Archive for

The Eight Worst College Financial Aid Mistakes – Avoid Them

With college costs rising faster than inflation and financial aid shrinking, you can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to sending your child(ren) to college. If you do… it will definitely cost thousands, even then of thousands of dollars per child. Now if you have an extra $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 sitting around and don’t mind giving it to a college… then this article isn’t for you. For all others… Please read carefully!

Going to college can be a very complex and stressful time for many families. Especially with your first child that begins the process. While it may get easier with each child, if you make any of the following mistakes, it will cost you money.

If you are fortunate enough to be reading this while your oldest child is still in middle school or just entering high school, then you should have plenty of time to methodically make the most out of the college financial aid process. If your child is about ready to graduate or already in college, then you better get started right now and plan to spend some quality time making the adjustments necessary.

Eight Mistakes That will Cost You Plenty

Mistake 1: Not Starting Early Enough: The main reason families make costly mistakes during the financial aid process is that they wait until the last-minute and are rushed. If you start early and plan your steps on a timeline, you will be ready and prepared to take full advantage of the process.

Mistake 2: Not Paying Attention To Deadlines: Another big mistake is missing a financial aid deadline. If you don’t file the right forms with the right departments before the required deadline, you lose the opportunity to get the financial aid for that semester and generally cannot reapply until the following semester.

Mistake 3: Not Filing The FAFSA: The dreaded first-time FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) isn’t as bad as most families believe it is, but if you never file it, you are guaranteed to be overlooked by the financial aid system. Most colleges require the FAFSA to be filed, even if you will not qualify for Federal aid, just so they can offer you any private scholarships, grants or endowment opportunities. So always file the FAFSA.

Mistake 4: Not Utilizing EFC Reduction Strategies: Every applicant that applies to college and requests financial aid will have an Estimated Family Contribution or EFC calculated based on the financial information that is provided. If you know how to use these EFC reduction strategies before you are required to file, you can lower your EFC and increase your financial aid dramatically.

Mistake 5: Student Loans: Many students and their families use the wrong types of students loans, don’t use them at all or fail to look into which student loans are custom-made for their situation. A vast amount of information on student loans is available and all you need to do is read it. It will compare the different types and then you should be able to decide which is best if loans are required.

Mistake 6: Paying For College With Retirement Money: Every year I hear and read about parents that are tapping their 401K or other retirement plans to help pay for their children’s college expenses. They either withdraw or borrow funds for education and neither method is a good idea for most families. Don’t sacrifice your retirement for your child’s education, because they probably will not be able to take care of you in retirement if you do.

Mistake 7: Not Appealing Your Offer: Appealing a financial aid offer from a college can be a great way to get additional aid, especially if you believe some mistakes or omissions were made when you initially filed. This is the time to clarify and correct any issues that you discover and request an adjustment if possible. It generally cannot hurt to ask for more and it gives your student the opportunity to make some great contacts inside the financial aid system.

Mistake 8: Not Asking For More… In Years 2 to 4: As a student continues through college, most never visit the financial aid office again after their freshman year. If you make regular visits each semester and inquire about additional aid, scholarships or grants, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much aid is available (and sometimes unclaimed), specifically for 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students.

Summary: This is a just a summary of the major mistakes that I hear about each and every year. Each of them is avoidable if you just take the time to do your research, get organized and plan your strategy. Obviously, the earlier you start, the better prepared you should be… so get started today and save a bundle.

What Should I Look For in Personal Financial Management Software?

We often underestimate the importance of proper financial management and simply rely on the fact that our bank balance is still in the black; however, we are at a loss to explain where all of the money went. It’s not unusual that many individuals are aghast when they look at their monthly bank statement and see that their paycheck deposit is gone through a series of many cleared checks. This situation can be unnerving to anyone, but if you are using personal financial management software, you can see at a glance what was spent, and what it did for you. It’s not just about saving money and paying off your credit card bills, but the software should present strategies to maximize saving, eliminate debt, and give a true picture of your current net worth. In short, a financial management program is a highly detailed and complex system that is vital to keep track of spending as well as net worth.

The first thing that comes to mind when considering personal financial management software is the process of budgeting. The heart of proper financial management lies in budgeting, as it helps to keep track of spending and earnings, while at the same time, gives a view of your overall financial condition. These software programs are usually incorporated with one of these two types of budgeting methods: Retroactive or Proactive budgeting. The former one allows you to create your own budget, and it keeps track, after the fact, whether you followed your set budget or not. On the other hand, Proactive actually assists you to make a budget, and guides you through so that you can achieve these budgeted goals. In most cases, under this method, you are asked to keep aside some additional money for emergencies. This money that is set aside, allows the software to make financial recommendation with much more confidence and accuracy.

Budgeting is most certainly a very important aspect of good financial management, but it isn’t the only one. Keeping track of your true net worth is also equally important. The budgeting process helps to keep track of our short and long term goals, and whether we achieved them. In order to properly track our net worth, we need to bring in the value of our bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, etc., and update them regularly. The more complex personal financial management software systems have this process as well, and will give you an accurate picture of your financial position. This type of financial information can be key when it comes to making crucial financial decisions, or applying to your bank for financing. Also, in this fast paced and globalized world, many individuals tend to have more than one bank account, and often times, various financial interests, making the situation even more complex. Good personal financial management software will be able to track this and present an accurate picture.

In summary, budgeting and keeping an accurate track of your net worth are crucial when it comes to good financial management. When you are exploring options for effective personal financial management software, make sure the program is able to handle your current and future needs. In addition, a program that is relatively easy to use and presents the type of reports that you require, is a must.