Category Archives: Money Management

Budgeting While in College

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

529 Savings Plan

“Save, spend, invest, give,” is a popular approach to basic personal finances. There are ways to use this method to your advantage when preparing and planning for your child’s educational future. Parents and families have an opportunity to help their children avoid the burden of student loan debt by saving money, so their child or grandchild doesn’t have to spend an overwhelming amount of money on tuition. By investing in your child’s future, you’ll give them the means to reach their education goals.

 An Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a specialized savings account that’s used to pay college and K-12 tuition expenses. The money in these accounts can grow tax-free and isn’t taxed when withdrawn. In other words, no matter how much your investment grows in an OCSP (Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan) account, you’ll never have to pay taxes on it as long as it’s used for educational expenses.

A 529 account is quick and easy to open, it can be managed online or by mail. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account. Some employers also support these accounts and can set up payroll deductions directly to your savings account.

There are a variety of professionally managed investments to choose from to help grow your account in addition to providing direct contributions. These funds can be used at any accredited university, college or vocational school in the nation. Many international schools are also qualified to receive these funds. Additionally, up to $10,000 annually can be used toward K-12 school tuition.

OCSP can be used for certain room and board costs, computers, fees, books, supplies and other equipment that a student may require.

A common question is, “will these funds negatively affect my child’s eligibility for financial aid?” As long as the parent or grandparent is the account owner, funds are treated as belonging to the guardian and not the child. This will minimize the impact on the child’s financial aid. The direct impact on financial aid will vary by school.

If your child does not need all of the money for their education goals, you can designate a new beneficiary penalty-free as long as they’re an eligible member of your family.

So how to you start? You can open an account with as little as $100 per investment. There’s no application, sales or maintenance fee and you don’t have to contribute all on your own. Grandparents, other family members, friends and even the student can make gifts and contributions to the account.

It’s not too early to start investing in your child’s future. Learn more about the benefits of an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan here.

Summer Prep for Incoming College freshmen

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone. Before you finalize your summer plans though, consider adding a few activities to your list. Implementing these tips will help you prepare for your college freshman year as you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.  

Read and review. High school may be over, but the concepts you’ve learned will appear again in upcoming classes. Since college courses typically don’t review previous material, prepare by studying subjects that gave you trouble in high school. Mastering these academic areas can aid in your college success. Reading often will help with future comprehension and critical thinking assignments.

Develop a routine. It’ll take discipline to balance coursework, other responsibilities and time with friends when you begin college. Therefore, develop a summer routine to practice designating specific times for certain activities. While your schedule will probably change when classes start, you’ll gain great time-management skills that’ll assist with meeting new academic expectations.

Gather supplies. Get an early start on back-to-school shopping. Already have your college schedule? Great! Use it as a guide to purchase supplies. Compare prices when buying course textbooks and technology. If you don’t have your schedule yet, consider purchasing the common necessities – notebooks, writing instruments, folders, backpacks, planners, etc.

Connect with others. Use social media to connect with future roommates or other students who will also be attending your campus in the fall. Converse with those who have similar interests. Not only could these connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Explore careers. Summer is a good time to explore career interests. If you’ve already decided on your college major, research popular jobs in that field of study. Even if you’re undecided, take time to discover which industries pique your curiosity. Researching different professions allows you to see which career field could be a great fit for you. To learn about various occupations and to view over 400 videos detailing possible careers, visit OKcollegestart.org.

Military Benefits and the FAFSA

When it comes to reporting military benefits on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, families aren’t always sure what to include. Three questions on the application relate to military benefits; they request information about combat pay, housing allowance and noneducational veteran benefits. Let’s break them down here.

  • The first question concerning military benefits asks about the service member’s total combat pay. Depending on the military member’s rank, this benefit may not need to be reported. If the person is an enlisted member or a warrant officer, they don’t have to provide this information. However, if they are a commissioned officer, they will need to report their combat pay. This amount can be found on the service member’s W-2 form in box 12.
  • The next inquiry about military benefits concerns the service member’s housing allowance. Reporting this information is dependent on other factors. If the member receives a subsidy for on-base military housing or a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), then the member doesn’t need to report the benefit. Those who receive housing allowances other than the ones mentioned above must include that information on the FAFSA.
  • The last question regarding military benefits asks service members to report their noneducational veteran benefits. Those who receive the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, Dependents Education Assistance Program or Vocational Rehabilitation Program don’t need to provide this data. Those who receive other noneducational assistance, such as benefits including Disability, Death Pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and VA Educational Work-Study allowance, must report that information. Noneducational veteran benefits can be found on the service member’s monthly VA benefit statement.

Knowing which types of military benefit information to include on the FAFSA and gathering the right documents can make the process easier. The service member should collect the appropriate year’s tax return, W-2 forms and benefit statements to answer these three questions accurately. For more information about military benefits and the FAFSA, please visit MilitaryBenefits.info.  

