Category Archives: Money Management

Welcome Back to School

Back-to-school season is well underway! Before you let out a sigh of frustration because the summer flew by, decide how you’ll make this school year the best one yet. Will you be engaged in class? Will you intentionally make a new friend? Will you take on a new interest? The ball is in your court this month, so make a plan to seize the opportunities of a new school year.

To get you started on the right foot, think about joining a club or sports team. If you’re already involved in a certain activity, think about taking on a leadership role. You’ll gain communication skills and meet new people. You may also enjoy a school play or music recital. Attending different types of events like these could give you a greater appreciation for your school. Additionally, consider volunteering. Devoting some time to a cause that’s important to you is a good way to give back to your community, and you may discover a few interesting career options as you volunteer. Volunteer work can also be an asset when applying for scholarships.

Own your education this year. Challenge yourself to maintain good grades and if you’re struggling in a specific subject area, ask questions. Find resources that can help you understand difficult concepts. Conversely, if you’re excelling in a certain course that others may find tough, contemplate tutoring a few classmates. Doing this will show your concern for others and increase your own knowledge. Practice time management skills, as well. Make it a goal to turn in all assignments on time and keep the lines of communication open with your instructors. Let them know if you’ll miss a deadline.

Finally, prepare for what’s next. High school students can take FREE practice tests for the ACT and SAT to increase their scores. Free test prep material can be found at OKcollegestart.org. Seniors and college students who will need financial aid next year should complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon after Oct. 1 as possible. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for various types of financial aid – resources to help you cover college expenses. College students can start developing their resumes. Visit your campus Career Services department to learn about all available opportunities. And all students should apply for scholarships! Whether you’re a junior in high school or a sophomore in college, it’s never too early or too late to take advantage of these opportunities. You can find numerous scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

There are plenty of things to look forward to as you begin a new school year. So instead of dragging your feet on your first day of class, decide that you’ll make this school year the best yet! Welcome back and have a great year!

Grants, Loans & Work Study

By now you probably know that it’s important to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but do you know what you’re actually submitting? This application allows colleges to see which types of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Financial aid can help you cover educational expenses and comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans.

Grants, sometimes referred to as gift aid, are need-based aid that usually don’t have to be repaid. The most common federal grant is the Pell Grant. This form of financial aid is available for undergraduate students (those who haven’t received their first bachelor’s degree). The maximum amount of Pell Grant a student can receive is $6,195 for the 2019-2020 school year. Financial aid offices will determine students’ financial need and inform them of their Pell eligibility. Another federal grant that’s available is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG. Only students who have extreme financial need are eligible to receive this grant. Other grants require students to meet certain criteria. The TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant is an example of aid that has conditions attached to it, as it requires students to take certain courses and work specific jobs. There is also the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant that’s available for students who lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. Eligible students should contact their school if they have any questions. Some states offer grants to their residents as well. Oklahoma has the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant, or OTAG, for eligible state residents who will be attending an Oklahoma public or private institution.

Work-study is also a type of financial aid that can help with the costs of college. Eligible students who receive this aid will have the chance to work a part-time job and earn money for educational expenses. Undergraduates and graduates with financial need are able to receive a work-study opportunity. Talk with your financial aid office to learn about potential places, on or off campus, that are hiring.

Student loans are another type of financial assistance. Different than other aid, student loans must be repaid with interest. There are various federal loans available for students. One type is the Direct Subsidized Loan for undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The maximum amount for freshmen in the 2019-2020 school year is $5,500, with a fixed interest rate of 5.05 percent. A fixed interest rate means that the interest won’t change over time. The federal government will pay the interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. In contrast, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are not based on financial need and are given to undergraduates and graduates. Students are responsible for the interest on this loan during all periods. The interest rate on an unsubsidized loan is 5.05 percent for undergraduates and 6.6 percent for graduate students. Other borrowed aid that isn’t based on financial need is the Parent PLUS Loan. This is available for parents of dependent students who need extra assistance with college expenses. In addition, parents must also be credit worthy to qualify for this type of aid. PLUS Loans have a 7.6 percent fixed interest rate. Speak with your financial aid office to learn more details.

There are a variety of resources available to help you pay for college. Not all schools offer each program, so be sure to contact your financial aid office with any questions. For more information about grants, student loans and work-study go to studentaid.ed.gov.

Oklahoma 529 Savings Plan

May 29 is Oklahoma 529 Savings Day! The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a program that allows families to deposit funds into an interest earning savings account and use the funds to help pay for their child’s higher education expenses. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online and users can choose from a variety of low-cost investment options. When adding to the account the funds can be electronically deposited or mailed in.

