4 Practical Ways to Leave College Debt-Free

A college student looks down at her notebook and smiles because she'll leave college debt-free.

The following is a guest post by Lisa Bigelow, a content writer for Bold.

When it comes to paying for college, the anxiety about how to leave college debt-free starts early. And for thousands of grads who are buckling under the weight of monthly student loan payments that can cost as much as a mortgage, that worry can last for as long as 25 years.

According to EducationData.org and The College Board, the cost of a private school undergraduate education can exceed $200,000 over four years. Think you can avoid a $100k+ price tag by staying in-state? Think again—many public flagships can cost over $100,000 for residents seeking an undergraduate degree, including room and board. And with financial aid calculators returning eye-poppingly low awards, you’d better not get a second topping on your pizza.

In fact, you’d better hope that you can graduate on time.

The good news is that you can maintain financial health and get a great education at the same time. You won’t have to enroll as a full-time student and work 40 hours a week, either—each of the methods suggested are attainable for anyone who makes it a priority to leave college debt-free.

Here are four practical ways you can leave college debt-free (and still get that second pizza topping).

1. Cut the upfront sticker price

Don’t visit schools until you are certain you can afford them. Instead, prioritize the cost of attendance and how much you can afford to pay. Staying in-state is one easy way to do this. But if you have wanderlust and want to explore colleges outside state lines, an often-overlooked method of cutting the upfront cost is the regional tuition discount. Many US states participate in some form of tuition reciprocity or exchange programs. You can explore the full list of options at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators website.

Let’s explore how this works. As a resident of a New England state, for example, you can study at another New England state’s public university at a greatly reduced cost if your home state’s public schools don’t offer the degree you want. So, for example, if you live in Maine but want to go to film school, you can attend the University of Rhode Island and major in film using the regional tuition discount.

Some universities offer different types of regional discounts and scholarships that appear somewhat arbitrary. The University of Louisville (in Kentucky) includes Connecticut in its regional scholars program. And at the University of Nebraska, out-of-state admitted applicants are eligible for several thousand dollars in renewable scholarship money if they meet modest academic standards.

If you already have your heart set on an expensive school and you’re not likely to qualify for reciprocity, financial help, or merit aid, live at home and complete your first two years at your local community college.

Here’s another fun fact: in some places, graduating from community college with a minimum GPA gives you automatic acceptance to the state flagship university.

2. Leverage dual enrollment and “testing out”

When you enroll in a four-year college it’s pretty likely that you’ll spend the first two years completing general education requirements and taking electives. Why not further reduce the cost of your education by completing some of those credits at your local community college, or by testing out?

Community college per-credit tuition is usually much cheaper than at four-year colleges, so take advantage of the lower rate in high school and over the summer after you’re enrolled in your four-year college.

But beware: you’ll probably need at least a C to transfer the credits, so read your institution’s rules first. Also, plan to take general education and low-level elective classes, because you’ll want to take courses in your major at your four-year school.

If you’ve been given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses, study hard for your year-end exams. Many colleges will accept a score of 3 or higher for credit, although some require at least a 4 (and others none at all). Take four or five AP classes in high school, score well on the exams, and guess what? You’ve just saved yourself a semester of tuition.

3. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities

After taking steps one and two, you probably have a good idea of what the leftover expense will be if you want to leave college debt-free. Your next job is to figure out how to cut that total even more by using financial aid. There are four types to consider.

The first is called need-based aid. This is what you’ll apply for when you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Known as the FAFSA, this is where you’ll enter detailed financial information, and you’ll need at least an hour the first time you complete this form. Hint: apply for aid as soon as the form opens in the fall. It is not a bottomless pot of money.

There is also medical-based financial aid. If you have a condition that could make employment difficult after graduating from college, you may be eligible, and qualifying is separate and apart from financial need and academic considerations.

