

The University of North Carolina Greensboro, is the latest to tout having a three year bachelors degree program starting this coming fall semester. This accelerated program will be available for students interested in accounting, elementary education, romance languages, and information systems. Based upon the limited number of majors, you can see that this option is not for everyone. BUT, if you are looking to shave $8,000 off your total tuition expense, then this is for you!

If you want to look at other options, the small private liberal arts college of Hartwick in Oneonta, NY is now offering a three year program that estimates cutting (saving) $40,000 from your educational expenses. Russell Sage College (private college for women) is also gaining exposure (and students) for its new three year curriculum that promotes a savings of $31,700.

This type of degree offering is growing in demand to the extent that legislation was recently passed in Rhode Island that will require all of its state institutions to have some sort of three year baccalaureate degree program in the near future.

If you are going through the college search process and costs are an important factor in your selection, you may want to consider one of the colleges listed above (or research the availability of others in your region or field of study). The important thing to remember is that all of the three year bachelor programs I have encountered state that these degree programs are not for the academically challenged. If you are a marginal student in the classroom, you will have great difficulty in achieving your bachelor’s degree in three years and you may not even be admitted to the specialized program from the very beginning.

All in all though, if you are a good student and you want to complete your degree early, save on educational expenses, and get a jump start on entering the workforce a year early, this is a great way to make it happen.

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529 Plans – The Best Option For College Savings?

529 Plans – The Best Option For College Savings?

collegesavingsAs a CPA, I get a lot of tax questions. One of the most frequent questions I receive is about 529 plans. 529 plans are one of a few methods to save for college that offer some unique tax advantages. Also available are Coverdell ESA accounts and certain savings bonds. So which one is right for you?

First a little background on the options:
529 plans are named for the section of the tax code that created them. In general they offer tax free growth of savings to be used for “qualified” college expenses of the beneficiary. The funds are put into the plan after tax. There are two types of 529 plans, prepaid plans and savings plans. As they sound, prepaid plans allow the owner to purchase tuition at participating schools at today’s rates (sometimes with a discount) and redeem it in the future. Savings plans work more like a investment account. The advantage to prepaid plans is that they offer a pretty certain hedge against the rising costs of tuition. Private school tuition has been increasing at a rate of 4.5% to well over 5% in the last few years. The disadvantage of these plans are that they are generally limited to tuition at the participating institutions. Savings plans are sponsored by a state, but have much greater flexibility in terms of where they can be used, but growth is subject to the investments of the plan. Risk of loss on the underlying investments falls to the investor (you).

Coverdell ESA accounts work similar to 529 savings plans. There is a limit to the annual contribution to these plans. There is a good summary of the differences of these three types of plans at Fool.com (http://www.fool.com/college/compare.htm).

Savings bonds (
http://www.finaid.org/savings/bonds.phtml) are frequently left out of savings contributions, but I-Bonds offer some unique advantages. I-Bonds earn a very attractive rate of interest that could be compared to the prepaid plans, but also have the flexibility of use similar to the savings or ESA accounts.

So which is right? There are several things to consider when determining the best way to save for college. They include:

Time – The amount of time before these funds are needed should play a key decision in which option is best. ESA and 529 savings plans may invest in the equity markets as well as fixed income markets. Over time equities have out-performed fixed income investments by several percent, but are subject to greater risk of loss. 529 prepaid plans and savings bonds offer protection against investment loss.

Flexibility and Control
–529 prepaid plans are generally limited to the participating schools. The ESA accounts may offer less control for the investor after the student reaches a certain age (http://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/college-planning/financial-aid/5295.htm). Also while all options allow for some transfer of benefits should the intended student not attend college, this is also a consideration.

Taxes – I always tell people not to make any financial decision based solely on the tax consequences and that is why this is not at the top. There are other options of education benefits such as the Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits and the tuition deduction. In general, one may use a combination of these, but remember – you can’t count both towards the same costs. If qualified school costs are $10,000 and you use $9,000 of a 529 plan against the cost, then only $1,000 of costs are eligible for the tax credits or tuition deduction. Non-qualified expenses generally include room, food and books. Remember that the tax advantage is received when the money is spent. Think about what your tax bracket is likely to be then vs. now.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding if a 529 or other savings plan is right. It’s never simple, unfortunately. The key factor to also consider is how much you can afford – both now and at the time the student goes to school. Many will also want the student to be responsible for some portion of the cost of education as well. Money put into education savings is money not available for retirement. This is a balance too many do not take into account. Please remember that any advice in this article is
general in nature. How it applies to an individual situation may vary and you should consider your particular circumstances and consult your tax advisor. Hopefully this information helps sort out some of the issues on these plans.

