College Disrupted: Students Face High Costs and Pandemic Impact

Even in normal times, it can be challenging for families to cover college expenses without borrowing money and/or risking their own retirement security. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the cost of in-state tuition, fees, room, and board at a four-year public college averaged $21,950, and the total for a private college approached $50,000 (1).

Sadly, the college world is not immune from the health fears and financial pain inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. More students might choose schools that are less expensive and/or closer to home, take a year off, or forgo college altogether. The American Council on Education predicted a 15% decline in college enrollment nationwide for the next academic year (2).

With the financial futures of students and supportive parents at stake, it is more important than ever for families to make informed college decisions.

Reopening plans

As of August 5, 2020, about 29% of the nearly 3,000 institutions tracked by The Chronicle of Higher Education had announced plans for an online fall semester, 23.5% were planning to hold classes primarily or fully in person, 16% were proposing various hybrid models of in-person classes and remote learning, and the remainder were still undecided (3).

To reduce campus density and make room for social distancing in classrooms and residence halls, many colleges are inviting 40% to 60% of students back to campus (prioritizing freshman or seniors, certain majors, programs with clinical requirements, and students with unsafe home situations, for example) while expanding and improving remote teaching capabilities for students studying at home (4). Some colleges have backtracked on earlier plans to reopen due to a surge of the virus, and more could follow suit as events unfold (5).

A new landscape

Students who live on campus or attend classes in person are likely to find strict rules and restrictions regarding safety practices (physical distancing, face coverings, virus testing) and changes in many facets of campus life, including living situations, food options, class settings, social gatherings, and popular extracurricular programs such as arts and athletics.

Acknowledging that students are not getting the college experience they wanted and are now more price sensitive, many schools are freezing tuition, and others are offering discounts, increasing scholarships, or allowing students to defer payments (6). In anticipation of $23 billion in revenue losses, colleges nationwide have also had to lay off employees, reduce salaries, eliminate programs, and make other budget cuts (7-8).

In mid-March, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the outlook for higher education from stable to negative, citing reduced enrollment. Institutions with large endowments and/or strong cash flows are better positioned to withstand the crisis, but lost tuition poses a bigger threat to smaller colleges (9).

Shopping for schools

High school students who are involved in the planning and application process might be lucky to enter college after the worst of the health crisis is over. Still, more economic hardship means that cost could play a greater role in school selection.

Many students don’t pay published tuition prices, and financial aid packages differ from school to school. After identifying schools that might be a fit, families can use net price calculators to compare how generous different colleges might be, based on the household’s financial situation and the student’s academic profile.

Before choosing a school, students should understand how much they might have to borrow and what the monthly payment would be after college. It’s also important to take a hard look at earning potential when choosing an academic program. Those who plan to enter lower-paying fields may fare better if they keep costs down and borrowing to a minimum.

Seeking financial aid

To receive grants and/or loans, students must complete the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply for aid according to the college’s instructions as early as possible. Higher-earning families should also fill out the FAFSA because they may qualify for more need-based aid than they might expect, and some schools may require a completed FAFSA for merit-based scholarships.

College students with parents who have lost a job or earned less income than normal this year due to COVID-19 may want to appeal for a revised aid package, if not for fall then for spring. The financial aid administrator may be able to reduce the loan component of a student’s aid package and/or increase the scholarship, grant, or work-study component.

Will college pay off?

The average college graduate earns $78,000 per year, compared with about $45,000 for the average worker with a high school diploma. The wages of workers without a college degree tend to fall more during recessions, and they are more likely to be unemployed, as seen during the pandemic (10).

A 2019 Federal Reserve analysis of the cost (four years of tuition and lost wages) and the benefits (higher lifetime earnings) concluded that a college degree is a sound investment for most people; the average rate of return for a bachelor’s degree is about 14% (11).

When Fed economists adjusted this analysis to account for the 2020 pandemic, the return on a college degree rose to 17% (under the assumption that many workers with a high school diploma would be unemployed for a year). For a student who takes a gap year, the estimated return dropped to 13%. The $90,000 cost of a delay includes one year’s worth of post-graduation earnings and slower growth in wages over a lifetime (12).

Remote learning may not be a perfect substitute for in-person interactions and relationships, especially for students enrolled at expensive institutions. Still, motivated students can grow intellectually and work toward a degree that could be valuable in terms of future earnings and social mobility.

