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Financial Aid Options for Middle-Income Families

October 21, 2019

It’s no secret that college comes with a hefty price tag. Every year, families have to figure out how they’re going to pay thousands of dollars in school bills. While some may have the resources to pay tuition, many just do not have that kind of money lying around. Thankfully, there are plenty of options when it comes to reducing the cost of college. We’re sharing the steps middle-income families can take to secure various types of financial aid.

 

FAFSA

If you’re looking for financial aid options, you should start by filling out The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. Even as a middle-income family, you may still receive some need-based aid, especially if your student plans on enrolling at a higher-cost school. Further, many scholarships require the student to fill out the FAFSA anyway. Over $120 billion are awarded through federal grants, work-studies and loans every year, so why not throw your name in the hat? The FAFSA opens October 1 every year, and you can apply as early as the year before your child’s first day of college. The earlier you apply, the more likely your child is to receive financial aid.

 

Scholarships

Perhaps the best thing your child can do is research and apply for scholarships, and it pays to go local. Many locally-owned businesses and organizations offer scholarships for graduating high school students. You or your spouse could also ask your employer if they provide any scholarships or financial aid for employees’ children. After exhausting local options, your child may want to research national opportunities. A quick web search could reveal countless free scholarships – Niche®, Fastweb®, and eCampusTours® are an excellent place to start. Just remember, scholarships are not exempt from internet scams, so do your research and make sure they’re legitimate. The FTC warns families to be cautious if the following lines are included in the application:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected” by a “national foundation” to receive a scholarship – or “You’re a finalist” in a contest you never entered.

Source: FTC

 

Finally, seek out the colleges that offer the best financial aid packages. Student Loan Hero recently highlighted 50 U.S. Colleges With the Most Generous Financial Aid Packages, and yours may be on their list! If it’s not, reach out to your school’s financial aid office, and they’ll be happy to provide you with all of your options.

 

Tuition Discounts

While you’re asking about scholarships, inquire about tuition discounts.

 

Sibling Discounts: Sometimes, if more than one child is enrolled at the same college or university, the school may offer a tuition discount. Often the discount is only applied to one sibling’s tuition, but it is still helpful for the family’s overall finances. These discounts can range from a flat rate to a percentage off each semester or each year. If your children are planning on enrolling at the same school, this option is worth seeking out.

 

Military Discounts: Colleges may also offer discounts to military veterans and their families. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 ensures veterans and dependent family members will not be charged out-of-state tuition if they meet specific requirements. Again, check with the school’s financial aid department to see if they offer “military-friendly” discounts.

 

Alumni Discounts: If you attended your child’s school of choice, your child may be eligible for scholarships, discounts, or other benefits. Many colleges have legacy programs, competitive scholarships, or even special legacy tuition rates. If you have other family connections to the university like grandparents, make sure you talk to an admissions counselor about the financial aid options available.

 

Tax Rewards

Middle-income families are perfectly positioned to receive tax credits for college expenditures. For example, the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a 20 percent tax credit for the first $10,000 in yearly, qualified tuition expenses. Programs like this, as well as tuition savings plans, offer a few different ways for middle-income families to receive tax benefits.

 

Federal Loans

If you’ve taken advantage of all your aid options and find you still have a debt to pay, it may be time to consider loans. Non-need based federal loans such as the Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan for students and the Federal PLUS Loan for parents can bridge whatever gap you find in your aid and your expenses. Federal education loans generally have low-interest rates or may be tax-deductible, so they’re a smart alternative to using a credit card, for example.

 

Private Loans

You may find that you still need financial assistance after exhausting all the options above. If that’s the case, private student loans may be an option. We always recommend you take advantage of grants, scholarships, and federal aid before taking out a private student loan. To learn more about ELFI’s private student loan options1, click here.

 

Other Qualifications

Remember that financial aid in the form of discounts and scholarships aren’t always one and done. Even if you’re getting a scholarship based on your family history or some type of local competitive scholarship, you may be required to meet certain qualifications to receive the money. Sometimes you might be required to complete a number of service hours or stay enrolled in school full-time to keep your scholarship, for example. Make sure you know any additional qualifications or requirements before applying for the scholarship or another type of aid – you don’t want to be caught off-guard.

