5 Things You Need to Start Your FAFSA Application

First, the bad news…Higher education isn’t getting cheaper. According to recent reports, student-loan debt just hit an all-time high: $1.4 trillion.

Now for the good news! As of October 1, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is available. The FAFSA is a one-stop shop that determines a student’s eligibility for all federal financial aid, including loans and work-study programs, as well as grants and scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back!).

So if you’re headed to college next year and want to minimize your debt, fill out the FAFSA ASAP. Not sure how to start? Here are five things you’ll need:

1. FSA ID

The easiest and fastest way to fill out the FAFSA is online at fafsa.gov. To get started, you’ll need your FSA ID, which is your username and password. Note: parents of dependent students (see #4 below) will need to create their own FSA ID in order to sign your child’s FAFSA form online.

2. The Names of Schools You Want to Attend

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be 100-percent sure about your college options. Enter up to 10 schools that you’re considering. If you change your mind later, you can easily remove the school from the list. Didn’t get accepted? The school can just disregard your FAFSA application.

3. Personal and Financial Information

You knew this was coming… To complete the FAFSA, you have to spend some time entering data. Personal information includes items like your social security and driver’s license numbers. However, dependent students also have to enter their parents’ tax return info from last year.

4. Dependency Status

If you’re in high school and live at home, you’re most likely considered a dependent. That means you need to report information about your parents.

But here’s where it gets more complicated. Even if you live on your own and support yourself, you still may be considered a dependent for the purposes of the FAFSA. Make sure you review the application guidelines and determine what category best describes you.

5. A Secure Connection

It probably goes without saying, but if you’re filing your FAFSA online, make sure you do it over a secure Internet connection. In other words, don’t use public WiFi.

Libraries, coffee shops, outdoor spaces—open connections are much more vulnerable to hackers. If your personal information is stolen, it could lead to identity theft and put you and your parents in financial jeopardy.

Four DIY Solutions to Help Your Holiday Budget

Holiday spending can be a budget buster. The expenses are numerous: presents, wrapping paper, food, travel and more. However, if you don’t have the funds to buy everything you want, there is no need to despair. With a little DIY creativity, you can get through the holidays without draining your checking account.

Get Crafty

Why spend $75 to buy a scarf if you can knit it yourself with $15 of yarn? If you have a knack for crafts, making your own gifts is a great way to save, since supplies usually cost less than the finished product. Not only are homemade gifts cheaper, but many people appreciate them more than store-bought presents because of the personal touch. Don’t know your way around a glue gun? A framed photo always goes a long way.

Wrap with Re-Purposed Items

Skip the fancy wrapping paper and bows, and look around the house to see what you can use. Do you have a newspaper? The comic section works well as it provides a little color. Computer paper or supermarket bags are good alternatives as well. Meanwhile, cheap craft supplies such as glitter and paint can be used to decorate plain surfaces.

Cut Card Costs

Holiday cards are a great way to stay in touch, but the costs add up. It is not uncommon for store cards to cost $4 each—or more. If you sent cards to 20 people, that would cost you $80, not including postage. Creating your own cards can help you save, but resist the temptation to buy the pricey supplies that pepper the scrapbook aisles of craft stores. Another option? Create and send cards electronically, and don’t spend a dime.

Hang Up Homemade Decorations

Like gift-wrapping, you can use household items for decorations. Making a garland out of popcorn is a classic holiday decoration. Pine cones and acorns—available in abundance in many parts of the country—provide a perfect seasonal touch. If you are really craving store-bought decorations, consider waiting until after the holidays to buy. Most stores will be selling them at a deep discount, and you can use them next year.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. By being creative with your purchasing, you can afford to celebrate during the holidays, and afterwards as well.

You Owe Hundreds Of Dollars To eBay Even Without Making A Purchase

The online auction and e-commerce site, eBay is often used in phishing scams. In a recent one, an email claims that shoppers owe hundreds of dollars for a purchase that is obviously incorrect and will probably cause an initial gasp. But don’t despair. The scammers are there to help. Included in the email is of course, a link that supposedly goes to a site where a resolution can be found. It all looks real and could fool even those with the sharpest eyes. However, it is indeed a fake.

