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Browsing posts in: Student Loans

Tuition Waivers for Graduate Students

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Has anyone heard about the newly proposed tax plan regarding graduate student tuition waivers? If not, take a sec and read this piece Forbes published, linked here.

In a nutshell, under the new plan, any graduate student who receives a tuition waiver will be taxed on the amount of tuition that was waived. This can amount anywhere from $25-$60k+/year of what would be considered “taxable income” under the new plan. People I know still in graduate school are freaking out, calling friends and family to reach out to legislators, and trying to figure out what this might mean for the future of their educational journey.

I have super mixed feelings on the whole thing.

If you remember my debt journey (if not, read some background here), you know that my own graduate school story was a bit of a mixed bag. The university in southern Florida where I went for my Master’s Degree did NOT offer guaranteed tuition waivers. I ended up paying nearly $50,000 for two years of school tuition, accumulating nearly $70,000 in total debt when including total living expenses.

I had the option to stay for my Ph.D., but opted to move to another university because, in short, we were BROKE! We could not afford to continue living in the super $$$ area of the country paying $$$ for my education.

So we moved to a different university, which did offer tuition waivers in addition to offering paid RA and TA positions (research assistant/teaching assistant). The salary was next-to-nothing, approximately $300/week for the 9-month academic year, but it was WORTH IT because I got to go to school for FREE! I still took out loans to help cover some of my living expenses, but at a much smaller rate compared to my previous 2 years of education.

The problem with the newly proposed tax plan is the mathematics involved. You can’t pay taxes on $25-$60k/year worth of forgiven tuition if you’re only earning $15,000/year. Where would the money come from??? Oh yeah…more loans.

The reason I’m torn is because, fundamentally, I believe in paying for the things we have. For example, my plan is to pay off my student loans ASAP rather than enter into one of the plans that would allow the debt to be forgiven in 10-15 years. First, I don’t want to wait that long to have it gone. Second, I distrust hand-out programs like this (will the forgiveness program still be there in a decade? Will the loans even be forgiven? I’ve read horror stories of it NOT working out for many who were mistakenly entered into the wrong type of loan repayment program. This is a whole other blog post in its own right. Take a second to read this heartbreaking piece on the topic). Third, it was my debt obligation, I promised to repay it, and I want to take care of it.

But I also see student loans as the next big “housing bubble.” I’m not the only one, right? Student loan debt is ballooning at an alarming rate. What is going to happen when all these students default on their loans and are unable to repay them (and/or the debt is forgiven)??? I fear it could lead to another economic crisis. So anything to minimize student loans is a GOOD thing in my eyes. From that perspective, it’s not a good idea to tax the forgiven tuition because it could end up just being more money (paid for on a student loan) that is never repaid in the end.

I’m very glad to now be in the workforce, fully finished with all of my educational pursuits. But I worry not only about my friends who are still graduate students, but about the country in general (for the reason outlined above). This is scary stuff!

What are your thoughts? Should graduate students pay taxes on the amount of graduate tuition that is waived? Or should things remain as they are currently – where universities “forgive” the tuition internally and it is not counted as taxable income? What are other potential implications of the proposed tax plan?


Increasing Student Loan Payments

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Nothing like being kicked when you’re down, right?

Well, I’ve had a good run. After 3 years of Income Based Repayment where our student loan payments were only a couple hundred a month (it varied, but was never over $300/month in total), I knew there would be some changes in store after updating our income info using last year’s tax information (this update is required annually). What I did not know or expect, was that the change would be SOOOOOO extreme.

Overnight, we went from a minimum payment of $300….to a minimum payment of over $1,000. THAT’S MORE THAN OUR MORTGAGE!!!! My take-home pay is under $5,000/month, so we’re talking over 20% of our income!!! AHHH!!!!!

After my update, I was notified that we no longer qualified for IBR based on last year’s income. Unfortunately, this occurred during summer when all our finances just went straight to hell so I didn’t give it much thought like I should have.  No thought, that is, until the payment was auto-drafted and my account ended up being overdrawn.

To say I “freaked out” would be an understatement. It was my own fault for not paying closer attention, but I felt totally blind-sighted!

So I did something that maybe (probably?) messes up my credit. But I felt I had no option. I called and asked for my student loans to go into forbearance status for a few months. It was approved the same day. I’ve continued making smaller-sized payments (in the $200-$300 range), but no payment is actually due until January. I’m trying to reapply for IBR with our current income (since the update was based on our tax information from last year, it showed a much higher salary than what we have this year given that hubs no longer works and I dumped my part-time job, too).

