A Financial Education Event
 

5 Do’s and Don’ts For a Smooth Transition to College or A Service Academy

When my daughter, Bethany was 4 years old, we called her “Bunny” because she hopped from heart to heart. She loved to play with her little girlfriends and one afternoon she spent the entire afternoon with Amanda. She was a little girl who felt life deeply and could go from being on top of the world to the depths of despair in nanoseconds.

When I picked her up from her friend’s she bounced to the car and chatted all the way home. We walked in the door and I asked her how Amanda’s older sister was doing. Suddenly, she began to sob, uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong, Bunny?” I handed her a Kleenex.

“I don’t want to leave you, Mama!” she wailed.

“Why would you think you have to leave?” I was really confused.

She looked at me through her tears, “To go to COLLEGE.”

Apparently Amanda’s older sister was preparing to move to go to college and Bethany couldn’t imagine a day when she would have to leave her Papa and myself to go to school. The good news is that fourteen years later, she was a little bit more prepared when she moved from California to Chicago to go to college. She got a B.A. in Communications, with an emphasis in Electronic Media and was in her element.

Today, Bethany and I host The Money Millhousepodcast and still get just as emotional, on occasion, while putting her college degree to good use. We made a point of preparing Bunny and all the Kay kids for college, long before they went to Freshman orientation. Three of the Kay kids went to service academies, which meant they only had less than a month at home after high school graduation.

Whether you are prepping kids to go to a civilian university or whether they are going a service academy like three of our sons (USMA, USAFA, USNA) here’s some “homework” in the form of five do’s and don’ts to make a smooth move.   

  1. Don’t – Fill up free time with friends at the expense of family. 
  • Friends come and go but family is forever.
  • Only a small percentage of your friends from high school will still be your BFFs throughout college. Less than 2% of boyfriend/girlfriend relationships will last until college graduation.

          Do – Tell your mama (and papa) that you love them early and often.

  • Mend fences and build bridges with family members.
  • Expect there to be some pre-separation anxiety on both sides (parents and kids) so give each other a lot of grace.
  • Students, please understand that this is hard on your parents, especially if you are moving away to go to school.
  • Parents, understand that this is hard on your kid because they are about to go do something they’ve never done before. For those going to service academies, it’s going to be big and scary and you won’t be there.
  • Students, take the time to thank your parents, grandparents, friends, educators and coaches.
  1. Don’t – Take a break from physical fitness, especially if attending a Service Academy.
  • My husband, Bob, and our son, Jonathan, went to The Air Force Academy and they used to say that “The Air Force Academy is at an altitude of 7258 feet—far far above Annapolis or West Point.” That’s why physical fitness was important.
  • If you’re going to a service academy, you’re going to take a Physical Fitness Test as soon as you get there.
  • Engage in risky behavior, now is not the time to push the limits legally or physically. Don’t take up space jumping or quad racing because a broken limb could cost an appointee their service academy appointment.

          Do – Continue to workout and make wise choices.

  • Physical fitness is a healthy way to cope with pressure in college.
  • Even if you go on a family vacation or have a lot of things to do.
  • For service academy appointees, run 3 miles 3-4 times a week and then do 50 pushups and 50 sit ups every day.
  1. Don’t – Make this all about you.
  • Parents, don’t create drama before they go or after they’ve gone.
  • Moms, don’t sob and cry and tell them you don’t’ know how you’re going to survive without them. Shedding a few tears is OK, but doing what Oprah calls “the ugly cry” isn’t all right.
  • Parental, sibling or significant other drama is a distraction to the service academy appointee going through basic cadet training or “beast.” Distractions can lead to accidents and accidents can lead to a turn back (meaning they have to go home.)
  • Don’t post a bunch of “poor me-isms” on social media

          Do – Keep it positive. 

  • Right now, service academy portals will have a mailing address for the student. Give this address to friends and family and with your network because cards and letters mean everything during basic training. “Basics” aren’t allowed access to computers, phones or social media.
  • Do send simple cards and letters – no perfume on the cards, no kissy marks on the envelopes, no care packages during beast, and no food. After beast is over, you can send these.
  • Do tell your student funny stories about a younger sibling or the dog.
  • Do send pictures of the dog or pet.
  • Do keep it light and not heavy.Students, do make your social media channels private or have them go dormant.
  • Do clean up these channels because you never know what the cadre will get ahold of and you don’t want to embarrass yourself or become a targ
  1. Don’t –Be Han Solo – you don’t have to do this alone.
  • My husband’s advice to our sons for basic cadet training was. “Keep your mouth shut and help your classmates.”
  • Don’t stand out as the first, the most knowledgeable or the best or worst
  • For parents, don’t go this journey alone, join a parents club or booster club.
  • Remember, parents, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

          Do – Be a team player.