Many colleges may be able to utilize their investments in technology and online curriculums long after the pandemic passes, providing future undergraduates with more opportunities to earn an affordable college degree remotely.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any college planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

(1) College Board, 2019

(2)(7) American Council on Education, 2020

(3) The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 5, 2020

(4)(9) The New York Times, July 7, 2020, and May 12, 2020

(5) NPR.com, July 22, 2020

(6)(8) Inside Higher Ed, April 27, 2020, and June 29, 2020

(10)(11)(12) Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2019-2020

Buying an Inexpensive Credit Score

It’s a classic chicken or egg dilemma: your kids graduate from college and face an immediate problem: they have no credit history, which makes it harder for them to rent an apartment or get a credit card.  But how do they get a credit history without someone granting them credit?  Is there a way the parents can help them without risking their own credit score?

An article on the website Nerdwallet suggests a solution that will cost just $200.  You encourage your child to open a secured credit card, whose credit limit is equal to a deposit that can be as low as $200.  You make the deposit on his/her behalf, and presto!  The cardholder is now able to make small purchases, pay back into the account, and establish a credit score in about six months.  And the transactions weigh more heavily in credit scoring when the adult child is a primary user, rather than an authorized user on the parent’s credit card.  An added advantage: the child receives his/her own separate bill, and becomes accustomed to paying on time.

Credit experts recommend that the child hold spending to 30% or less of the credit limit—which basically means putting no more than $60 on the credit card, and then paying that amount back.  Parents can spring for a higher deposit if they think the adult child will be responsible for making higher payments.

Make sure the new credit card holder understands the interest rates, minimum payment and due date on the statements, and help adult children calculate how long it would take to pay off the balance making only minimum payments.  Better yet, teach them that paying off credit cards in full every month is the only responsible way to handle them. Interest rates tend to be very high, potentially making this inexpensive solution a more expensive one.

Eventually, once the adult child has learned good credit card habits by using a card with training wheels, he or she can transition to an unsecured credit card.  At that point, the secured card can be closed and your deposit returned. And voila! You’ve just helped your young adult move ahead on the road to a better financial future.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/buy-your-kid-good-credit-score/

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Managing and Paying Off Student Loans

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article here entitled “A College Education Still Pays” despite the growing student loan burden. If you already owe money on student loans, this article follows up and suggests ways to manage and pay off your student loans.

Actively managing your debt is an important step, and your student debt may be one of the biggest financial obligations you have. There are many strategies that could help you manage student loans efficiently. Here is a checklist:

  • Choose a federal loan repayment plan that fits your circumstances:
    • The Graduated Repayment Plan starts with a reduced payment that is fixed for a set period, and then is increased on a predetermined schedule. Compared to the standard plan, a borrower is likely to end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
    • The Standard Repayment Plan requires a fixed payment of at least $50 per month and is offered for terms up to 10 years. Borrowers are likely to pay less interest for this repayment plan than for others.
    • The Extended Repayment Plan allows loans to be repaid over a period of up to 25 years. Payments may be fixed or graduated. In both cases, payments will be lower than the comparable 10-year programs, but total costs could be higher. This program is complex and has specific eligibility requirements. See the Extended Repayment Plan page on the U.S. Department of Education website for details.
    • The Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), the Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan, the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR) and the Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan offer different combinations of payment deferral and debt forgiveness based on your income and other factors. You may be asked to document financial hardship and meet other eligibility requirements. See the U.S. Department of Education’s pages on income-driven repayment plans and income-sensitive repayment plans for more information.
  • Take an inventory of your debt. How much do you owe on bank and store credit cards? On your home mortgage and home equity credit lines? On car loans? Any other loans? Consider paying extra each month to reduce the loans with the highest interest rates first, followed by those with the largest balances.
  • Free up resources by cutting costs. Consider eating out less, reducing snacks on the go, and carpooling or using mass transit instead of driving to work. You may also be able to cut your housing costs, put off or take less costly vacations and reduce clothing and other discretionary purchases.
  • Think about enhancing your income. A second job? A part-time business opportunity? Selling unused household items on eBay? Diversifying your income is just as important as diversifying your investments.
  • Consider jobs that offer opportunities for subsidies or debt forgiveness.
  • Sign up for automatic loan payments. Many loans offer discounted interest rates for setting up automatic electronic payments on a predetermined schedule. A reduction of 0.25% per year may look small, but over the life of a 20-year loan, it can reduce your total interest cost by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • A last resort is seeking loan deferment or forbearance. Students facing significant financial hardship may be able to put off loan interest or principal payments. To see whether you might qualify, look to the U.S. Department of Education’s information on Deferment and Forbearance.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters or student loan options, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

 

A College Education Still Pays

These days, it’s hard not to hear about the student loan mess and how it’s the next financial crisis that’s currently brewing (some are already calling it a bubble).  Students and parents write stories of how they were lured into borrowing far more money for college than they could ever pay back, even after throwing three or four years worth of salary at it. That is, if they could even find a job after graduation. Despite a student debt level that continues to grow, a college education is still one of the most worthwhile investments a high school graduate can make.