– Don’t be lured into a panic by email messages such as this one. Often, the scammers are counting on you to react just that way and click links without a thought. That’s when they get you. If something is so important that you cannot take some time to consider action before taking any, the sender would contact you in a way that it is reasonable to expect an immediate response; such as by phone. Even then, don’t give out details without making sure the caller is whom he or she claims.

– If you are ever asked to verify information, modify details in your account, or if you want to check on status, go directly into your account and check the messages section. Don’t trust a link, especially if you are intending to verify payment or other sensitive information.

– When going to websites, use previously bookmarked links or very carefully type the address into your browser. This will prevent you from becoming a victim of a typosquatting, or domain jacking, attack. These happen when cybercriminals put up websites with addresses that are so close to well-known websites that are often visited. The criminals anticipate typos and those are what direct unsuspecting victims to their sites.

Always keep it in the back of your mind that phishers are out there trying to get your information. Being aware that it’s happening is a strong leap forward to keep it from catching you.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Phishing For Students On The Rise

Educational institutions and students of all ages are great targets for phishing attacks. A constant barrage of emails throughout the school year create inbox chaos for all involved. Holiday and tax seasons are also ripe for phishing. Figuring out what emails are legitimate is frustrating at best, and many are sent without the recipient requesting them. From the college bookstore to upcoming events, these emails could literally be from anyone. Overworked IT departments and unsuspecting students find it difficult to hash out the genuine from the nefarious. Staff, student or shopper, seasonal phishing is on the rise 217% since 2015.

Verify Addresses and Links

Always verify email senders and links from a school, even if it ends with “.edu.” Hover over a link to see the URL origin. In addition, a “safe” site begins with ‘https://’ and your browser should show a closed lock icon. Institutional websites with your sensitive data such as student loan departments and banks should be typed directly into the browser and never accessed through hyperlinks or attachments.

Create a Password Fortress

Having a secure password is critical for cyber safety. A name and password combination create a unique cyber signature for students. Should a student’s email password get hacked, the possibilities for its use are endless. Email addresses are public information provided by a university and are easily obtained by phishers. Always use unique passwords and utilize the maximum amount of characters allowed. Never create a password from information easily gleaned from social media sites as they provide fertile phishing grounds for information grabbers.

Don’t Keep It to Yourself

Contact school officials immediately with email phishing concerns. Universities use spam filters, but they’re not foolproof. Email and password vigilance is a sad, but true necessity for students. Stopping phishing attempts sooner rather than later can limit the damage. Alerting schools, banks, and credit providers that something isn’t quite right may very well prevent it from threatening others.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

How to Keep Your Holiday Budget Merry and Bright

 

Peruse the aisles of most department stores and you’ll see it: holiday items for sale.

Yes, whether or not you’re ready, the holiday season is almost here. And while this time of year can be a great opportunity to connect with family, it can also be traumatic for your finances if you’re not careful.

So how do you buy gifts for everyone on your list without blowing up your budget? Try these tips:

Make a game plan with your partner

Communicating about finances is key to any successful relationship, and it’s especially important around the holidays. For couples who share accounts, make a gift list and set limits on what you can spend. This way you can avoid any tense conversations about dipping too deep into family finances later.

You’ll also want to review your checking account and credit card balances so that you don’t get too wrapped up in the holiday spending spirit. Set realistic goals. If you can’t pay off your purchases immediately or in a short amount of time, re-assess your plan.

Comparison shop online

One of the perks of online shopping is the ability to research. Before you click that “buy now” button, compare the item you’re considering by checking the price across different retailers. It might be listed full-price on one site, but on-sale on another.

Also look for free shipping. If you spend enough time researching different retailers, you may find a helpful discount on the delivery of your gift.

Rewards points to the rescue

If your credit card has a rewards or points program, check the rules. You may be able to apply your earned points towards purchases at major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Macy’s and more. True, you’ll give up the points for yourself, but avoiding holiday debt might be worth it.

