A Financial Education Event

Tips For Graduates Student Loan Debt


By now, the hats are tossed, tears are wiped away and the celebratory cake is gone for recent graduates, and now they are beginning their new lives in the real world. Like many of their predecessors in previous years, this year’s graduating class faces a wretched job market where there may be as many as five candidates for every job. Consequently, one of the most daunting tasks becomes the challenge of not falling behind on student loans. While challenging times can build moral fiber, you don’t want to build character by getting involved in the debt trap. Here are common questions I am frequently asked, as well as tips on how to keep student loan healthy:

Q. First of all, what are some of the consequences that graduates face by getting behind on student loans?

Ellie: As a mom of kids in college as well as a recent graduate, I know personally, how difficult the job market is and what a challenge these graduates face. First of all there will be interest charged for late payments as well as fees that will inflate the amount they owe—and chances are good that they owe too much as it is! If you default, the government could garnish your wages and withhold your tax refund. Not to mention a huge hit on your FICOscore, when you’re just starting out and trying to build a good score that will help get lower interest rates on a car or a house. It is also becoming more common for employers to check your credit history when considering which candidate to hire.

Q. But you say there is good news and that these dire consequences are avoidable, as least as far as federal student loans are concerned. The key is to understand your options and take action before you fall behind on payments. The first tip you list is to understand your grace period, when do students have to start paying back these loans and how do grace periods vary?

ELLIE: Borrowers typically have a few months after graduation before they are required to start repaying their federal student loans. For most federal student loans, the grace period is only six months. Most loans have up to ten years to repay. It’s important that you contact your loan provider and find out when the statements begin—especially if you haven’t received notification yet.

Q. What if the graduate has trouble finding work or they find an entry level job that typically doesn’t offer much in the way of compensation? Is there recourse for the amount they are required to pay for their loans?

ELLIE: That’s an excellent point and it brings us to our second tip, they need to find out whether they qualify for the income-based repayment program. Under this program, your loan payment could be reduced, based on the amount of discretionary income you have available. In most cases your loan payments won’t exceed 10% of your total income. After 25 years, anything you still owe on the loan will be forgiven.

Q. Is this income based repayment program an automatic enrollment or does the graduate need to apply for it?

ELLIE: You definitely need to apply for it by contacting the company that is servicing your student loan. If you’ve moved a time or two and your loan papers have not been forwarded to you and you are not sure who services your student loan, then you can go to the database of the National Student Loan Data System  National Student Loan Data System.

Q. Is there some paperwork you need to compile before you apply for the income based repayment program?

ELLIE: Yes, it’s important to have this paperwork on hand in order to streamline the process because you do want to get this filed as soon as possible—especially if you’re in danger of being late on loans and you have a genuine financial hardship due to your current income levels. You’ll need to authorize the IRS to provide last year’s tax return to the Department of Education. If you feel that your tax return doesn’t reflect your current situation, there’s a form you can use to show how your situation has changed. Get info on these forms and criteria, as well as links to major student loan servicers at the Project on Student Debt.

Q. We’ve looked at income based repayment, but what about those who need a quick, temporary fix? Maybe they have to take an unpaid internment at first or they may have a job that will become available in six months. Are there options such as deferment or forbearance available to this class of graduates?

ELLIE: If you are unemployed, still in school or experiencing economic hardship, you can apply to have payments on your federal student loans deferred for up to three years. If you have subsidized Stafford loans, which are provided to students who demonstrate financial need, the government will pay the interest on the loans during deferment. Interest on unsubsidized Stafford loans will accrue during deferment. If you don’t qualify for deferment, then you still might be eligible for forbearance, which allows you to put off payments for up to three years. It’s harder to qualify for deferment than it is for forbearance because in forbearance you will still have to pay interest that accrues.

Q. Does it take a long time for the paperwork to go through for these kinds of programs we’ve discussed: income based repayment, deferment and forbearance? Couldn’t a graduate find themselves in default by the time the paperwork is processed?

ELLIE: It’s important that you continue to make full payments until you’re notified otherwise. It takes longer for income based repayments and doesn’t take as long for deferment and forbearance because the latter two are temporary relief from loan payments. Whereas income based repayments could be longer term, depending upon how long you are in that job, making that salary. It’s important to look at forbearance and deferment as short term fixes and not long term—that’s why it’s really important to file for these right away, while you’re looking for a job. But if it looks like your payment problems will last longer than a few months, you definitely need to look at income-based repayment.