529 Savings Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Funds will typically cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board expenses, and some technology equipment required for certain courses. If your student doesn’t need all the funds that go into the account, you can transfer the remaining savings to an eligible family member for their college expenses.

Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. If you’re contemplating opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, here are a few things to consider:
1. Contributions made to the 529 Plan grow as tax-free earnings in the account and can be deducted from your Oklahoma taxable income.
2. Regular contributions, even if they start as small amounts, add up over time. Consider making small automatic contributions or direct deposits into the account every pay period.
3. Don’t wait to start contributing to your account. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for your higher education expenses today.
4. A 529 savings account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan. Encourage family members to make a donation to the fund for children’s birthday and holiday gifts.

For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.

Oklahoma’s Promise Day

Oklahoma’s Promise Day at the State Capitol is today, April 9! On Oklahoma’s Promise Day many students, faculty and supporters of Oklahoma’s Promise gather at the Capitol to show their appreciation for the Governor and legislature’s ongoing support of this program. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship pays tuition at Oklahoma public colleges or universities and pays a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private colleges and for certain programs at Oklahoma public technology centers. Approximately 17,000 college students are currently benefiting from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, allowing more students to have a better chance of reaching their educational goals in our state.

If you’re an Oklahoma’s Promise student, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you’re in college. The information from the FAFSA will be used to determine whether or not your parent’s federal adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000.  For any year that the income exceeds $100,000, you will not be eligible to receive the program benefits. Students must also remain in good academic standing based on the guidelines set by your institution. As the financial aid office reviews your FAFSA, they will determine your eligibility for financial aid such as  Oklahoma’s Promise,   grants, federal work-study and student loans. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year and contact the financial aid office if you have questions about your Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.  Also, take some time to celebrate today by thanking your state legislators and encouraging them to keep the promise!

To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and its requirements, visit okpromise.org.

We are OK Promise round logo

529 Plan on the FAFSA

A 529 Plan can be a huge benefit in paying college expenses. However, this college savings account can be tricky to report on the FAFSA. If the account is in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name, then the 529 Plan should be reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA. If the student is independent, meaning s/he doesn’t have to report parental information, then the plan should be reported as a student asset. The plan doesn’t have to be reported as an asset if someone other than the student or custodial parent owns the account, such as a grandparent or family friend.

Another aspect of the 529 Plan that can be challenging is distributions from the account. Distributions are funds taken from the 529 Plan for any reason. Students and parents only have to report a distribution from the account if the plan wasn’t reported on the FAFSA as an asset. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you accurately report any 529 Plan distributions:

  1. A non-qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for non-educational expenses – will be included in the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of the student’s federal income tax return. The AGI will be a part of the student’s total income, so the student will just need to report his or her income on the FAFSA.
  2. A qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for educational expenses – should be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA.
  3. A distribution made from an account that the student or the custodial parent does not own must be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA, as well.

The best option for reporting a 529 Savings Plan is to leave the account in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name. By doing this, the Plan will be reported as an asset and the family won’t have to report distributions made from the account. For more information on how to report the 529 Plan on the FAFSA, visit Edvisors.com/plan-for-college.

Submit Your FAFSA ASAP, OK?

It’s FAFSA time, so make it a priority to submit yours ASAP. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2019-20 academic year became available October 1. The fall semester of 2019 seems far away, so why should you submit your FAFSA this early? Here are three good reasons:

  • Some forms of financial aid are first-come, first-served. When this type of aid is gone, you may have to wait for the next school year to apply for it again. Examples of this type of aid are the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG) and scholarships offered by the college or university where you’re enrolling (institutional aid).
  • More and more colleges and universities are setting early enrollment and institutional scholarship deadlines in November and December. During the application process, they’ll want to know if you’ve submitted your FAFSA.
  • It’s not uncommon for a scholarship committee to ask for a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you receive after you submit your FAFSA. Completing your FAFSA early ensures that you won’t miss important deadlines.

For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.

November is National Scholarship Month

November is National Scholarship Month, and it’s an excellent time to begin applying for scholarships if you haven’t done so already. Many scholarship providers are posting new scholarship information and competitions for the next academic year, and November is also an ideal month to dedicate some time to finding scholarships for college (think Thanksgiving Break!).  Remember, scholarships are ‘free money’. They’re gift aid that doesn’t have to be paid back.

There are many ways students can qualify for scholarships. They are often based on a student’s talents, abilities, skills or participation in extra-curricular activities. They can also be given because of a student’s ancestry or religious affiliation, or for a variety of other reasons.

Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Many experts say that high school seniors should apply for 2-3 scholarships each week. But where do you begin? We suggest starting your search at UCanGo2.org and okcollegestart.org, where you’ll find hundreds of scholarship opportunities. Also, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Scholarship Success Guide, where you’ll find many more websites that you can use to investigate scholarships of all types and helpful tips for maximizing your scholarship dollars.

For helpful information about all types of financial aid that are available, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Are You Looking for Money? booklet.

Grants, Work-Study and Student Loans

As you begin exploring different forms of financial aid, three terms will stand out: grants, work-study and student loans. These are the three primary forms of aid that the federal government distributes through the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). By completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’re applying to receive these various types of financial aid for school.

Grants and scholarships, which are given to eligible students to help them pay higher education expenses, are the best form of aid you can receive, as they typically don’t need to be repaid. The Pell Grant is the most notable federal grant; it’s awarded to undergraduate students based on financial need. Students can receive up to $6,095 from the Pell Grant for the 2018-19 school year. The OTAG is awarded to eligible Oklahoma residents enrolled in schools within the state and the FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant) is awarded to students with exceptional financial need. Some grants do have obligations attached to them, such as the TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant. This grant is designed to assist students who plan to teach and meet certain requirements for the grant. Not all campuses participate in this program, so students will need to check with their campus about available types of financial aid offered.

Work-Study is the form of federal aid that allows undergraduates to work part-time jobs on or off campus to earn money for school expenses. This program is administered by the school, and like grants, is based on your financial need.

The third type of aid is a federal direct student loan. A student loan is a form of aid the federal government provides to help students bridge the gap between family savings, scholarships and grants, and work study and remaining college costs. Unlike most grants or work-study, this money must be paid back with interest. While federal student loans need to be repaid, the interest accrued is often lower than it would be with a private lender, and federal student loans have more flexible repayment options than private or alternative loans.

The Direct Subsidized Loan program will lend students up to $5,500 annually depending on grade level, financial need and dependency status. The interest rate for subsidized loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2018 is set at 5.05 percent, and the government will pay your interest costs while you’re attending school at least half time. The Direct Unsubsidized Loan is available to undergraduates (5.05 percent interest rate) and graduate students (6.60 percent interest rate). The government does not pay interest costs during school for unsubsidized loan borrowers, but students may make interest payments while in school to save money. If there is still a balance remaining after using all other available forms of aid, parents of dependent undergraduate students may apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. PLUS loan applicants must meet credit requirements, and the interest rate is currently set at 7.60 percent.

If you must accept a student loan to help pay for college, focus on federal loan options, and limit your borrowing to the amount you truly need to pay school expenses. For more information about paying for college, check out UCanGo2.org/pay.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan allows families to deposit funds into an account that will earn interest over time. When higher education costs arise, families will be able to use the funds from this account to help pay for their child’s education. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online. There are a variety of low-cost investment options to choose from, and funds can be electronically deposited into the account or mailed in.

529 Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Expenses that the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan will cover include tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board costs, and some technology equipment required for courses.

Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. Here are a few things to think about when considering opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan:

  1. Contributions made to the 529 Plan grow as tax-free earnings in the account and can be deducted from your Oklahoma taxable income.
  2. Regular contributions, even if they start as small amounts, add up over time. Consider making small automatic contributions or direct deposits into the account every pay period.
  3. Don’t wait, and don’t panic if your child is closer to college than diapers. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for higher education expenses today. Focus on saving as much as you can afford within your means.
  4. A 529 Plan account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan account. Encourage family members to contribute to the fund for children’s birthdays and holiday gifts.

For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.

Summer Preparation for College

So you’re finishing up your senior year of high school and about to transition to life as a college student. It may be tempting to use your summer break as a time to relax and recover from your final year of high school, but it’s important to begin prepping for your upcoming college experience.

If you haven’t already filled out the FAFSA, it’s not too late. You will need to complete the 2018-19 form if you are starting classes in the fall of 2018. It can take a couple weeks for your college to send you your financial aid award letter, so complete your FAFSA as soon as possible.

The summer is also the perfect time to apply for scholarships. Use some of your extra time to complete scholarship applications. The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances are of winning! Don’t forget about scholarships provided by your college or university, too. For more information on those, call the campus financial aid office. You can also find a list of scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKCollegeStart.org

If you will be living on campus, you can use the summer to start coordinating dorm needs with your roommate. You should also take a look at the school’s website to start reviewing potential associations, clubs or activities to join. Make sure you don’t overextend yourself, though; transitioning successfully from high school to college takes focus.

For more tips on preparing for college, check out our primer for high school seniors, Your Transition to College.