  • Look for ways you can help others get through Beast.
  • The friendships you make in BCT and college will last a lifetime. My husband, Bob and I just had dinner with a classmate of USAFA class of l978.
  • Do take advantage of the sponsor family program, a program that allows local families to “adopt” a cadet or midshipman.Some of these friendships may become like a second family—or at least get you to the airport.
  • Parents, do join a parents clubfor your respective service academy. Your civilian friends don’t get it, other service academy parents do understand the unique situation your family faces.
  1. Don’t – Ever forget the “why” of what this education and your career means.
  • Service Academy Appointees are choosing something hard, something their civilian friends will never understand, but there’s a big “why.” They want to serve their country as officers.
  • During BCT and during your 4 years there, you’ll have to sometimes take life a meal at a time, a day at a time.
  • Parents, don’t forget that being a good parent means you let them fly and you support their choice to serve. You don’t have to like it or feel good about what those choices may include.
  • Parents, DON’T borrow tomorrow’s trouble. While they are there, they are safe, they are not deployed, they are not in harm’s way. Today has enough challenges of its own without borrowing on tomorrow. As long as they are in training, they aren’t in combat. If and when that day happens, you’ll have the strength you need to cope. We know this, having had one son serve in a combat zone in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Appointees, remember your goals in getting through BCT and the academy—to fly, to serve, to go into cyber security or intel, or missles or space. Your goal is much bigger than BCT and that’s why you’ll get through.

Do –  Remember the Legacy

  • You are part of a long line of military service.
  • Think about the parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles who have ever served. You are part of that legacy.
  • Your legacy keeps American free.
  • Putting on a uniform doesn’t make someone a hero, but those who put on that uniform and serve with integrity first, service before self and excellence in all they do—that’s pretty heroic.
  • There’s another kind of hero as well, the Heroes at Homeand those are the parents, siblings, grandparents and family members of those who serve. America thanks you as well. 

“It starts and ends with character, and it’s a journey, not a destination. Leadership is a gift, and it is given to us by those who follow.”

General David Goldfein

Air Force Chief of Staff

Financial First Aid Kit – Military Appreciation Month

In honor of military appreciation month, I’d like to highlight our Army son, Joshua. When he was born we started saying, “If he had been our first, he would have been our last.” That little boy had more energy and could get into more scrapes than all our other children combined. When he was eighteen months old, he stripped down to his diaper, took a plastic sword and chased his four older siblings around the house, thus earning the nickname “Conan, the baby barbarian.” By that age, he had also jumped off the top bunkbed (three stitches) and “flown” off our travel trailer (four stitches). Joshua was the reason we purchased a serious first aid kit. He’s now an Army Lt jumping out of airplanes at Fort Benning.

Just as every family needs a good first aid kit for those unexpected accidents, they also need a financial first aid kit, or practical ways to help safeguard their financial future.

