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Navigating Student Loans with Your Child

A great guest post from our friends over at LSS Financial Counseling!

It’s your favorite online show binge watcher here. In this blog, I’ll refer to a new competition show based on a favorite childhood game, “The Floor Is Lava.” Instead of kids hopping on couches, flinging cushions and getting yelled at by a parent, teams leap from drawers to couches (or planets to rocket ships), while avoiding a fall into a pool of red slime. This “lava” may be fake, but the face plants are real.

Similarly, when you are a parent navigating the world of student loans with your child, you may feel stressed jumping from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) platform to the college’s financial aid “couch,” wondering why you are tired and slightly sweaty.

Take a few lessons from the “Floor is Lava” show to avoid some potential slippery situations.

1) Assess your surroundings; where is the end?
Successful teams on the show take the time in the beginning to assess the different routes of the course and figure out how to effectively get to the finish line. Those who yell, “I’m just gonna go for it!” end up with a mouthful of goo.

Lesson for parents: Calculate the total cost of the degree your child wants to pursue. Review the FAFSA award to figure out the total amount of grants and loans for each year. The gap between grants/loans and the cost of the degree is considered the student’s, and in many cases the parent’s, responsibility.

If you plan to take on this responsibility, you currently have three options: Direct Federal Parent Plus loans, private parent loans or out-of-pocket payments. If you go the loan route, visit FinAid.org, and use their calculators to estimate future student loan payments. Be aware that payments for parents begin right away once the loan is dispersed, NOT when the child is finished with school. Also, keep in mind that private loans have fewer options should the payment become unaffordable down the road.

2) Set expectations and know your limits.
On the game show, some of the contestants prefer using their arm strength, while others rely on their balance. However, contestants are most successful when they are honest with themselves about what they could realistically do.

Lesson for parents: OK, so you’ve calculated these numbers:

▪ How much will you need to take out in Parent Plus or private loans?
▪ How is your credit score?
▪ Will the payment be affordable now and in the future?

It’s not always easy to assess your budget and credit, but it’s important to know what you can afford and the maximum amount of help you can provide. This will allow you to have honest conversations with your child about a realistic school choice for them.

As a financial counselor, I have heard parents say, “The school tells me the student can take over the parent loans,” which is partially true. While the student can make the payments on the parent’s behalf, the loan remains in the parent’s name and on the parent’s credit report, and the parent is 100 percent legally responsible for that loan. If the student has good credit and a steady income, they might be able to refinance the loan into their name, but it’s not guaranteed.

Be perfectly clear with your child whether they need to pay your loans. More importantly, be ready to pay them yourself if that never happens.

 

3) Teamwork is necessary; don’t feel like it’s all up to you.
And now, back to the show. One team member just stands at the starting line yelling at other teammates. While the other two hop around and figure things out, the third member continues to stand there and yell. Finally, the yeller makes a move and jumps halfheartedly, sinking into the lava, along with the team’s chance of winning.

Lesson for parents: I often hear parents say about helping their children financially, “I don’t want to disappoint my child.” They want what’s best for their kids, and the parents sometimes sacrifice their own financial future in the process. Many times, the (now adult) child hasn’t done anything on their own to help themselves because they were waiting to be bailed out. To help avoid this, it is important for your child to be invested in making college affordable, too.

Has your child applied for extra scholarships and grants or looked for a part-time job to help with living expenses? Is a four-year degree something they really want, or do they feel pressured to “go with the flow” and get a degree just because that’s what their friends are doing?

What about more affordable options? It can be much cheaper for your child to go to a community college the first two years, then transfer to the college/university of their choice. Or, there are many trade job opportunities that require a two-year degree and/or on-the-job training instead. If you find yourself working harder than your child to make this happen, take a step back to make sure they’re just as committed.

 

4) Timing is of the essence.
Let’s go back and see what’s happening with our contestants. At the finish line, there are two steps jutting out to help the team. As time ticks by, the steps slowly sink into the “lava,” making the game even harder and forcing the group to take bigger risks to complete the course successfully.

Lesson for parents: It costs more to wait to pay off these loans. If you can’t afford your Parent Plus loan payments right away, you can put them into deferment, but interest accrues the whole time. That means your payments will be higher in the future and the loan balance will increase when you’re temporarily not making payments. If your credit isn’t great and you qualify for the parent loan, you will likely get charged at a higher interest rate. Therefore, keep working on improving your credit and finances. If/when you improve your credit over time, you may be able to refinance to save money in interest.

 

5) The takeaways
Taking out loans for your child’s education can be exactly like “Floor is Lava” — sort of. Focus on the key takeaways:

▪ Work together as a team.
▪ Communicate openly about your/your child’s capabilities and limitations.
▪ Always keep the big picture in mind, including current/long-term loan affordability, the overall loan cost and your child’s educational/job goals.

