02.14.14 | Do Colleges Provide Adequate Disclosures to Student Consumers?

Posted in College Life, News, Parent Advice, Student Credit by David Levy

Do Colleges Provide Adequate Disclosures to Student Consumers?The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a study that describes the growing number of colleges and universities who have entered into arrangements with financial institutions to market bank accounts, prepaid cards, debit cards and other financial services (including disbursing financial aid) to students. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has encouraged financial institutions to voluntarily fully disclose these agreements on their websites, the CFPB found that nearly a third of public colleges and universities fail to do so.

Schools argue that these college-lender agreements offer convenience for students and, potentially, help lenders to establish long-term financial relationships with students. However, the GAO remains concerned about how some of the financial agreements impact students, their families and colleges.

For example, the GAO found that many schools encouraged students to choose the college-lender product rather than providing unbiased, neutral information to help student consumers select the financial product that best meets their needs. The GAO speculates that these endorsements on the part of colleges and lenders may be influenced by incentives the schools receive as part of the school-lender agreements. These incentives may not be adequately disclosed to students.

The GAO cites an instance in which a lender provided $25 million to a school for the use of the college’s logo on affinity credit cards. Such a practice is currently banned for student loans but not for credit cards. In another example, a college is paid an up-front fee for endorsing the lender’s financial services on campus. (Additionally, the college can receive a bonus payment for each new student who signs up for the services.) The GAO report also cited instances in which college card fees for purchases using a personal identification number were higher than for similar debit card products provided by banks.

The CFPB notes that while “many financial institutions offer good products at competitive prices,” colleges, universities and lenders who have financial arrangements should disclose these relationships and provide unbiased information to students. Without more transparency about these types of relationships, student consumers are prevented from making informed decisions about what is in their best financial interest.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) published a report, The Campus Debt Card Trap, which identified high fees and inconvenient free ATMs as key issues.

Both the U.S. General Accountability Office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have indicated that they will be addressing these issues as they develop new rules. The U.S. Department of Education will also be revising the regulations concerning disbursement of federal student aid funds through debit cards.

In the meantime, students and their families are encouraged to review the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Managing Your College Money and consumer advisory for information on accessing student loans and scholarships. Students and parents who wish to complain about a student loan, checking account, or credit card, may submit a complaint online or call 1.855.411.2372.

08.14.13 | On vs. Off-Campus Housing

Posted in College Life by samantha b

Girl Pondering College Housing Options

With the fall semester of college starting up in a few weeks, college students are working towards finalizing their housing situation for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, you’re running out of time to answer the looming question: “Do I want to live on campus or off campus?” To help you to answer this question, we’ve weighed some of the crucial factors to consider while making this decision.

RAs, Rules, and Security

One of the first things that comes to mind about off-campus housing is the absence of resident assistants (RAs) and other members of residential life, and thus, the absence of rules. However, there is more to the story. While RAs serve as a form of law enforcement, they can also be a friend, mentor, and organizer of community events. In addition, the absence of RAs and desk assistants can result in lower levels of security. While many colleges are located in safe areas, this could be a relevant factor if your school isn’t located in the best area. On the other hand, living in an off-campus apartment will give you your first full experience of freedom, and with that, a strong sense of responsibility. Also, the absence of RAs means that your apartment could easily become the choice hangout spot for you and your friends.

Cooking and Cleaning

Living in a college dorm is kind of like living with really bad maid service. The communal bathrooms and hallways will probably be cleaned a few times a week, and you can call a custodian if, let’s say, your toilet explodes – and yes, this did actually happen to a friend of mine, but that’s a story for another day. In addition, you will probably choose to sign up for a meal plan, thus choosing to avoid cooking at the expense of sub-par food. On the flipside, living off campus will mean doing most of your own cooking and cleaning, but chances are that your cooking will be much better than the food in your cafeteria. (more…)

07.24.13 | 5 Ways to Cover College Costs

Paying for CollegeWhether you’re a soon-to-be freshman or second semester senior, it is never easy to figure out how to cover the costs of college. With tuition and hidden fees of private colleges averaging out to about $40,000 per year, many of you are still wondering how your family is expected to pay for $35,000 of your education, even after having received your Student Aid Report (SAR) three months ago. To help you out in your pursuit of a college degree, here are 5 ideas for paying for college when Federal aid comes up short.

