Start planning for college

This was originally published on Monday, May 28, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN. 

College is an exciting time for many. It’s important to start thinking about college as early as the high school freshman year. As you get ready to apply, start getting organized and be sure to be mindful of deadlines. Missing some of these deadlines can be costly or even cause you to postpone your start date.

It is important to prepare for the years to come and have a plan for how are you are going to complete your degree. Regardless what you plan to study and where you plan to attend school, you need to have a plan.

Junior year

This is the time where the choice of school has narrowed. Get on the colleges’ mailing lists for catalogs and other materials that can help you make your decision.

Taking your SAT or ACT is also a good idea. Numerous people take it several times to achieve a score they desire or just to shake off the nerves.

Start researching for scholarships or grants.

Senior year

This is the year where deadlines really come into play.

  • Fall. Meet with school guidance counselors to ensure you are on track to graduate and will meet college admission requirements. Also, ask them about college financial aid and learn about opportunities for scholarships and grants.

Start asking teachers, principals, coaches and other appropriate people for letters of recommendation. Start requesting for transcripts and begin applying to colleges and submitting applications for scholarships and grants.

Request for financial aid packages from colleges. If you are using a federal grant, your FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is available starting Jan. 1 of each year.

  • Spring. If you are going to need a private loan, start applying. Compare the financial aid offered from your chosen institutions. You may also want to check with your high school and chosen colleges if other scholarships or grants are available.

Payment options, clothing expenses

Decide on which college you want to attend and start discussing payment options. Many schools have a May 1 deadline to submit tuition deposits.

  • Summer before attending. Create a budget that includes expenses outside of your tuition and room and board. Include clothing, school supplies, transportation costs, and entertainment.

If you are living away from home, shop for room furnishings and décor. If you are going to a seasonal location you may need to consider clothing for the upcoming season.

You may want to get a summer job to help pay for expenses.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 24 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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Many options to pay for college

This was originally published on Monday, May 21, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN. 

Many students enrolled in college are using some form of financial aid — from a relative or a scholarship or grant. Many different entities, including the federal government, local government, schools and private nonprofit organizations offer scholarships or grants.

Scholarships often are awarded based on one’s accomplishments, merit and need. Grants tend to be based on financial needs.

  • Pell Grant. Depending on financial needs and school costs, undergraduate students may receive up to $6,095 for the 2018-2019 award year. You don’t need to pay back the Pell Grant and it can only be used to earn your first bachelor’s degree. Part-time students can utilize the Pell Grant, but they receive less than full-time students.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.This grant is given to undergraduates with exceptional financial needs, the award ranges from $100 to $4,000 per year. This campus-based aid is administered by a college’s financial aid office, but isn’t offered at all schools.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants. This program provides grants of up to $4,000 a year to students studying to become teachers. Recipients of this grant must agree to teach certain classes, such as math, science, special education, foreign language or bilingual education, at a school that serves low-income families for a designated period of time.

Educational savings accounts

Other ways of paying for college are educational savings accounts. They differ from regular interest-earning savings accounts because they usually aren’t taxed.

  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.Formerly called an education IRA, this account allows families to set aside $2,000 per child each year to be used tax-free for educational purposes.
  • 529 plans. These allow you to choose from a selection of investment options, including mutual funds, stocks or fund portfolios, and earn interest on these investments tax-free.
  • Brokerage accounts. Brokerage accounts allow you to purchase and sell investments, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds, through a brokerage firm. You can take money out for educational expenses, but you’re taxed on any investment profits.

Student loans to help meet financial gap

Sometimes scholarships, grants and savings may not cover your complete costs. Taking out a student loan may help meet the financial gap.