 

The cost of college can present a challenge for families at all income levels. If you find yourself in that position, don’t despair. The options in this article are a good place to start searching for financial assistance. No matter what, don’t lose sight of the end goal: getting a degree and ultimately establishing a sustainable career. If you’re already looking for financial aid, you’re well on your way.

 

 


1Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

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Mother and daughter discussing cosigning a student loan
2020-10-02
5 Things to Know Before Cosigning a Loan

With interest rates on student loans at historical lows, 2020 offers the opportunity to obtain student loans at desirable interest rates, along with the ability to refinance student loans to a lower interest rate. Receiving a lower interest rate allows you to save money when repaying student loans by decreasing the amount of interest that you will have to pay over your loan term.   While it is appealing to take advantage of these lower interest rates, meeting the eligibility requirements to obtain a student loan or refinance student loans can be a barrier to obtaining these lower rates. One option for individuals who don't meet the credit score or income requirements for obtaining a loan is adding a cosigner who does meet the requirements to guarantee the loan. However, consigning a loan comes with responsibilities. Here are several things to know before consigning a student loan or a refinanced loan.  

You are held responsible for the entire loan

While cosigning a loan can seem like a simple favor to help a friend or family member, it actually means that you are held responsible for the entire loan amount. Cosigning a loan means that you are obligated to make payments on the loan if the primary borrower is unable to do so. While the borrower may be financially able to make consistent payments now, it's important to keep in mind that their situation can change for the worse, whether it be through losing employment, unwise financial decisions, or simply being irresponsible.   Before cosigning a loan, be sure to take stock of your current and potential future financial situation to ensure you will be able to make payments if the primary borrower cannot.  

Your credit is at stake

When you cosign a loan, the loan and payment history shows up on your credit report as if the loan is your own. When you first cosign, the lender will conduct a hard credit pull, making an immediate impact on your credit score. The overall amount of debt will also be added to your credit report, which can also affect your credit score.   This means that any missed payments will affect your credit score negatively. Since payment history is one of the biggest factors in your credit score, it's important to make sure the primary borrower is making their payments and that they are aware that a missed payment affects your financial future as well.   Additionally, since cosigning a loan adds to your total debt, cosigning a loan may affect your access to credit in the future. Creditors will take this debt into consideration before approving you for additional credit. It's recommended to keep an eye on your credit report after cosigning a loan to make sure it's still in good shape.  

You can be subject to legal action by the lender

Depending on the state you live in, lenders can pursue legal action against you on debt that goes unpaid for a significant period of time. If several missed payments occur, you may be liable to be sued for nonpayment. This typically occurs when the debt goes unpaid for 90 to 180 days, but the law varies in different states, and protocol varies by lender.   If legal action commences, the cosigner will be responsible for any and all costs, including but not limited to lawyer fees. While this doesn't typically occur, keeping in mind the worst-case scenario is still important.  

Removing yourself as the cosigner can be difficult

Another consideration to have when cosigning a loan is that it's not always easy to remove yourself as a cosigner down the road. If you need to eliminate the liability of the cosigned debt in order to receive a personal loan, mortgage, or another type of credit later on, you may find yourself wanting to be released as the cosigner.   Refinancing a loan is one way to remove a cosigner, however, the primary borrower will have to qualify for the new loan in order to do so. Typically, lenders will require the primary borrower to establish a history of on-time payments before they assess whether the borrower can responsibly take on the loan themselves.  

Your relationship could be at risk

While not a major financial risk, cosigning a loan can cause a divide in your relationship with the primary borrower if repayment doesn't go according to plan. While the primary borrower may have all plans to responsibly manage the loan, if things worsen and you as the cosigner aren't made aware, you may be fairly bothered by how the borrower's actions have affected you. It's important to establish a trust that the primary borrower will be transparent with you so that the loan doesn't cause a problem with your relationship with them down the road.  

Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, cosigning a loan comes with risk, and should only be done when necessary and if you fully understand the consequences if things don't go according to plan. If you're looking to release yourself as the cosigner of a loan, read our blog, Cosigners and Cosigner Release: What You Need to Know  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.      
Dad with Parent PLUS loans hugging daughter
2020-09-16
Should You Refinance Private Parent Loans in 2020?   

