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Under Pressure: 1 in 5 Parents Will Go into Debt to Send Kids Back to School

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

After a long summer break, many parents feel eager to send their kids back to school. But back to school can translate into debt, according to a recent MagnifyMoney national survey of more than 700 parents. More than one in five parents will go into debt to pay for back-to-school expenses. And more than half (55 percent) of parents who are going into debt say they feel pressure to buy new things for their kids during the back-to-school time compared to just 29 percent for parents not going into debt.

It’s no question that back-to-school clothes, supplies, and gear can put a dent in a family’s budget. Almost three in four parents will spend more than $100 on back-to-school supplies this year, and nearly one in four will spend more than $500.

Key insights

  • 55 percent of parents who are going into debt say they feel pressure to buy new things for their kids for back to school (versus 29 percent for parents not going into debt)
  • Almost half (44 percent) of parents are spending over $300 on back to school.
  • Midwest parents are least likely to feel pressure to buy new things for their kids (30 percent) compared to 43 percent in the Northeast and 38 percent in the South and West.
  • Parents in the South are most likely to spend $500 or more on back to school (28 percent) compared to 25 percent in the Northeast, 20 percent in the Midwest, and 21 percent in the West.
  • 41 percent of parents who feel stress about back-to-school shopping expect to go into debt for back-to-school shopping.
  •  Just 36 percent of parents who will go into debt feel the cost of school supplies required is reasonable. 52 percent of parents who don’t expect to go into debt for back-to-school shopping feel the cost is reasonable.
  • 65 percent of parents going into debt plan to spend $300 or more, compared to 38 percent of those not going into debt. And 37 percent of those going into debt plan to spend $500 or more, versus 21 percent of those not going into debt.

 

Pressure to spend

The survey indicated that for parents expecting to take on debt, back-to-school shopping is fraught with negative emotion. Nearly a third (33 percent) of parents who expect to go into debt for back-to-school shopping feel the cost of expected school supplies is unreasonable. Just one in five parents who won’t go into debt feel the same way. With school supplies pushing one in five families into debt, it’s no wonder that so many feel the costs are unreasonable — that’s especially true for families already carrying credit card debt into the back-to-school season.

According to the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, 31 percent of American households carry credit card debt all year round, and 27 percent of households carry credit card debt from time to time. A MagnifyMoney analysis showed that households carrying credit card debt have an average balance of $7,700. Adding several hundred dollars to an existing credit card debt can make the whole debt feel unmanageable.

In the survey, taking on debt is one of the leading indicators for feeling back-to-school shopping stress. Parents taking on debt were nearly three times as likely to feel that back-to-school shopping was stressful compared to those who were not. A third of parents going into debt feel that back-to-school shopping is stressful, but just 12 percent of parents not going into debt feel the same.

The stress doesn’t come just from crowded malls and added debt. Instead, it comes from social pressure to take on debt and buy new things for kids. Over half (55 percent) of parents who are going into debt feel pressure to buy new things for their kids during the back-to-school time frame. Less than three in 10 (29 percent) parents who aren’t going into debt feel that same pressure.

The pressure to go into debt for kids doesn’t just occur during back-to-school time. Almost half (46 percent) of all moms admit to going into debt for child-rearing costs, according to the 2015 Cost of Raising a Child survey from BabyCenter.com. The pressure to give kids better lives (and better school supplies) can lead parents to make expensive decisions, including going into debt.

Store cards and debt

Most parents, 93 percent, use traditional credit cards or cash to pay for back-to-school items. Only a small percentage plan to use retail credit cards (like the Target RedCard) to pay for back-to-school items. However, parents going into debt are more than three times as likely to use store credit cards as parents not going into debt (15 percent vs. 5 percent).

With coupons, points, and cash rewards, store credit cards can feel enticing, but the interest rates on store cards are damaging.

Retail credit cards have notoriously high interest rates. Currently, Target REDcard and the Walmart Credit Card have interest rates of 22.9 percent, and the Kohl’s credit card is 24.99 percent.

Financing $300 on a store credit card (with a 22.9 percent APR) means that a parent will spend $38.50 on extra interest if they pay off the loan over the course of the year compared to a regular card.

Real Cost of Back-to-School Spending on Store Credit Cards (22.9 percent APR)

$100 in back-to-school spending $300 in back-to-school spending $500 in back-to-school spending
Paid off in 3 months $103.83 $311.52 $519.20
Paid off in 1 year $112.83 $338.50 $564.17

Source: MagnifyMoney.

Overall, 33 percent of parents use traditional credit cards to pay for back-to-school items, including 37 percent of parents planning to take on debt. These parents will likely yield substantial interest rate savings by choosing to use a traditional credit card rather than a store card. Currently, the average interest rate on a credit card is 14 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, but people with decent credit can find plenty of 0 percent APR interest rate offers.

Avoiding cards and debt

Parents who avoid debt tend to avoid plastic altogether. Over three in five (63 percent) parents who don’t expect back-to-school debt won’t spend on credit or retail cards.

As a group, avoiding plastic seems to keep spending down as well — 62 percent of parents who eschew plastic will spend less than $300 on back-to-school supplies. By comparison, just 53 percent of parents using plastic will spend less than $300.