Q. Some graduates have huge student loans, in some cases, they have more than $30,000 in principal and interest. It is especially difficult for these grads to face this mountain of student loan debt. Can they extend the payment term in order to get through the first few years?

ELLIE: If you are a borrower who owes more than 30K , most lenders will allow you to extend the term beyond the standard 10 years, thus reducing monthly payments. The amount of interest you pay will increase, though, particularly if you extend payment over the maximum term of 25 years. And who wants to spend the next 30 years paying off a student loan? So I would only recommend this option as a last resort. Try to pay it within the standard 10 year term so that you can avoid thousands of more dollars in interest.

Q. Finally, we’ve discussed federal student loans, but a lot of viewers may hold private student loans that they have to repay. What are their options?

ELLIE: Well, the outlook is not as sunny for those who have private loans. They have fewer options. Private education lenders don’t participate in the income-based repayment program and they’re not required to allow you to defer payments, even if you’re out of work. If you’re having trouble with your private loans, read your loan agreement. It may require that the lender grant you forbearance under certain conditions. Even if your contract doesn’t include an economic hardship provision, your lender may be willing to provide relief. Some lenders have become more flexible in this post-great recession environment. You could ask for interest only payments or even to change the terms of the loan. For more information, go to Student Loan Borrower Assistance

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Career Choices for Teens and Beyond

Career Choices

My husband always said that “flying jets beats working for a living.”  But he didn’t start out flying fighters, he had to develop a good work ethic as a teen. He washed airplanes at the Van Nuys airport, dug ditches and he managed to get good grades in high school that earned him the privilege of going to the Air Force Academy.

Part of getting ready to go to college or launch into a career involves finding a good job. Many high school students want part-time jobs. Often these part-time jobs help finance their college and can become stepping-stones which lead to lifetime careers. For this reason, high school part-time jobs are to be taken as seriously as an adult’s profession.

  • Where do I begin? – Looking for work means looking—profound, huh? Here are a few places to start:
  1. Referral – There are decided advantages to a job referral by someone who is in the company. You might hear about a position before it is advertised through the idea of a referral. Ask people that you respect for a referral within their company. If they are respected, you can benefit from their recommendation.
  2. Help Wanted – Pursue help wanted ads in your local newspaper if your personal connections fail.
  3. Employment Agency – Go through a state or private employment agency to open other options
  4. Door-to-Door – One last area that should not be overlooked is to go from business to business to ask if there are any job openings.  Warning, make sure you look the part before you knock on that first door!
  • Developing Confidence – Oftentimes a young person is lacking in confidence, but parents can help them overcome this insecurity by helping them to see areas in which they have experience and skills.  Sometimes kids ask, “How can I gain experience if I don’t have the job?”

Well, your kids do have experience, even if it isn’t the specific job experience they think they need. There are plenty of other skills that are a good compensation for work experience. Here are a few questions from Larry Burkett’s excellent resource entitled Get A Grip On Your Money—Student Text (order at http://crown.org/) to go over with your teen. Ask your teen the following questions and discuss the answers to help them gain confidence in applying for a specific job. Then help them go through the job wanted ads to get an idea of how their answers can place them in a specific job.

  1. What skills has your life at home taught you which might be helpful in serving others?
    1. Do you have younger siblings? This could prepare you to do child-care.
    2. What about lawn care, being a farmer’s helper, wood cutting, snow removal, house cleaning (spring or fall), or painting or papering?
    3. What academic skills have you developed?
      1. Are you good in math, English or other subjects? If you are, you might be a good tutor to a lower-grade student or a teacher’s aide.
      2. What skills have you learned in school such as typing, computer skills, filing, shop classes automotive mechanics, sewing or cooking? These are all marketable skills.
      3. What skills and personal qualities have you developed in outside of

school activities such as athletics or clubs?

