Paying for College: Dealing With the Student Loan Crunch

In this current financial climate potential home-buyers are not the only ones struggling to find loans. The mortgage crisis has spilled over into other areas of lending as well, such as student loans. Media reports about possible student loan shortages have left many students wondering about how hard it will be to find financing for school.

Finding financing

Due to the high cost of college tuition many families are unable to pay for college with savings alone. Traditionally, the availability of student loans has provided an important avenue in allowing students to be able to go to college. However, many lenders have stopped offering public or private student loans. Many lenders that are still offering loans are charging higher interest rates and/or fees. Even though paying for school may seem like a daunting task there are several steps you can take to find financing:

-Talk to your school’s financial aid office. Employees at financial aid offices are trained to help people find financing for school and have dealt with many others in the same situation as you. Ask them what lenders still offer student loans and what your other options for funding are.

-Look for scholarships and grants. It is a good idea to look for scholarships and grants regardless of how easy it is for you to find student loans. Why borrow when you do not need to? High school guidance counselors and college financial aid offices usually have information on available scholarships and grants. Information is also available at www.finaid.org.

-Consider a home equity line of credit or loan. For parents with a significant amount of equity in their homes this may be a good way to help finance college. Interest rates are usually fairly low, and the interest is tax deductible as well. However, it is important for those considering this option to remember that home equity lines and loans are secured debt. You could lose your home if you do not make payments.

-Contact NASA Federal Credit Union about the CU Student Choice Loan, which can help you pay for the education expenses not covered by your financial aid package. Get competitive interest rates and generous repayment terms. Plus, with our fast online application, get the money you need to pay for college quickly.

Preparing for the future

For parents, the current student loan crunch demonstrates why it is a good idea to save for college. Even if student loans are readily available when your children go to college, saving allows them to rely less on loans, which they will need to pay back after they graduate. If you are saving for college take advantage of available tax-saving vehicles. For example 529 Plans, Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts, and Series EE Savings Bonds (issued by the Department of the Treasury) allow you to invest savings for college and not pay taxes on earnings, as long as the funds are used for qualified education expenses.

College tuition is high, and paying for college is often not an easy task. However, there are several options for funding available, and being well informed can help you prepare for and manage this cost.

BALANCE
January 2016

Do you Need to Downsize? A Quick Quiz

Perhaps you’ve heard the call of coyotes from that den you don’t go into anymore, or you’ve seen tumbleweeds congregating in that extra, extra bedroom. Or maybe you’ve just looked at your electric bill lately—and gasped. No matter your reasoning, if you are a homeowner who feels like you have more space than you really need, you’ve probably considered downsizing into a smaller dwelling at some point. Here are questions to ask yourself when you are considering the change:

What is my equity position in the current home?

Obviously, having a positive equity position in your home is a biggie, since it will make it a lot easier financially to get into a new place. If you sell the home and the amount you receive is less than what you owe on the mortgage(s), you will have to use your own money to make up the difference or face the consequences associated with a short sale. In other words, if you are in a negative equity position, downsizing might not be the best option.

How much money will you save on monthly housing payments?

If you’ve given serious thought to downsizing, you’ve probably looked at what it would cost to live in a new place. When you are comparing that number to what you currently pay for your house, don’t forget to include categories like taxes, maintenance and repairs for the future on the house side of the equation. Also, pay close attention to utilities since there can often be a dramatic difference in what you will pay in a larger home and what you would pay in a smaller home, apartment, or condo. Sometimes these expenses can tip the scales such that downsizing is the better option.

Does my current neighborhood still fit my needs?

It’s not just the house that should be weighed when making a decision on downsizing. If you moved into a neighborhood because it had great schools or lots of wide-open space, as you get older those things may not matter anymore. Downsizing could mean being able to find an area that’s better for what you want now while also saving you money.

Will I be able to maintain the property in the years to come?

Maybe at one point you were gung-ho about climbing ladders to do fix-it projects or spending all day on a yard project. But as you get older, you may not be able to maintain the property like you once did. This could mean increased expenses in the future, or if you can’t afford to hire someone to do these things for you it could result in the property quickly losing value as it falls into disrepair. Sometimes it is best to sell a home when you are still able to keep it at its most attractive.

What’s my relationship with my stuff?

Many people find getting rid of a good deal of their accumulated belongings liberating since they feel less controlled by their possessions. Others have sentimental or practical attachments to certain possessions that require a fair amount of space to store. Either way, think about what you would really need to have with you in the home and then decide how much space it will take going forward to keep it.