  1. An Emergency Savings Account – This account is not an investment account, it doesn’t include IRAs, retirement accounts or CDs. Its purpose is not growth, but safety. These are funds that are accessed in the event of spouse unemployment, emergency home repairs, or unexpected auto repair bills. The best way to build this account is to establish a family budget. Go to your base’s Family Readiness Center to develop a budget for your current season of life. I recommend automatically transferring funds from a paycheck or checking account into a savings account every week. A good guideline is to save three months of living expenses for dual income households or six months for a single income family.
  2. Life & Health Insurance – For life insurance, you will need enough money so that your dependents could invest the money and live modestly on the proceeds. For military members, the best buy is still SGLI, or Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance. Members are automatically insured for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless an election is filed reducing the insurance by $50,000 increments or canceling it entirely.  Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is a program extended to the spouses and dependent children of members insured under the SGLI program. FSGLI provides up to a maximum of $100,000 of insurance coverage for spouses, not to exceed the amount of SGLI the insured member has in force, and $10,000 for dependent children. The rates are inexpensive. If your situation requires additional life insurance or you are transitioning out of the military, look at USAA for the best rates for military members and their families. For health insurance, there’s healthcare.gov where you can find out about open enrollment season and how to get insurance plans changed or updated. Another good place to research a variety of plans is found at eHealthInsurance where you can compare plans. There’s also
  1. A Will –Here’s another easy one, that’s as easy as making an appointment with the JAG or taking advantage of mobile services that are sometimes offered at military conferences such as Yellow Ribbon. The main section of this critical document will assign a guardian for your children. In many states, the surviving spouse may only get one-third to one-half of the assets that were in your sole name. Your children get the rest and if they are minors, a court administrator could handle their money until they become adults. Make sure that the beneficiary designations on any 401(k) plans, IRAs, life insurance and bank accounts are also up to date. Another option is legal zoom, which can prepare a quick will at a low cost.
  2. A Retirement Account –A surprising number of military spouses, or reservists do not take advantage of the terrific tax-deferred accounts offered by their employer, which include 401(k) plans. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a Federal Government-sponsored retirement savings and investment plan and has great rates with low fees for administering the account It’s part of the new Blended Retirement System that is currently in place. This plan offers the similar tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans and they are full portable upon leaving the military. Be sure your current TSP funds are not in the “G” fund for maximum benefit.
  3. A Good Credit Rating – The best way to rebuild good FICO, or credit score, is found in three steps: pay more than your minimum payment (even if it’s only $5/month more), pay a day early rather than a day late (set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your credit card company for minimum payments) and never let your available credit fall to less than 30% of the total credit available (for example, $2000 on a $6000 credit line.)  Each year, get a free copy of your credit report by going to Annual Credit Report or go into the base’s Family Support Center where they can also run a free copy of your report and check your score.
  4. A College Fund for Those Babies!–Select a college savings account that has low fees, a good selection of investments, plus a tax break. One of the many options is a Qualified State Tuition Plan, also known as 529 Plans. Be sure to research your state of record and their plans. These contributions will be tax-deferred and could even be tax-deductible from your state income tax if you are a resident of that state (check with your tax specialist). When the money is withdrawn for college, it is only taxed at the student’s income tax rate. If the child does not go to college, the money can be designated for another beneficiary or removed at a 10% penalty.

 

If you’re a family with a “Conan,” then make sure you have a First Aid Kit on hand. But don’t forget the fact that your family need a Financial First Aid kit as well.

I wanted to issue a special thank you to all our military families who serve, we appreciate you!

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

Before You Say “I Do” – Premarital Financial Counseling

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“Bye, bye!”  I smiled and waved from the front porch, Bob by my side, “Nice to meet you!”

Speaking like a ventriloquist, I continued to wave at my son and his girlfriend,

“I give It less than one week” I told my husband, “two weeks tops.”

Bob smiled, giving his very poor ventriloquist rendition, “I don’t know, she was, ah, very conversational.”

“Yeah,” we turned to walk back in, “and her favorite topic was herself!”

We had just entertained one of our sons and a girl he brought home to meet us. In our family, we are predisposed to like the significant others that our children bring home because our kids have very good judgement. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t sitting on “no” when it comes to these friendships that could blossom into something more.

One week later, we got a call from our son letting us know that he and the girl were not going to work out.

“Yeah,” our son reported, “I realized that the only thing we had in common was that we both thought she was pretty.”

The Kay whammy had struck again.

“What is the Kay whammy?” you ask.  It’s pretty simple, when our kids bring a special person home to meet our family, they either stay together for life and get married. Or, they break up within two weeks.

We are an intense family and we tend to drive away the faint of heart. But we are also a loving, loud and loquacious family and that attracts the brave hearts.

When it comes to a spouse, our kids look for certain qualities and when they get serious, we ask for a credit report.

I’m kidding.

Not really.

Knowing your future mate’s money habits is a significant part of deciding if they are a “forever” friend or not. Since “money matters” is cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America, it’s important to be on the same page regarding this topic. So far, all of our kids have opted for premarital counseling before the big day and this counseling should include the topic of money management.

Here’s a quick list of the financial topics that should be covered before you say I do.

8 Topics to Cover in Financial Premarital Counseling

Your Family of Origin’s Financial Situation

How did your parents manage money? What did they teach you about money? Chances are good you may manage your finances the way that your family did and this may be different from your significant other’s point of view. Did your parents save, believe in tithing, pay cash for everything or did they live paycheck to paycheck? Hashing out the differences, finding the similarities and developing a new plan for you and your spouse will be topics you cover under this heading.