  • Federal student loans.These loans are backed by the federal government and offer a low, fixed interest rate. Federal loans provide protection for borrowers, such as the ability to postpone or reduce payments during periods of financial hardship. A Free Application for Federal Student Aid form must be completed.
  • The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. This loan is funded by U.S. Department of Education and is one of the largest federal student loan programs. Loans may be subsidized — the government pays the loan interest while you attend school — or unsubsidized, in which the loan interest is deferred while you’re enrolled in school and later added to your loan balance. There is a PLUS loan that is awarded to graduate and doctoral students, or parents of undergraduates, to pay for college costs not covered by other financial aid.
  • Federal Perkins Loan Program.Not all schools participate in this loan because the school is the lender. Your payments are made to your school or their loan servicer.
  • Private student loans. These are offered through banks, credit unions, financial institutions, state agencies or schools. They’re a good way to pay for educational expenses not covered by other means. The interest rates depend on the borrower’s credit score and usually come with a higher interest rate.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 24 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

Consider upfront costs of a higher education

This was originally published on Monday, May 14, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN. 

Higher education is a goal for many, whether they are graduating from high school or have been working for some time and want to position themselves for a promotion.

Education isn’t cheap. Over the years, the cost of education has steadily increased. Even before you start classes there are several upfront costs you should consider.

Fees for getting into college

Testing. Many colleges require SAT or ACT test scores. It costs money to take both tests. For both tests, you are able to send your score to four colleges. If you send them to more than four, you will incur the cost for each additional institution.

Transcripts. Whether it is high school transcripts or college courses you previously took, you will need to send them to the institution to which you are applying. The cost to send them varies, but each school you are applying to will need an official copy. Some schools will accept an email version of your transcripts if they come from a third party, which means more fees.

Application fees. The average application fee is about $42, according to a study by U.S. News & World Report. This fee is used to process your application.

Deposits. Once you are accepted and decide which school to attend, you may incur some fees. A tuition deposit may be needed to confirm your enrollment. If you are going to be living on campus, you may be asked for a housing deposit to reserve a dorm room or other quarters. If you are living off campus and renting a dwelling, you may have to pay a security deposit and sometimes the first and last month’s rent.

Once you’re in college

Books. College books aren’t cheap. Some books can cost more than $100 and some classes may require more than one book. Consider purchasing pre-used books, renting or downloading an e-version. You can also sell your books once you are done to help pay for the next semester’s book costs.

Tuition and fees. Tuition can be the largest expense you may have to consider. Costs vary depending if you are an in-state or out of state student. Your area of study can also determine how much your tuition costs. Some additional fees are parking, library, computer, dining hall, medical insurance and other campus services. Many institutions have monthly payment plans for your tuition.

Other costs. There are other costs you may have to consider, including  a computer, the cost to furnish your room and food.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 24 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

College decisions impact financial future

This was originally published on Monday, September 11, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Many college students do not realize that their financial performance in college will impact them long after they graduate. Decisions they make on using their credit cards, financial aid, and over spending can impact their job search, their credit score, and their ability to payback what they borrowed.

Getting a good financial start out of college will ease the stress of the transition and open many more opportunities.

Failing classes. For many years your child has had a structured learning environment. They go to school and follow a strict schedule. After school, parents enforce homework and studying times.

College is very different from what they have been accustomed. Many professors don’t expect students to be in class every session and depending on their course load they may have a lot of time that they may consider free. Socializing is also a big part of the college experience. This new freedom could lead to academic troubles and financial troubles.

Retaking a class is expensive and could prolong their time in college. If it becomes a trend, they may be put on academic probation or worse, expelled. There may be fees associated with failing a class and loss of scholarships and/or grants. Being accepted by another college will become difficult. Student loans still must be paid off even though they are not in college.

Scholarship and grants. Being a student in college doesn’t mean they cannot continue to look for other scholarships and grants. Most believe that scholarships and grants are just for high school seniors going into college. In fact, there are many scholarship and grants that are targeted to students who are currently in college.

Have them speak with their academic adviser or counselor about these opportunities. They can also do some research online. Even if the amount is small or pays for certain expenses such as books, these opportunities can be a huge help. There is no rule to how many scholarships or grants you receive.

The more assistance you get the less you will have to pay or borrow.