This process can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. LSS Financial Counseling is here to help. We have certified student loan counselors who can review your overall finances and credit, create a realistic budget with you, and present all your options so you can help your child and maintain financial stability. Call us today for your FREE, confidential session at 800.528.2926.

Kim Miller is a certified financial counselor with LSS Financial Counseling and a continuous binge watcher of online shows.

Raising Money Smart Kids-Part 4-The Teen Years

With teenagers, especially older ones, the likelihood that they are earning money outside of the home is greater. And if they aren’t at the moment, they will be soon.  Chances are they have a want-list as big as they are—from certain clothes and electronics all the way to their own cars. So, it’s best to give them a dose of real-world experience.

Keep up the work with needs versus wants, how credit works, and the balance between earning/spending/savings. If they have the means to spend, show them how to take advantage of sales and make tradeoffs to fit their budget for their needs.

If you are comfortable with it, let them see your actual household budget—what comes in, what has to go out, and where to divide the rest of it up. Show them how to manage bills, balance checkbooks, how to financially “adult” and show them how it all works. At the very least show them how to schedule their inflow and outflow of their money so they aren’t caught short in their account.

Bring them with you when you apply for a loan. Let them see the process of what’s being asked and what’s being required for you as a borrower. It’s also a great comparison-shopping experience, between different rates and terms they can see what happens when you shorten the term (higher payments, less cost overall) versus drawing it out longer (lower payments, more cost overall). It’s important they learn the world of lending—what it means to borrow, how interest works, and the importance of paying back on time.

Financial goal planning goes hand-in-hand with life goals. Distinguish between short-term goals (less than a year), mid-term goals (1-3 years), and long-term goals (3+ years). Help them with their goals and plotting out what it’ll take to reach them—both from a logistics and financial perspective.

Next week, they may be fresh out of the nest, but they’ll still be coming to you with questions. . .

Raising Money Smart Kids Series-Part 3-The Middle Grades

Moving on to Middle Grade kiddos. This is a great age to really set up some solid lessons—they’re likely getting money from somewhere (i.e. allowance, indulgent grandparents, neighborhood jobs, etc.) and they have the basics of how money works as a tool. Time to make the lessons a little more adult-like.

-Keep reinforcing Needs versus Wants. As simplistic as it might sound, many people (read: adults) struggle with this. The more you go over this, the more likely it’ll stick in the long-run.

-Explain how credit works—the buy now, pay later concept—it can be a thrill to get something without parting with your money straightaway, but it needs to be paid back. Reinforce the notion that they should pay any credit on-time without fail and in-full whenever possible. Make a practical lesson out of this: “I will lend you $20 today to be paid back on X day. If you way it back three days later, you’ll owe me $22 which includes interest and a late fee.”

-Let them see how the “cashless” world works. How do paper checks and debit cards (which comes out of your account with money you have) compare with a credit card (using a credit line you have which has expectations and deadlines for payback).

-Give them a task when shopping. School shopping is ideal for this since they’ll have opinions on what they need/want. Draw up a list of what is needed for them to work off of and a set dollar amount to use to complete it. But, make it a bit of a challenge: force them to make a few trade-offs to complete their list at or under budget.

-This is the prime age for a Savings Challenge: they will likely have something larger they’ll be saving for. Set rewards as they hit benchmarks along the way to reinforce delayed gratification. “If you keep that $100 you’ve saved and not touch it for another month, I’ll put an additional $10 in your account. Alternatively, you can set savings matches: “If you save $20 of your birthday money and leave it in your account for a month, I’ll put another $20 in your savings.”

Next week, we’re hitting the teen years where things can get real.

Raising Money Smart Kids Series-Part 2-The Little Ones

A 2013 Charles Schwab Kids and Financial Literacy Study found that most kids form their life-long approach to money around age 7. That being said, it’s never too late or too early to start teaching money concepts.

When’s a good age to start? A good rule of thumb from youth educators says a good time is when kids realize that money is used to buy things (around ages 2-3). Even if your kids are older than 3—and even if they are older that the 7-year old mark—now is always the best time to start teaching your kids about money and financial concepts.

In this post, we’ll be looking at working with small children and the younger grades. Again, you know your child best in terms of their comprehension and attention span. Use everyday teachable moments to discuss some of the very basics about money.

-Allow kiddos to count and sort out coin and bill denominations. It’s a great way to get them working on simple addition and subtraction.

-Explain the basics of an economy—what bartering is and how we trade what we have (usually money) for what we need or want.

-Start reinforcing the concept of Needs Versus Wants and how to delay gratification. These are important life skills which can be practiced in everyday life.

-Play store with them—“buy” things and have them make change.

-Comparison shop and show them how much money could be saved by finding alternative products or substitutions.