The third type of aid relates to merit and is offered directly by colleges. Some schools automatically consider all accepted applicants for merit scholarships, which could relate to academics or community service or, in the case of recruited athletes, athletics. At other universities, you’ll need to submit a separate scholarship application after you’ve been admitted. Some merit awards are renewable for four years and others are only for one year.

If you didn’t get need-based or merit-based aid then you still may qualify for a private scholarship. Some require essays, some don’t, and some are offered by local community organizations such as rotary clubs, women’s organizations, and the like. Don’t turn your nose up at small-dollar awards, either, because they add up quickly and can cover budget-busting expenses such as travel and books.

4. Find easy money

Small-dollar awards really add up when you make finding easy money a priority. Consider using the following resources to help leave college debt-free:

  • Returns from micro-investing apps like Acorns
  • Tax return refunds
  • Browser add-ons that give you cashback for shopping online
  • Rewards credit cards (apply for a travel rewards credit card if you’re studying out of state)
  • Asking for money at the holidays and on your birthday
  • Working part-time by capitalizing on a special talent, such as tutoring, photography, or freelance writing

Leave College Debt-Free

Finally, if you have to take out a student loan, you may be able to have it forgiven if you agree to serve your community after graduation. The Peace Corps is one such way to serve, but if you have a specialized degree such as nursing, you can work in an underserved community and reap the rewards of loan forgiveness.


Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to Credit.com, Lisa has contributed to The Tokenist, OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.

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Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You.

Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You

It wasn’t until a few months after my husband and I got married that I decided to check both our credit scores. While my husband’s credit score wasn’t horrible, it certainly didn’t qualify as “excellent.” This got me thinking about how newlyweds’ financial histories can affect both spouses’ finances moving forward, and how critical it is to acknowledge this reality—ideally before getting hitched.

Why It’s Important to Have a Good Credit Score

Manisha Thakor cuts right to the chase in her book On My Own Two Feet: “Your credit score is essentially your financial reputation in numeric form.”

Aiming for an excellent credit score—generally defined as 750 or more—is a worthy goal, owing to the range of ways in which it can save you money. Credit scores are critical when applying for loans—for instance, car loans and mortgages. In addition, many employers consider prospective employees’ credit scores during the hiring process.

A high credit score means you can access lower interest rates when borrowing, because creditors will view you as reliable. The perceived risk that you’ll default on your loan is lower compared to those with poor credit scores. Lower interest rates, especially on large amounts borrowed over significant timeframes, can save you thousands and thousands of dollars!

A poor credit score can indirectly hurt your financial efforts as well; consider the fact that when you’re paying over the odds in debt repayments, you’re committing fewer dollars to saving and retirement planning.

photo credit: LendingMemo via photopin cc

Till Debt Do Us Part

Marriage makes you one combined financial unit.

However, that doesn’t mean your credit scores are merged; your credit history continues to be maintained on an individual basis. One spouse’s poor credit cannot directly damage the individual score of the other spouse.

That being said, if you apply for a loan as a married couple, creditors look at both your credit scores to determine your eligibility and terms. So, if one of you has the credit of an angel whereas the other’s credit history is limited or even littered with missed payments and liens, you may find your application is denied.

But, this is not just about loan applications—poor credit can belie more than just a few bad credit card habits. Other financial follies, like paying taxes late, not focusing on saving, and day-to-day overspending, could be lurking in the closet.

What Do You Do After You’ve Said I Do?

While bad credit isn’t good news, it’s not necessarily a reason not to get married. And, it’s not necessarily the precursor to divorce! It is, however, an alarm signaling that it is time to get clear on your joint financial situation and start communicating. Make sure you do this respectfully and compassionately to minimize blame and financial stress. (If you’re the type of person who’d like to know this information from prospective partners before things get serious, there are now dating sites catering just to you.)

Once you’ve identified that one of you has less-than-optimal credit, it’s time to take action. Here are four top tips for taking immediate action:

1. Check your credit report for mistakes: Errors are, unfortunately, pretty common and can be really detrimental. Check your report at least once per year.

