College Financial Aid Seminar Summary

financial-aid-10111Recently we held a Financial Aid Seminar presented by Ken O’Connor, Director of Student Advocacy for Ken talked about important information from costs of colleges, to breaking down the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Here are a few of many key points you may have missed out on, that are important to know:

• The cost of attendance depends on the type of school: public 4 year, private 4 year, and for-profit 4 year colleges/universities.

• College financing options: 529 Plan, monthly savings plan, personal liquidity, prepaid plan, and school selection.

• The top 5 school selection criteria for today: cost, career, major, school reputation, and commuter/resident.

• Cost of education: tuition and expenses, loan repayment, and monthly commitment to pay off studentloans.

• Atypical financial aid bill: Approximately $18,900 (tuition, room, board, books, transportation, etc.)

• Pay off tuition bills with scholarships, grants, and Federal Direct Loans.

• Get the FASFA filed and submitted before February 15th. Don’t be late!

Questions on First Financial’s Private Student Loans or Student Loan Consolidation? Learn more here or call 866.750.0100, Option 2.*

For more key points visit our Twitter page to view the seminar’s live Twitterfeed at and search #FinancialAidSem.

*Private student loans should be used as supplemental funding after exhausting all other sources of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. Federal loans offer more attractive terms when compared to most other borrowing options, including private student loans. For more information on federal loans, visit

Ken O’Connor is an 11 year veteran of higher-education finance, having served thousands of students and parents during his career as a financial aid counselor. Having assisted so many families, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college.


How to Manage Multiple Sources of Debt

CreditCard_With_MoneyAs young adults struggle to get out from student loan debt, which averages a whopping $26,000 per student, according to The Project on Student Debt, they’re shying away from taking on other forms of debt.

A recent study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that college graduates are now less likely to take on a mortgage or even an auto loan by the age of 30—reversing a historic trend of home ownership.

But what do you do if you are already shelling out monthly student loan payments but also want to buy a house or car? Taking on multiple types of debt is a balancing act and it can be easy to get financially overwhelmed.

The first thing you should do when thinking about taking out another loan is to determine your total monthly payments for current outstanding debt and the amount you’re looking to borrow. Then, figure what percentage of your monthly income would go towards paying off that debt.

“We recommend that no more than 30% of your take-home pay go toward housing costs [like a mortgage, taxes, and insurance] and no more than 20% of your pay go toward servicing other debt [such as a car loan or credit cards],” says Gail Cunningham, vice president of membership and public relations for the non-profit National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Exceed these percentages, and you could find yourself burdened with a crippling amount of debt. “Make sure that the additional debt is absolutely necessary,” Cunningham stresses.

Before taking out a loan, experts suggest having a repayment plan in place.

Everyone’s pay-back strategy is different, so find one that best fits your financial needs and lifestyle to make the plan sustainable.

Some borrowers find that it’s motivating to pay extra towards the smallest loan in order to quickly eliminate it. For example, if you have a car loan that has an outstanding balance of $5,000, and you also owe $27,500 for a student loan, pay extra each month on the auto loan to rid yourself of it as soon as possible.

But if paying the least amount of interest over time is the most important thing, focus on paying off the loan or credit card with the highest interest rate first while meeting the minimum obligations on the others.

If you already have an auto loan or credit cards, before taking on additional debt, you may want to consider refinancing the loan or getting a lower rate credit card by doing a balance transfer. For example, if you took out an auto loan when rates were higher, refinancing it at a lower rate may make sense depending on the balance and time remaining.

Likewise, you can pay down the principle of a higher rate credit card faster if you transfer the balance to a lower interest rate credit card, provided you continue to make the same monthly payment (and it’s more than the minimum due). As an example, a $200 payment on a card with a $50 monthly minimum will reduce principle for a card with 3% interest faster than one with 15% interest. Just be sure to read the fine print regarding the cost to transfer the balance and when the introductory rate will end.