Inappropriate use of assistance. Most scholarships or grants are paid directly to the school. But some are not and many student loans are paid directly to the student. This is very tempting to use unwisely. This money should not be used to fund a spring break trip.

Many students do not understand that paying for these loans right out of college is difficult. Most college students won’t be earning six-figure salaries at their first job; many of us don’t reach that level of income during our careers.

Large student loans. College tuition has been on the rise for years and it does not look like it will be leveling off any time soon. Many parents can no longer afford college tuition, living expenses, books and other incurred financial education related expenses.

Student loans are becoming a more popular way to fund higher education with the students being solely responsible. With that in mind, students should consider the cost of their education. Choosing a more affordable college in an area with lower living costs will certainly lower their debt. Be sure to understand the terms of the loan be for accepting it.

Even though your child is still in college, advise them to make monthly payments to keep the accrued interest from growing too large. The sooner they pay on the loan the better.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Talk to students about budgeting, credit cards

This was originally published on Monday, September 4, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: Our son is starting college off island this September. We have set him up with a new checking account and a credit card. He will be living in the dorms and is hoping to find a part-time job on campus. This is his first time living on his own and we want to ensure that he starts his financial well-being on the right track. Do you have any suggestions to offer that we can discuss with him?

Answer: I am thrilled to see that you are being proactive with your son’s financial well-being before sending him off into the real world. Many parents do not discuss this important topic with their new college students and many students leave college with a lot of debt and sometimes ruined credit scores. Managing their finances without a parent’s close supervision can be exhilarating and intimidating.

No budget. This is a mistake practiced by many adults It is because they have not made budgeting a financial habit. Learning this vital skill and making it a habit early in life will certainly help your college student beyond the college years.

Most students often have limited or sporadic income. It is easy to waste money on unnecessary items if they do not carefully track their spending. Sit down with your college student and show them how to create a budget. Inform them that they will have to revise this as their income and expenditures change.

Give them an understanding of needs versus wants and that they may have to be more frugal. Teach them about using coupons and how to take advantage of sales and looking for the best buys. Most millennials are tech savvy and downloading one of the many smartphone apps will make this task much easier.

Not planning. Many students get to college not certain on their major or they decide to change majors. Sit down with your college student and create a plan on how many credits a semester they need to take to graduate on time. Talk about ways that they can expedite their time in college by taking classes during the summer and winter breaks.

Also remind them that senior year will be more expensive with graduation fees and senior projects.

Peer pressure. Living on their own without parental supervision leaves them open for all sorts pf peer pressure. With their newfound independence, some students can get into financial trouble trying to keep up with their friends, who may not be financially savvy or have a larger spending limit from their parents. They may be pressured into eating out more often, buying more clothing than they need, going out on the weekends or planning a costly vacation during their breaks.

Talk to them about how to handle peer pressure and that they should not be concerned how others perceive them by being more financially responsible.

Credit cards. Help your college student understand the pitfalls of using credit unwisely. Credit cards have become a way of life and makes obtaining things extremely easy. Credit card debt that is created in college years can affect their credit score for years after college.

They are just starting their credit history. Many credit cards will offer them high interest rates and hard-to-meet terms. Explain to them how interest works and that making minimum payments each month prolongs the payoff making it much more expensive than the initial cost of the items.

Credit cards can help them build their credit history and improve their credit scores, if used wisely.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Start your financial journey right

This was originally published on Monday, June 5, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question:  I am a recent college graduate and was lucky enough to be hired just before graduation.  I will be moving out of my parents’ home next month and will be moving into a rented apartment. Although I feel my financial health is good, I want to ensure it stays that way.  Do you have any tips for a new graduate?

Answer:  Congratulations on your college graduation!  When you are moving out of your parents’ home, entering the workforce and becoming responsible for more financial obligations, you may start to question your financial priorities. It is important to start off on the right foot.  The habits you create now can have a huge influence on how you manage your finances later in life.

Keep your frugal student lifestyle: Although your new income is exciting, it is very easy to get caught up on spending. Consider ways to keep your living costs low, such as living with roommates, driving your car a couple of years longer and limiting unnecessary spending.