  • Following Up on an Ad – If your child decides to answer a want-ad placed by an employer they should read it carefully and do as the ad instructs. If it says they need to present a resume, apply in person, or talk to a specific person, then they need to follow those instructions.  That way, the first impression on the employer will be a good one.
  • Telephone Follow Up – Practice phone etiquette with your child before they make the call. Pretend you’re the employer and they are trying to get an interview. Ask for the person specified in the ad, say please and thank you and speak clearly. If the person is not available, ask when they will be back and call at the specified time. Teach your child to identify themselves by saying something like, “Hi, I’m Ellie Kay and I am calling in reference to your ad about writing financial humor books.” Have a pencil and paper by the phone and write down instructions. Tell them to ask questions to make sure they understand and never, ever ask about salary or pay in the initial contact.

What is your dream career?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

A Drama Queen’s College Savings Tips

I read an excellent blog on #USAA about 4 Smart Moves when saving money in college. It reminded me of a time many years ago, I remember hearing the sound of a child crying. It sounded like it was coming from the back of the house. When I opened the door to my daughters room, I found my then five-year-old Bethany sobbing into her pillow. Crying wasn’t terribly unusual for our “Bunny,” as she could have starred in a movie called I was a Preschool Drama Queen. She was usually laughing and hopping for joy, but she did have an occasional bad day and when she did, we had to watch out!

“What’s wrong, Bunny-rabbit?” I asked as I stroked her hair.

“Well… it’s… just.” She tried to catch her breath.

“…it’s just. It’s just that…” her tiny frame shook as she tried to compose herself.

“I’m going to… (whimper) to go away for college!” At this, her sobbing started all over again.

Apparently, she had a friend whose much older sibling just graduated from high school and was headed off to college. So Bethany was under the impression that when she “graduated” from kindergarten, we were going to ship her off to school.

Thankfully, we were able to keep Bethany around for another 13 years, but she did eventually go away to college—and graduated over a year ago. Here are some more tips we gave each of our children as they went away to college to save money on school and to put it towards their coffee budgets instead!


  1. Buy Books Online: It’s way cheaper to buy books online instead of used at the bookstore. For example, my son Daniel got a journalism book that was $30 used at a bookstore, but he found it for $1.50 online. Amazon usually has the best deals for books, but Campus Books compares prices across the Internet and finds the best deals new and used. Just be sure you buy them at least two weeks before classes.
  2. Avoid The Meal Plans: First off, college-based meal plans are usually unhealthy (fast food, fried, high calorie, high carbs, etc.). Second, they are way more expensive than just buying your own groceries. Consider buying the cheapest meal plan, or none at all. simply cut a few coupons, and don’t buy the expensive brand stuff at grocery stores, and you’ll do fine (you can eat fancy later!).
  3. Take Tests! There are many exams that can be taken for college credit, such as CLEP, SAT II, and more. These tests usually run around $50-$75, but if you pass, it’s a lot better than shelling out over a thousand dollars for the course.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid To Live Modestly: From the dorm furnishings to clothes, you don’t have to live flashy in college. Just because other young adults are spending their money foolishly doesn’t mean you have to. College is just a step before getting a job where you can earn some real money and but the little things you want. Ross, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls are great for clothes, and there’s always great clearance furniture items at stores that will serve your purpose.
  5. Find a Roomie: If you’re searching for an apartment, or even a dorm room, it is better to split the cost with one, two, or more people. Sure it’s always better living by yourself, but you have the rest of your life to do that if you want. Many colleges also have the option of getting a single or a double room. Double is always cheaper, and a great lesson in learning to live with someone else!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

College Crunches – The Four Disciplines of Debt Free Education

When people ask me how we are putting our kids through college debt free, the answer is multi-fold. First, we train our children from a young age that going to school, doing your homework and getting good grades is their primary “job.” By teaching them a good work ethic, we are laying the groundwork for scholarships and more. Secondly, we send them to schools that we can afford or where they get the best scholarship offers to cover the most expenses. Thirdly, we have saved a modest amount of college money to help them pay their room and board and partial tuition in some cases. Lastly, but certainly not least, we require that they work part time in the summers or during the school year (through a work/study program or a regular job) in order to do their part in paying for college. By implementing these four disciplines, five of our children are set to graduate debt free. Of the three that are through college now, we had over ½ million in scholarships and and the last two have garnered over a million dollars in scholarships by the time they are through with school.