Did you know First Financial has no balance transfer fees? Transfer your high rate credit card balances over to a First Financial Visa Platinum Credit Card – fee free!* And, if you are looking to refinance your current auto loan – give First Financial a call at 866.750.0100, Option 2 or stop into any branch location to see what you may be able to save on your monthly payments.**

Finally, if you discover yourself getting overwhelmed by the repayment process or find that you can no longer meet your monthly repayment obligations, consider talking with the company or meet with a credit counselor to consolidate debt, reduce interest rates or create a new repayment schedule, or even possibly getting some of your debt forgiven.

For a FREE and anonymous online debt management tool, try Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live!

Click here to view the article source.

*APR varies from 7.90% to 17.99% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**First Financial membership is required for an Auto Loan and it’s available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean County. $5 savings account required for membership. Verification of your identity is required. Income verification is required. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. Certain restrictions apply. Contact the credit union for details of the offer.

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Manage Student Loan Debt After Graduation

Save Time and Money Refinancing with Student Loan Consolidation from First Financial!

diplomaCould you use some extra spending money to cover expenses other than student loan payments? First Financial is here to help. For college graduates overwhelmed by multiple monthly payments, high rates and short repayment terms, the cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation available through LendKey could mean thousands of dollars in potential savings. Depending on your financial situation and career goals, Private Student Loan Consolidation can facilitate cash-flow management or long-term debt elimination.

Do you know the difference between student loan consolidation and refinancing? Check out LendKey’s new video, which explains the differences in a funny and creative way – to help you figure out which might be the best option for you.

cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation Benefits:

  • Simplify Your Finances with one easy monthly payment.
  • Lower Payment and Competitive Rate possible with extended repayment term
  • Cosigner Release Available for credit worthy borrowers after 12 consecutive on-time principal + interest payments
  • Interest-Only Repayment Option available for first 4 years followed by 11 years of principal + interest repayment

Apply online today at!

The cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation is available to borrowers who are carrying private student loan debt. Federal student loans cannot be consolidated with the cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation. If you are seeking a federal student loan consolidation, you can learn more details about the process here:

Financial Aid and New FAFSA Timeline for College Students

The new FAFSA application is out! Students starting the spring semester should follow the necessary steps of filing their FAFSA in order to manage and handle all school funds. This blog will guide you with the necessary steps, starting with this important timeline below:


What you can expect from the new FAFSA:

  • A review of family financial information
  • Determines eligibility of need based funding
  • Takes approximately one hour to file
  • Can be saved and completed within 45 days
  • Requires an e-signature using a PIN

Important documents you will need on hand when filing for FAFSA:

  • Social Security card
  • Drivers license (if any)
  • 2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • Your (and spouse’s if married) 2011 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Parents’ 2011 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
  • 2011 untaxed income records
  • Current bank statements
  • Current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records
  • Alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

It is crucial that when you are preparing for verification of your FAFSA, you keep all gathered forms organized and be prepared for requests from colleges. You also need to know your EFC (Expected Family Contribution – a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law) from the FAFSA.

In preparation for the next lending season, students and parents may also want to attend one of the FREE College Planning Webinars listed below:

Please note that schools require students to complete the FAFSA before they certify private student loans. For complete details and information on the new FAFSA and financial aid details, click here.

Stay tuned for registration details about our upcoming February 27th FREE Consumer Seminar – Crash Course in Financial Aid and Student Loans, if you have additional questions about the FAFSA, Student Loans, Student Loan Consolidation, and Financial Aid.

Article Source: Ken O’Connor/

*First Financial is not responsible for any content listed on external websites. 

Financial Aid for Continuing Students

Group of university students sitting on stepsAs a continuing college student entering sophomore, junior, senior or super-senior year you are a bit more savvy about the college funding process, especially as it is intertwined with your ability to clear registration and graduate. Well at least you are supposed to be, and are certainly more knowledgeable than your average incoming freshman.

But before going on cruise control to graduation, there could be some serious financial issues that can undermine the quest for degree completion. It turns out that the greatest barrier to graduation is a financial one for many students. Let’s take a look at some common stumbling blocks and potential solutions.