Re-doing our current income paperwork is a whole process, as you can imagine.  I haven’t completed it yet but my hope is that this voluntary forbearance gives us the time to get all the paperwork submitted and processed and – fingers crossed – maybe we can get approved for a more reasonable-sized payment. It will still likely be larger than in the past. But we just cannot afford $1,000/month right now as a minimum payment. We’d be much more comfortable in the $300-ish range. I did talk to a representative who said there are other programs available, too (e.g., I was told we could apply for the “standard extended payment”). I’d love to get back on IBR if we can qualify but, if not, I’m glad other options exist. The one problem is the TIME it takes for all that stuff to be processed. I felt backed into a corner with the forbearance because I needed a lower payment NOW and didn’t have time to wait a month (or however long) for a new application to be processed and approved (or potentially rejected).

So that’s where we’re at with my student loans. Another piece of the messy financial puzzle.


Student Loan Forgiveness Program To Be Cut???

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Has anyone seen this news story floating around the interwebs?

The headline reads: “Trump to Propose Scrapping Beleaguered Student Loan Forgiveness Program.” It’s got a big picture of Betsy DeVos face floating around with the headline.

In the story, reporter Jillian Berman discusses how a leaked education budget shows plans to eventually chop the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). Its not a sure thing. The budget plans are not yet finalized and, even if they were, it would require Congress’ approval.

I’ve seen lots of panic and political drama surrounding it on Facebook. My mom tagged me in one such post to get my thoughts on the issue.

And here I am, sitting on the sidelines. I graduated with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt (now sitting right at $65,000 – latest debt update here). I’m taking the position that I’ve never wanted to depend on any of the government loan forgiveness programs. For many years – long before Trump took the presidency and appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education –  I’ve been saying that I didn’t trust these government programs. I’ve always maintained the position that I don’t want to depend on the government and that the PSLF program (or any of the loan forgiveness programs) could ultimately just disappear one day. I don’t want to make major career decisions on the basis that I need to go into this field or work for that sector in order to qualify for PSLF because WHAT IF the program ends up discontinued?? Then what? Where would that leave me? Up shit creek with no paddle, that’s where!!!

Instead, I personally have always taken the view that I just want to PAY OFF my loans as quickly as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the loan forgiveness programs. If I were already on a career-trajectory where I intended to be in public service I would certainly be looking into it – I just don’t want to force myself down that road simply for the hope of possible loan forgiveness at the end of it. Actually, I’m on an income-based payment plan where any unpaid interest on my subsidized loans has been forgiveness. It’s not loan forgiveness (it’s only interest forgiveness…and only on some of my loans), but it’s a related student loan program and I’m taking 100% advantage of it while I can. But in terms of the major government-backed loan forgiveness programs (like PSLF), they have never sounded like appealing options for me.

What are your thoughts on the controversy? Is anyone signed up for the PSLF program that would be directly impacted if it were to be discontinued? How scary!


You Told Me So

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When we were going through the process of getting a mortgage, we shopped around with a lot of different lenders and ended up with a company that we were…luke-warm about after it was all said and done.

The experience, itself, wasn’t exactly pleasurable. I know it’s stressful anytime you buy a house, etc. etc., but there were some things I didn’t share that were really frustrating. But the one GREAT thing this lender had that no one else could compete with was a stellar interest rate. We got our loan at a 2.75% APR!!!

At that time, a handful (maybe 2 or 3?) of commenters mentioned the option of perhaps rolling some of our student loan debt into the house. Our loan was for well below the appraisal price of the home, so this could have been an option (note: not for all the student loans, but a portion of it).

Hubs and I talked about it and decided against it. Ultimately, we both just felt a little “yucky” at the thought of rolling student loan debt into the house. It just didn’t sit right with us and we took that as a sign that we should probably do something different. The plan was always to look into student loan consolidation companies after the mortgage went through.

When the mortgage was finally funded in early November, I started shopping around just a couple weeks later.

First I was denied by a place. (update: the “negative mark” was, indeed, my delinquent account I’d mentioned in this post. It’s old enough that it should be off my report – and it has, indeed, fallen off of 2 of the 3 credit agencies, but it’s still sitting on the third. I’ve completed a formal dispute so hopefully this will be rectified soon).

And then I discovered that other places really couldn’t offer better rates at all! Here’s a sampling of rates that I was offered:

6.99%

6.49%

5.37%

My current student loan interest rates range from 5.8 – 6.5, so there’s not even really much of a savings compared to what I currently pay.

And now I just kind of feel foolish. I feel like I should have listened to YOU and put some of that student loan debt in with the house debt. Ugh! I guess hindsight is 20/20, right?

This has stalled plans a bit in regard to the student loan consolidation. I’m just not crazy about a 5.37% APR. Yes, it’s lower than my current interest rate. But is it low enough to go through all the paperwork hassles and the fact that I’d now have one GIANT loan instead of multiple, smaller loans to tackle?

I don’t know.

And, that must be balanced against the fact that I truly despise our current lender, Navient.

Again, I just don’t know.