Befriend the Financial Aid Office

If you are disappointed by the amount of financial aid that you receive, try talking to your financial aid office. Many colleges have an appeal process for financial aid, so get on a first-name basis with someone in the financial aid office and see what else can be done.

Search for Scholarships

There are millions of dollars in scholarships that go unclaimed every year, so why not spend a few days this summer searching and applying for as many scholarships as you can find? On average, you will win 1 out of every 10 scholarships that you apply for, so don’t get discouraged. For starters, try visiting our recommended scholarship search website, or try winning scholarships through the ScholarshipPoints program. (more…)

05.21.13 | How to Save Money on College Textbooks

Posted in College Life, News by Mark Kantrowitz

College Textbooks

Books and supplies add about $600 to $1,200 to your college costs each year. At lower-cost colleges buying books can bust your budget, sometimes even exceeding the cost of tuition and fees. Unlike tuition and fees, however, textbook costs are something you can control by buying and selling cheap textbooks.

Two of the best methods of saving money on textbooks include buying used textbooks and selling your books back to the college bookstore at the end of the semester. Each approach can save you as much as half of the cost of buying new textbooks, so if you combine them and are lucky, you could pay next to nothing for your textbooks. Unfortunately, faculty change editions periodically, so you won’t always be able to sell all of your textbooks.

Buying used textbooks isn’t as icky as it sounds. Often the used textbooks will have notes in the margins and highlighted passages that can help you understand the material and study for exams.

An alternative is to rent your textbooks. This doesn’t save you as much as buying used textbooks and reselling them after the final exams, but it guarantees that you’ll be able to earn some cash by returning the textbooks. As with reselling your textbooks, the main drawback is you don’t get to keep the textbooks.

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04.05.13 | Happy Financial Literacy Month!

Posted in College Life, Financial Aid, News, Student Credit by Student Loan Network Staff

Piggy Bank in GrassDid you know that April is Financial Literacy Month? With the recent economic struggles, it’s clearer than ever that many students (and even parents) need some personal finance training, stat! According to the National Financial Educator’s Council:

“About thirty-four percent of parents have taught their teen how to balance a checkbook, and less than that has explained how credit card interest and fees work and ninety-three percent American parents with teenagers report worrying that their children might make financial missteps such as: overspending or living beyond their means.”

While parents can be a good starting point, “Around sixty-nine percent of parents admit to feeling less prepared to give their teenager guidance about investing than they do having the ‘sex talk’ with them.” Yikes!

In the spirit of Financial Literacy Month, we want to help you learn to manage your money! To kick things off, here’s a list of some great websites designed to teach you those much-needed money skills!

My mother always told me, “Don’t put it on a credit card if you can’t afford it in cash” and I’m free of credit card debt to this day! Share your wisdom and tell us some of your own personal finance tips by leaving a comment below!

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for more personal finance posts in the coming weeks or check out last year’s Financial Literacy Blog Series!

Source: http://www.financialeducatorscouncil.org/financial-literacy-statistics.html

03.28.13 | How Repealing DOMA Could Affect Financial Aid

Posted in College Life, FAFSA, Financial Aid, News by Student Loan Network Staff

This week has brought a flood of news on gay rights as Supreme Court justices review the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). The repeal of DOMA would bring many benefits to same-sex families, such as death benefits, tax incentives, and health insurance coverage.

What does this have to do with financial aid? A lot, actually.

An increasingly common issue in the financial aid application process is how LGBT families file the FAFSA.

Because of DOMA, financial aid for same-sex families is determined differently and can lead to non-uniform aid awards. When filing the FAFSA, both parents (if married) are required to provide their financial information. In the case where marriage is not federally recognized, only one parent would be able to file for the student, leading to increased financial aid for the family. What’s more, any financial support from the other parent would be reported as untaxed income and subject to different treatment in the aid calculations. The same logic applies to married students.