Your Spend Plan

Do you currently have a budget? Go over both of your current budgets. If you don’t have one, then that is also a discussion point. Decide on what a new budget will look like for you as a couple when you are married. There’s a great app I use called Mint that can be accessed and updated by both parties at any time. This is especially good for military families who are apart but want to keep track of mutual spending.

 Holidays, Birthdays and Vacations

How do you spend money on vacations and holidays? Some families spend so much on Christmas, that it takes until the following May to pay off that debt. Others never take a family vacation. Our family had a low-key Christmas where each child got three modest gifts so the emphasis could stay on the Christ child. Then we went all out on their birthdays where the child was so celebrated that it became a highlight of the year for them. All these different approaches will impact your budget and your relationship.

 Born Spender or Saver?

What is your money personality? You could take the Money Harmony Quiz to see whether you are a born hoarder, spender, money monk, avoider or amasser.  Bob was a born spender, I was a born saver and we made it work nonetheless. But it took a lot of discussion and an action plan to learn to live in harmony with an opposite type of money personality.

 One Checkbook or Two?

Are you each going to keep your own checking account or are you going to combine them? Who will pay for which bill? What about savings accounts and credit cards? Will those be combined or remain separate? Now is a good time to download my free Sixty Minute Money Workout to help you learn how to discuss this topic and others within a time frame that minimizes conflict and maximizes the work you are doing in this area.

 Your Credit History or Debt

You and your significant other need to bring your credit reports to a premarital financial counseling session. Depending on what is there, it may be a wee bit uncomfortable. I married into 40K of consumer debt I didn’t know about and it had a huge impact on our lives together. Your mate may not count student loan debt as debt and you may find out there is an 80K loan that will impact your marriage. You can get a copy of your credit report, once a year, for free at Annual Credit Report and get one for each of the three reporting bureaus at this site. You can also get a copy of your credit score (different from a report) at Credit.com where they will also tell you ways to improve your score. Be prepared to enter your social security number to get this information. Talk about these debts and discuss a repayment plan.

Long Term Financial Priorities

My adult daughter says that life is about investing in experiences, not things. Her priority is travel over a newer car or designer clothes. Her husband’s priorities are slightly different because he’s a born saver. They learned how to discuss these diverse perspectives by doing a Sixty Minute Money Workout so they can get on the same page.  Your mate may want to buy a house as soon as possible and would forgo vacations to make that happen. You may not care that much about home ownership but really want to go home for the holidays. It’s important to discuss topics like housing, retirement, vacation and other long term goals before you get married. I like to say that you can have it all, but not at the same time. Bob and I chose to put our kids in private schools rather than drive new cars. Today, our kids are done with school and we drive the newer cars. We just have to choose the timing on our purchases.

 

Who Does the Math?

Someone is going to need to balance the checkbook, pay the bills and set up the budget. Yes, you should set up your spend plan together, you can even pay the bills together, but that’s usually the exception rather than the norm. One of you may be predisposed to balancing the books better than the other. One of you may actually enjoy paying the bills. In our family, I’m the financial expert and my husband flies jets, so you would think I balance the checkbook. But I also know that my husband needs to be aware of the bottom line because he’s the born spender, so he keeps the books and I review the statements. There needs to be a check and balance. One person should not have absolute control over the couple’s money. Sometimes, he who controls the money controls the house. So it’s important that both partners have access so that there’s no abuse of power.

Which of these topics have you already discussed with your significant other? Which topics still need to be explored? Set a day, time and topic to talk about money with your mate and don’t forget to get the free Sixty Minute Money Workout download.

 

Back to College – The Kay Way – part two

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When people ask me how we are put 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, graduated debt free, with our most recent grad finishing up this past May. The older Kay kids had over ½ million in scholarships and and the last two garnered over a million dollars in scholarships.

Priorities
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. 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.

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 I frequently heard, “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). While an average of 40% of the students who attend these schools either get financial aid, grants or scholarships, they only average out to an 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 in young married Millennials is 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

 

Tips For Graduates Student Loan Debt

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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)
http://www.elliekay.com/

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.

Priorities
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)

www.elliekay.com

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

www.elliekay.com

 

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