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Archive | October, 2012

Protecting Your College Belongings On A Budget

Protecting Your College Belongings On A Budget

If you’ve spent much time traveling with your parents, you’ve probably heard them talk about the first apartment they lived in, or the first dog they owned or that telemarketing job your mom had for two months. It might be strange to imagine your parents living in cheap housing, working trivial jobs and scraping by. But when you’re a 20-something, that’s part of life.

As a college student, you may not think you have much in the way of valuable possessions. But take a look around – you probably have some things you couldn’t live without. You have a computer you need for class. You have a cell phone, probably a television, maybe even a gaming system you keep around for much needed study breaks. All in all, your stuff may be worth more than you think. While in college it’s important to protect the valuables that you have and also learn to budget for valuables you’ll want in the near future.

The Dorm

You live in a dorm and so do a thousand other students. You don’t steal computers, but that doesn’t mean everyone else shares your values.  There are several common-sense things you can do to make sure your stuff is safe, including locking your dorm room door, never leaving your backpack unattended and never allowing people to be in your room unattended.

But what if a tornado or violent storm hits your dorm? Most schools won’t be liable for damage to your clothes, computers, or iPods, even from natural causes. How are you protected, then? Personal property insurance is a great way to attach insured value to your possessions despite weather or personal theft.

The Apartment

Dorms may feel inherently safer than apartments, simply because they’re on school property and a resident adviser is patrolling the hallways looking for suspicious activity. But when you move to an off-campus apartment, you may be sharing a building with people who you never see, or with mischievous children or clumsy smokers that increase the odds of your building burning down.

Renters insurance is essential, if you want to protect your belongings. Imagine how difficult it would be to replace everything you own – given the cost of textbooks, you might be in a world of hurt without renters insurance.

The Future

If parents are covering the cost of your dorm fees or renters insurance, don’t simply say thank you. Go the extra mile to learn what those expenses are. If you have a budget separate from your parents, make sure that you understand how your budget fits into all your overall expenses, so you have a true understanding of what your cost of living currently is. Look ahead at what expenses you’ll have upon graduation when you take over the expenses your parents are currently covering. Do you want to eventually own a home? Know what costs are associated with it. Just as with an apartment, you’ll need insurance coverage for your home as well. Utilities and taxes are other expenses to consider. If you have a firm grasp on your what kind of financial future you’d like, you can begin to plan for it in college. It may also help you grasp the importance of protecting your belongings as you accrue them. It may even influence what area of study you choose.

Make financial responsibility part of your of college experience. Even if you’re receiving much needed assistance from your parents, you can and should be part of the financial decision making process. Seeing the big picture now will make for a brighter future.

About The Author:

Today’s guest article is provided by Lindsey Harper Mac. She is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area that specializes in writing guest posts on social media and education. Currently, Lindsey is completing work on her master’s degree.

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Romney & Obama – The Impact On Higher Education

Romney & Obama – The Impact On Higher Education

As a student looking for a more affordable college education, which policies should you be concerned with during the current presidential race?  In the media and on their own personal websites, both candidates have laid out very different plans for the future of higher education. Both do agree on one thing, however, rising tuition costs are out of control.

According to the Consumer Price Index, over the last 30 years, tuition has increased at four times the rate of inflation. Read on to find out how each candidate plans to slow rapid tuition increase and help you manage the cost of higher education.

For a more detailed overview, click here to check out Presidential Policies: Higher Education. This whitepaper was recently published by eCollegeFinder.org, a site that matches students with online colleges.

Democratic Policies

If elected, Barack Obama has plans to cultivate many of the policies he supported and helped put into action while in office. Obama has taken care to emphasize his policy points affecting federal loans and Pell Grants.

As of now, student loans are directed through the federal government and after 2014, new students’ loans will be forgiven after 20 years. Loans will be forgiven in only 10 years for those in public-service, such as nurses, teachers, and those in the military. The policy allows students to put only 10% of their disposable income toward repaying student loans.

Current regulations on federal loans cut private banks out of the equation, a process that is expected to save $60 billion over the next 10 years. With this money, Obama plans to increase maximum amounts awarded through Pell Grants. This school year, students can be awarded up to $5,550, depending on a number of factors.

Click here to read more about the Democratic educational platform.

Republican Policies

Mitt Romney has advocated many changes to the current state of higher education. His focus has been on the privatization of the educational market, hoping to drive down loan and tuition rates by opening up the space and increasing competition.

Romney believes that private banks should be able to reenter the federal loan process and the current loan forgiveness policy should be eliminated. He has encouraged students taking out loans to choose colleges and majors based upon the student’s individual financial situation and to make choices that will allow him or her to more easily repay loans later.