If DOMA is repealed, the application process would be streamlined for all married couples. Financial aid would take all financial support for the student into account, and the question of “which parent should file the FAFSA” would be eliminated for these families.

This also means that same-sex families might get less financial aid, because financial awards would be based on both parents’ income and assets, not just one.

Clearly DOMA has far-reaching impacts for college students and their families, as repealing DOMA would mean uniformity in the financial aid process for all married couples.

03.04.13 | 5 Easy Ways for Students to Save

Posted in College Life, financial aid tips, News, Student Credit by Student Loan Network Staff

Saving vs. SpendingDeveloping good saving habits starts when you’re young, but many students don’t know where to begin. While we know it can be tough to save money when college expenses keep growing, every little bit helps.

1. Automate your Saving

If you receive a regular paycheck from a part-time or on-campus job, see if you can allocate a portion to automatically deposit in a savings account. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but by putting a little bit away into a separate account, you’re more likely not to spend it and can even earn interest on the savings.

2. Use your Tax Refund Wisely

Did you just get your tax refund or are you patiently awaiting its arrival? It might be tempting to spend all of the “extra” money right away, but don’t! Put it directly into your savings account to build interest for when you really need it. That doesn’t mean don’t treat yourself to something nice, just keep it reasonable.
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12.03.12 | 14 Great Holiday Gifts for Students

Posted in College Life by Student Loan Network Staff

Stack of Gifts

Technology Gifts

  1. External hard drive – This was a life-saver for me in college. There were a few times when my USB drives were corrupted and unusable. Backing up all of your papers and other files on an external hard drive will eliminate the headache of recovering any missing files down the road.
  2. Digital camera – A digital camera is always a great gift to document all those college memories. High School seniors will also appreciate this as their senior year winds down.
  3. Noise-canceling headphones – College is…loud. Whether studying in the library or trying to sleep when there’s a party down the hall, these are great for all students.
  4. Laptop – This might be a little pricey for a holiday gift, but take advantage of sales this season. If you decide to pick out technology for your student, make sure know what features they’ll need beforehand! Computers with good graphics cards and a lot of RAM are great for streaming movies or playing video games, as well as the basics like word processing.

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11.12.12 | College Financing Resources for Veterans and Military Families

Posted in College Life, Financial Aid, Repayment, Student Loans by Student Loan Network Staff

Little Girls Thank SoldiersHappy Veterans Day, and National Military Family Month! In the words of Maya Angelou, “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” To thank all of the military men, women, and families who serve our nation, here are some resources to help veterans everywhere take advantage of their education benefits.

Funding Education

Scholarships for Veterans and Families

There are hundreds of scholarships out there to help veterans and their families receive a college education. Whether you’re a veteran, or the spouse or child of a soldier, there are lots of scholarships to take advantage of. Here are just a few:

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10.15.12 | Obama vs. Romney: Stances on Higher Education

Posted in College Life, Financial Aid, News, Student Loans by Student Loan Network Staff

With the presidential election creeping closer and closer, it’s important that students know how the candidate’s policies will affect them. While Obama and Romney agree on a few education points, there are some key differences consumers should take note of. Here’s a quick overview of the major differences:

President Obama is for… Presidential Candidate Romney is for…
Maintaining the current Department of Education Cuts to the Federal Department of Education
Keeping student aid federally funded Privatization of the student loan program
Regulating for-profit institutions to ensure quality programs for students Encouraging growth at for-profit institutions to help spur market competition
Lowering tuition costs Lowering tuition costs
Improving consumer knowledge on college costs Improving consumer knowledge on college costs

Student Loans

One point of agreement between the candidates is the importance of keeping student loan costs low for families. Both parties were in favor of the 3.4% interest rate extension that was enacted back in July 2012.

Obama – President Obama ended the Family Friendly Education Loan Program (FFELP) and in its place created the Federal Direct Loan Program. This shifted the student loan program from the private sector to federal as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA).

Romney – Candidate Romney is in favor of reversing the “nationalization of the student loan market”, bringing competition back through private lender participation. While it is unclear whether FFELP would be reinstated, he does propose an end to the Direct Lending Program created under Obama’s Administration.
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