Take full advantage of employee benefits: As you start your new career, retirement seems far away.  Even though retirement is not in your near future, it is important to start planning.  It will take many years to build a nest egg that will make retirement comfortable.  If your employer offers matching contributions to a tax-advantaged retirement account, take full advantage of it. By not contributing enough to earn the full match, you are basically turning down free money. Besides retirement, also take advantage of other benefits offered like health insurance, short- and/or long-term disability insurance or life insurance at attractive group rates.

Create and stick to a budget: This is a habit that will benefit you for years to come. Even small unplanned purchases can hinder your financial goals.  Be sure to set money aside for savings and other big purchases like a car or even a home.  Download a user-friendly app for your smartphone to help you track your expenses.

Emergency budget:  Plan for the unexpected such as an unforeseen car repair, a medical issue, or home repair.  This account is strictly for rainy days.

Work on your credit score: The best way to improve your credit score is to pay all your bills on time, every time. Another way is keeping your credit spending in check. Do not over extend your credit limit by taking out more loans.  Keep your existing credit cards open. It proves the length of your credit history which also affects your score.  Know what your credit score is by obtaining your three free credit scores annually.

Protect your personal information: Personal identity theft continues to grow especially as we rely more and more on technology for banking, shopping and other online financial transactions.  Once your identity is stolen, it takes a long time to repair and rebuild it.  Cross-shred all documents with your personal information.  Change your passwords often and keep PIN numbers safe.

Pay off higher-interest debt first: Like most recent graduates your student loans make most of your debt. You may also have some credit card debt. Putting as much as you can toward the higher-interest debt first will save you money and allow you to pay it off quicker, giving you more money to put toward your student loans.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Financial tips for your college-bound child

This was originally published on Monday, Ju;y 4 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Q: My son recently graduated from high school and will be attending college stateside. We will be giving him a credit card and a debit card. Do you have any financial tips I can send with him?

Congratulations on your son’s graduation! College years can define what your son’s financial future will look like. It is in these years that spending habits are formed and debt can easily start to stack up. Talk to your son about how money, debt and credit work. These tips are good for all that are heading out into the real world.

  • Create a budget. Sit down with your graduate and create a budget. Include how much you will be giving them monthly. Include expenses such as rent/dorm expenses, food, laundry, household needs, school necessities, and of course a little for entertainment.  If your child learns how to stay on a budget now, it will be much easier once he or she graduates from college.
  • Debt. If you are sending your graduate to school with a credit card, add that to their budget as well. Teach your graduate about interest charges associated with a credit card and how it is important that the credit card be paid off in full each month. If they pay off just the minimum amount required, they could be paying off a $500 expense over several years.  Instruct them that the credit card is to be used only for emergencies.
  • Savings. Now is a good time to start saving. They are still independent but still under your care. They may be frugal enough to build up a savings that they can use once they are out of college. If they are getting a job while going to school, encourage them to invest in the company’s retirement fund. Teach them how, unlike debt, compound interest in savings can make you rich.
  • Track spending. Today’s technology makes this easier than ever to track what they spend. There are free apps that can be downloaded to their phones or tablets to help them keep real-time budgets. They need to understand where their money goes and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Wants versus needs. Explain the differences between wants and needs. Wants are what they would like versus needs, which keep them alive and sheltered. It is fine to have wants if they are budgeted. Teach them to be selective on their wants. Let’s say they want a pair of shoes. It’s fine to purchase a better quality of shoes that will last longer.  Alcohol, high phone bills, and other quick-to-use services/items bring little to no return on the investment.  It is fun while it lasts, but once it’s gone you can’t resell it.
  • Money versus card. Swiping a credit or debit card is much easier than handing over cash. When they see money leaving their wallet, they can tangibly see the money leaving their possession. Unlike with a credit/debit card, the money is not seen until it is viewed in a statement. It is easier to stay on budget with cash than with a card.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com