It’s ‘College Week’ at NBC6, and last week I was asked to comment on camera about student debt.  Which I did… reluctantly… because I’d much rather talk about how families can minimize or outright eliminate student debt.  Which if mismanaged, can be onerous and life altering (and not in a good way).

The report aired at 5pm tonight (9/30). Here’s what I said that made the cut:

  • College debt has surpassed $1 Trillion; was $400 billion in 2004
  • Average Student Debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400 (view clip)
  • Seven in ten college seniors (71%) who graduated in 2012 had student loan debt
  • We’ve set a new record:  one-in-five  HH now owe student loan debt, and this is probably understated because that number doesn’t factor families that have used credit cards, home equity or borrowed from their retirement funds to finance college

Now, here’s what I said that I wish had made the cut, but didn’t!

  • That student debt CAN be avoided with the right Admissions Strategy. More than 2/3 of matriculating students this Fall received some sort of price break (a tuition discount), often in the form of either a need-based and/or merit-based institutional grant/scholarship; and the average discount rate reached an all-time high of 46%.  In college today, there is the list price and then there is the Net price.  What college will cost you is a much more ‘elastic’ number than the price you see published on the school’s website or brochure.   Your price (the % of list that you’ll be expected to contribute) will be based on which schools your child is applying to, whether/for what reasons/ and by what means those schools ‘discount’ and how well you can demonstrate either/or both your family’s financial needs and your child’s ‘value’.
  • That high ‘tuition’ is not necessarily predictive of student indebtedness at graduation; financial aid policies (many ‘pricey’ schools have taken no-loan or loan-limited financial aid pledges and graduate far fewer indebted students than ‘less expensive’ alternatives) and graduation rates are also important indicators.  UF, for example, is the only public university in Florida with a better than 50% 4-year graduation rate… those unplanned extra years add up.  Click here to check the student loan policies of the schools on your list; and click here to check their 4 and 6 year graduation rates.
  • And finally, should you have an unmet need for your student’s education, know that not all Debt is Equal.  Subsidized student loans are better than unsubsidized, for example — and all student loans will likely have better terms than parent loans which are as predatory in some cases as payday advances (huge origination fees, interest rates and penalties)… and finally, all of these are likely better than any private student loan.  If you do find yourself considering student loans, here are a few additional pointers:  1) Look beyond your school’s lender list; 2)   Exhaust all federal loan options before looking elsewhere; 3) Always ask about the fine print, ask, for example, whether a loan comes with an up-front discount or a waiting period.

And all of this actually brings up an important and timely Admissions point.  At this time of year I get asked a lot about the merits of applying Early Decision (the binding type).  It’s a complicated response because although Admit rates are generally higher for ED candidates (especially for athletes and legacies), it’s definitely not appropriate financially-speaking for many people (maybe most people).   You can click here to read more about Early Decision and Early Action and to determine for yourself what might be best for your family.

Bottom line is this:  when it comes to how college works today, financing should neither be an after thought, nor an ‘after-your-accepted’ thought.  Funding and affordablility need to be as integral to your family’s college research and your child’s Admissions considerations as major, student life, after-graduation destination etc.  Because admissions dovetails with funding… understanding how they intersect and more specifically where your family’s opportunities lie.. will help your student target and get into schools that meet their needs and your budget.  There are rules and nuances to getting in and getting a discount for college; and I’ll be discussing both (the rules and the nuances) at my class in Pinecrest on October 16th.  This is the last college planning class that I will be holding this year.  It’s both free and open to the public.  If you have high school students at home and would like to know how you should help them go about finding, getting admitted to and paying for college, then I hope to see you there.

Among other topics I’ll be covering:

  • How to compile a list of schools that maximize chances at both admissions, merit and need-based financial aid
  • The crucial questions parents should ask of every school on their student’s college list
  • How a ‘pricey’ private college can cost less than a state school, even considering Bright Futures and FL Prepaid
  • Why it’s taking, on average, 5+ years to graduate from college today and how to buck this trend
  • The Biggest Mistakes Made w FL Prepaid and other 529 plans
  • How to decipher the complex financial aid formula and identify rules that can cost you (or save you) thousands of dollars
  • More!

Once again, this event is will not cost a single penny, and I promise that you will leave with valuable information that can save a typical middle class parent thousands of dollars (not to mention their sanity).
Click here to register and to get more info.  I look forward to seeing you there.

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