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Archive | April, 2011

Tax Tips for Students – How to Safely File Your 1040 Online

Tax Tips for Students – How to Safely File Your 1040 Online

Ben Franklin once said the only certainties in life were death and taxes.

As the filing deadline approaches, many are expected to e-file which is why it is important to remind students that with proper security in place, filing taxes can be safe, fast and easy. If you plan to file your own 1040 online, follow the tips below to help protect and keep your personal data exactly where it should be – between the you and the IRS:

1. Vet websites claiming to be free e-file services
– Do your homework before selecting a third-party site for filing your taxes. Read online reviews to find a reliable, trusted site that works best for your needs. Before you log on, double-check the site you’ve selected is listed on IRS.gov.

2. Evaluate mobile apps on your smartphone – If you plan to file a simple return or track the progress of your return via your mobile device, do you homework just as you would if filing on your personal computer. Ensure the app you select is from a trustworthy source, read the reviews and pay attention to its ratings before downloading. Also remember not just your tax time app can cause harm. Consider all third-party open source libraries, apps and components that may harbor bugs and malicious code on your smartphone to protect your personal information when you file and every day.

3. Use a trusted Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection – While you could file your taxes on your smartphone or laptop from the neighborhood coffee shop, the airport or even a fast food establishment, simply don’t. File from home, or the office, where you have a firewall in place and internet security installed on the network.

4. Update your computer’s anti-virus software – New online threats are discovered every day. The first line of defense against these attacks is an up-to-date anti-virus program on your computer or smartphone. While getting all your documentation in line, run an update on your system’s security software to ensure you’re fully protected, or download free protection from trusted sites such as AVG.

5. Don’t believe an email from the IRS – The IRS does not email individual taxpayers. If you get an email from the IRS, do not click on any links. Mark it as spam, and move on. You can go to IRS.gov to report the phishing scam or call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 if you suspect that you have received a fraudulent notice. But rest assured the IRS will not notify you that you’re being audited via email.

6. Email over fax – If you’re compiling taxes with your tax preparer or family members from multiple locations, think twice before faxing sensitive materials back and forth. Email is far more secure, especially if sent and received via a secure Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection and a computer with up-to-date antivirus software. Also ensure you don’t leave those files sitting on your email server to collect virtual dust. Delete and store them securely to protect yourself from future attacks, long after this year’s April 18 filing date.

Today’s guest post is from AVG Technologies.

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The Aretha McLain Grandparent Scholarship

The Aretha McLain Grandparent Scholarship

This last week I posted an article that was meant to encourage people to consider donating to a scholarship fund or find some way in which they could contribute to the educational goals of others. Angelique Crowder heard my call and stepped up to the plate to create her own scholarship. She should be commended for doing her part to help others. The following are the details of the scholarship. If you know of someone that meets the qualifications, please be sure to pass this information onto them.

The Aretha McLain Grandparent Scholarship
“The greatest burden is not being able to share your greatest potential.”

As a financial aid administrator, I encounter first hand the frustrations many families are faced with when it comes to sending a family member to college due to lack of funding. It breaks my heart to hear somebody utter, “I don’t have enough money for books.” God placed this on my heart two years ago, so I decided to bring forth this scholarship for students who are being raised by their grandparent(s). Lately, there has been such an influx of grandparents raising their grandchildren and if I can relieve some of the financial burden from a deserving first year student, I am willing to help with the announcement of this scholarship.

As a first generation college graduate myself, I was raised by my biggest role model: my grandmother, Ms. Aretha McLain. Although she had a limited formal education, she stressed the importance of education to her grandchildren. I’ve been thinking about giving back to others and finally realized the most obvious answer was to help a student purchase their books on the first day of class. As a single parent myself, I can commit to $750 for the scholarship recipient.

This is an opportunity for a first-time college student who will begin their studies in the Fall of 2011.

Listed below are the qualifications for the Aretha McLain Grandparent Scholarship.

  • United States Citizen
  • Must be a resident of New York City, Atlanta or South Carolina
  • First year undergraduate college student
  • Acceptance Letter from college
  • A copy of High School transcript confirming 3.0 gpa
  • Essay from student detailing the special relationship they have with their grandparent(s)

SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY!!!! DEADLINE: May 15, 2011
For further information, please send an email to 2xblessed@comcast.net

Be Blessed and be a blessing
Angelique

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Maximizing Your Meal Plan (video)

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Ohio Bursars Association – Social Media Presentation

Ohio Bursars Association – Social Media Presentation

To my faithful readers – please disregard this interruption to your regular CheapScholar.org programming. 😉

Today I am doing a presentation for the Ohio Bursars Association highlighting how social media can be utilized in the Student Financial Services arena. I am going to attempt to cover the basics of Twitter, Facebook and Blogging in the span of about an hour. Blogging is the last topic on my presentation. So, if you are reading this, that means I successfully covered everything on my agenda and the Bursars know how to execute an official blog posting!

To My Bursar Friends- Below is some additional information for you to reference and utilize as you move forward in your individual social media projects on your campus. If you encounter any questions along the way, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Enjoy!

