How to Handle the Cost of Higher Education: 2 Major Questions

 

On average, millennials who physically attend college will leave their school $29,800 in the hole. That’s a $16,000 jump compared to the previous generation, who averaged $13,000 of student loan debt after graduating in 2004. While this number is troubling, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. With seemingly no sign that this trend will reverse any time soon, a couple of questions become clear.

  • Is college worth it?
    • Yes, it is. Despite rising costs, the social stigma of a college degree alone is worth the price once you enter the job market (depending on the line of work you are looking to go into). College also provides a number of unique educational, social, and professional experiences that help develop professional prospects and define personal goals. While the cost is great, a college degree can be akin to gold (in value and weight) after graduation.
    • No, it is not. The tradeoff simply isn’t the same as it used to be. Gone are the days when you could pay for an entire semester with paychecks from a part-time job. Even if a degree is a hot commodity in your job market, it is probably not worth nearly $20,000 in debt right out of the gate. Building a resume through real life experience can set you up ahead of your peers while idyllically leaving you entirely out of debt.
  • Is it possible to further my education without signing up for a lifetime of debt?
    • Knowledge is expensive, but it’s also an investment in yourself. We respect the courage it takes to embark on that journey and are always ready to help make it happen. As a First Financial member, we can help you shoulder the burden of financing education related expenses and supplies with a personal loan.*
    • If attending college isn’t in the cards for you or if you’re just putting it on the back burner for a little while, there are still cost-effective options out there for you. Many students are considering forgoing the traditional higher education experience altogether. The verdict is in and the latest trends show that enrollment in online classes is on the rise from traditional pursuits, like university master’s programs to new platforms, like MasterClass. Combine that with the undeniable practicality of technical schools – and it’s easy to see that there have never been more opportunities for alternative learners to chart their own paths and spend less money doing it.

The Takeaway

Getting a college degree is paramount in a number of professional fields. This is a fact that will remain true for the foreseeable future. In some cases, it is absolutely necessary to take on those costs. Luckily for you, when this is the case, you have a dedicated team of financial experts at your disposal to help you make the numbers work for your budget. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed about financing the cost of higher education, talk to one of our experts before you make your next move. From the campus to the keyboard, we are here to help you make it happen!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. Federally insured by NCUA.

4 Crucial Money Tips for Your First Job

Recently graduated college? Before you come face to face with the real world and your first job, be sure you review the following important money tips.

1. Keep your debt limited.

When you’re starting out in your first job, you will quickly find yourself probably making about five times what you were making from your part-time college gig. That account balance can look quite enticing. Try your best to not let debt grow. Tackling debt can take years, and you don’t want to add to it.

2. Start a savings account/emergency fund.

When you’re young, you tend to push things off because you think you’ll have plenty of time. When it comes to saving, the earlier you begin, the more you’ll appreciate it later. If you save $100 a month, during the first 5 years after college, you will have created a $6,000 fund that could come in handy when you need to make lemonade out of the lemons that life will inevitably throw at you from time to time.

3. Stick to a budget.

This may be one of the harder tips to stick with, especially when you have more money than you’ve ever had in your life. Buying every meal from your favorite restaurants is tempting, and the sooner you curb that habit the better. By budgeting, you can see how you’re really spending your money. Try not to look at it as restricting your spending, but rather a guide to help you spend confidently.

4. Don’t forget about retirement.

Retirement seems like it’s 40 years away (and maybe it is), but it’ll sneak up on you. Putting your money in an IRA early is one of the best decisions you can make. There’s a little thing called compound interest that wants to be your best friend. Read about it and you’ll be happier than a kid in a candy store.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

How to Survive Real World Budgeting for the First Time

One of the most exciting times in life is entering the real word as a young adult. Finishing school, getting that first full-time job, and venturing out on your own is always an important milestone. However for many, the excitement wears off pretty quickly and you then get hit with one of the harshest realities of being an adult: managing your own finances.

Why is it so hard? Budgeting and learning how to spend your money wisely for the first time is a challenge for everyone. And you’re bound to make mistakes. To make your transition easier, here are four tips to help you survive budgeting in the real world for the first time:

1. Know Your Take Home Income

When you get your first job, you will get a salary offer. Let’s say you’ll be making $20 an hour or roughly $40,000 annually. Does that mean you’ll be taking home a little over $3,300 a month?

Wrong! When you get your first pay stub, you’ll see that many expenses are deducted from your paycheck, such as state and federal taxes, social security income, and health insurance (just to name a few). This can take up a very large percentage of your gross pay, on average 25%. It’s important to know what your true net or take home income will be so that you can properly budget.

2. Understand All Your Expenses

Living away from your parents for the first time can be a real eye opener. You start realizing how many things you actually need to pay for that you didn’t necessarily think about before. Make sure you really understand what all your expenses will be – from the big items like rent, all the way to the little things like paper towels. If you’re trying to figure out how much to spend on rent, a good rule of thumb is no more than 30% of your gross income.