In any discussion of college costs, it’s important to keep priorities straight:
Parents need to leave yourself some fun money for retirement. How else can you afford that mechanical bull riding lesson and those parasailing flights (been there, done that, LOVE it)?
I really believe that you, as a parent, should try to avoid borrowing on your future in order to pay for your child’s future. After all that information we had earlier in this chapter about investments for retirement, why would you want to take one of your greatest investments and leverage it for college expenses? Yet millions of parents make that devastating financial choice every year. I’m talking about avoiding any college funding plan that includes a home equity loan, a HELOC (home equity line of credit) or refinancing of an existing home mortgage. These options reduce the amount of equity in your home, increasing the risk of possible foreclosure and you incur costs in interest charges that may cost you more if the term on the new mortgage is greater than the remaining term on the existing mortgage. For example, if there is ten years left on the mortgage and parents get a new 30 year loan. Furthermore, if parents choose to pull out enough money in equity for the first year of for four years of college all at once, then parents paying interest on money that won’t be needed until the upcoming sophomore, junior and senior years. Instead, look at the following options to pay for college.

The College Mantra
When I began a young adult, got married and began having kids (in that order) I was first exposed to the whole idea of “the college my child gets accepted to.” As a mom of many who has already launched a few college bound kiddos, I’m still hearing, “What college did they get accepted into?” The part of that question that amazes me is that the answer that is most impressive are also the most expensive (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc). These schools have averages four year costs of $188,000 (Columbia); $240,000 (Harvard); $186,000 (Stanford) $193,000 (Yale). While an average of 40% of the students who attend either get financial aid, grants or scholarships, they only average out to assistance of $9600 per year. This leaves a boatload that the student and mom/dad owe for college. Most of this is usually in loans of some kind. So then the average student graduating from some of the most prestigious colleges have student loans upwards to $80,000 or more.
So why is the question: What college did they get accepted into?
The question should be: What college did they get accepted into that they can afford?
Why do you want to leverage your future (through HELOCS or loans) or leverage their future (through massive consumer debt) when it will take many years of earning power, for them to pay back those loans? One of the most common problems I hear of have to do with the burden of dual student loans in a marriage.

I’m doing what I can to help families minimize student loan debt so that both the parents and the graduates can have a better quality of life with more flexibility once they start those new careers. For more practical aspects of very specific ways you can pay for college. Please email assistant@elliekay.com and put “College Crunches” in the subject line. Our offices will send you a wonderful resource file that I wrote to help you fund a quality education for a fraction of the debt.

Ellie Kay

“America’s Family Financial Expert” (R)


The Trifecta Effect – One Family, Three Services Academies

This month, our son, Joshua received an appointment to West Point, thus creating a Trifecta amongst our military sons. They are following in their father’s footsteps (Bob, USAFA class of 1978). We have a Naval Academy grad (Robert Philip, class of 2011) who is a Marine; an Air Force Academy cadet (Jonathan, class of 2015) and now the baby at the United States Military Academy (class of 2017). We are proud but confused because we never know who to cheer for at service academy football games!

Let me stop and issue a disclaimer to the other Kay kids (since there are a lot of them) and say that we are proud of all of our kids and their life achievements! Daniel (University of Texas at Arlington), Bethany (Moody Bible Institute), and Missy (Columbia).

But this particular blog is about the Trifecta boys, the ones who now qualify for USAA membership by virtue of their own service. Who would have thought that all those busy boy days playing army, pilot and sharpshooter would have produced such a burly crowd? You should see these testosterone filled, type “A” guys when I put a plate of hot biscuits on the table during Easter dinner. The frenzy that ensues looks like a Koi pond at feeding time. Each one of them has to outdo the other and our “quiet little dinner” is anything but!

When they came home for the holidays, I loved it when they attend church with Bob and me. But as we were exiting the service, I looked back to see Mr. West Point and Mr. Air Force engaged in a wrestling hold in the middle of the pews! Neither would release their grip. It took a certain mama, tugging tightly on each of their ears to separate them. Oy Vey!

I outlined in Chapter 16 of the updated “Heroes at Home” book how we helped each of our kids achieve their dreams. We started out by stressing the following from elementary school age:

  • Homework first, then you’ve earned the right to play (preferably outside)
  • If you are capable of getting A’s, then we expect you to live up to your potential
  • You can be involved in one sport at a time (so there was no hurried child syndrome and they would have time to be kids)
  • You can be involved in one extracurricular activity (ballet, cello, violin, etc) at a time (with five kids in seven years, I was driving hours every day just to do one thing for each of them!)
  • Someone has to succeed in the field you desire to pursue, so it might as well be you. (Someone has to go to USNA, USMA and USAFA, so why not you? Someone has to have a Trifecta Family, so why not the Kays if that is what the kids want to pursue?)