Twitter Stats and Facts (2010)

  • Over 106 million accounts
  • 300,000 new Twitter accounts are opened each day
  • Twitter’s website gets over 3 billion visits each day
  • 55 million tweets are sent each day
  • 61% of users are English (Portuguese take second place at 11%)
  • Twitter ONLY has 175 employees
  • Guide to setting up a Twitter Account (pdf)

Facebook Stats and Facts (2010)

  • More than 400 million active users
  • 35 million users update their status every day
  • 60 million status updates are posted each day
  • 3 billion photos are uploaded to the site each month
  • More than 3 million (Fan) Pages
  • More than 20 million people become “fans” of a Page each day
  • Average user has 130 friends
  • Average user spends 55 minutes on Facebook each day
  • Facebook is most used in the United States followed by the United Kingdom and Indonesia
  • Guide to setting up a Facebook Fan Page (jpg)

Blogging Stats and Facts (2010)

  • There are over 133 million blogs on the internet
  • 77% of internet users read blogs
  • 80% of blogs are abandoned within the first month
  • 68% of Bloggers have been blogging for over 2 years
  • 20% of Bloggers update their blog daily
  • Some popular blogging platforms include: WordPress & Blogger


Here is a cool video that displays the impact of social media on the world

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Critiquing The Ever Ambiguous Financial Aid Letter

Critiquing The Ever Ambiguous Financial Aid Letter

If you have ever heard of the name Mark Kantrowitz, I can almost guarantee that the topic had to do with Financial Aid, Student Loans, or Paying For College. He has been a long-time advocate of education and helps families to tackle some of the most common (and uncommon) financial hurdles along the way. His most recent book, Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, was released in February.

Mr. Kantrowitz has a new report that is lobbying for the standardization of financial aid awards from colleges. He argues that the current approach taken by colleges and universities to inform parents/students about their expected costs and the subsequent aid they will be receiving is confusing and, in some instances, maybe even a little deceiving…  As a person that consistently works with families to help decipher financial aid packages, I can totally relate to Mr. Kanrowitz’s position on the topic. The only thing that I will add is that sometimes the confusing aspect is brought about because this is the first time many families have seen these types of documents and the language (as familiar as it may be to college administrators) is not so familiar of territory for families.

Mr. Kantrowitz’s 37 page report provides a compelling argument for changing the way award packages are communicated to families. He suggests 39 optional and 59 mandatory changes that need to be implemented to financial aid award letters nationwide. The following represents a few of these suggestions:

  • Requirement that all financial aid awards be clearly identified according to type of award (e.g., grant, scholarship, student employment, loan, installment plan).
  • Requirement that the financial aid award letter organize the awards according to type of award, with gift aid appearing first and more burdensome award types like loans listed last.
  • Requirement that awards be identified using standard names, not acronyms, abbreviations or other cryptic terms.
  • Requirement that the financial aid award letter include a detailed breakdown of the direct and indirect cost of attendance figures.
  • Requirement that loans be clearly identified as loans, emphasizing that the loans must be repaid, usually with interest.
  • Requirement that loan listings include information about interest rates, fees, the loan term in years and the loan amount
  • Requirement that financial aid award letters include information about the student’s previous cumulative education debt (including the principal balance, capitalized interest and accrued but unpaid interest) and the corresponding monthly loan payment under a 10-year repayment term.

I would say that most of the ideas (suggestions) in Mr. Kantrowitz’s report will probably be given some consideration by colleges and universities. As a matter of fact, I think a few of these proposed ideas are being implemented on some level already within a select group of institutions. However, I can see that many of the changes would be administratively burdensome and probably not be reaching the Financial Aid Award letter anytime soon. At least with Mr. Kantrowitz’s research and proposal, colleges now have a benchmark that they can strive to achieve.

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Trading The Family Goat For College Tuition

Trading The Family Goat For College Tuition

As strange as it may seem, I remember reading a story about this many years ago. I can’t place the name of the college; all I know is that it was in rural America and the school had taken on a bartering system with local residents to help make their college accessible and affordable.

The only restriction that they put on the bartering is that the product they were receiving had to somehow benefit the college. When it came to livestock and produce, they would make use of it in the dining hall and the student would get a reduced tuition bill. If they had deferred maintenance on a building and a tradesman was able to offer services to remedy this, they would gladly accept the deal and credit the “going rate” of the work performed to the tuition bill.

Since this is how commerce first initially used to take place before the advent of money, it doesn’t surprise me that it could be making a resurgence in troubled economic times. In order to effectively help families and colleges traverse any bartering system that they may encounter with college expenses, I have devised the following chart to serve as a guide when dealing with produce and livestock. Enjoy! 😉

(disclaimer)
All prices represent the average retail price and the weights are the typical size (dressed). Your livestock and produce may be able to fetch more or less depending on size and market conditions.I attempt to round up or down whenever possible in my calculations.

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St. Michael’s – When Tuition Revenue Runs Dry (video)

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Another Great Online Financial Aid Forum/Webinar

Another Great Online Financial Aid Forum/Webinar

Paying for college doesn’t have to be hard and with the right tools and resources most families are able to handle this task with ease.

In an effort to help families, I have experienced a few colleges starting to enlist the wonders of technology to hold webinars about emerging topics on their campus. I have to applaud their efforts because, as it relates to prospective students, it is a great use of resources, provides flexibility for families, and cuts down on travel expense and time that families have to invest in the college search process.

The following is a Financial Aid/Paying For College Forum recently hosted by Wittenberg University (wonderful private liberal arts college in Ohio …and my alma mater). They provided an online utility that allowed families/students to submit some of their most pressing questions. The presenters were able to respond to these questions in real-time and follow-up afterwards with the ones that didn’t get covered in the forum.

Here is the archived video from the webinar. You should definitely take the time to check it out if you are looking for some great information about financial aid and paying for college.

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