2. Make payments on time: Yes, this is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said! Mary Beth Storjohann of Workable Wealth says, “35% of your credit score is based on how you pay your bills (making this the biggest determining factor for your score)! Are you often late of missing payments? The impact of just one 90-day late payment goes way beyond the three months you took to pay, so set up automatic bill payments.”

3. Lower your debt-to-credit ratio: This is how much debt you have as a proportion of your overall credit limits. 30% of your credit score is based on the amount of money you owe versus the amount of credit available to you. The higher the amount of credit you’re utilizing, the more negative the impact on your score. Keep the debt level as low as possible (30% of your limits, or less).

4. Pay down your debt faster: Make more than the minimum payments wherever possible by utilizing the snowball method or targeting the balance with the highest interest rate to pay down first.

photo credit: natloans via photopin cc

Alongside these tips, it’s super important to remember that improving your credit score won’t happen overnight. The length of time it takes for your score to improve is directly related to reasons for the drop. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years for your credit report to reflect the positive changes you’re making. As Mary Beth notes, “The most important thing is to be proactive in clearing up any issues.” In addition, two of the criteria factored into your score are the length of your overall credit history and the average age of your accounts.

So, don’t be discouraged—be patient and give it time.

And, Finally, Some Tips on What Not to Do!

There are always two sides to every coin so, while you’re following the tips above, make sure that you’re not unwittingly hurting your score and negating your good work.

Be mindful of the following ways that you could be hurting your credit score:

1. Opening too many new accounts: This comes back to the point that the average age of your accounts is a key factor. Opening lots of new accounts reduces that average.

2. Closing too many old accounts: Older accounts indicate that you have managed payments for a long time and increase the average age of your accounts. When you close credit card accounts, this also decreases the amount of credit available to you, which can reflect negatively if you have other accounts that are still carrying high balances (it essentially increases your debt to credit ratio).

3. Signing up for lots of retail incentive programs: Every time you apply for credit, the company issuing the credit will request information about you from the credit bureaus. Too many of these requests can reduce your score.

4. Over-utilizing your credit. Mary Beth advises, “If you’re depending on your credit cards to fund your daily expenses and lifestyle needs, but aren’t able to pay them off in full at the end of each month, something needs to change. Start tracking your spending and get a handle on your expenses.”

In summary, start taking positive steps, be aware of actions that can hurt your credit, and focus on building solid financial foundations for the future.

This post was written by Erika Torres of GoGirl Finance. GoGirl Finance is a fast-growing community of women seeking and providing financial wisdom across money management, lifestyle, family and career. For more finance tips, follow GoGirl Finance on Twitter @GoGirlFinance

The post Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You. appeared first on MintLife Blog.

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Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Flex℠, or the Chase Freedom Unlimited®? The card names sound the same, and at a glance the rewards are similar.

Not so fast: Though the cards have a lot in common, there are a few key differences to keep in mind when deciding which is the best fit for you.

Both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited offer hefty sign-up bonuses, along with bonus cash back on dining and drugstore purchases, as well as travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The difference is their rewards structures: The Freedom Flex card offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a flat-rate 1.5% cash back on everything.

Read on to get a rundown on the pros and cons of each card, as well as which card is best suited for you, based on your spending habits.

Chase Freedom Flex versus Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Flex
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Rewards rate
  • 5% rotating quarterly categories (upon enrollment, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, then 1%)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases
Sign-up bonus $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
  • $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
Annual fee $0 $0
Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend, including sign-up bonus) $532 $405
Pros
  • No annual fee
  • High rewards rate on both specific categories year-round and on rotating categories
  • Large sign-up bonus
  • Can transfer rewards to other Chase cards
  • No annual fee
  • High general rewards rate
  • Large sign-up bonus
  • Can transfer rewards to other Chase cards
Cons
  • Requires some maintenance
  • Can be difficult to max out rotating categories (may not always align with spending)
  • Low cash back rate on general purchases
  • Not the highest rate available on general purchases
Who should get this card?
  • Rewards maximizers
  • People who want to collect Ultimate Rewards points
  • People who like cash back variety
  • People who want to earn Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee
  • People who want to keep it simple
  • People who want to earn bonus cash back in both specific categories and general purchases
  • People who want to earn Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee

Chase Freedom Flex overview

The Chase Freedom Flex card offers a combination of year-round and quarterly-rotating bonus cash back categories. Each quarter, you can enroll in a new bonus category from the Chase cash back calendar and earn 5% back on the first $1,500 you spend in that category (then 1% back after you reach the $1,500 threshold). Throughout the year, you’ll also get 5% back on all travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1% back on all other purchases.

Upsides: The opportunity to earn bonus cash back in select categories year-round and in a variety of categories each quarter.

Downsides: The complex rewards program. To get the most out of the card, cardholders must track their spending, since the 5% rate only applies to certain categories that rotate frequently and is limited to $1,500 per quarter.

Furthermore, cardholders must log in to their Chase account and activate their rewards category by the deadline each quarter to earn the 5% rate. For example, to earn 5% cash back during the first quarter of 2021 (on select streaming services, phone, cable and internet services and at wholesale clubs), you must activate the category by March 14, 2021.

Chase 5% cash back calendar 2021

Winter Spring Summer Holiday
January – March April – June July – September October – December
  • Select streaming services
  • Phone, cable and internet services
  • Wholesale clubs
TBA TBA TBA

Chase Freedom Unlimited overview

Like the Freedom Flex, the Freedom Unlimited earns bonus cash back on Ultimate Rewards travel (5% back) and dining and drugstore purchases (3% back). However, instead of rotating cash back categories, the Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% cash back on general purchases. There’s also no annual fee, and no interest on purchases for 15 months from account opening (after which a variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74% applies). The card is currently offering a $200 bonus for spending $500 in the first three months.

Upsides: The Freedom Unlimited card offers a straightforward rewards program that allows cardholders to earn at least 1.5% on every purchase they make – with no earning caps or rotating categories.

Downsides: Although 1.5% cash back is a substantial amount to earn on general purchases, it’s not the highest rate out there.

trio of Ultimate Rewards cards.

See related: Chase Ultimate Rewards guide: The best ways to earn and use Ultimate Rewards points

*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. 

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we do receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy

Source: creditcards.com

Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)

What is the AAMS certification?New financial advisors need something to help them stand out. Consequently, the AAMS does just that. Designed for newcomers to the financial advice business, the AAMS trains advisors to identify investment opportunities as well as help clients with other financial goals. It also gives more experienced advisors a fast and simple way to learn more about asset management and improve their credentials. Here’s how it works.

AAMS Defined

An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) can advise clients on college savings, taxes, and retirement savings. The course and tests for this certification are designed to ensure advisors can assist clients with their complete financial needs. It emphasizes evaluating the client’s assets and making appropriate recommendations.

The AAMS certification is granted by the College for Financial Planning, a unit of the Kaplan Company. The college oversees a large number of financial certification programs, including the Certified Financial Planner designation, one of the most valued certifications in the field.

AAMS Certification Requirements

What is the AAMS certification?

To receive an AAMS, students first have to complete a 10-module education program provided by the College for Financial Planning. Then they have to pass an examination. Finally, they must agree to abide by a code of ethics and promise to continue their education.

The courses are online and can be delivered in self-study or instructor-led formats. Courses are open-enrollment, therefore students can begin at any time without waiting for the next session.  The 10 modules cover the following material:

1.:The Asset Management Process

2. Risk, Return & Investment Performance

3. Asset Allocation & Selection

4. Investment Strategies

5. Taxation of Investments

6. Investing for Retirement

7. Deferred Compensation and Other Benefit Plans

8. Insurance Products for Investment Clients

9. Estate Planning for Investment Clients

10. Fiduciary, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues for Advisors

The College of Financial Planning provides everything necessary to study for and complete the modules and take the test. Students have access to the study materials and tests through an online portal.