Are you a parent who took on student loans for your child to attend school? If so, you are not alone. As of 2019, over 3.4 million people have Parent PLUS loans. The payment of the loans may become burdensome as the desire to save and enjoy retirement approaches. If extra money in your budget could help, Parent PLUS loan borrowers may want to take advantage of the current low rates and refinance the student loans they took on for their children.  

Types of Parent Loans

Before you decide whether refinancing is beneficial for you, it’s helpful to know what types of loans you have. Parents may have private parent loans that are borrowed through a private lender such as a bank, or Parent PLUS loans that are borrowed through the federal government. Parent PLUS loans are also known as Direct PLUS loans. Here’s a breakdown of how the two types of parent loans differ:
  • Interest Rates: Typically private parent loans will have a lower interest rate than Parent PLUS loans. Parent PLUS loans can have an interest rate as high as 7.06% in recent years, whereas private parent loans can have an interest rate of around 4%.
  • Loan Terms: Private parent loans can also have a fixed or variable interest rate and have a loan term from 5 to 25 years. Parent PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate and an origination fee. The loan term can last from 10 to 25 years.
  • Additional Benefits: Since the Parent PLUS loan is through the federal government it is eligible for an income-contingent repayment plan, meaning the payment is based on your income and family size.
 

Current Benefits for Parent Loan Borrowers

Currently, Parent PLUS loans are eligible for benefits through the federal government due to the CARES Act passed by Congress on March 27, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The benefits are set to expire on September 30, 2020, however, an executive order was issued on August 8, 2020, directing the benefits to continue through December 31, 2020. The protections provided by the CARES Act, and continued through the executive order, for Parent PLUS loans include:
  • The interest rate on the loan is temporarily reduced to 0%. No interest will be accruing on the loan during this time. However, interest will begin accruing again at the previous interest rate on January 1, 2021.
  • Administrative forbearance - This provides for a temporary suspension of payments during this time. Payments are set to resume in January 2021. This means you can save money to make a lump sum payment on your Parent PLUS loan when payments resume. Alternatively, you can use the money as an emergency fund if payments become difficult to make.
  • Stopped collections - Any defaulted loans would no longer be subject to collections during this time period.
 

How to Know Whether You Should Refinance

With these benefits currently in place, it is fiscally responsible to take advantage of the federal protections provided for Parent PLUS loans rather than refinancing at this time.  However, private parent loans are not eligible for any federal protections, making them prime candidates for refinancing. Currently, interest rates for refinancing are at an all-time low because of the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates in response to the pandemic. This makes it a great time to take advantage of these low interest rates for private parent loans.   Refinancing rates for private parent loans are as low as 2.39% for a variable interest rate and 2.79% for a fixed interest rate as of September 14, 2020. This new rate could lead to significant savings depending on your current balance, rate and loan term. At ELFI, you can prequalify to see what rate you would be eligible for. You can also use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator to get an estimate of your savings based on a range of interest rates.*   Not only does refinancing private parent loans save you money monthly by securing a lower interest rate, but refinancing to a lower interest rate also saves you in interest costs over the loan term. In addition, the other benefits of refinancing private parent loans are:
  • Combining multiple private and federal Parent PLUS loans into one loan with one payment
  • Changing the loan term length by either shortening it to save on interest costs or lengthening it to lower your monthly payments
  If refinancing sounds right for you, it’s important to know the eligibility requirements. These will make you more likely to qualify for the best rate at ELFI:
  • A strong credit history, with a minimum credit score of 680
  • Steady employment with a minimum income of at least $35,000
  When you refinance student loans at ELFI there is never an application fee or origination fee. You will also never pay a prepayment penalty.