The result is “The Trifecta Effect” each son pursuing his own dream into a different area of service for a greater good and our nation’s freedom. They are now part of the 2% of our population in our military service who protect the freedoms of the other 98% of us.

Academies are looking for students who are exceptional in the area of academics, athletics, community involvement and leadership.  In return for this education valued at $450,000, these students will be required to serve in the military for their “commitment” period. The commitment is a minimum of 5 years of service and can be longer, depending on a number of factors in regards to additional training after graduation.

You see, this “free” education isn’t really free, it’s paid back in service. And this mama hopes that “military service” is the full extent of their sacrifice. No proud academy parent desires to have their child pay the fullest measure of service. But we know that is a risk they choose to take.

If you have a “hero at home” who wants to go to an academy, I recommend that you start out by exploring the desired service academy’s admissions website:

USAFA – The United States Air Force Academy:

USNA – The United States Naval Academy

USMA — The United States Military Academy

USMMA – The United States Merchant Marine Academy

Coast Guard Academy  (does not require a congressional nomination)

 Just remember to tell that child of yours with the big dreams:  Someone has to do it, why not you?

Ellie Kay



Leaving Home 101

Our five-year-old son, Philip, was very mad and having a horrible, no good, very bad day. His two-year-old brother, Jonathan, had taken all his favorite GI Joes and threw them in the toilet—again.

“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”

I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”

As a veteran mom of many, I knew Philip’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.

Juggling the phone with the brownie bowl, I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey is Philip there yet?”

I heard her doorbell ring in the background, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”

“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”

Philip spent the entire afternoon playing with Christopher and Edward and then Leanne called to say that our little runaway was coming home. He returned a few minutes later and announced, “Well, I’m back from running away, Mama! What’s for dinner?”

Fast forward a few years and Philip’s left home again—for good. He’s in graduate school at Stanford and has to cook all his own dinners. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents do to help their kids leave home well.

Budget Babies

     Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books.  Go to Ellie Kay’s tool page and for an online budget. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way.

Banking and Credit Cards

      Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. Or go to CheckingFinder . Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. They will have access to thousands of dollars worth of credit through a variety of offers that may show up in their student mailbox—if they can find a co-signer or prove they have an adequate income. Teach them to shred these credit card offers in order to help protect their identity and also direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus at AnnualCreditReport (& warn them to bypass any offers that require money, only get the FREE report.)

Help your children set up their own credit card by getting an additional card that you control on your own credit card account (we use American Express) and make sure that initially, they only have a $300 credit limit. As they charge and pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, when he was a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.

Borrowing and Student Loans

     Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC, refinance our house, or get a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt. Email assistant@elliekay.com and request “College Crunch File” to see ways to minimize college debt or even put kids through school with NO student loan debt, as we have done with five of our seven children.

Bagels and Broccoli

My daughter, Bethany, started to do some of our grocery shopping when she was still in high school in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!)   Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza.  Introduce them to the website CouponMom for ways to save hundreds on groceries and have them read my grocery shopping blogs.

Boomer Helicopter Parents

    One of the characteristics of Millenials (i.e. your college student) is that their parents tend to “hover” too much, not allowing the child to fail or pay the consequences of failure when they stumble. Most student loans cannot be granted beyond a certain threshold unless you (or someone else) co-signs. The same applies to credit cards for those under 21. There is a balance, it’s important to hold the line on student loan debt and other forms of credit for your Millennial. Remember another one of our mantras (that you can borrow) “Our love is unconditional, but our money is conditional.” If you’re paying for college, and investing in your student, then you automatically have a right to expect that they’ll do certain things in return, like pass their own classes, maintain a budget and earn part of their college through work/study programs, scholarships and/or part time jobs.

Launching a child can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective.  But the part about missing them and crying those secret tears when no one is looking is something I can’t help you with right now because I’m too busy missing my own college kid (love you Jonathan)!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 


1000 Kisses — Investing in Our Children

I’m currently missing 4000 kisses every year.

Yep, they just upped and moved away, 1000 at a time.

