Five Ways to Avoid Repayment Scams and Enroll in the Best Student Loan Repayment Plan for You

By Brenda Calderon, Policy Analyst, Education Policy Project, NCLR

If you graduated with the class of 2015, you may be coming to the end of your six-month student loan “grace period.” While choosing the repayment plan that’s best for you is itself tricky, the process is complicated by websites that are riddled with student loan scams. Recently, the Department of Education released a blog to advise students against loan repayment scams. A cursory search on Google or even Facebook placement ads shows an abundance of companies promising to help students have their debt forgiven and payments substantially lowered.

googlestudentloanThese companies usually will offer to assist students in filing forms and keep them up-to-date with new laws that forgive loans for a service fee (sometimes monthly). What these companies don’t advertise is that these services are free if a student does his or her own research. Here are some tips to avoid paying for services that are free and manage the repayment process for federal loans:

  1. Find out the types of loans you have and whether consolidating your loans is a better option for you. You can look up your federal loans here. It may make sense to consolidate your loans so that you only make one payment each month. If the interest rates don’t vary widely among your loans, this may be an easy way to simplify your monthly repayments.
  2. Get an estimate of how much your payments will be using the online repayment calculator. This site is funded by the Department of Education and can populate information based on your current loans and their corresponding interest rates to estimate how much you will have to pay each month.
  3. Get to know your student loan servicer. Your student loan servicer handles your loan after you’ve received the funds. They can help with loan consolidation and repayment options. You can look up your loan servicer here.
  4. Select a plan that best fits with your current financial situation and goals. There are several variables you will need to consider when choosing the best repayment plan: how much money you are making, how quickly you want to pay off your loan, whether you work for a nonprofit or the government and qualify for loan forgiveness, etc. Vox offers an interactive tool to help you answer these questions and offers repayment options aligned to your responses.
  5. Use forbearance and deferments only if you absolutely cannot pay your loans. If you are unemployed or cannot afford to pay at least 10% of your discretionary income for loans, this may be an option for you. Having a loan in deferment or forbearance does not reduce the payments—in fact, this may increase the amount you have to pay in the long run.

Choosing the right repayment plan is a difficult decision, but the Department of Education offers tools to help students. With a little research, you can be on your way to saving money by enrolling yourself in the best repayment plan for you!

Financial Aid and the Cost of College

For many Latino students and families, the cost of college is a major concern and perceived barrier. Most students are unaware of the types and sources of financial aid available and how to apply for them. This blog aims to provide information to help students understand financial aid and how it can help them achieve their dream of attending college.

See the infographic and glossary of terms below to help you navigate the world of financial aid.

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Financial Aid Glossary

Award Letter: Your award letter outlines the financial aid package being offered to you. You usually receive your award letter after you have completed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and have received your Student Aid Report (SAR).

Cost of Attending College: The cost of attending (COA) is the total cost of going to college, including tuition, room and board, books, transportation, fees, and personal expenses. Most two-year and four-year colleges will calculate your COA to show your total cost for the school year (for instance, for the fall semester plus the spring semester).

Demonstrated Need: This is the difference between the cost of attending a college and your Expected  Family Contribution (EFC).

FAFSA: This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a federal form required from all students who wish to apply for need-based financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study awards.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The EFC is the amount of money students and their families are expected to contribute toward their education, as determined through a “need analysis” of information provided on a FAFSA.

Financial Aid Office: The office at the college or university campus that decides how much money a student will receive in grants and loans.

Room & Board: The cost of a room in a dormitory and a dining hall meal plan at a college or university.

Federal Pell Grant: This grant is a form of financial aid provided by the Federal government to students whose FAFSA indicates a high level of financial need. Unlike a loan, Federal Pell Grants do not have to be repaid.

Federal Perkins Loans: These loans are similar to Stafford loans in that no interest accrues while enrolled in college. At a five percent interest rate, the repayment grace period is longer than that of a Stafford subsidized loan. The need-based standards are more stringent for the Perkins loan and funds are awarded based on the FAFSA Student Aid Report.

Federal Work-Study Programs: The FWS Program provides funds for part-time employment to help students in need to finance the costs of postsecondary education. Most colleges offer work-study programs. The amount of financial aid provided to a student will vary, as will the size of the federal work-study award. It’s important to note that a student enrolled in a federal work-study program is unable to earn more than the size of the work-study award.

Grants: Grants, like loans and most scholarships, are based on financial need. A grant may be provided by federal or state governments, an institution, a foundation, or some other nonprofit funding source and does not have to be repaid.

Institutional Grant: This is a need-based grant provided by a college or university and offered to students whose families cannot pay the full cost of college. Institutional grants do not have to be repaid.

GraduationInstitutional Loan: Any student loan administered by the college or university using the institution’s funds as the source of funding. Perkins Loans may also be considered institutional loans.

Loans: A loan is a type of financial aid that is available to students and to the parents of students.
An education loan must be repaid. In many cases, however, payments do not begin until the student finishes school.

Merit-Based Grant: A form of gift aid (aid that does not require repayment) based upon your grade point average, academic excellence, and extracurricular involvement, with some attention to your financial need.

Need-Based Grant: This grant is offered, as a part of the financial aid package, when a student and his or her family are unable to pay the full cost of attending an institution. The grant does not need to be repaid.

Out-of–State (Non–Resident) Student: Student whose permanent residence is in a different state than that of the state-funded college or university which he or she attends or hopes to attend. Out‐of-state students generally pay higher tuition at state colleges and universities than do in-state students.

PLUS Loan: The Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allows parents, regardless of income, to borrow up to the total cost of education minus the amount of any other financial aid awarded by the institution or the government.

Scholarships: Financial aid that is awarded by schools, businesses, institutions, associations, and private industry that does not have to be repaid. Scholarships can be awarded based on need, academic merit, academic concentration, interests, or a host of other criteria.

Stafford Loan: A federal education loan that is funded and/or guaranteed and insured by the federal government. There are two types: subsidized and unsubsidized.

Subsidized Loan: A need-based loan on which the federal government pays accrued interest while the student borrower is in school, during the grace period, and during periods of deferment.

Unsubsidized Loan: A non-need-based loan for which the student is responsible for paying accrued interest.

Student Aid Report (SAR): This form will list the information you gave on the FAFSA and will give you a dollar amount for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges use to determine your financial aid eligibility.

William D. Ford Direct Loan Program: A loan program administered by the U.S. Department of Education to provide loans that help students pay for their post-secondary education.

College Dreams for Undocumented Students

It’s the time of year when high school juniors and seniors start thinking about their college plans. The number of Latino students enrolling and graduating from college has been steadily increasing, but we can’t forget about the special considerations needed for those undocumented students who also have dreams of higher education. For these students, navigating the admissions process, financial aid, and scholarships can be daunting. We’re here to help.

Today, we’re hosting a webinar designed for high school leaders, college counselors, teachers, community-based organizations and mentors. We’ll cover the current challenges and opportunities for undocumented students in a variety of circumstances so that all students who want it can achieve their dreams of going to college.

Click here or on the flyer below to register!

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What If….

A critical part of closing the education gap in America is college readiness.  As part of our committment to this, and with generous support from our sponsors, we have developed the “What If? NCLR College Readiness Initiative.” The idea is simple: What if every Latino student got the support needed to succeed in college and beyond?

Currently, we are running a contest that challenges students at our charter school network to answer that question through the use of video. The video contest gives kids the chance to speak up for their generation. Below is the first entry by Angel Damian, a student at George.I. Sanchez High School, an NCLR-affiliate charter.

Watch the video and then vote!