Bottom Line

Although interest rates are at a record low, it is advantageous to benefit from the current Parent PLUS loan protections for the time being. Then, in 2021, you can take advantage of the low interest rates if you choose to refinance. If you have a private parent loan, now is a great time to lock in a lower interest rate and start saving some money.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
Woman smiling at college graduation
2020-09-08
7 Actions to Take Before Your Grace Period Ends

Congratulations! You graduated from college and have hopefully settled into the start of your career. If it has been almost 6 months since your graduation, it’s most likely your student loan grace period is nearing the end if you have federal student loans. Are you prepared for when your grace period ends? Luckily we have some actions you can take to prepare.      If you have federal student loans, there is a six month grace period before you have to begin making payments after you graduate, leave school or drop below a half-time student. Not all federal student loans have a grace period. The loans that do include: direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized. PLUS loans for graduate school have a six month deferment period after graduation where payments are not required. Some private student loans also have a grace period but it may not be six months. Be sure to check with your lender to determine if any grace period exists.   

Actions to Take

Here are a few actions you should take before your grace period ends to ensure you are prepared.  

Determine Your Debts

  First, it’s important to understand the types of student loans you have. For example, do you have private or federal loans? If you have federal student loans, you’ll need to determine whether you have subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans mean the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on the loan during the grace period for most loans. (Note: If you have a direct subsidized loan that was disbursed between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014, you are responsible for the interest during the grace period.) If you have a Direct Unsubsidized loan you will always be responsible for the interest, even the interest accruing during the grace period. This means that if you don’t need the grace period you may want to think about at least paying the interest on the loan.    Be sure to take stock of your other debts, such as a car loan or credit card payments, and their minimum payments.  

Make a Budget

Determine a budget that includes your new student loan payment and all other debt payments. Once you determine your budget, start following it before your grace period ends. The money budgeted for your student loan can be put aside to use as an emergency fund. Or use the money you saved during the grace period to make a principal-only payment to get ahead on your repayment.    

Set Up Auto-Pay 

Another great action to take during your grace period is setting up auto-pay through your loan servicer. Setting up auto-pay will ensure your student loan payment is always made on time. Another great benefit of using the auto-pay feature is that federal student loans are given a 0.25% interest rate reduction. Some private student loan lenders also provide a discount for auto-pay so check with your lender if any discount is available.   

Establish a Debt Repayment Plan

Your grace period is a great time to establish a student loan debt repayment plan. A debt repayment plan will help you decide exactly how you will pay off your debts. There are two main types of student loan debt repayment plans, the snowball method, and the avalanche method. You have to decide which method would work better for your financial situation and motivation. Either method will be helpful if you have multiple student loans or other debts to pay off. Once you decide on your method, you will know how to allocate any extra money you have in your budget for debt repayment. When it comes time for your grace period to end you will be more than ready to start paying down your loans efficiently!   

Research Repayment Options

  1. If you have multiple student loans you can pay each loan, keeping track of each loan individually and their due dates. 
  2. Another option is to consolidate your federal loans into one loan. The average interest rate of the consolidated loans becomes the fixed interest rate on the new consolidated loan. This is consolidating your federal loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan through the U.S. Department of Education.  
  3. Refinance student loans. Once you start getting your finances in order you may realize your student loan payment is not going to fit in your budget or has a much higher interest rate then what is available now. That’s where refinancing your student loans can help. Refinancing your student loans means you will borrow a new private student loan to pay off any previous student loans (including federal and other private student loans). Refinancing can save you money because interest rates can be much lower than for federal loans. A lower interest rate means you are saving money in interest costs monthly and over the life of the loan. To find out how much you could save use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*
 

Learn About Borrower Protections and Programs

When you have federal student loans you are provided benefits that are not always provided by private student loan lenders. The grace period of your loans is a good time to find out about any federal borrower protections you may want to use in the future, such as deferment and forbearance for your loans. Also, if you work for a non-profit or government agency, your loans may qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. During the grace period, it is helpful to learn about the requirements for the program so when your payments begin you can be sure they qualify under the specific rules of the program.    

Learn About the Repayment Plans

If you are shocked by what your monthly payment will be on the standard repayment plan, check into the other student loan repayment plans provided for by the U.S. Department of Education. Certain loans are eligible for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, where your payment will be based on your income. Or you can elect to have your loans on the Graduated Repayment Plan that will extend your loan term to provide for a smaller monthly payment. However, keep in mind that you will end up paying more interest over the loan term.   

The Bottom Line

Taking these actions will help you be prepared for the end of your grace period. You are already a step ahead by thinking about this now. This preparation will start you off on a bright financial future knocking out your student loans. Good luck!  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.