Renewing the FAFSA on time every year: For many students and their families, a lot of focus is put on the initial FAFSA filing. All of the anticipation building up to admission to a first choice school fuels the motivation for getting that FAFSA filed early. However, FAFSA is not a one-and-done process. The FAFSA is renewed every year and remains subject to filing deadlines to retain maximum funding eligibility depending on what funding was made available. If you are only concerned with keeping a Pell grant, filing the FAFSA late is probably not a big deal. However, when it comes to grants from the school or from the state, there could be a deadline for continuing students that would prohibit late FAFSA filers from retaining their funding. As a continuing student, make sure to diligently file the FAFSA on time every year to meet your school and state deadlines.

Any major changes in income?: If your family has had a major change in income, financial aid eligibility can be radically changed. Many families have had unemployment hit home, causing a decrease in income. Financial aid may be increased if household income drops below a certain level. However, if one parent loses a job, while the other parent maintains income, it may still keep a student from increasing financial aid eligibility. Total household income must be accounted for, so even if one parent goes jobless, it does not guarantee financial aid eligibility.

Also, a student may start college and qualify for financial aid based on household income, but if the parents find new work, financial aid eligibility may decrease. This is why it is very important to follow up with the FAFSA filing process early every year to anticipate any changes in financial aid eligibility.

Are you making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?: Making satisfactory academic progress is a requirement to keep basic financial aid eligibility like the federal Pell grant and Stafford loans. Generally this means the student must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and complete a minimum number of credits based on their full time or part time admissions status. There may be variations on what is considered satisfactory academic progress so it is best confirm with your school on requirements directly. For example, an SAP requirement for federal funding may be different than a requirement for a state based grant. Here is an example of an SAP chart from City University of New York (CUNY) to give you an idea.

If the student falls below their minimum GPA requirement or credits completed, they may be determined to not be making satisfactory academic progress and therefore no longer eligible to receive financial aid funding. There is an appeal process available for students to potentially become eligible for financial aid again. The student must submit an appeal to the school’s financial aid office to document their academic struggles and challenges, and supply a plan of action to bring their GPA or credits completed back to acceptable range. If the appeal is approved, the student is again eligible for financial aid. If the appeal is denied the student will not be eligible for any financial aid, often leading to a transfer to another institution.

Know your scholarship renewal requirements and live by them: So you may have been able to earn a scholarship as an incoming freshman, but are you able to retain it through graduation? In order to keep a scholarship year after year, a student may need to retain a minimum GPA and credits completed. If the student falls below the requirement, they may be deemed ineligible and suddenly college becomes much more expensive. Find out what the minimum GPA requirement is and stick to it. This may require additional study and follow up with an academic support center to maintain. Also, will your scholarship extend into super senior status? This would be a scholarship that would extend beyond the normal four years it can take to complete a degree. Many colleges specifically limit a scholarship offering to eight semesters, making a super senior in their ninth or tenth semester no longer eligible for funding. This would drastically increase the cost of college, making a fifth year prohibitively expensive. Good college planning considers timely graduation to prevent excessive and unnecessary costs.

How about your federal Stafford loan eligibility?: Did you know that Stafford loan eligibility differs considering your grade level? As a student progresses from Freshman year to Senior year, their eligibility can increase. Confirm you are receiving the correct Stafford loan amount each year by checking your total credits completed and matching up to your loan eligibility. Sometimes schools make a mistake in awarding Stafford loan funding because of a miscalculation in credits completed, leading to an under-award. Use this chart to confirm your eligibility based on grade level, and compare it to your new award letter. Note the interest rates available on Stafford loans as well.


Stafford loans also have a lifetime aggregate limit. This is when a student reaches the maximum lifetime eligibility for this funding source, and it is cut off. Use The National Student Loan Database (NSLDS) to check up on your aggregate limit.