I Didn’t File A Tax Return for The 2019 Tax Year, Should I keep my W-2’s?

Quite simply, yes.

If you had income (earned and/or unearned) in 2019 and you are a single dependent who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you may still be required to file your own return. The amount of your 2019 income will determine whether or not you need to file. See the instructions at the beginning of the 2019 IRS 1040 form, and look for page 10, Chart B.

Now that you’ve determined whether or not you should file a tax return, let’s just say you didn’t have to file because you didn’t make enough money. If this describes your situation, it’s still very important that you save the W-2(s) you received this year. You should have received one from each employer who reported your earnings and withholding tax to the IRS.

Why is it so important that you hold on to your W-2s? Think FAFSA! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will ask you to report your income from two years prior to the year that you’ll attend college. So, if you plan to go to college in the fall of 2020, you’ll need your 2018 income information. For the fall of 2021, you’ll need to supply the information from 2019.

Also, you’re still required to report your wage, salary and tip income even if you didn’t receive a W-2 from an employer. If you’re not sure what your income was in 2019, use the Income Estimator that’s available on your FAFSA.

Keep those W-2’s! You’ll need them when you’re applying for federal financial aid.

A College Sent Me A Financial Aid Offer – Now What?

When you submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you listed one or more college codes that represent the schools that interest you.  Once your FAFSA’s been processed, you may begin to receive financial aid offers from these schools sent electronically or via the US Postal Service. It’s important to read each offer carefully, as they describe the types and amounts of financial aid a college or career technology center can provide to help you pay for one year of higher education.

On your financial aid offer you’ll see:

  • The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – An estimate of what it costs to go to that school for one year
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – A number calculated from your FAFSA that’s used by the school to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive (most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to pay)
  • Types and amounts of aid the school can offer you; this list is often called a ‘financial aid package’. Your offer may consist of:
    • Grants – aid based on financial need that typically doesn’t have to be repaid
    • Scholarships – gift aid awarded to you by colleges, state agencies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
    • Federal work-study – an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn money for college expenses
    • Federal student loans – funds awarded based on financial eligibility that must be repaid, with interest
    • Federal PLUS loan – a loan your parent(s) may borrow to help you pay for college; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan (credit check required)

Now, subtract all of the financial aid shown on the offer from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost, which is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. If you should end up with a negative amount, the Net Cost would be zero.

What options are available to help you cover the Net Cost?

  • More scholarships – You don’t have to be a straight A student or a sports star to qualify for many different kinds of scholarships. OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org are great places to begin your scholarship search.
  • A 529 College Savings Plan – visit ok4saving.org for more information
  • Military benefits – visit military.com/education/gi-bill to learn more
  • A monthly payment plan approved by your school

Don’t forget:

  • You don’t have to accept all financial aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. Using a monthly payment plan while you’re in college can be less expensive than a monthly loan payment with added interest after you’ve graduated. If you’re unable to make a monthly payment to the school, consider making smaller monthly interest payments on any unsubsidized student loan(s). This will decrease your overall student loan debt once you graduate or leave school.
  • Pay attention to deadlines. Accept or decline your financial aid offer before the specified date.
  • If you receive more than one financial aid offer, you may want to determine what your net cost would be at each college. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the school that’s the best fit for you.
  • To add more school codes to your FAFSA, log in as a returning user at studentaid.gov.

Student Loans: How To Borrow Smart from the Start

When you receive your financial aid offer from a college you may be interested in attending, it’s quite possible that one or more student loans will be included in the offer. If you need a student loan(s) to help cover the costs of college, you’ll want to borrow smart from the very start of your college experience to minimize your debt after graduation. Here are some things you need to know as you consider student loans.

  • Use ‘free money’ first. Take advantage of all the gift aid you’re offered—grants and scholarships—before deciding how much you’ll need to borrow.
  • You don’t have to accept student loans. You can decline any amount of financial aid that is offered to you. If you must borrow to pay college costs, only borrow what you’ll need to get you through one year of college. Review your finances each semester, and keep that commitment to borrow only what you need to cover school expenses.
  • Do your research. Some experts recommend that your monthly loan payment should be no more than 8-10% of the monthly income you expect to earn during the first year after graduation. To estimate your loan payments, try the Loan Calculator found at ReadySetRepay.org.
  • Subsidized = less expensive. Interest won’t be added to a subsidized federal student loan balance until after you graduate, withdraw or drop your class load to less than half-time status.
  • Make interest payments. Students who borrow federal unsubsidized loans are responsible for all interest on the loan as soon as their institutions receive the first disbursement. Student loan interest payments are generally affordable, even on a college student’s budget. If possible, keep the interest paid down while you’re in school and during your grace period. To help you think it through, see how two students took different paths to repay their student loans.
  • Keep in touch with your lender(s) and loan servicer(s). Always make sure you let them know your current address, and contact them if you’re having trouble making your payments. You can find contact information for your lenders/servicers at StudentAid.gov under Manage Loans. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy—it’s the username and password you created when you submitted your FAFSA. You’ll need it to access your federal student loan information.
  • Stay informed. Find more information and FAQs at ReadySetRepay.org and StudentAid.gov.