Some additional resources:
Is a 529 plan the right solution for me? – http://www.ohioscpa.com/Content/42738.aspx
Private School Plan w/ participants nationwide- http://www.independent529plan.org/
College savings plan comparison – http://www.fool.com/college/compare.htm
How 529 plans workhttp://money.howstuffworks.com/

 

About Today’s Guest Author:
Philip Laube is a CPA in Ohio and the current Asst Vice President for Business and Finance for Muskingum University. He has a Masters in Information Strategy, Systems and Technology and publishesinformation on personal finance, technology and other issues both on Muskingum’s website and via twitter as phillaube. We are pleased to have him as a Contributor on CheapScholar.org

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Scholarships & Loan Benefits for Animal Lovers

Scholarships & Loan Benefits for Animal Lovers

dogcloseupIt appears that scholarship opportunities are opening up across the nation for every niche that you can think of. I was recently notified of an essay contest that provides a $1000 cash award for a high school student that writes a compelling essay promoting humane treatment of animals. The contest is open to high school and home schooled students under the age of 19 regardless of your nationality or country of residence. The contest is co-sponsored by the Animal Welfare Institute and the Palo Alto Humane Society. If this is something that you find of interest, you can submit an essay by March 31st here.

On another animal lover note, the USDA recently announced that they will be providing an education loan repayment program for veterinarians. Agriculture Secretary TomVilsack states that the USDA has taken the first step toward implementing a plan to address veterinary shortages throughout rural America by repaying the student loans of qualified veterinarians in return for their services in areas suffering from a lack of veterinarians.

The program will provide up to $25,000 per year per qualified veterinarian in loan repayment subsidies. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture will be administering the process and will begin accepting applications from veterinarians wishing to participate on April 30, 2010. You can find more information here.

What a great day for animal lovers. Have you hugged your dog today? 😉

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Be Wary of College Admission Counseling Scams

Be Wary of College Admission Counseling Scams

ScamsI need to preface this article and let you know that it is not talking about dedicated admission counselors that are employed by colleges and universities across the nation. It is in reference to a growing industry of individuals and companies that are selling their services to families and students to help them not only get into the college of their choice but also to maximize the financial aid that they will receive.

A good number of these organizations are legitimate and are looking out for the best interest of the students in which they represent. However, the Better Business Bureau recently reported about a company called College Admission Assistance, LLC based out of Arlington Texas.

Apparently, they are providing “free” college planning workshops to families and students. During the course of the presentation, they offer their coaching services for an on-the-spot sale price of $1,995.00 (immediate payment required…).

Frank Whitney, representing the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau, says that they have logged dozen of complaints against this company. In addition he states that  “They aren’t doing anything illegal, but they are not up front about what they are selling. We think people should know what they’ll be attending. Most of the people that respond to these workshops are people who need money for college, not those that have $2,000 to spend.”

The Better Business Bureau received the following statement from a consumer attending the sales pitch: “She told me it was $1,995 and when I ask if I could take the information home to think about it, she said ‘no’ … She then told me that it was a once-a-year opportunity and if I did not sign up then I would have to wait another year and waste time on my daughter’s potential future.”

The bottom line advice I would give…Whether you are shopping for services to help you get into the right school at the right price or you are just looking for the best deal on some sort of consumer good, always be cautious about dealing with an individual or company that is offering you a “one-time deal”. Chances are… it will be a deal… but not generally for you.

As you move forward in your college search process and you are trying to maximize your financial aid, you can find many reputable Certified College Planners to choose from. However, before choosing that path (and spending the extra investment) don’t discount the free information and resources provided on the web by experts across the nation. CheapScholar.org included! 😉

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Hip-Hop FAFSA Song

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Interest Rates on Stafford Loans Going Up

Interest Rates on Stafford Loans Going Up

StaffordloanThe above title is not a misprint. Interest rates on Subsidized Stafford loans are indeed going up. However, they are not going to increase until the academic year of 2012-2013… I would like to take credit for being a fortune teller or having the ability to predict the future but alas the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007 actually set the interest rates for the Stafford Loan Program years ago.

As established by CCRAA, the Subsidized Stafford loan interest rate for this current academic year is set at 5.6%. Next year (2010-2011) the interest rate is on schedule to drop to 4.5%. The rate will reach its all time low during 2011-2012 when it bottoms out at 3.4%. Then, as the title of this article states, the Subsidized Stafford loan interest rate will jump back up to 6.8%.

So, what does this mean to students that are taking out Stafford loans to fund their educational expenses? As far as I can tell, it really means nothing other than the fact that if you take a Subsidized Stafford loan each of the 4 years that you attend college, you get to experience the fluctuation (highs and lows) of interest rates over those years.

However, if you are the recipient of an unsubsidized Stafford loan (interest accrues while in school), you can take solace in knowing that your interest rate has remained constant at 6.8%. Which really isn’t much comfort given the rate.

The future of the Stafford loan program is uncertain (as is just about any federal aid program for higher education) but it does appear that Congress is looking at a proposal to change the Stafford Loan interest rates from a fixed rate to a variable rate and making 6.8% the maximum percentage rate that will be allowed to be imposed on borrowers. Time (and legislation) will only tell…

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