What are your space needs for guests?

You may enjoy having a larger space to host family members or friends who come to visit. Think about the maximum number of visitors you have at one time and if you can accommodate them in a smaller space. Many people find that even in a smaller place they are still able to have plenty of guests.

BALANCE
January 2016

Easy Ways to Save on Your Water Bill

Saving water means saving money around your home. However, you might not be quite ready to put a brick in your toilet tank or reduce your shower flow to a trickle. Have no fear; you can still take steps to seriously reduce your water bill each month.

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Fix leaks to faucets or pipes.
  • Only do full loads of laundry or dishes.
  • Don’t leave the faucet on while you brush your teeth or shave.
  • Buy more efficient appliances, like a laundry machine or toilet.
  • Use a dishwasher instead of doing dishes by hand.
  • Put food coloring into your toilet tank and see if the dye ends up in the bowl. If it does, you have a leak and you are wasting hundreds of gallons of water each day.
  • Capture rainwater to water the lawn or plants during dry times.
  • Use hose water to clean – such as the sidewalk, gutters, or roof – as infrequently as possible.
  • Don’t water your lawn on windy days.
  • If your children want to cool off during the summer, use a small pool instead of constant-stream water toys.\
  • Choose plants, flower, shrubs or trees that don’t require a lot of water.
  • Wash your car at a car wash instead of at home.
  • Don’t use the toilet as a wastebasket. Throw everything you can into the trash instead.
  • Put a plastic bottle full of water into your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water that is fed into the tank each time you flush.
  • Avoid using your sink’s garbage disposal feature.
  • Put mulch around plants to slow the evaporation of water.
  • Teach your children to turn off faucets properly.
  • Shower instead of taking a bath.
  • Don’t thaw food by running water over it. Thaw it in the microwave instead.
  • Keep cool water in the refrigerator so you don’t have to run the tap water until it turns cold when you want a drink.
  • Replace your toilet flapper if it doesn’t close properly. It’s the rubber stopper at the bottom of the tank.
  • Save the water you use to rinse fruit and vegetables and use it water your house plants.
  • Wash your pet in an area of the lawn that needs watering.

You will likely find that one or two of these actions alone won’t put you on easy street. However, if you are conscientious about your water use, the savings could add up to hundreds of dollars more in your pocket every year.

BALANCE
January 2016

How to Purposefully and Successfully Transition to a Single Income

 

Many parents face the same difficult question when raising a child. Should one of you stay at home while the other works? It’s not a question to take lightly. The decision can have emotional and financial consequences and may have a long-term impact on the stay-at-home parent’s career opportunities. It’s also a question that doesn’t have a single correct answer.

Your upbringing, personality, career and the family’s financial situation can all play into your decision. Your opinion could also differ from your partner’s and may change over time. Perhaps you both worked after having your first child and now that there will be two or more children it makes more sense for one of you to stay at home.

Whatever your impetus, if you decide to switch from two incomes to one it will undoubtedly be challenging. Purposefully approaching and planning for the change could help you succeed.

Get a general sense of the numbers. Understandably, you’re likely juggling a lot of priorities at the moment. However, now more than ever, having a clear picture of your family’s finances can be important. Thinking about both short-term and long-term scenarios will help you understand the effect of moving to one income and give you numbers to back up your assumptions.

For this task, you don’t need to track every single penny or dollar you make and spend (although detailed tracking helps manage your finances and budgeting software and apps can make it relatively easy to do so if you want). Try to get an approximate sense of your household’s cash flow and the non-essential expenses you could cut if need be.

The good news is that saving on daycare (over $25,000 annually in some states according to Childcare Aware of America) and work-related expenses, such as transportation and meals, can help offset the lost income.

However, you’ll also need to budget for new child-related expenses. Some families downsize their home, sell a vehicle or eat out less often to make their one-income vision a reality.

Take baby steps before the baby arrives. For those who are just thinking about starting a family or are currently pregnant, acting as if you only have one income while both of you continue to work can help give you a leg up.

For example, the second income could go towards an emergency fund that can help you weather a setback after making the transition. You can also use the money to pay down high-interest debt, which can free up some cash flow by lowering your interest payments.

Discuss your new family roles. Having a stay-at-home parent can be as much of an emotional decision as it is a financial one. If you haven’t already, set aside time to discuss how you view each other’s roles in the family. There may be new expectations for responsibilities inside and outside the home.