Only 31 percent of parents who are avoiding debt will spend on a credit card and reap rewards points or cash back options. It might seem like this group is missing out on good deals, but they may just focus their attention on bigger saving opportunities. Two-thirds of parents who won’t use plastic this season will take advantage of back-to-school sales.

Survey methodology

MagnifyMoney.com commissioned Google Consumers Surveys to obtain online survey data with 700 parents living in the United States with children going back to school. Interviews were conducted online via Google Surveys in English during August 5-8, 2017. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5.3 percentage points for the 702 people who said they felt stress during back-to-school shopping.

 

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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What Your Teen Should Do With Their Summer Earnings

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: iStock

According to a 2017 survey released by the National Financial Educators Council, 54% of respondents (all 18 years and older) said a course in money management in high school would benefit their lives. Another survey — the most recent from the Program for International Student Assessment — reports that only about 10% of U.S. 15-year-olds are proficient in personal finance matters, falling in the middle among the 15 countries studied. The message is clear: Young Americans need to learn more about money and managing it wisely. One way to start them off is giving them hands-on experience with their own money. Enter the summer job.

Having a summer job can be a good introduction to adulthood for many reasons: The discipline, submission to management, team work, and a regular paycheck are just a few of the things a teenager will get used to with their first summer job.

It’s also a good way to introduce kids to the real world of money. Though the money your teen earns is technically theirs, as a parent, you should use summer job earnings as an opportunity to help your kids form good habits with money. There’s no better time to show them the value of money than in the crucial years before they’ll be saddled with obligations like student loans, car notes, and mortgages.

Here are a few ways to make sure your teen will get the most out of their money-making experience that will keep them money savvy for years to come.

Pay their fair share

Once your teen begins making money, you’ll to want consider how they can begin to cover certain expenses. You’ll be tempted, no doubt, to let your teen keep their hard-earned money for themselves. Trust this process. If the goal is to raise money-smart kids who become even savvier adults, there will have to be simulations of the real world that include actually paying for things

If your teen uses the car, consider having them cover a portion or all of their car insurance bill. Another option is to have them contribute to their cellphone bill or even some of the Wi-Fi they use.

Having expenses is a real part of life, so it’s better to help them understand that now rather than later when ignorance isn’t so blissful.

If the thought of making your child pay for expenses bothers you, consider a different approach: Teach them about the costs of everyday life by asking them to cover their portion of a bill, but take that money and put it away for them. You can save up all that money and, as a nice gesture, give it to them when they need it most, like when they go away to college or finally leave the nest to launch out into the real world.

Open bank accounts

Source: iStock

While many families do not have access to or elect not to participate in the traditional banking system — it’s estimated that 27% of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked — you’d ideally want to get your teen familiar with banks and how they work. Though check use has been on the decline since the mid-1990s, it’s still important for teens to learn how to write a check, along with keeping a checkbook register. Sure, this practice probably won’t last long, as electronic payments and money management apps continue to grow, but this approach gives your kids the gist of how to keep track of their cash flow.

While your teen has a bank account, you’ll also get them used to understanding how a debit card works. They’ll get familiar with how easy it is to swipe for things they want, yet how difficult it can be to replenish their account with the money they’re making at their job.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your teen opens a savings account. In most states, a person can open a bank account when they become 18. For younger teens, many banks have special teen or kid accounts that a child can share with their parents. Co-owned checking accounts can be opened as young as 13, while custodial savings accounts can be opened at any age.

Developing good habits around saving and managing money takes time and some getting used to. So using their summer earnings would be a perfect opportunity to get into the groove of budgeting for expenses and managing money through a bank account.

Set money goals

Once money starts to flow into your kid’s hands, seize the moment and get them to see the bigger picture. Summer money is great, but paying for life will take much more than what your teen earns from a few hours of work in a bike shop. Begin to show them the cost of things like college, cars, homes, and luxuries like vacations or hobbies.

Once you compare the costs with their summer job earnings, it should help them come to conclusions about how money works: The more you have, the more you can do. The idea is to inspire them to increase their earning potential with tools like education or savings to invest in income-producing assets.

Another result of these conversations could be your teen realizing they’ll want to start saving up for life sooner than later. They may decide to put away money for the purpose of paying for school or their first condo.

Ron Lieber, New York Times financial columnist and author of the book The Opposite of Spoiled, says parents should prompt their kids with an immediate goal like having a college fund. “The best thing to do is to use any earnings to begin a conversation with parents about college, if your teen plans on going,” Lieber says.

Lieber suggests questions to guide the conversation:

  • How much of your college expenses will be covered by parents versus the child?
  • How much have the parents saved for the child’s college expenses?
  • How much are kids/parents willing to borrow or spend out of their current income?

According to Lieber, “The answers to these questions may cause a teen to save everything, if they think it will help them avoid debt in their effort to attend their dream college.”

No matter how temporary their summer job is, you’d do well to use it as a springboard for more conversations about money. Whatever their long-term money goals are, it’s never a bad idea to start working toward them early on.

Learn compound interest

While your teen is making all of those big money goals, you could drive the point home with a lesson in compound interest. Using a compound interest calculator, you can show your teenager many scenarios where interest can either work for or against them.