He has noted that proprietary private educational institutions bring “healthy competition to higher education” and may competitively bring tuition costs down if students consider these institutions more seriously.

Click here to read more about the Republican educational platform.

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Old Habits Die Hard – What’s Your After Graduation Plan?

Old Habits Die Hard – What’s Your After Graduation Plan?

New college graduates have followed a predictable pattern for several generations: Graduate from college, find a job and move out. Today, many college students are struggling to reconcile this narrative with their own reality. Although they want to meet their loved ones’ expectations and begin pursuing their own dreams just as their peers appear to be, these new college graduates may be struggling to find a job, locate affordable housing or pay off their student loans and other debts accumulated during college.

Economic Uncertainty
While it is true that college graduates in past generations have tended to dive into their new careers shortly after graduation, the reality today is that many students simply move back home as they face the crossroads between graduate school and career. Many parents worry about the future of this so-called boomerang generation, but there is some evidence that recent college graduates are not that different from those who came of age in the 1930s during times of similar financial turmoil and uncertainty. Many of these young adults of the Depression era, like young adults today, were raised in comfortable middle class or affluent families, but economic woes descended upon the country and their families right as they set out to start their own lives.

Prevalence of Moving Back Home
Although the recession has underscored the necessity of a college degree, many recent graduates are justifiably concerned about the future. However, moving back home after graduation may not just be common but also quite beneficial for the families involved. The Pew Research Center analyzed Census Bureau data to reveal that in 2010, more than 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 are living with their parents. Those numbers are even higher for those in the 18 to 24 bracket: Nearly half of all women and more than half of all men in that age group live with their parents. This is the highest number of young adults living at home since the 1950s. Even though adult children may be bucking societal expectations, they are hardly unhappy about the situation. Nearly 80 percent of those who moved back home are happy with their current living arrangements.

Financial Benefits
This feeling of satisfaction may stem largely from the financial benefits of moving back home. Housing costs can eat half of a new graduate’s income, and those who have not yet located a job may not be able to afford their own housing at all. Moving home gives young adults an opportunity to pay off a portion of their student loans, save for rent or a home and take the time to make wise decisions about the future. For example, those who are unsure about their plans can take the time to research and solidify their decisions before investing in graduate school, which can add an even greater financial burden on recent graduates. They can also enjoy a better standard of living. In fact, those who are living with parents are significantly less likely to suffer from poverty than those struggling to make it on their own. The so-called boomerang generation can capitalize on their living arrangements. By reducing their living expenses, they can focus on establishing a fiscally responsible lifestyle, maintaining a budget and avoiding unnecessary debt.

Extended Adolescence or Good Financial Sense?
Although the common image of graduates who live at home is that they are irresponsible or reluctant to take responsibility for themselves, the truth is that these young adults tend to be hard working and are happy to contribute to their family’s finances, which can be beneficial for both parents and children. In the current economic climate, pooling a family’s income can help parents better manage their own budgets, particularly in cases where they have either been laid off or forced into early retirement. Each adult child has his or her own reasons for moving back home, but a substantial minority pay rent to their parents, and nearly 90 percent contribute in other ways to the family finances.

About The Author

Today’s guest article is provided by Stacy Rost. Ms. Rost pursued a degree in graphic design before entering into the world of freelance blogging.

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Bankruptcy & Student Loans, Everything You Didn’t Know

Bankruptcy & Student Loans, Everything You Didn’t Know

Everyone knows it’s no secret that college these days can cost an arm and a leg. Between tuition, fees, books and more, the total cost of attending even for just one semester can creep upwards of 5 digits—that’s a hefty price tag. While some students luck out and receive financial assistance by way of grants and scholarships, others are not so lucky and, if they don’t have a sizable reserve of personal or familial funds, must rely on student loans to foot the bill.

Thousands of students opt to do this for the speed and convenience it offers, even though they know going into it the pay-off in the end can be rather pricey. They recognize that there’s no way they could ever pay back these loans given their current financial situation, but they look to the future with promise and hope that they’ll l and a great job after graduation to cover these expenses.

Only, there’s one problem with that plan—the job market has been less than stellar the past few years and many graduates are getting nowhere in their search for a career. Meanwhile their loans are coming due and they just don’t have the means to make it work. Recently, some former students who are buried in debt have explored the option of having their college loans discharged in bankruptcy.

However, as many of the students have found, this is proving a less than easy task. According to the official stipulation, to discharge a student loan this way they must prove that paying them back would prove to be an “undue hardship” on the debtor. That’s sort of a vague stipulation and hard to define, especially in legal terms. Something that’s a hardship for one person might not be for another.