Also think about your food costs, which will probably be your second biggest expense. If you’ve never had to do grocery shopping before, a good first step is to just hit the grocery store with a list of necessary items you need to buy weekly. Get a gage of how much everything costs so that you can better budget for this in the future. Remember, all the little things add up – so make your budget as detailed as possible.

3. Be Organized, Track Everything

One of the most important things about managing your finances successfully is organization. Once you have that down, you’ll have an accurate snapshot of how you’re spending and what you should cut back on. Many people forget the little things, like a daily cup of coffee, but even a small expense like that can actually add up in the long run.

Make sure you’re keeping track of everything. The easiest way to do so is by starting a spreadsheet where you input your expenses. Tools such as Mint.com are also great to use, because you can integrate it with your bank and credit card accounts to help you track your purchases.

4. Save, Save, Save

Being on your own for the first time is exciting, and you’ll want to do everything and spend on everything. But remember that it’s important to live within your means, because not doing so will get you in financial trouble down the road. Start good financial spending habits now. Have a small budget for discretionary spending, but for the most part: save, save, save.

Start an emergency fund as soon as possible—because you truly never know what can happen in life. It’s also never too early to start thinking about retirement. With the power of compound interest, the earlier you start saving for retirement, that more you’ll see later on when you need it.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com 

5 Tips to Help Pay Back Student Loans

It’s graduation season, and the average student loan debt now exceeds $30,000. No wonder an estimated 11% of student loans are in default!

The Department of Education already expanded repayment options like pay-as-you-earn plans (PAYE) and income-based repayment plans (IBR) over the last few years, but many students are still struggling with this financial burden well into their post-college years.

In 2017, lawmakers introduced a new bill that could make a big difference for graduates – and their employers. This bill would extend tax benefits to employers who choose to help their workers with student debt.

Tips for Tackling Student Debt Responsibly

Money to pay back student loans would be great, right? Although the above program could be helpful if passed in the future, paying back the bulk of a student loan is ultimately the borrower’s responsibility. Paying off debt can be challenging, so here are a few tips for tackling student loans responsibly.

1. Pay more than the minimum and/or double up on payments.

Like most other bills, student loans are usually due once a month. Paying a little more than the minimum required amount can help you knock out the debt sooner (use a debt repayment calculator to find out exactly how much), and avoid paying extra interest. If you receive bi-weekly paychecks, you could also set up an additional automatic payment on paydays (even if it’s only a small amount).

2. Find your payoff date and use it as an incentive.

Knowing it will take you 10 years to pay off your student loans is discouraging, but every little bit of extra you pay into the loan will make freedom day a little bit closer. Create a visual update every time you achieve a new payoff date, and you’ll find more incentive to keep taking months and years off the end of it.

3. Use your tax refunds or education credits.

Did you get a tax refund or education credit this year? Instead of spending it, why not use the money to make a large payment on your student loans? The faster you can eliminate a monthly payment, the faster you’ll free up more of your budget year-round, rather than having to wait for your next refund check to have some “fun” money.

4. Take on a side job or apply your annual raise.

If you’re already working full-time, more work might not seem like the ideal situation. That’s why if you take on a side job to repay your student loans faster, choose something fun – and only do it a few hours or days a week. When this money is set aside exclusively for paying your student loans, it can quickly make a dent. Secondly, when you get your annual raise, apply the difference to your loans rather than inflating your lifestyle.

5. Consolidate and refinance – with caution.

Consolidating debt sometimes makes sense, especially if interest rates have dropped significantly. On the other hand, refinancing just to get lower payments while lengthening the duration of your loan – may only mean paying more interest in the long run.

Your personal finance habits will truly make the difference in getting out from under the burden of student loans, once and for all.

Read more about student loan repayment options in this article from bankrate.com.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for moneyning.com

Going Back to College? What’s Truly Essential for Your Dorm

Back-to-college shopping can get expensive. Besides tuition and books, there’s clothing, class supplies, and dorm essentials. The National Retail Federation’s Back to College survey reports that this year students (or their parents) will spend an average of $969.88 for dorm furnishings and college supplies. Of this spending, the top four categories are projected to be electronics, clothing, food items, and furnishings.

While this might seem like a small dent compared to the cost of tuition and housing, it can take a significant chunk out of a student’s savings or, worse, end up on a credit card. The question then, is how many of these ‘essentials’ are necessary? Regardless of how convincingly retailers market their back to college lists and attractively arrange their mock dorm showrooms, it’s doubtful students really need all of that.

Based on feedback from students and parents who have learned the hard way, here are a few things you do and don’t need as you start getting ready to go back to college.

1. Furniture and Appliances: Be Picky

It sounds plausible that students without full access to a kitchen would want their own microwave, toaster, or mini-fridge, but students often find that these are either redundant (many dorms have a common area that includes these appliances), take up too much space, or don’t get utilized much. Go light on the kitchen appliances, especially if you or your student is on a meal plan. On the other hand, appliances like small fans might be useful (and don’t cost much).

Colleges usually supply basic furniture, but if you need to fill in a few gaps, bring items from home or shop second-hand. After all, you’re shopping for items that will probably only get used a maximum of four years. The one furniture item many students recommend spending a little more on is their bed. Between sleeping and studying, a mattress pad and comfortable blankets and pillows will pay for themselves.