Streaming video lectures, audio files, and interactive quizzes also can be found through the college’s site. Meanwhile, students can access live classes online and contact professors with questions and issues.

The AAMS Test

To get the AAMS certification, students have to pass just one test. However, they have to make their first attempt at the test within six months of enrollment and pass it within a year.

The fee for the first attempt at taking the test is included in the course tuition. There are no prerequisites for signing up to take the AAMS course.

Time and Money Requirement

Tuition for the AAMS courses is $1,300. This includes the fee for the first attempt at passing the certification exam. It also includes all needed course materials. Each additional attempt costs $100.

Students employed with certain financial services firms may be able to get tuition discounts. The college may also provide scholarships.

The College for Financial Planning recommends students plan to spend 80 hours to 100 hours on the course. Since the course is self-study, this amount of time is flexible.

To maintain AAMS certification students have to commit to completing 16 continuing education credits every two years. Also, continuing education has to cover one or more of the topics covered in the AAMS coursework.

AAMS certificate holders also have to agree to follow a professional standard of conduct. As a result, they have to maintain integrity, objectivity, competency, confidentiality and professionalism in providing financial services.

AAMS Certificate Holder Jobs

AAMS certificates are generally earned by entry-level workers in the financial advice business. Consequently, AAMS holders are typically trainees. In some cases, they may provide support services to more experienced and highly credentialed advisors.

The AAMS designation does not confer any special powers or privileges. Instead, it’s an optional credential that students may obtain to advance their careers and enhance their knowledge of financial advice.

Comparable Certifications

What is the AAMS certification?

In addition to the AAMS, the College for Financial Planning offers an Accredited Wealth Manager Advisor (AWMA) certificate. This is a somewhat more advanced designation. As a result, it requires a course equivalent to three graduate level college credits and requires 90 hours to 135 hours to complete.

Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor (CMFC) is sponsored by the Investment Company Institute along with the College of Financial Planning. It is similar to the AAMS certificate except it focuses on mutual fund assets.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a general personal finance advice certificate from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. First, it requires 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience. Secondly, it demands three letters of reference. Finally, applicants must both complete coursework and pass an exam.

Bottom Line

The AAMS designation is usually for newly minted financial advisors, but even experienced pros can use it to bulk up their credentials. The courses and tests associated with the AAMS teach advisors how to evaluate assets and make recommendations.

While this certification doesn’t give an advisor any real powers, it’s a sign that they can identify investment opportunities specific to their clients. Above all else, it can be a great relief to a client who has a child going to college or a retirement house on their wish list. As a result of obtaining an AAMS, and advisor can point them toward the right investments for their goals.

Investing Tips

  • If you’re looking to identify investment opportunities, consider using an AAMS as your advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • An AAMS can help you with college savings, taxes, and retirement savings if you know what your goals are. However, if you are unsure how much you want to invest, what your risk tolerance is, or how inflation and capital gains tax will affect your investment, SmartAsset’s investing guide can help you take the first steps.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SARINYAPINNGAM, ©iStock.com/fizkes, ©iStock.com/Suwanmanee99

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What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

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When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.

This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealing—a lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.

However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.

No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.

Be prepared for a higher interest rate

But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.

“Over time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,” says DiBugnara. “If no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, ‘What is my rate if I pay the fees?’”

Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.

“Closing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,” he explains. “On a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.”

So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.

Consider the life of the loan

And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.

“No-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I don’t think it’s a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,” says Jack Choros of CPI Inflation Calculator.

A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.

“If I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.”

What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?

As with any large purchase, whether it’s a car or computer, there’s no flat “this is it” price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.

“Most of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,” says DiBugnara. “Also, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.”

“All other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,” adds Yates.

It’s important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.

“Deposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,” says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. “Most fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.”

When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?

For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but don’t mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.

“If your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,” says DiBugnara. “If your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.”

The post What Is a No-Fee Mortgage? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com