Run scenarios around savings for big-ticket items versus financing them. The math will speak volumes:

*Example APRs are used. APR will vary on factors like individual credit score, loan amount, and bank requirements.

In the above scenario, you’d end up paying a total of $226,815 in interest. That same amount ($226,815) invested for 30 years with a moderate 3.5% return yields over $636,000!

Seeing these numbers in action should motivate your teen to start a savings habit that they will maintain throughout adulthood.

If they are really excited about the prospects of compound interest working on their behalf, encourage them to open their own IRA to begin investing themselves. This way, they’ll not only understand the theory of investing but also get hands-on experience with it. After all, the time value of money works even better when you’ve got more time. Investing as a teen could set the stage for copious returns later on in life.

Create a budget

Making money can be the fun, somewhat easy part of a summer job. Figuring out how to spend it can be difficult. Make your teen prioritize needs and wants by learning to create a budget. A good practice would be to have your teen make a list of things they’ll spend money on versus how much money they will bring in. You could also introduce them to a money-management app — here are some of the best ones.

This will help them understand the finite nature of money and how their current cash flow stacks up against their current earnings.

Have fun

According to Brian Hanks, a certified financial planner in Salt Lake City, “Don’t be concerned if your teen ‘blows’ a portion of their earnings on things you consider to be worthless.” Hanks goes on to say that it’s better to make money mistakes as a youngster: “Everyone needs to learn tough money lessons in life, and learning them as a teen when the consequences are relatively small can save bigger heartache down the road.”

A summer job should be fun and low-stress, but it can also be used as a learning experience that prepares your teen for the real world. If your teen turns out to be a terrible budgeter or extreme spendthrift, give them more than a summer to learn better ways. Remember, they’ll have the rest of their lives to continue grasping and mastering money concepts.

Aja McClanahan
Aja McClanahan |

Aja McClanahan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Aja here

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Average Credit Score in America Reaches New Peak at 700

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

In late 2016, American consumers hit an important milestone. For the first time in a decade, over half of American consumers (51%) recorded prime credit scores. On the other side of the scale, less than a third of consumers (32%) suffered from subprime scores.1 As a nation, our average FICO® Score rose to its highest point ever, 700.2

Despite the rosy national picture, we see regional and age-based disparities. A minority of Southerners still rank below prime credit. In contrast, credit scores in the upper Midwest rank well above the national average. Younger consumers struggle with their credit, but boomers and the Silent Generation secured scores well above the national average.

In a new report on credit scores in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in credit scores. The trends offer insight into how Americans fare with their credit health.

Key insights

  1. National average FICO® Scores are up 14 points since October 2009.3
  2. 51% of consumers have prime credit scores, up from 48.1% in 2007.4
  3. One-third of customers have at least one severely delinquent (90+ days past due) account on their credit report.5
  4. Average VantageScores® in the Deep South are 21 points lower than the national average (652 vs. 673).6
  5. Millennials’ average VantageScore® (634) underperformed the national average by 39 points. Only Gen Z has a lower average score (631).7

Credit scores in America

Average FICO® Score: 7008

Average VantageScore®: 6739

Percent with prime credit score (Equifax Risk Score >720): 51%10

Percent with subprime credit score (Equifax Risk Score <660): 32%11

Credit score factors

Percent with at least one delinquency: 32%12

Average number of late payments per month: .3513

Average credit utilization ratio: 30%14

Debt delinquency

Percent severely delinquent debt: 3.37%15

Percent severely delinquent debt excluding mortgages: 6.9%16

States with the best and worst credit scores

What is a credit score?

Credit scoring companies analyze consumer credit reports. They glean data from the reports and create algorithms that determine consumer borrowing risk. A credit score is a number that represents the risk profile of a borrower. Credit scores influence a bank’s decisions to lend money to consumers. People with high credit scores will find the most attractive borrowing rates because that signals to lenders that they are less risky. Those with low credit scores will struggle to find credit at all.

The Big 3 credit scores

Banks have hundreds of proprietary credit scoring algorithms. In this article, we analyzed trends on three of the most famous credit scoring algorithms:

  • FICO® Score 8 (used for underwriting mortgages)
  • VantageScore® 3.0 (widely available to consumers)
  • Equifax Consumer Risk Credit Score (used by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Each of these credit scores ranks risk on a scale of 300-850. In all three models, prime credit is any score above 720. Subprime credit is any score below 660. All three models consider similar data when they create credit risk profiles. The most common factors include:

  • Payment history
  • Revolving debt levels (or revolving debt utilization ratios)
  • Length of credit history
  • Number of recent credit inquires
  • Variety of credit (installment and revolving)

However, each model weights the information differently. This means that a FICO® Score cannot be compared directly to a VantageScore® or an Equifax Risk Score. For example, a VantageScore® does not count paid items in collections against you. However, a FICO® Score counts all collections items against you, even if you’ve paid them. Additionally, the VantageScore® counts outstanding debt against you, but the FICO® Score only considers how much credit card debt you have relative to your available credit.

American credit scores over time

Average FICO® Scores in America are on the rise for the eighth straight year. The average credit score in America is now 700.

On top of that, consumers with “super prime” credit (FICO® Scores above 800) outnumber consumers with deep subprime credit (FICO® Scores below 600).