I try to gain back some of those by kissing my friend Natalya’s four little girls. Her baby is only six months old and likes to suck on pickles. Don’t you know you have to grab up a sweetheart like that and give her 10 kisses on her chubby cheeks, just for being so cute?

As a mom who had her youngest five children in seven years, and homeschooled said children for seven years, I figured I got and gave at least 50 kisses a day. Those of you who have had infants and toddlers know that there are times when you just get overwhelmed with their cuteness and have to get some loving on the spot—a dozen kisses at a time!

Even when my children became teens, they knew they had to kiss me when they woke up, give me kiss when they left and came back home, and then again before they went to bed. Let’s say that averaged out to 3 kisses a day (accounting for the fact that I didn’t see them every day if I was out of town). At 365 days per year, that’s still 1000 kisses a year.

Yes, I’m a numbers person and that is both a blessing and a curse, but bear with me a second because I’m trying to get you to feel just a little bit sorry for me for a moment. Every time one of my children “launches” and goes off to college, I lose 1000 annual kisses. When you multiply that by 4 Kay kids who have launched in the last 6 years, I’m down 4000, and those marks of affection are worth far more than dollars—they are priceless.

There are a number of ways to invest in our kids. One of the most important areas is their education.  My husband, Bob and I sacrificed certain things to invest in their education by sending the youngest three to the best school in our part of the world, Desert Christian Schools.  We are not independently wealthy and it cost us something to have as many as 3 kids in private school at a time. But it was worth it to us. We could have driven newer cars, lived in a bigger house or taken fancier vacations, but we knew that one day, when we’re old, we wouldn’t regret cars, houses or vacations. We are going to be thankful we invested in our kids.

For us, this kind of education allowed for smaller classroom sizes, more safety, excellent academic programs and fantastic athletic teams. There are also teachers and administrators have a heart of compassion for our students and  work with us when one of the Kay kids makes a boneheaded choice that requires correction.  Granted, we couldn’t always afford private school, which is why I homeschooled for a while. We also had two kids graduate from public school and do really well in life. Whether you homeschool, choose a private school or send them to public education, being invested in the educational process is essential. For us, that translated into over a million dollars in college scholarships for our progeny.

Another way to invest in our children is in areas where they are having trouble, for example, investing in a tutor. Our son, Jonathan, had trouble in Geometry and we got him a tutor. He got over the learning curve hump, gained mastery and confidence in the material and even became a gainfully employed tutor with Mathemagicians in our community. Math helped our oldest son, Philip, get offers from Cornell and Stanford because he got a 760 out of 800 on his MSATs in Math (he only got a 560 in verbal, but I guess Math geeks don’t have to know how to spell).

Some parents invest in music lessons that can help children gain math skills (something about reading music that makes you more proficient in math), gain confidence, and even earn a partial scholarship in that area. Or you may be a mom that invested in your child by taking them to endless soccer, baseball, basketball, football, or Tae Kwon Do teams. All those hours as chauffer were not in vain because your little one learned self-discipline, the value of exercise, and how to be a part of a team.  Other parents spend time with their kids by taking them out to fun events or out to eat. We like to subscribe to Local Living to find out when there’s a new restaurant or cool event we can take them to for as little as half of the regular price.

I could write 10 more pages on legitimate ways we “invest” in our children, but I’ll end with the one that I started with in this blog.  Invest your affection in your child. Hug them. Spend time with them. Tell them you believe in them. Speak about the bright future they have ahead of them. One day, sooner than you think, that child will launch and you’ll also be down 1000 kisses.  So be sure to kiss ‘em while you can!

Let me know, how do YOU invest in your kids?

 Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert ®

Back to College – Part 2

We have several Kay kids who have already graduated (debt-free) and one of the ways we do that is to save on everything. We’ve been buying textbooks for years and recently, I found a way to save big when our students head back to school. I’ve partnered with Follett and discovered that we can save even more by renting textbooks through a program like Rent-A-Text or by purchasing digital textbooks through CafeScribe.  I love that Follett provides students with a variety of affordable choices that can help them save big on a major back-to-school expense.