Experiences may mean more

Whether or not you’re on a tight budget, sometimes the best gifts are low-cost, personal gestures. After all, it’s hard to find presents for people that they’ll actually love. So rather than spending a ton of cash, give a framed photo or cook a delicious meal for a family member or friend. A one-of-a-kind experience is more memorable than a gift you can easily buy from a store.

Simple Ways to Make Your Appliances Last Longer

With the holidays on the horizon, it’s almost that time for overflowing refrigerators, never-ending loads of laundry and hopefully visiting family who will lend a hand. Many people ask their appliances to work a little harder than normal during the holidays, and proper maintenance throughout the year might be the key to avoiding an untimely breakdown.

Here are a few maintenance tips for refrigerators, dishwashers, laundry machines and dryers. Each of these major appliances has an average lifespan of 10 to 13 years and you might want to start budgeting for your next purchase around the nine-year mark.

There are many factors that contribute to a particular machine’s lifespan. However, regular maintenance could help ensure your appliance’s longevity, let you avoid expensive service calls and lead to lower utility bills.

Clean the coils to keep the fridge efficient and cool. We mostly expect refrigerators to keep working. But imagine having a house full of holiday guests and waking up to find that it stopped. Not only are you stuck paying for repairs ($220 to $270 on average), or a new fridge (anywhere from $350 to over $2,500), but you might be making an expensive trip to the store to replace all the spoiled food.

The most important part of refrigerator maintenance is keeping the condenser coils clean. A dirty coil won’t release heat as well, causing the compressor to work harder, which in turn shortens its life and can cost you money in higher utility bills. Luckily, the process takes about 15 minutes and only needs to be done once or twice a year.

Start by unplugging your refrigerator. Units that have coils underneath them will likely have a cover needs to be remove and a condenser fan that should be cleaned. Other units have uncovered coils on the back. Using a brush or vacuum carefully clean off the dirt and dust. If you use a vacuum, check for and empty or dry out the drip pan, which is common on units with a built-in defroster.

The inside of a dishwasher needs cleaning as well. Your dishwasher might not be a necessity, but it sure is nice to spend time with visiting family and friends rather than washing dishes by hand. In fact, during one recent family visit, we ran our dishwasher was multiple times per day.

It’s important to clean the inside of the dishwasher as mineral deposits and leftover food scraps can build up, leading to clogged or leaky components and nose-turning smells. Running an unloaded dishwasher on a cleaning cycle with white vinegar could do the trick. You may also need to scrub the walls by hand and clean out the filter, which is often found at the bottom of the machine.

Next, gently wipe down and inspect the plastic gasket around the door, a break or leak could lead to an expensive mess. While gaskets cost about $10, labor costs can be between $75 and $150 an hour and damage from the water could be significantly more.

Respect the load limits of your washer and dryer. I’m always shocked by the piles of laundry that build up when you have a full house. While the extra towels, sheets and clothes from visiting guests might make it tempting, don’t overload your machines.

Too much weight can cause parts to wear out and break prematurely. Plus, you could wind up with detergent residue on clothes and need to rerun the cycle (a waste of time, water and energy), or damp clothes that still need to be dried.

Also, gently close washer and dryer doors. Too much force could break the switch – the small part that signals to the machine the door is closed. The average cost to fix common washing machine problems is $50 to $150, while dryers’ more expensive parts push repairs costs to about $100 to $400.

Consider DIY repairs if something breaks. Even with proper maintenance, appliances can break. Unless you have a repairman in the family, you will likely spend $75-plus an hour to hire one. You might consider trying to save a little money by doing the repairs yourself.

The job in question, your comfort level, experience and access to tools will influence which repairs you should attempt, but you won’t necessarily be completely on your own. Appliance manufacturers, appliance parts dealers and independent handymen post helpful video guides with step-by-step instructions that you can follow.

Bottom line: While every appliance will eventually need to be replaced, keeping the components clean and handling machines with care can help extend their lifespan. Make it a regular habit and you’ll set yourself up for fewer repair calls and less frequent appliance purchases as well as a better chance to spend time with loved ones, uninterrupted by inconvenient and expensive appliance issues.