We’re also seeing healthy increases in prime credit scores, defined as Equifax Risk Scores above 720. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 51% of all Americans have prime credit scores as measured by the Equifax Risk Score. Following the housing market crash in 2010, just 48.4% of Americans had prime credit scores.20

A major driver of increased scores is the decreased proportion of consumers with collection items on their credit report. A credit item that falls into collections will stay on a person’s credit report for seven years. People caught in the latter end of the real estate foreclosure crisis of 2006-2011 may still have a collections item on their report today.

In the first quarter of 2013, 14.64% of all consumers had at least one item in collections. Today, just 12.61% of consumers have collections items on their credit report. Overall collections rates are approaching 2005-2006 average rates.40

Credit scores and loan originations

Following the 2007-2008 implosion of the housing market, banks saw mortgage borrowers defaulting at higher rates than ever before. In addition to higher mortgage default rates, the market downturn led to higher default rates across all types of consumer loans. To maintain profitability banks began tightening lending practices. More stringent lending standards made it tough for anyone with poor credit to get a loan at a reasonable rate. Although banks have loosened lending somewhat in the last two years, people with subprime credit will continue to struggle to get loans. In June 2017, banks rejected 81.4% of all credit applications from people with Equifax Risk Scores below 680. By contrast, banks rejected 9.11% of credit applications from those with credit scores above 760.22

Credit scores and mortgage origination

Before 2008, the median homebuyer had an Equifax Risk Score of 720. In 2017, the median score was 764, a full 44 points higher than the pre-bubble scores. The bottom 10th of buyers had a score of 657, a massive 65 point growth over the pre-recession average.23

Some below prime borrowers still get mortgages. But banks no longer underwrite mortgages for deep subprime borrowers. More stringent lending standards have resulted in near all-time lows in mortgage foreclosures.

Credit scores and auto loan origination

The subprime lending bubble didn’t directly influence the auto loan market, but banks increased their lending standards for auto loans, too. Before 2008, the median credit score for people originating auto loans was 682. By the first quarter of 2017, the median score for auto borrowers was 706.26

In the case of auto loans, the lower median risk profile hasn’t paid off for banks. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion dollars of auto loans fell into severely delinquent status. New auto delinquencies are now as bad as they were in 2008.28

Consumers looking for new auto loans should expect more stringent lending standards in coming months. This means it’s more important than ever for Americans to grow their credit score.

Credit scores for credit cards

Unlike other types of credit, even people with deep subprime credit scores usually qualify to open a secured credit card. However, credit card use among people with poor credit scores is still near an all-time low. In the last decade, credit card use among deep subprime borrowers fell 16.7%. Today, just over 50% of deep subprime borrowers have credit card accounts.30

The dramatic decline came between 2009 and 2011. During this period, half or more of all credit card account closures came from borrowers with below prime credit scores. More than one-third of all closures came from deep subprime consumers.

However, banks are showing an increased willingness to allow customers with poor credit to open credit card accounts. In 2015, more than 60% of all new credit card accounts went to borrowers with subprime credit, and 25% of all the accounts went to borrowers with deep subprime credit.

State level credit scores

Consumers across the nation are seeing higher credit scores, but regional variations persist. People living in the Deep South and Southwest have lower credit scores than the rest of the nation. States in the Deep South have an average VantageScore® of 652 compared to a nationwide average of 673. Southwestern states have an average score of 658.

States in the upper Midwest outperform the nation as a whole. These states had average VantageScores® of 689.

Unsurprisingly, consumers across the southern United States are far more likely to have subprime credit scores than consumers across the north. Minnesota had the fewest subprime consumers. In December 2016, just 21.9% of residents fell below an Equifax Risk Score of 660. Mississippi had the worst subprime rate in the nation: 48.3% of Mississippi residents had credit scores below 660 in December 2016.35

These are the distributions of Equifax Risk Scores by state:37

Credit score by age

In general, older consumers have higher credit scores than younger generations. Credit scoring models consider consumers with longer credit histories less risky than those with short credit histories. The Silent Generation and boomers enjoy higher credit scores due to long credit histories. However, these generations show better credit behavior, too. Their revolving credit utilization rates are lower than younger generations. They are less likely to have a severely delinquent credit item on their credit report.

Gen X and millennials have almost identical revolving utilization ratios and delinquency rates. Compared to millennials, Gen X has higher credit card balances and more debt. Still, Gen X’s longer credit history gives them a 21 point advantage over millennials on average.

To improve their credit scores, millennials and Gen X need to focus on timely payments. On-time payments and lower credit card utilization will drive their scores up.