Financial Aid Awareness Month

Happy Financial Aid Awareness Month! February is the time to learn how you can fund your education with various financial aid options. In order to receive federal financial aid, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Once your FAFSA has been submitted, your school’s financial aid office will notify you of your aid eligibility. Before you decide which options you’ll accept, take time to learn about the different kinds of aid that are available to you. Since they’re all beneficial, here’s an overview of each type of financial aid.

  • Scholarships. Potentially the most significant type of financial aid available is a scholarship. It’s free money you can earn from your own hard work, financial need, merit, family history, skills, hobbies or athletics. The more scholarship applications you complete, the more likely you are to win an award. While you don’t have to submit a FAFSA to apply for a scholarship, some programs may request that you do. Scholarship applications could ask you to write an essay, submit a video, take a photograph or complete a service project. To make sure your application matches the scholarship requirements, read all directions carefully before you start the process. If you’re not sure where to look for scholarships, UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are great places to start your search. Remember that scholarships can be the additional assistance you need to help you reach your educational goals.

  • Grants. Sometimes referred to as free money since they usually don’t have to be repaid, grants are given to those who demonstrate financial need. A common type of grant is the Pell Grant. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG, is not as common since it is only given to students who show extreme financial need. For students interested in becoming teachers, there’s the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant, or TEACH Grant. Students interested in the TEACH Grant should carefully read all guidelines. If the grant requirements are not met, the money could turn into a loan that must be repaid with interest. Additionally, there’s the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for those who’ve lost a parent or guardian due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. As with any type of financial aid, be sure to speak with your financial office if you have questions about grants.
  • Work-study. Also called earned aid, work-study allows students to work and earn money for college expenses while they’re in school. Work-study positions are part-time jobs that can be on or off campus. The supervisors over these positions tend to recognize that school is a priority and are usually mindful of your class schedule. Take advantage of these positions because they can give you work experience and time to focus on your academic responsibilities. Each school will have different ways to apply for a work-study job, so talk with your school to learn more about the application process.

  • Student Loans. While this type of aid is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest, student loans can help you bridge the gap between grants and scholarships. When it comes to borrowed money, it’s important that you borrow only the amount you need to pay school expenses! Federal loans can be beneficial due to their fixed interest rates (it will not change over time) and flexible repayment options. One type of federal student loan is the Direct Subsidized loan. This aid is for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. The government will pay the accruing interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. Another federal loan, the Direct Unsubsidized student loan, is for students who do not show financial need. With this loan, the interest will always be accruing on the loan and students will be responsible for paying the interest. For those who need extra financial assistance there’s the Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or the Direct PLUS loan. Parents of dependent undergraduate students can apply for the PLUS loan to help cover additional college expenses for their child. In order to receive a Direct PLUS loan, parents must complete the loan application and meet certain credit requirements. Students will have six months from the time they graduate, drop below half-time enrollment or leave school to start repaying Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Those who take out a PLUS loan will have to start repayment once funds have been disbursed.

Now that you know a little more about financial aid, use this month to decide which options could be right for you. For more financial aid information, go to StudentAid.gov.

Spring Scholarships

Well, here you are, right in the middle of the academic year. How are things going so far? Do you have enough financial aid to pay for your spring semester in college?

The fall semester can often reveal expenses you didn’t anticipate when you accepted your financial aid offer at the beginning of the school year. If your budget’s being stretched to the limit, remember to explore opportunities for scholarships. Believe it or not, new scholarships can pop up in the spring semester, too! Here are some places to look:

  • Your financial aid office. There may be new scholarships available, or there may be some funds left over from a scholarship given to a student who didn’t return for the spring semester. If you’re a high school student, check in with your counselor and take advantage of the resources he/she has to offer.
  • Your college’s website. Institutional scholarships are often available at various times throughout the year. It’s a good idea to check the scholarship listings on your school’s website every week, or at least every two weeks.
  • Online. Oh, the possibilities! Where do you start? Here are a few suggestions:
    • UCanGo2.org/Scholarships – Learn about the Scholarship of the Week, then search by month and scroll down to make sure you don’t miss any application deadlines. You’ll also find a table full of additional scholarship opportunities for each month.
    • Search for brand names of restaurants, chain stores and food producers. Search the websites of health care systems and various law firms. Your search engine could become your best friend.

For a list of additional scholarship websites, see UCanGo2’s publication called Are You Looking for Money?