2. Personalize, But Don’t Deck It Out

Another category that eats over $100 of that survey average is dorm décor. It can be easy to get carried away with making a new space into a personal statement, especially if you enjoy decorating. Remember: it’s only temporary. Spending money on how your room looks isn’t something you’ll look back on as a good investment in your education.

On the other hand, saving money doesn’t mean you need to settle for an outdated dorm room. Put up a picture board, bring some personal items from home, hit the thrift shops, and choose décor items that are also functional (like a cushioned footstool that doubles as storage).

3. Don’t Forget Practical Things

If you’re too focused on dorm room aesthetics, you might forget to save some cash for practical items – the things that come in handy when your home consists of a tiny room shared with another person. For instance, things like adhesive hooks and non-mounted shelves for storage, power strips with USB plug-ins for those scarce outlets, and a sewing kit for missing buttons or small tears – are all practical things nearly everyone will find useful. They also happen to be inexpensive.

4. Start Simple and Buy for Your Needs

Despite the lure of sales and beating the long lines at the local department stores on move-in weekend (remember, there’s always online shopping with direct delivery), the best overall strategy for shopping for college dorm supplies is to wait until you’re settled in. It’s better to start with less than you need and shop for specific items than to over-anticipate your needs and be wasteful.

Want to earn cash back on all your back to school purchases this year? Apply for a Visa Signature Credit Card from First Financial! You’ll earn 1% cash back, no restrictions.*

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Signature Credit Card. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. APR varies up to 18% for the Visa Signature Card 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. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. 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. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date. Visa Signature Card Cash Back: Your First Financial Visa® Signature Credit Card will earn cash back based on your eligible purchase transactions. The cash back will be applied to your current credit card balance on a quarterly basis and be shown cumulatively on your billing statement. Unless you are participating in a limited time promotional offer, you will earn 1% cash back based upon eligible purchases each quarter.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

How to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster

Stack of books isolated on white background.

No matter the circumstances, student loans really are not a fun part of adult life. Here are some pointers for getting rid of them faster:

Get motivated to pay them off sooner.

In reality, paying off student loans ahead of schedule will really just put you in a better financial state in the future. You’ll pay less interest over time and you won’t actually be stuck with the same student loan for 20 years like your term says you will. Find a really good reason that’s personal to you that drives you to pay them off faster. Imagine your life without student loans. Think of anything that will keep you strong in the student loan pay off game.

Pay more than the monthly minimum payment.

Whether it’s $20, $200 or any random amount in between, making a higher payment than required is the best way to pay off your student loans faster. If you have more than one loan payment, and can only afford to pay more on one loan, choose the one that has the highest interest rate.

Your student loan should already be included in your budget. You can budget for higher than your minimum payment, or you could use any money you have leftover at the end of the month as an extra loan payment. You can even implement both methods. Either way, paying more than required is a great way to pay student loans off faster.

Tip: Be aware of how extra payments are applied to your account. You want to make sure that the additional amount you are paying is applied to the principal amount rather than to interest.

Decrease your expenses.

Any extra money that can be put toward student loans will help you pay them off faster. “But, what if I don’t have extra money?” you ask. Take a look at your expenses and see if there is anything you can do to slash some. Ask your cable company about a cheaper package, cancel your monthly subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, etc. Get a quote from other insurance companies or change your habits and eat out less often and make coffee at home.

Put birthday money, tax return funds, raises and any other extra cash toward your student loans.

If you receive money in addition to your normal paycheck, avoid spending it – no matter how much you want that new computer, those new shoes, or to go to that concert. It will be worth it as you get closer to paying off your student loans. Your future self will thank you!

Enroll in auto-pay.

When you enroll in auto-pay, your student loan payment is automatically taken from your account on the due date. Most lenders offer an interest rate decrease for people enrolled in this service. Not only does this eliminate the hassle of having to remember to manually make your payment, but it decreases the amount of interest you pay over time, allowing you to pay off your loans faster. Visit your lender’s website for information or contact them directly.

Avoid repayment programs and other repayment plans.

Although these programs come with a lower monthly payment, which always sounds amazing, they also come with longer terms, which means more interest paid over time. If you are really, really struggling to make those monthly payments on time and in full, these options might work for you. But, if you can make the payments, still pay your other bills and have money left over to enjoy yourself, don’t be fooled by the thought of a low payment.

Refinance or consolidate your loans.

Putting extra money toward your student loans is a sure way to pay them off early, but if you want to make an even more drastic change, look into your refinancing and consolidation options. You can possibly refinance your loans to get a lower interest rate and term length. If you have multiple student loans, you can consolidate them so they combine together, giving you only one loan payment.

Get a side job.

If your schedule allows it, a second job can help you reach your goals in paying off your student loans early. All money made with your second job can be put toward your student loans. While this may be easier said than done, it’s definitely helpful.

The sooner you get rid of that student loan payment, you’ll have more room in your monthly budget and more freedom with your finances – so get started as quickly as possible!

Article Source: Amanda Bridge for The Money Mill