A report by FICO® showed that younger consumers can earn high credit scores with excellent credit behavior. 93% of consumers with credit scores between 750 and 799 who were under age 29 never had a late payment on their credit report. In contrast, 57% of the total population had at least one delinquency. This good credit group also used less of their available credit. They had an average revolving credit utilization ratio of 6%. The nation as a whole had a utilization ratio of 15%.39

Sources

  1. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  2. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  3. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  4. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  5. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017
  6. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  7. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  8. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  10. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  11. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  12. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  13. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Late Payments, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  14. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Revolving Credit Utilization Ratio, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type, All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  16. Calculated metric using data from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type and Total Debt Balance and Its Composition. All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017. Multiply all debt balances by percent of balance 90 days delinquent for Q1 2017, and summarize all delinquent balances. Total delinquent balance for non-mortgage debt = $284 billion. Total non-mortgage debt balance = $4.1 trillion$284 billion /$4.1 trillion = 6.9%.
  17. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  18. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  19. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  20. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  21. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  22. Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). The SCE data are available without charge at http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.
  23. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  24. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  25. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Number of Consumers with New Foreclosures and Bankruptcies, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  26. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  27. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  28. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  29. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  30. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  31. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  32. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  33. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  36. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  37. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  38. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  39. Andrew Jennings, “FICO® Score High Achievers: Is Age the Only Factor?” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  40. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  41. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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5 Smart Ways to Lower the Cost of Therapy

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Sasha Aurand has had to scramble for four years to find high-quality mental health care she can afford on her salary from running a website on psychology and sex.

The 25-year-old New Yorker suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety, and has no health insurance.

“So I’ve always had to find other solutions,” she tells MagnifyMoney. Aurand originally sought help for these conditions while still a college student in Indiana. But after the school’s counseling center referred her to a private practice she couldn’t afford, she researched, asked around, and found a community health clinic where a therapist helped her for $20 a visit.

After graduating from college, Aurand moved to New York, where she briefly had health insurance, enabling her to see what she describes as a “phenomenal psychiatrist” for depression medications. But her insurance ended, and she could no longer afford the psychiatrist’s $350/hour fee.

Aurand is not alone, having to be resourceful finding doctors and therapists in her price range. According to the 2016 State of Mental Health in America report, one out of five American adults with mental illness report they are unable to get the treatment they need, often due to cost. And with an uncertain health care climate in Washington, the challenges are unlikely to ease soon.

Although the Senate failed in its recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — an effort, says Colin Seeberger, strategic campaigns director for Young Invincibles, “that would have allowed states to opt out of the ACA’s essential benefits, such as substance abuse and mental health coverage” — there’s still some instability in the insurance markets as a result.

In such a confusing environment, how can you find the help you need at a price you can afford?

Here are a few options if you’re looking for affordable therapy options:

1. Work with a therapist-in-training

If you live near a university with a graduate psychology program, it most likely has an in-house clinic. You can see a trainee at one of these clinics for a reduced fee. Yes, the therapists are students, but each one is closely supervised by a seasoned, licensed professional.

Pros: “Because the therapists are still in school, they’re up to date on the latest developments in psychology,” says Linda Richardson , Ph.D., a psychologist who works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Diego. “You’ll also have the advantage of two heads being better than one.”

Cons: Most trainees work at these clinics for a year or less. If you find someone you like, they’re eventually going to leave.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask about sliding scales or reduced cash fees

After losing her insurance, Aurand went back to her $350/hr psychiatrist and “explained the situation and asked if there was anything she could do,” she says. The psychiatrist agreed to see Aurand for $100 a visit as long as Aurand paid in cash. Aurand now sees the doctor every three months.

Many therapists offer a sliding scale based on a patient’s income. If you find a therapist you like, let him or her know your financial concerns and inquire about paying a lower fee. Another option is to check out Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, a nonprofit that lists therapists who offer a few weekly sessions at a lower rate. There’s a one-time $49 fee to join the collective; therapists in the collective charge $30 to $50 per session.

Pros: With a sliding scale, you get all the benefits of good, one-on-one therapy at a lower rate.

Cons: If you don’t reassess the financial arrangement occasionally, says Erika Martinez, a psychologist in private practice in Miami, Fla., “a therapist can become resentful or frustrated with a client,” especially if your income rises. To avoid this, discuss payments every few months to see if an adjustment is needed.

3. Consider group therapy

According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy works as well as individual therapy for many conditions, such as depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder — and for a fraction of the price. Martinez, for example, charges $150 an hour for individual therapy but only $65/hour for a group session.

Pros: There’s a lot of power in knowing you’re not alone. “When you share about your struggles in group where others have the same concerns, and you feel their empathy, that’s incredible,” says Martinez.

Cons: Some people aren’t comfortable speaking about emotional issues in a group. Also, you have to share the therapist’s attention with others.

4. Try online services & therapy apps

There are many online tools, including Breakthrough.com and Betterhelp.com that offer individual therapy sessions with licensed therapists over the phone or via a secure, HIPAA-compliant video for considerably less than an in-office visit. Rates vary, but if you search, you can find someone affordable.

Several California-based therapists (among the most expensive in the nation) on Breakthrough.com, for example, offer sessions for as low as $55 an hour. A note of caution: Choose someone licensed in your state. In case of an emergency, a therapist can only help secure needed services if you’re in the same state.

Pros: You can get high-quality, one-on-one therapy without ever having to leave your home, office, or pajamas — and at a reasonable cost.

Cons: Insurance often doesn’t cover phone or video sessions. “Also, you can’t fully see the nonverbal language of the therapist,” says Martinez. “And the Internet connection can be bad.”