Here at First Financial, we provide a cuScholar Private Student Loan for undergraduate students and cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation for college graduates. If you are interested in one of our loans, you can refer back to one of our previous blog posts for additional information about our student loans. If you have any questions, you can contact us at 866.750.0100 or feel free to stop into any one of our branches.

Private student loans should be used as supplemental funding after exhausting all other sources of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. Federal loans offer more attractive terms when compared to most other borrowing options, including private student loans. For more information on federal loans, visit FAFSA’s website.

The cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation is available to borrowers who are carrying private student loan debt. Federal student loans cannot be consolidated with the cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation. If you are seeking a federal student loan consolidation, you can learn more details about the process here:  

Article Source: Ken O’Connor and

*First Financial is not responsible for the content listed on any external websites.


First Financial Approves Student Loan for Determined Student

Press Release










Pictured above: Matthew Durst, Rutgers University Student

The staff at First Financial Federal Credit Union had their heartstrings tugged when student Matthew Durst, a current member, shared his story about his determination to receive a student loan to attend Rutgers University this fall. Although Durst received multiple student loan application denials from various financial institutions, he was not about to give up. The First Financial Loan Department suggested to Durst that although his application was initially not approved, that he should send an email on his behalf to have his application re-evaluated. With his continued effort and exceedingly positive financial relationship with First Financial, his application was re-evaluated and approved with the help of First Financial’s President and CEO, Issa Stephan, and Chief Operating Officer, Alice Stevens.

“I knew three years ago it was time for me to establish my own independence with regard to building a credit history of my own. When it came time for me to transfer from the community college and go to Rutgers University, I wanted to be able to apply (on my own) for a student loan to offset the remaining costs of attendance – minus the minimal financial aid that had been awarded to me,” explained Durst.

Durst obtains “light credit” due to his age and student status, which is typically not enough to apply for a student loan independently.  Due to the struggling economy, the past five years have been hard for Durst and his family, as his mother was laid off from three jobs in two years. At the time of the loan application – she was employed, but had taken a substantial pay cut, which left her unable to co-sign any of her son’s student loan applications.

Yet, Durst was not about to give up on obtaining a student loan for himself – and after he was initially declined by First Financial, he decided to send the Loan Department an email (as suggested), which explained why he was deserving of a student loan and about his family’s financial situation.  Durst’s email reached the desk of Alice Stevens, First Financial’s Chief Operating Officer.

“We know that times are tough financially for many people out there, and that it can be a great challenge financing a college education.  Initially, when we reviewed Matthew’s student loan application, his light credit wasn’t enough for us to be able to fund his entire college education – even though we wanted to be able to assist,” said Stevens.  “After we received Matthew’s email, we decided to invite Matthew and his mother to our office to hear their story in person and see how we could help this family – after all, isn’t that what the credit union movement is all about?”

Durst and his mother came to First Financial’s Corporate Headquarters in Wall Township in August, and met with both Issa Stephan and Alice Stevens.  Durst explained both in his initial email and in person, “I am in my fifth season of working for a catering company where I handle parties and weddings.  This entails working 12-plus hour shifts, and in between I work at an Italian family restaurant delivering food, pizza, and servicing customers. I am a dedicated, hardworking person who will continue to work while enrolled full-time in school.”

Taking his email, application, and the face-to-face meeting into careful consideration, First Financial decided to approve Durst for a student loan – even if it meant they had to bend the rules a little. “Matthew’s maturity and commitment to his future were very impressive – and that couldn’t be overlooked,” said Stevens.

“Everyone deserves a second chance and sometimes that second chance can change an individual’s life,” said Issa Stephan, President and CEO.  “First Financial stands by our promise to be a long-time financial partner with our members, make a difference in our members’ lives, and put member needs first to provide a trustworthy and value added solution, and we felt we needed to do the same for Matthew to help him achieve his important goal of receiving a college education.”

If you have any questions regarding a loan product, an account, or would like to talk to a representative about the important financial decisions in your life – give us a call at 866.750.0100, live chat at, comment below, or stop by and see us!