-Set a Savings Challenge with them. Even at young ages, kids have more expensive items (toys, bikes, etc.) they’d like to purchase. Offer to match their savings for the item or give them opportunities to earn more money by taking on additional chores.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the Middle Grades and how to help them translate some of the abstract money concepts into more advanced learning!

Raising Money Smart Kids Series–Part 1-Earning

As parents are becoming more integrated with their kids’ education, many are choosing to incorporate real-life lessons in their planning. Why not give money lessons a whirl? There’s nothing special you need—if you’re working, managing bills, and in general, living—you’ve got the tools you need.

In this short series, we’ll be covering some basic money concepts you can use across age ranges.

To make the topic stick, think about ages and stages. You know your child’s level of attention span, level of interest in details, and their comprehension. Some kids may gobble the information up, some may need a few lessons before concepts really stick.

Try to make teachable moments a part of every day life. Though they aren’t likely going out grocery shopping with you these days, you can still go over the concepts of price comparison or coupons while online shopping. Start with the simple things and work up towards the bigger stuff.

There are three components you’ll want to cover: Earning, Spending, and Saving.

Let’s break down Earning.

Allowances are a big part of this for most kids. Most parents have a base layer of chores—call them “Citizen of the Household Jobs” that are basic expectations. As in, “Since you live here, we expect you to have your bed made every day.” However, they may earn extra for paid chores such as helping with dishes, cleaning up after pets, or additional responsibilities.  The amount you pay and how you pay is strictly up to you.  Whether it’s “all or nothing” pay scheme or “pay per job” is also up to you. What’s important: Make sure you pay them on a consistent basis and that they know what level of completion you expect on these jobs.

Gift Money is also a part of most kids’ earning experience. Whether they get some fun money from grandparents, birthday and holiday gifts, it all adds up.

No matter how the earnings come in, practice with kids the importance of splitting their money between savings, spending, and sharing.

Next up: How to Teach the Little Ones About Money!

Money 101

Six Tips for Financial Wellness in the Coronavirus Era

With change and uncertainty around COVID-19, you may be feeling greater anxiety, worry and stress — especially around personal finances. Some of us are facing the possibility of reduced income with hours cutback at work. Parents are scrambling to find child care or cover shifts so they can stay home because their child’s school has closed. Many households are stocking up on food staples and supplies, creating a strain on budgets. And, there is turbulence in the stock market.

This is a perfect time for you to take a good look at your personal finances and put plans in place for the weeks and months ahead. In times of uncertainty, there are important steps you can take to decrease financial stress.

  1. Review your budget.
    • If you are concerned about a decrease in income, review your budget and cut down on any expenses that you can.
    • Ask yourself: Are there items in your budget that could be cut temporarily?
    • Avoid overbuying or stockpiling too many supplies, such as toilet paper and sanitizer.
  1. Pay priority expenses.
    • Pay your housing expenses first. That includes rent/mortgage and utilities. If you’re concerned about the ability to make your mortgage payment, contact LSS Financial Counseling, which offers free housing counseling over the phone.
  1. Take care of your mental and physical health.
    • Food is a priority expense. Also, maintain your health care and insurance premiums.
    • Focus on what you can control, including basics such as exercise, good sleep and nutrition.
  1. Have a plan for managing your debt.
    • Debts for credit cards, car loans and student loans have different priorities and options for helping you though times of uncertainty. Create a plan for addressing them.
    • Contact lenders on your car loan, credit cards or student loans, and let them know if you are having difficulty making payments. See if they have any hardship programs.
    • Contact LSS Financial Counseling, which specializes in these areas and can help you determine action for helping to manage your debt — at no cost to you and from the comfort of your own home.
  1. Stay up to date on changing situations and resources available to you.
    • Many states are looking at expanding unemployment benefits for those impacted by work stoppage, such as hourly employees at schools.
    • In Minnesota, if you are facing unemployment, you can file online at uimn.org or call 651.296.3644 or toll free at 877.898.9090.
    • Nationwide, check out United Way by calling 211 or visit 211.org. This referral center will help you find support in your community for food, energy assistance, health care and many other essential needs.
  1. Don’t stop saving.
    • Seventy percent of Americans don’t have $1,000 saved. Make this a priority. This will decrease financial stress and uncertainty.
    • Stock market fluctuations are inevitable. Keep investing as you can.
    • If your employer has a retirement savings match, make sure you are doing at least the minimum to get the match.

Minnesota Power Employees Credit Union partners with LSS Financial Counseling to provide members with a trusted Financial Choice benefit. This benefit offers up to six free appointments each calendar year to you and your immediate family members.  LSS Financial Counseling have been guiding individuals and families for more than 30 years as they take control of their finances.

For additional resources to help you face these times of financial uncertainty, or for information about scheduling an appointment, go to https://www.lssmn.org/financialcounseling/mpecu or call 800.528.2926 and mention you are an MPECU member.