Better Help App. Source: iTunes

Therapy apps — which allow you to text or chat with a licensed therapist — are becoming increasingly popular. Among the many available are Betterhelp.com, Talkspace.com, and iCounseling.com. Studies in both The Lancet and the Journal of Affective Disorders have shown that online therapy is an effective way to get help, and many services start for as little as $35 a week.

TalkSpace app. Source: iTunes

Pros: You can get help anytime, anywhere, even while sitting in a business meeting or on the subway. Also, it’s a good option for people afraid to walk into a therapist’s office.

Cons: Chat and text therapy, which are not covered by insurance, are inappropriate if you’re feeling suicidal or have severe mental illness. And some people find the technology alienating. “I tried one of these apps a few years ago,” says Aurand, “ and I just missed the human interaction of seeing a therapist in person.”

5. Tap into community resources for free or discounted counseling

You can find psychological and psychiatric care at public mental health clinics, which offer services for free or on a sliding scale, based on your income. Organizations devoted to helping survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse also offer a wide range of services, including free counseling. And religious organizations, such as Jewish Family Services, often offer therapy on a sliding scale. The best way to find resources in your community, says Richardson, is to dial the information hotline, 211, on your phone or look online at http://www.211.org.

When her PTSD flares up and she needs to talk to a therapist, Aurand supplements her psychiatrist visits by going to a community health clinic, the Ryan/Chelsea Clinton Community Health Center, which offers a sliding scale based on her income and charges $100-$125 a session.

Pros: You can find good care for low or no cost.

Cons: The demand at public health clinics is huge, and staffs are often overwhelmed. “There can be long waiting lists, especially for individual counseling,” says Richardson. “You may have better luck if you’re willing to join a group, such as anger management, that fits your needs.”

The bottom line

When it comes to finding affordable mental health care, persistence is the key. “It can be really daunting, especially if you’re not feeling well or don’t have insurance and think you can’t get help,” says Aurand. “But if you take the time and do your research, you’ll find someone who wants to help you. There are a lot of good therapists and psychiatrists out there, and it’s not necessarily all about the money.”

Laura Hilgers
Laura Hilgers |

Laura Hilgers is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Laura here

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With the Fate of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Uncertain, Here are Tips for Confused Borrowers

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More than half a million Americans are working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), a program that eliminates federal student loan debt for people with jobs in the public sector. But the proposed 2018 White House budget reportedly calls for ending PSLF for future borrowers — and even current participants’ status could be in doubt, with a lawsuit claiming the government has reversed previous assurances given to certain borrowers that their employment qualifies.

Final decisions have not yet been made in either scenario. But even with this uncertainty, there are steps both current borrowers and interested potential future PSLF participants can take to make themselves as secure as possible.

First, a quick primer on PSLF: The program began in October 2007 under George W. Bush, and it wipes clean the remaining federal student debt for qualifying borrowers who have made 120 payments, or 10 years’ worth (more information is available at StudentAid.gov/publicservice). So the earliest any public service worker could receive loan forgiveness under PSLF is October 2017.

“The idea is to avoid making debt a disincentive to choosing public service,” explains Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert and publisher at college scholarship site Cappex.com. “Think about a public defender. They might make $40,000 a year, but they’ll incur $120,000 in debt for law school. That debt-to-income ratio is impossible, so PSLF makes that career path possible — and attracts people who might have otherwise taken high-paying private-sector jobs.”

Public Service Loan Forgiveness — on the chopping block?

At this time, the biggest threat to the future of PSLF is President Donald Trump’s 2018 White House education budget proposal. The budget proposal would eliminate PSLF — citing costs — and replace all current income-based repayment/forgiveness plans with a single income-driven system. While existing borrowers would be grandfathered into PSLF, any new students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018, would not qualify. Still, all of this can happen only if Congress passes the budget — and it remains to be seen whether this section will pass as currently written in the proposal.

If you’re one of the more than 550,000 borrowers who is already working toward forgiveness — that is, you have already taken out at least one federal loan and/or you’ve completed school and are working in public service — the proposed cancellation of PSLF won’t affect you. Again, if the program is cut, it will impact only students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018.

But even existing borrowers working toward PSLF can’t fully relax. As first reported by The New York Times, the Department of Education added a serious wrinkle by sending letters to people saying their employment was no longer eligible for PSLF, after the borrowers had confirmed with their loan servicer that they qualified. Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a lawsuit against the department, and the case is currently in progress.

That may leave many workers questioning whether or not they will ultimately be eligible for loan forgiveness after all — even if they work in the nonprofit or public sector. MagnifyMoney has spoken to experts and reviewed the rules of the program to help.

How Can I Be Sure I Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Qualifying for PSLF depends on meeting several specific requirements, so the first step in determining your eligibility is to make sure your loans and employment check all the boxes.

1. Your student loan must qualify for forgiveness.

PSLF provides forgiveness only for federal Direct Loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans—for parents and graduate or professional students
  • Direct Consolidation Loans

Note that loans made under other federal student loan programs may become eligible for PSLF if they’re consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan, but only payments toward that consolidated loan will count toward the 120-payment requirement. And, according to ED, parents who borrowed a Direct PLUS Loan “may qualify for forgiveness of the PLUS loan, if the parent borrower—not the student on whose behalf the loan was obtained—is employed by a public service organization.”