I’ve been doing these balance transfers on a credit card I don’t use. It has a limit of $7,500 and allows me to do balance transfers at a 0% APR for 12 months at a 3% initiation fee (note: this is the current “deal” as of today. In the past, I’ve been able to score as low as a 2% initiation fee, but for a shorter amount of time – I believe 6 months; That “deal” isn’t showing up anymore so it may have been discontinued).

Anyway – that’s the best rate I can get. But that’s only $7,500 at a time and I still have a MOUNTAIN of debt to contend with (most recent debt update here).

So I’m kind of at a loss. Here’s what I’m thinking in terms of a plan moving forward (though I’d love to hear your thoughts, too, so please chime in!):

  • I’ll keep all the subsidized loans with Navient (I’m receiving forgiveness on unpaid interest through August). I’ll pay minimums on those to reap the interest-forgiveness benefits.
  • I’ll continue doing these balance transfers to reap the benefits of the lower interest (with the note that I’m always EXTRA CAREFUL to ensure they are fully paid off by the deadline so I don’t get hit with penalties and sky-high interest). As each balance transfer is paid in full, I plan to continue to initiate new transfers up to the $7,500 limit as allowed.
  • Finally, I’ll continue paying aggressively toward the remaining (unsubsidized) loans.

This seems like the best course of action for now. Unless someone can offer me a better interest rate on a consolidation, that is.

Thoughts?

 


My Loan Request Was DENIED!!!

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First thing’s first. Welcome, Amy! I’m so excited to have another blogger up in the mix! I was a reader long before I was a contributor here so I’m super pumped to be able to follow another blogger on their debt journey! Yay!!! I can’t wait to get to “know” Amy as we share this debt-reduction journey together!

(Side Note:  I’ve also seen many people ask about Hope in recent comments. I don’t have any updates, but I’ll send her a quick email today just to pass along our warm thoughts and kind regards. I honestly don’t have any additional information at this time but I wanted to address it because I know lots of have asked about her recently).

I hope all our American readers had a lovely Thanksgiving this past week! It was JUST what I needed! Quiet, low-key, relaxing, etc. We spent a solid 3 days in a row at home (we had friends over for play dates on Friday & Saturday so we weren’t all alone), and it was GLORIOUS to just hang out and relax. This was our first Thanksgiving in a very long time where we were just at home – we didn’t go anywhere and we didn’t have any guests here, either. I used it as an excuse to go super easy for Thanksgiving. We just had meat, 2 sides, and a single dessert. That’s it. I have to admit that I kind of missed not having a ton of Thanksgiving leftovers (my favorite is a thanksgiving sandwich with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and turkey – but we didn’t even do ANY of those foods this year! Our main was ham and our sides were green beans & sweet potato casserole). We did buy a mini (2 lb) butterball turkey that I’ll probably cook sometime this week, but hubs had specifically requested ham for our main meat for Thanksgiving so that’s what we had.

And then I applied for a student loan consolidation….and I was DENIED!!!!!

I couldn’t even believe it.

According to Credit Karma, my credit is in the “excellent” range. They have my credit at a 760 or 785, depending on the site (Equifax & Transunion, respectively).

What possible reason would they have for denying me a line of credit?

An outstanding collection.

That’s what they said. The thing is, I’ve literally only had one “derogatory” mark on my credit in my life. It was from when I was 18 or 19 (nearly 15 years ago now) for not paying for those 10 DVD’s for 1 penny thing (mine was via Columbia House, but surely you’re familiar with those programs – there were several in that time-frame). It was a legitimate debt that I owed and, funny thing is, I even tried to pay for it a few years after-the-fact, but I couldn’t get the creditor to send me a letter stating that the debt would be settled in full after payment, so I never sent the payment. It aged until it fell off my credit and I haven’t even thought about it in years.

According to Credit Karma, I have no derogatory marks/late payments/etc (like I said, due to its age, this one negative mark long-ago fell off my credit report). I’m telling you, I’m kind of a stellar client from a lender’s perspective. I’m conscientious, pay on time, more than the minimum, etc. etc. Plus the lender who denied me also had me link my different bank accounts so they could see that I had lots of assets available (not only from my EF, but also my retirement, and I’m listed as a joint account holder on my Dad’s account, too, so although  I don’t consider his money “mine”, its a lot of additional liquid assets that are mine from a legal perspective since it’s a joint account). Soooo…what the heck? I don’t get it. But that’s that.

So this lender is out. I still have other options, but I was just shocked about this denial. Truly, genuinely shocked.

Have you ever been caught off-guard about an unexpected credit denial?

How did you spend your Thanksgiving holiday? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?


Student Loan Refinance

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I’m sure I sound like a total flake after just saying (in my most recent post) that I likely would NOT be refinancing all of my student loans at this time….but now I’m leaning the other way again.