According to the Student Loan Marketing Association (more commonly known as Sallie Mae Bank), the average tuition, room and board at a private college comes to $43,921.  Public tuition for in-state students at state colleges amounted to $19,548, with out-of-state students paying an average of $34,031.

How are parents and students finding the cash to afford this expense?

Sallie Mae breaks it down as follows: 34% from scholarships and grants that don’t have to be paid back, coming from the college itself or the state or federal government, often based on need and academic performance.

Parents typically pay 29% of the total bill (an average of $7,000) out of savings or income, and other family members (think: grandparents) are paying another 5%.

The students themselves are paying for 12% of the cost, on average.

The rest, roughly 20% of the total, is made up of loans.  The federal government’s low-interest loan program offers up to $5,500 a year for freshmen, $6,500 during the sophomore year, and $7,500 for the junior and senior years.  If that doesn’t cover the remaining cost, then students and parents will borrow from private lenders.  The average breakdown is students borrowing 13% of their total tuition costs and parents borrowing the other 7%.

Is the cost worth it?  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently published a report on the labor market for college graduates.  The conclusion, in graphical format, is that younger workers have experienced much higher unemployment rates than their college graduate peers—the figures currently are 9.5% unemployment for all young workers, vs. just 4.2% for recent college graduates.  Overall, the unemployment rate for people who have graduated with a 4-year degree is 2.6%, and even during the height of the Great Recession, it never went over 5%.

And income is higher as well.  The average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $43,000, vs. $25,000 for people with a high school diploma only.  The highest average incomes are reported for people with pharmacy degrees ($110,000 mid-career average), computer engineering ($100,000), electrical engineering ($95,000), chemical engineering ($94,000), mechanical engineering ($91,000) and aerospace engineering ($90,000).

Lowest average mid-career incomes: social services ($40,000), early childhood education ($40,000), elementary education ($42,000), special education ($43,000) and general education ($44,000).

Among the lowest unemployment rates: miscellaneous education (1.0%), agriculture (1.8%), construction services (1.8%) and nursing (2.0%).

Yes, there are some themes here, and of course people in every career can fall above or below these averages.  Nor does everybody who graduates with a particular degree end up in a career that tracks that degree.  (Of particular note: the list does not include a financial planning or investment advisory degree.)  The point is that despite the cost, a college degree does seem to provide significantly better odds of getting a job, and getting paid more for the job you do get.

I plan to expand on some of the finer aspects and stories about student loan debt in an upcoming article-stay tuned.

If you would like to discuss college planning, review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:  http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/29/pf/college/how-to-pay-for-college/index.html?iid=SF_LN

https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/college-labor-market/college-labor-market_unemployment.html

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

New Benefits for 529 Plans

On December 18, 2015, Congress approved the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015”, which includes provisions that impact 529 plans. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law the same day.

Computers

Previously, 529 rules treated computers as a Qualified Higher Education Expense only if the beneficiary’s college required them as a condition of enrollment or attendance. Under the new law, computer equipment and related hardware qualify even if they are not specifically required by the university, college, or technical school the beneficiary attends, although they must be used primarily by the beneficiary while enrolled in school. The new law defines desktop computers, laptops, and other related technology as a Qualified Higher Education Expense. The costs for Internet access and computer software related to a beneficiary’s studies also qualify.

The new law is retroactive to expenses incurred since January 1, 2015. So if your beneficiary purchased a computer or related technology any time in 2015 to use while in college, funds from a 529 account can be used to cover the cost if the withdrawal was made by Thursday, December 31.

Refund Re-contribution

The PATH Act also gives 529 account owners a 60-day window to re-contribute refunds from Eligible Educational Institutions into their accounts. The law is retroactive for withdrawals made during 2015.

Under the new law, account owners have 60 days from the date of the refund to redeposit a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses into the same 529 account from which the money was withdrawn. For example, if a beneficiary receives a refund from an Eligible Educational Institution because he or she withdrew from school due to an illness or other unforeseen circumstance, the refund may be returned to the beneficiary’s 529 account and would not be deemed a non-qualified withdrawal or be subject to any taxes or tax penalties.

The re-contribution cannot exceed the amount of the refund.

The law is retroactive to January 1, 2015.

  • Account owners who received a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses between January 1, 2015, and December 18, 2015, the date the law was enacted, have until February 16, 2016 — 60 days from the enactment date for the PATH Act of 2015 — to redeposit the money.
  • Account owners who receive a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses on any date after December 18, 2015, have 60 days from the date of the refund to redeposit the money.

It is recommended that account owners keep a receipt of refunds in order to have documentation of the amount of the refund and the date it was issued.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

 

 

Return on College

Let’s say you’re giving your niece or grandson some advice on which major to select in college. Do you tell them to get an art degree, or take courses in social sciences? Or should they focus on business and finance?