2. You must be enrolled in the right type of repayment plan.

You must be enrolled in one of the Direct Loan repayment plans, some of which are income-based. The umbrella term for these plans is income-driven repayment plans, which include the Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment plans. While payments under other types of Direct Loan plans, like the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, do qualify and count toward your 120 payments, you’ll want to switch to an income-driven plan as soon as possible — because if you stick with a standard 10-year repayment, you’ll have paid off your loan in full after 10 years with nothing left to be forgiven under PSLF. Check the official PSLF site for more details. And note that private loans, including bank loans that are “federally guaranteed,” do not qualify.

3. You must make 120 on-time payments while employed full time by an eligible employer.

If you drop to part-time work, those payments won’t qualify. You must also be employed full time in public service at the time you apply for loan forgiveness and at the time the remaining balance on your eligible loans is forgiven. After you make your 120th payment you’ll need to submit the forgiveness application, which the Department of Education says will be available in September 2017.

4. Your employer must count as a public service organization.

This is the big one, and the most complicated step of the process for some borrowers to figure out. While the Education Department does address types of employers that fit under the PSLF program, there are some gray areas. Broadly, the types of employers that qualify include governmental groups, not-for-profit tax-exempt organizations known as 501(c)(3)s, and private not-for-profits. That last category includes military; public safety, health, education, and library services; and more.

Pro tip: Certify that your employer is included in the program every year.

Each year and whenever you change employers, you should fill out and send an Employment Certification form to FedLoan Servicing. The form isn’t required to be submitted on an annual basis, but it’s highly recommended to fill it out annually so there are no unhappy surprises down the road. It also helps you keep track of progress toward your 120 payments and gives you a chance to find out whether there is any change to your eligibility status.

What if you fear your job’s eligibility is unclear?

The validity of that FedLoan Servicing certification form is at the center of the lawsuit against the Department of Education. Although it’s important to have your employer’s eligibility certified by the department, the Education Department has said the form isn’t necessarily binding and the eligibility of employers can possibly change. As The New York Times put it, the department’s position implies “that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent … are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the [DOE] said.”

That puts existing borrowers in a tough spot, says Joseph Orsolini, CFP and president of College Aid Planners: “[PSLF] is sort of an all-or-nothing in that you can’t apply for the forgiveness until you’ve already done your 120 payments. So to have someone choose this career path and work for years only to be told, ‘never mind, you no longer qualify even though we said you did,’ it would be hard for them not to see that as reneging on a deal.”

That possibility is “terrifying” for Frances Harrell, 35, a preservation specialist who works for a nonprofit that supports small and medium-size libraries in caring for their collections. She completed a library graduate school program in 2013 and emerged with a total of about $125,000 in debt, including her undergraduate loans.

“Everyone I know is in public service, and we all saw the Times article [about the PSLF lawsuit] and flipped out,” says Harrell, who currently lives in Gainesville, Fla. “I felt like I had been dropped in a bucket of ice. We’re making life decisions based on this understanding, and it feels so precarious not to have any true confirmation that we’ll get the forgiveness in the end.”

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Razo)

Harrell has also dealt with confusion from loan servicers and other experts — and based on incorrect advice, she nearly consolidated her loans in a way that would have reset the clock on her years of payments.

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, is relieved that he is enrolling before the 2018 uncertainty begins. Razo is one of Orsolini’s clients, and he plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney.

“[PSLF] is complex as it is, so my initial thought was, ‘Wow, great timing for me that I’m starting in 2017,’” Razo says. “But I understand the program affects way more than just me. [PSLF] gives you comfort to pursue public-service goals without having to make your employment about the money. I’m optimistic that [lawmakers] will see the good in the program so it can continue.”

When in doubt: Follow the ‘3 phone call rule’

While borrowers may think their loan servicer has all of the answers, Harrell’s situation isn’t uncommon, says Orsolini. He recommends “the three phone call rule”: Call three times and ask the same question, documenting whom you spoke to and when.

“These programs are complicated — which is one of the issues that critics [of PSLF] bring up — and you don’t always get the right information,” Orsolini says. “Before you plan your whole life around the [first] answer you get, you have to double- and triple-check that it’s right.”

If you’re taking out your first qualifying loan on or after July 1, 2018, Orsolini says “there’s not much to do besides hurry up and wait” to see what happens with the White House budget as it relates to PSLF.

“The important thing to remember is that a proposal is just a proposal, and these don’t always see the light of day,” Orsolini adds. “It doesn’t do any good to be overly worried, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on the news.”

Other types of loan forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge:

PSLF isn’t the only option. But not all types of federal student loans offer the same forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge options. See the chart below and check out StudentEd.gov pages here and here for more details.

Still, borrowers should know Trump’s desire to streamline federal programs into a single option means some of these loan types and forgiveness plans could be changed or canceled as well.

Julianne Pepitone
Julianne Pepitone |

Julianne Pepitone is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julianne here

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How to Master the College Enrollment Process and Beat ‘Summer Melt’

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

As many as 40 percent of college-bound students never make to campus their freshman year thanks to a phenomenon called “Summer Melt.” The term was coined by researcher Karen Arnold in 2009 to describe what happens when high school seniors get accepted into postsecondary institutions but still fail to enroll.