This vagueness is believed to be part of the reason why many individuals—it’s estimated there are over 35 million people with loan debt—don’t attempt to have their loans discharged. They find the whole thing very unclear. Plus it doesn’t help that certain lenders such as Collecto have misled debtors into believing they were not eligible for bankruptcy dismissal when in reality that’s just not the truth.

Sure, like with many legal issues the whole process can be long, drawn out and expensive, but that shouldn’t keep former students from putting up a fight. What’s needed here is more information on the subject. People need to know they have options, and up until now, I’m not sure they did. Although some progress has been made, there’s still much ground to cover.

From a professional perspective and someone who’s a former student themselves, I feel that this whole loan/bankruptcy issue is just a symptom of a much bigger problem, and that’s the inordinately high cost of paying for college these days. Sure there are scholarships and alternative programs, but schools and universities everywhere are continuously tacking on fees and charges making the dream of earning a degree that much more unattainable for a great deal of the population. So, until things on that front change, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more student loan holders in court.

Today’s guest article is provided by Kate Willson. She is a long-time advocate of peer-based learning, online classes and open education. You can read more from Kate at collegecrunch.org. If you enjoyed this post, let Kate know by commenting below!

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College Savings – Understanding 529 Plans, Fees, and Expenses

College Savings – Understanding 529 Plans, Fees, and Expenses

If you are planning on saving for college you may want to consider a 529 college savings plan.  529 plans are tax-advantaged savings vehicles for future college or university costs. There are two varieties of 529 plans that are available: pre-paid tuition plans and college savings plans. All fifty states and the District of Columbia offer at least one type of 529 plans for parents, grandparents, prospective students and other savers.  In addition, many private colleges and universities sponsor pre-paid tuition plans which allow you to lock-in tuition rates and mitigate the risk of escalating tuition prices. Many broker-sold 529 plans offer more than one share class, with fees and expenses that can vary greatly.  The most common share classes for 529 plans are Class A, Class B and Class C shares:

Class A shares usually impose a front-end sales load. Front-end sales loads reduce the amount of your investment. By way of example, if you have $5,000 to invest in a college savings plan with a 5% front-end load, the $250 sales load you must pay is subtracted from your $5,000, and the remaining $4750 is invested in the college savings plan. Class A shares usually have a lower annual distribution fee and lower overall annual expenses than other 529 share classes. In addition, your front-end load may be reduced if you invest above certain threshold amounts – this is known as a breakpoint discount. These discounts do not apply to investments in Class B or Class C shares.

Class B shares typically do not have a front-end sales load. Instead, they may charge a fee when you withdraw money from an investment option, known as a deferred sales charge or “back-end load.” A common back-end load is the “contingent deferred sales charge” or “contingent deferred sales load” (also known as a “CDSC” or “CDSL”). The amount of this load will depend on your holding period and typically decreases to zero if you hold your investment for enough time. Class B shares typically impose a higher annual distribution fee and higher overall annual expenses than Class A shares. Class B shares usually convert automatically to Class A shares if you hold your shares for the required period of time.

If there is a sale of Class B shares within the first few years of purchasing Class B shares, there will likely be a contingent deferred sales charge or load added to the transaction in addition to higher annual fees and expenses, further reducing your investment returns.

Class C shares might have an annual distribution fee, other annual expenses, and either a front- or back-end sales load, so be sure to read the prospectus carefully.  It is important to note that the front- or back-end load for Class C shares is usually lower than for Class A or Class B shares. Class C shares typically impose a higher annual distribution fee and higher overall annual expenses than Class A shares, but, unlike Class B shares, will not convert to another class over time. If you are a long-term investor, Class C shares may be more costly than investing in Class A or Class B shares, so consider your likely timing of your need for the funds for college saving plan before deciding to purchase Class C shares.

Author Bio

Today’s guest article is provided by James Garfinkel. He is the founder and CEO of New Amsterdam Life and Director of the not-for-profit Juvenile Life Insurance Foundation.  James Garfinkel has been developing wealth planning advice and financial solutions for individuals and families for almost 30 years.

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5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Application Stand Out

5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Application Stand Out

For those that are ready to attend college, there’s probably a good chance that you’re going to set out and look for opportunities that help you pay for college.  Whether it’s a grant or a scholarship, did you know that there are some things that you can do to set yourself above the rest?  With thousands upon thousands of scholarships out there, here are five key things that you can do to set yourself above the rest that are applying:

#1 Are you Qualified?

The biggest mistake that many people make when applying for a scholarship is they usually don’t look at the qualifications.  What you have to realize is that many scholarships out there are designated for certain people.  So if the scholarship is designed for future doctors and you’re going into engineering, you probably won’t qualify!  So in the end, always  make sure that you meet every single qualification.