Bringing finances back into the picture, discuss how you’ll divide the family budget. Will every purchase be a mutual decision? Or, perhaps you’ll both have a personal allowance that you can spend how you please and there’ll be a household account for shared expenses.

Plan for the future. Now may also be a good time to discuss your expectations for the future. When and if a stay-at-home parent plans to return to the workplace for example. And if it makes sense for them to work or go back to school part-time while also taking care of the home.

Much like the big decision, there isn’t a single correct answer to questions about family roles or the future and no one can answer these questions for you. Talk over the options together and realize that you need to try out several ideas before you find the arrangement that works best for your relationship and growing family.

Bottom line: Take a deep breath and embrace the upcoming changes. Switching to a single income can be challenging, but so is having two incomes and a newborn. Planning ahead and working together towards a common goal and vision for your family can help ensure a successful transition. Quickly stack up if you’re not careful. Luckily, there are many ways to save money on tickets, transportation and food and still have a memorable experience.

by Nathaniel Sillin

Summer Is For Fishing And Not Phishing

Summer has arrived all around the northern hemisphere. Many of us prefer to jump up and head outside to enjoy the spoils of the season and that is certainly fantastic. However, scammers don’t honor the seasons. They will try to trick us with their own version of phishing all year round. As we go into relaxation mode, it’s still important to keep an eye out for attempted scams and particularly for the phishing that doesn’t involve a pole, a boat, or water.

Phishing is still the most common way, by far, that information is stolen and malware makes its way onto computers and mobile devices. It’s worth taking a moment to review the signs that an email message or phone call may be phishing for you.

  • A reward is offered, such as a gift card or some other freebie.
  • There is a sense of urgency, such as an account will be blocked or a punishment will occur if you don’t do something.
  • An attachment or link is included in an email that is unexpected or from an unfamiliar sender.
  • There is a request to open a file, click a link, or share something. If a form follows a click that asks for information to be entered or login credentials to be entered, it should be considered suspect.
  • The greeting and message are generic. If it doesn’t have any indication that the sender knows something personally about you, it could be a scam.
  • The sender’s email address is strange or unfamiliar. If you open it up by clicking it, you can see the entire address; not just the name.
  • If a link inside goes to a web address that seems strange or unexpected. If you hover the mouse pointer over those links, you can see where it will take you.
  • A site asks for sensitive information, regardless of how you arrived at it, and the address isn’t preceded by “https:”
  • The caller on the phone starts asking for sensitive information such as passwords, login credentials, or payment card information.
  • A caller tries to scare you into providing or doing something.

Even if none of these indicators are present, it’s not a guarantee that the message is phishing. However, the risk is significantly lower.

It’s unlikely anyone will give up the Internet for the summer, nor is it expected. So just be sure to stay on your game for spotting phishing, so you don’t take the bait.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Fall Back in Love With Your Home

Many of us reach a point where we begin to feel a little blah about our home, but moving is not always an option. Here are some tips on how you can get a “new” home without a new mortgage—and increase your home’s value.

Little changes can have a big impact

A home makeover does not have to involve spending big bucks. Things like painting walls, changing light fixtures and knobs, and adding curtains and plants can give your home a completely different look for only a few hundred dollars. Rearranging furniture, artwork, and knick-knacks can also freshen things up, and the only cost is a little time. If you have some items that you are tired of but are in good condition, you may be able to arrange a swap with a friend. Perhaps he or she has been eying your table, which clashes with your other furniture, while you would not mind having theirs instead.

Expand

If you are feeling cramped, paint and new curtains are not going to solve the problem. Converting an unfinished attic or basement can be a great way to get extra space at a fraction of the cost of building an addition. For either project, you can expect your home’s value to increase by around 70% of what you spend, which is not that bad as far as remodeling projects go. Adding a deck is another fairly simple way to increase your space. If you are hiring a contractor, be sure to get quotes from at least three and check their complaint history with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).

Make the most of what you have

What if you have no cash to finish your attic or basement—or do not have an attic or basement? There are many ways that you can make your space seem bigger without actually increasing your square footage. The cheapest—although perhaps least fun—thing you can do is clean and throw away, donate, or sell anything you don’t need. (If you have not worn or used it in a year, you probably do not need it.)

If you have a little cash to spare, you can buy organizational tools, like shelves and hooks, or furniture that provides extra storage space, such as a coffee table or bed with drawers. If your space is especially challenging, consider hiring a professional organizer. He or she may come up with some creative solutions to your space and interior design issues.

BALANCE