Here’s the deal – Navient just won’t get their act together and stop pissing me off! It’s just such a terrible company to do business with. I hate them so much I’m really considering giving up my interest-forgiveness just so I can get rid of working with them as a lender!!!

Remember my most recent Navient snafu? As a quick catch-up, they overcharged me for 2 months over the summer (to the tune of about $500 each month). I called to have the money re-allocated toward the correct loans (I want the money to all go toward my unsubsidized loans – as currently dispersed the over-payment was spread equally across all loans). I was told this problem was being resolved (second time I called about it). On call #3 I’m basically told it’s just not going to happen. They claim that my initial Income-Based-Repayment plan application was denied.

This, in spite of the fact that I have NEVER received any documentation from the company saying anything about a denial. In fact, quite the opposite, I have documentation showing my IBR renewal was approved.

I’m told that it was initially denied due to over-payment on my loans (go figure). Then when I called in early October about the discrepancy, somehow they went ahead and approved the IBR, which went into effect in October. Essentially meaning that during the previous two months (August & September) I was not on IBR and, therefore, was not overcharged on my monthly payment. There would be no payment re-allocation, I am told.

That’s it.

I have no fight left in me. I’ve been down this road before – I’ve written my legislatures, I’ve involved a third party conflict-resolution group, I’ve jumped through all the hoops and taken all the necessary steps, spending hours of time, attention, and never-ending phone calls and ultimately I lost. I’m not even going to fight it this time. I haven’t the time.

So I kind of feel defeated. But at the same time, I feel like I absolutely cannot stand to do business with Navient any longer.

And so, perhaps a little sooner than I’d thought just one week ago, I’m going to start researching student loan consolidation programs.

I’ve already received lots of great comments on what many readers have done, but this time around I want more specifics. If any of you have refer-a-friend codes, please leave them in the comments. I’m going to look into at least a few different loan consolidation programs/places to check for interest rates. I’ll probably do a consolidation in December. I’m still not sure if it will be a full or partial consolidation (I still may opt to only consolidate unsubsidized loans initially – I want to look into different options). Just any tips or suggestions would be appreciated. I’ll certainly report back on what I’ve found when I am done with all my research, too!


Grin and Bear It!

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Hi all!

I hope your weeks are off to a nice start! It’s still stifling hot here in Tucson (mid 90’s over the weekend), but we’ve been packing in lots of fun fall activities! This weekend we went to a pumpkin patch and the kids had an absolute blast! As they get older it’s so fun to really celebrate and enjoy the holidays together!

Today I just wanted to give you the latest on my Navient grievance that I aired last week. Basically….it’s gotten worse (is that possible? yes, yes it is).

My payment due date is the 10th. Recall I was being overcharged by $500/month and was told they would not have it resolved by my October payment, but it should be shortly thereafter. So I logged into my account like a fun little game – how much have I been charged???

Only I see a long line of red exclamation marks and this message:

PAST DUE!

PAST DUE!

PAST DUE!

PAST DUE!

PAST DUE!

On every one of my Department of Education loans (strangly, the federal loans were fine).

Ummmmm…..how can that be? I’ve been on auto-pay for over 2 years!

I call up to Navient and am informed that – somehow that no one can quite explain – my auto payment withdrawal has been removed from my Department of Education account. ALL of those loans are past due.

I asked if this was related to their overcharging me to the tune of $500/month?

They don’t know.

I asked if this would affect my income based repayment?

They don’t think so.

I asked if the monthly debit has been corrected?

They don’t know.

Then they ask if there’s anything else they can help me with.

Ummmm…..you didn’t really help me with anything, now did you???

(Ultimately, I was instructed to make a one-time payment for the month of October, then wait a week and call back again to see if everything has been fixed. Yeah, won’t be holding my breath holding out hope for anything positive to come of this).

And as if Navient’s nonsense isn’t enough to make me rip out my hair – our house closing has been pushed back. After the inspection we’d negotiated for some additional repairs to be done and I guess it’s taking longer than expected. So our closing has been pushed from the 14th to the 28th, pending everything getting done in time. Bummer.

On my last Navient post a couple people commented and asked about private student loan consolidation companies. Just to reiterate – I’m not doing anything until the house deal is closed. But I’ve been researching and looking at SoFi. They’ve got good user reviews and seem to be a reputable company. But we have such a broad readership here, I’d love to ask for your opinions!

Have you ever done a student loan consolidation through a private company? What were your experiences like? Good, bad, ugly, etc??? Would you recommend your company? Why or why not? I’d love any info you can provide!

And, just for fun, do you have any fun Fall plans on the docket this month?? I wish we lived closer to an orchard! There’s one about 90 minutes away, but our weekends are pretty full. Maybe in November we could make it out there – I’d love to take the girls to pick apples and just enjoy the experience! Do you have any annual Fall traditions as a family?