The decision should not ignore their natural abilities and interests, of course. But if they’re looking for the best return on their tuition dollars, then they might consider spending their time in the computer sciences and math buildings.

This information comes from a report published by PayScale.com, which helps people manage their careers and figure out what they’re worth on the job market. PayScale’s research team tracked the median salary for people who completed its salary survey online. They then compared the 20-year earnings of people following different careers with what was earned, on average, by competing workers with a high school diploma but no college degree. Then they subtracted the cost of 4 years of college tuition, to arrive at a return on investment figure—the additional money the degree provided. Advanced degrees like law and medicine were excluded; the survey focused on bachelors degrees.

The results were striking. Business and finance majors came away with a respectable $331,345 average return on investment (ROI) over 20 years, but they actually finished a distant third on the list, just ahead of sales, marketing and public relations ($318,212). The highest ranking majors, by this metric, were computer and math, whose degree-holders saw a net return on their tuition investment of $584,339 over the 20 years after graduation. These nerdy individuals nosed out the architecture and engineering graduates, whose average ROI came to $561,475.

Life, physical and social sciences majors fared somewhat less well, earning almost exactly $250,000 more than their high school diploma competition. Graduates with an arts, design, entertainment and related degree came in last in the survey; they are expected to make a little over $125,000 as a result of their college training.

Interestingly, the PayScale website also tracks the average return on tuition investment for different colleges. Graduates of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA can expect to earn nearly $1 million over the 20 years after graduation, with a typical starting salary north of $75,000—with a 4-year college investment of $237,700. Numbers 2-10 on the rankings include the California Institute of Technology ($901,400 earnings, $221,600 cost); The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ ($841,000; $232,000), the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO ($831,000; $112,000); Babson College in Wellesley, MA ($812,800; $230,200); Stanford University ($809,000; $233,300); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($798,500; $224,500); Georgia Institute of Technology ($796,300; $86,700); Princeton University ($795,700; $217,300); and the Virginia Military Institute ($767,300; $95,700).

You can look up your own alma mater here: http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/

If you would like to talk about college planning or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

Sources:

http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/the-career-with-the-biggest-financial-payoff?hootPostID=293b20e2f9470947cb0facdcea7f70ea

TheMoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for writing this post

The Value of Education

Now that college graduation exercises are upon us, you are no doubt hearing reports that young people matriculating from this or that prestigious alma mater are having trouble finding jobs.  The easy conclusion seems to be that a college degree doesn’t matter very much anymore in the new economy.  But that, of course, is a short-term view; younger people have fewer job-related skills than people who have been employed for a few years, so they generally have trouble getting that first job no matter what their education level.

You can see this in the first chart below; older workers, who have presumably more experience in the workplace, tend to have lower unemployment rates than their younger competition.  A recession like 2008-2009 simply reinforced a long-term pattern; it made the jobs situation worse for everybody.  Today’s difficult job market continues to allow employers to put a premium on experience.

Longer-term, however, a college degree does seem to confer huge advantages for getting employment.  Consider the most recent jobless statistics, broken down by education level:

Jobless rate for persons who have not earned a high school degree:  11.6%

Jobless rate for high school graduates with no college training: 7.4%

Jobless rate for persons with some college training or an associate degree: 6.4%

Jobless rate for persons who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher: 3.9%

Longer-term, as you can see from the second chart below, people who are educated at every level tend to be less likely to be unemployed than those with lower educational attainment.  The better-educated also tend to earn higher incomes over their lifetimes–the most recent statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center suggests that the average high school graduate with no further education will earn about $770,000 over a 40-year worklife, compared with $1.4 million for a worker with a bachelor’s degree.

Image

Parents reading this article, and graduates who are paying off enormous student loans, are no doubt wondering whether Pew was able to factor in the upfront costs of getting the college degree, plus the opportunity cost of four years (or more) spent on campus rather than in the workforce.  Even when these considerable costs are factored in, the net gain for a student who graduated from an in-state four-year public university is about $550,000 over a person’s worklife.  The third chart shows the various disparities in yearly earnings at different ages; you can see that at age 25, the differences are not huge, but over time, college education begins to create significant income separation.

Image

Bottom line?  Ignore the gloomy reports of college graduates having trouble finding work. This has always been a problem, admittedly made worse by today’s weak job market, but not an indictment of the value of a college education.  Education, as George Washington Carver once remarked, is still the golden key that unlocks the doors of opportunity.

Sources:

http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/the-monetary-value-of-a-college-education/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/05/15/is-college-worth-it/6/#chapter-5-the-monetary-value-of-a-college-education?src=prc-number

TheMoneyGeek thanks Bob Veres, publisher of Inside Information for this guest post.

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