Here are the details to remember that can help as you buy your books this fall:

Rent-A-Text launched last year and has already saved students more than $130 million. This year, the program is doubling the number of available titles to provide even more savings for students. Students who rent books through the program still have the freedom to highlight and take notes in their textbooks (within the normal wear and tear associated with coursework) and the flexibility to pay for their materials through financial aid and campus cards. Students can also save on shipping by having their books delivered to their on campus bookstore.

CafeScribe – Another way students can save 40-60 percent on textbooks is through Follett’s updated CafeScribe’s platform. Students can work on Macs, PCs and most web-enabled devices like tablets and smartphones when using CafeScribe. The approach saves students from buying additional devices and provides the freedom to study anywhere, anytime. CafeScribe also offers unique social note sharing that allows students to share notes with others in their class or in classrooms across the country.   The updated product makes digital textbooks smarter with better study tools, more accessibility on different types of devices and more book titles than ever before.

The Way They Learn – Back when my husband was in the military, we moved 11 times in 13 years and I decided to homeschool the kids because it was the only continuity they had. Otherwise, they would be in and out of schools almost every year! I did this for 7 years and I discovered that each of them learn a different way. Some were auditory, some comprehended visually and others were kinesthetic—they liked to learn in a hands-on way. I think that when it comes to college research materials, it’s important to get your students’ the format that is best suited to the way they learn. If your daughter isn’t tech-savvy, then a digital copy probably would not be best for her. Set them up for success by learning how they are wired to learn!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Give the Gift of Education

Christmas is one of my most favorite times of the year and this year, more people are getting into the idea of gifting than last year. In fact, according to a recent survey, 73% of consumers say that they will spend the same as last year during the fourth quarter, and 18% of consumers report that they will spend more. So spending is back up again, but I think that strategic spending is more important now than ever.
It’s important for consumers to be careful and thoughtful in the decisions they make when it comes to buying gifts this holiday. That’s why I’ve partnered with Upromise to tell my friends about the gift of education. So while parents and grandparents (even favorite aunties) are splurging on kids, why not work on saving for kids, too by providing for that cute kid’s college education?

You can open a 529 account for any beneficiary, or gift money using Ugift into an Upromise Investments 529 plan. If you don’t already have a 529 plan, then you are really missing out because the contributions can benefit from tax deferred growth. Also, gifting into one of these plans this time of year also means that you can possibly take advantage of year end tax deductions. Just check to see if you are eligible for states income tax deductions or credits for saving for college. For example, parents and grandparents can contribute as much as $13,000 ($26,000 if married filing jointly) into a 529 plan without incurring gift taxes. A special rule allows married couples to gift up to $130,000 ($65,000 if single) as long as no additional gifts are made to that beneficiary over a five year period. This also applies to recent college grads who might appreciate a meaningful gift to help pay a student loan payment. Plus, you don’t have to be a parent or grandparent to participate, other friends and family can make contributions to your child’s 529 plan by gifting money or by buying gifts, which brings me to my next point—how to save money by spending money.

Most people, know about Upromise from signing up for their buying program. I’ve been participating for years by going to Upromise.com and then purchasing through participating online retailers. These are stores where I would shop anyway and I get anywhere from 1% to 25% back for the purchases I make. And our family isn’t the only one doing this. Last year, during the holiday season Upromise members received $12 million in college savings rewards from eligible holiday spending. Because membership is free and members have collectively earned $575 million in college savings from purchasing items online or even by buying gas or groceries. I book a lot of travel for my business and often find myself eating out—all these are also included toward my children’s 529 plans.

So consider giving the gift of education to a child you love—either by saving or spending, and the world will be a much smarter place!

Happy Holidays!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert ®

College Debt – Ellie Answers Your Questions!

One of Yahoo’s most popular videos was yours truly on ABC NEWS NOW earlier this month answering your questions about college grads as well as debt!

Here’s the scoop:

Q. Our daughter just graduated from UCLA and we’re very proud of her. But even though she has a prestigious degree, she still hasn’t been able to locate work. Should we allow her to move in with us until she finds employment?

Bill and Carol from Quartz Hills, CA via facebook
Ellie: This is a tough one! As a mom of kids in this age group, I know it’s a fine line between enabling and empowering and it’s definitely one of those individual decisions. What may be right for a particular child may not be right for another one. I think you ought to support her emotionally and psychologically, letting her know you believe in her. You can also offer to help with resumes or job research. But I would make the offer to have her move in with you as a last resort only. Furthermore, if she does move in with you, it’s important to sit down ahead of time, come up with a responsibility/income agreement and have both parties subscribe to the guidelines.