#2 Follow Directions
Even though you may qualify for a scholarship, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be considered.  One thing that scholarship administrators hate is when people don’t follow instructions.  If they ask for a 500-word essay and you just include a 100-word summary, do you think they are going to consider you?  They are going to go after those that show dedication and follow the directions to a T.

#3 Be Honest

With any any scholarship application, you have to make sure that you stand out, and by standing out, you always have to be honest.  Don’t write about the things that you think they want to hear, but instead, write personally about your life and  be honest.  If they ask about your weaknesses, be honest!  If they ask about the things you struggle with in life, be honest!  I think you get the point here that people want to see a real applicant and not someone that is fake.

#4 Get Multiple Reviews
Before you even consider submitting the application, try to have other people look at the application.  By doing this, they are going to be able to point out your mistakes and they can even offer an opinion.  If possible, try to get a review from someone in that particular field.  Let’s say that the scholarship was for future doctors.  If you were going into medical school, try to get your application reviewed by a current doctor or someone in that field.  By doing so, you can have someone review it that knows what you’re talking about.

#5 Know the Organization

No matter what kind of scholarship you’re looking to apply for, there is going to be an organization behind the scene.  If possible, try to apply with an organization that you know a lot about.  So if the organization is an animal activist group, you may want to learn about their views and what they believe in.  By doing so, you can write your scholarship in a way that they would approve.

We all know that you’re not going to win the first scholarship that you apply for.  By taking your time to research the right ones that you qualify for, you will find that you can increase your chances significantly for that free money!  Good luck!

Today’s guest article is provided by Elizabeth Cutten. When she is not busy sharing her time and talents through guest articles, you can find her running the website HowMuchIsIt.org, a fantastic resource that helps people around the globe find the prices on just about anything.

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Five Ways to Make Off-Campus Housing Cheaper

Five Ways to Make Off-Campus Housing Cheaper

Living in on-campus housing can be pretty convenient. Your room is usually furnished, utilities are generally included, and if you are like my college roommate and haven’t learned how to boil water, a meal plan is available. With this convenience, however, comes a price. The cost of administrators and services that you either don’t want (resident assistant’s policing you) or don’t need (all those programs you never take advantage of but are costing you money).

If you decide to live off campus, or if you’ve reached the maximum time you’re allowed to live in the dorms, you need to be careful with how you spend your funds because increased freedom comes with increased risks of going over budget. Here are some tips for making living off campus cheaper:

1. Research Home Phone, Internet and Cable TV Services

The best way to make living off campus cheaper is to save on reoccurring monthly expenses. A college student needs Internet like he needs air to breathe – it’s hard to Wikipedia the history of eastern philosophy the night before an exam without it. No cable TV? Forget having potential new friends over for a “Mad Men” watching party or to root on your basketball team when they are away. Take the time to research the best prices on home phone, Internet and cable TV as soon as possible. Two excellent starting points are BillShrink and My Rate Plan.

2. Buy Groceries Instead of Dining Out

If you never took the time to learn how to make your favorite childhood recipes, or if your household was like mine and there was nothing worth learning, it will be pretty tempting to go out to eat every night. Even if you mostly order from that mediocre pizza place that delivers from around the corner, the price will add up. Make it a priority to learn a few reliable dishes and how to vary them up so you don’t get bored of them. Watch a few online videos or ask a friend, and it will save you a pile of cash.

3. Furnish Your Apartment with Used Furniture

One nice convenience of living on-campus is that the room comes furnished. Furniture can be quite expensive and it adds up quickly: a bed, desk, couches, and coffee table – the list goes on and on. Save up to 75% by shopping for your furniture used. Check postings on bulletin boards around campus, local classified ads, or today’s favorite – Craigslist.

4. Find the Perfect Roommate

You can cut your living expenses in half by simply finding a roommate. Well, finding a roommate is not that simple. The last thing you need is some nightmare of a roommate that drives you crazy during midterms. Many schools offer opportunities for off-campus students to meet each other or at least post ads. Asking friends on Facebook if they know of anyone also works well. If you don’t care if they are a student, Craigslist is another great spot to advertise. Once you find someone interested, ask about living habits, see if you click – and be sure they put down a deposit.

5. Use Public Transportation

If you go to school in a big city, parking costs alone can set you back a bundle. Add in insurance, car payments, registration – sometimes the freedom of having a car isn’t worth it. Check with your college to see if they offer free or discounted public transportation rates for students. Offering to buy your buddy with a car a couple of beers if they give you a ride is always an option as well. If you can live without your car, you’ll significantly cut down on your costs.

Living off campus means more freedom and a chance to save a lot of money – if you’re careful. What are some of your money saving techniques for living off-campus?

Author Bio:

Dwayne Thomas works for cabletv.com, a site that helps you find the best deal on cable TV, and enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience to help college students save on campus expenses.

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