Q. My husband and I have a son who graduated last year and could not find work, so he moved in with us until he could find employment. He found a modest job, and is not making very much money. He decided that continuing to live with us would be a better financial option than paying rent on a limited income. I love my son, and he’s only 23 right now, but I’m afraid of a “Failure to Launch” syndrome and I need to know what you would advise me to do.

Allana from Lancaster, PA via online contact form
ELLIE: OK, the Failure to Launch syndrome, it’s every parent’s nightmare. We finally have an empty nest, then boomerang children come back to inhabit a place where they no longer naturally fit. I think, Allana, that it is imperative that you and your husband develop an comprehensive exit strategy for junior. Make sure this plan requires that he pays room and board with you, that he develop a clear budget and make himself accountable to you (while he’s living at home) and then be clear about D-day. The day he will depart. Be loving but firm. Remember that the decisions you are implementing with him today will be the precedence you set for tomorrow. You and you alone, enable the boomerang effect, yet you also have the power to put a stop to that boomerang before it’s ever launched. Then you won’t have a “Failure to Launch.”
Q: I am a 26 year old single girl with a bachelor’s degree but not yet a Master’s. I am working with children in a library setting currently and am considering various Master’s programs. (Library Science included). I would have to take out loans for the program though, and I am not sure that taking on that debt would be a wise thing, even though it would lead to a professional job. What is your advice for women around my age who eventually want to marry and have a family and do not want the burden of school debt? I have read some of your books and very much appreciate your insights and time.

Jen Crouse submitted via Online Contact Form
Ellie: It’s admirable that you desire to go back to college for a master’s while you are still in your twenties and your work with children sounds very gratifying. Ellie usually recommends no more than 10K in student loan debt for any program (bachelors or masters). Instead, you could look into some of the following:
Step 1
Apply for a scholarship.
There are merit based graduate school scholarships out there so go to www.salliemae.com which lists almost 2 million scholarships. Talk to the admissions office at the college or university at which you’d like to apply. They can give you advice on applying for their own scholarships (if they have them) or point you to the appropriate federal and/or state scholarship programs.
Step 2
Look into a fellowship or assistantship
. Many colleges and universities offer programs that enable you to get a master’s degree while doing research or assisting professors in the department in which you wish to study. This is a viable option that also enhances your hands-on experience in your chosen field.
Step 3
Talk to your employer.
Many employers are willing to foot the bill for a master’s degree, especially an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Talk to someone in your company’s Human Resources department to get more information. Or another option is to talk to a military recruiter to join the guard or reserves. The Army, Air Force and Navy will pay up to $65,000 in student loan debts if you qualify for the program.

Q. My husband and I want to help with our son’s college expenses (he graduates in two years) and we don’t want him to be straddled with huge student loans. Several of our friends and other family members have said, “Just take out a second mortgage or use the equity in your home to pay for college.” What do you think about that?

McKenzie Thomas from Stanford, CA
Ellie: I believe that you should never borrow on your own future to pay for your child’s future. In any discussion of college costs, it’s important to keep priorities straight. Your kid’s education shouldn’t cost you your retirement. This means it’s not a wise idea to take out a home equity loan, an equity line of credit or refinance your mortgage in order to pay for school. This would reduce the amount of equity in your home, increase the risk of possible foreclosure and incur costs in interest charges that may cost more if the term on the new mortgage is greater than the remaining term on the existing mortgage.

Q. My son-in-law just graduated with his Masters Degree in Education. They have had a hard time while he’s been in school and don’t have the best credit scores. They’ve asked us to co-sign on a new automobile loan and we are reluctant. What do you think about co-signing for loans?

Amanda from Wichita, KS via Ellie Kay’s blog
Ellie: Since you son-in-law needs a co-signer, it means their credit is so risky that no lender will give him money on his own credit history. The question is: why should you? Even though it may come across as “helping a family member out” it’s still a business transaction and when you set the precedence of co-signing on a loan—be prepared to do it again and again. If not for the same person, then for another friend who may say, “well, you did it for Daniel, why not me?” You have to assume you will be the one repaying the loan & you won’t have the associated asset, so it can’t possibly be a good business move.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
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