Students susceptible to summer melt, many of whom are often low-income and first generation college students, may get stuck on one or more of the steps required to complete enrollment. These steps can be as simple as filling out housing applications, taking placement tests and attending summer orientation — but the most common culprit behind summer melt is the financial aid process.

“A lot of the reason why students struggle over the summer is wrapped up in the process of accessing financial aid and following through with the financial aid that they are offered,” says researcher Lindsay Page , who co-authored the book, “Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College”.

Making a mistake on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or missing important financial aid deadlines could mean little or no scholarship or grant money for at-risk low-income students, who may not be able to attend attend school without the aid.

Here are a few steps students and their families can take to make sure they don’t fall prey to summer melt.

Reach out to school counselors and nonprofits for help

Dejah Morales, 19, could easily have fallen into the summer melt trap. As a first generation college student, the East Boston, Mass. teen told MagnifyMoney she wasn’t sure how to navigate the college matriculation process. But rather than giving up, she sought help from nonprofit organizations with experts on hand to guide her.

“I wanted to go find help because I knew all of the paperwork that is filled out needs to be done correctly because it affects how much [money] you get for financial aid and anything that has to do with you living on campus,” Morales said.

She started by contacting her high school college admissions counselor, who turned her on to a program offered by Bottom Line, a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students get through the college application process and provides additional support when students are in school. Bottom Line made sure she correctly completed the application process in order to become a student. The nonprofit also has offices in Chicago, New York City, and Worcester, Mass.

For first generation college students like Dejah Morales, 19, (pictured above) getting accepted to college is only half the battle. Completing the enrollment process is the next hurdle. Photo courtesy of Dejah Morales.

When it came to sorting outout the nitty-gritty details of securing financial aid, Dejah turned again to her high school’s resources. All Boston-area high schools are staffed with a counselor from uAspire, a nonprofit that helps college-bound students get the information and resources they need to complete the college admissions and financial aid process.

“Submitting your actual [income verification] paperwork to the school was the hard part. And then having to get my parents tax information was always a struggle especially my dad since he wasn’t living with me,” says Morales. The uAspire counselor assisted her through the entire process.

Even if your school doesn’t have dedicated college counselors on staff, there are many free programs dedicated to helping students navigate the college financial aid process. Check out national non-profits like the College Goal Sunday Program hosted by the National College Action Network, or Reach4Succes. Also, students and families can contact their school counselor’s office for access to local resources.

Know your national AND state FAFSA deadlines — and submit your forms early

In order to get access to financial aid — that includes federal grants like the Pell grant and federal student loans — students and families absolutely MUST fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

That’s why it is so crucial to stay on top of deadlines to submit your FAFSA. If you miss the deadline, your options for financing school become incredibly limited.

Check out our guide on how to get through the FAFSA smoothly >

What’s more, federal grants and scholarships — ‘free’ money for school that you don’t have to pay back — are typically doled out on a first come, first serve basis. That means the later you wait to submit the FAFSA application, the less likely those funds will be available to you — even if you qualify for the aid.

There are two deadlines to keep in mind: the national FAFSA deadline and your state FAFSA deadlines.

State FAFSA Deadlines:

Your state may have set a different FAFSA submission deadline to qualify for state-specific aid. Check here to find your state’s deadline.

Get your parents on board early

Joe Orsolini, CFP and founder of College Aid Planners, says the majority of financial aid issues he sees occur just weeks before the fall semester begins are a result of parents not getting involved early on. Even small mistakes, like entering an incorrect social security number or miscalculating a parent’s income, could mean delays in receiving aid.

“The parents never really sat down with the kid and asked, ‘Hey. where is the rest of this money coming from?’” says Orsolini.

You’ll need to have important documents like your parent’s taxes and income from the past two years and your social security number on hand to complete the FAFSA form. Those can be difficult to get hold of when you don’t live with one or both your parents or if your parents don’t fully understand what they are being asked to provide.

Easy mistakes that can throw off your FAFSA submission

Incomplete e-signature. The FAFSA can also trip you up on seemingly-easy steps, like providing an e-signature. If you don’t provide the e-signature correctly, or think you hit ‘submit’ but didn’t, you may waste valuable time waiting for an email that won’t come until you sign the form properly.

Missing mistakes on your Student Aid Report. About two weeks after you submit the form, you should receive a Student Aid Report which gives you basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid along with your Expected Family Contribution – what your family is expected to pay. The SAR also includes a four-digit Data Release Number (DRN), which you’ll need to allow your school to change certain information on your FAFSA.The SAR also lists your responses to the questions on your FAFSA, so be sure to review it and correct any mistakes.

Income verification notifications. After you receive your SAR, check to see if you’ve been flagged for ‘income verification’ as about 1/3 of students are required to verify their parent’s income with additional proof to complete the FAFSA process. The government usually follows up on students who are more likely to qualify for the federal Pell grant or other grant-based aid, Page says. If flagged for income verification, you’ll have to submit verification to each school you apply to, and the schools may have different paperwork and processes.

Missing deadlines in e-mail. When you create and submit the FAFSA, you give the Education Department your email address. The Education Department will email you, so you need to check the inbox of the email address you provided for correspondence. Create your FAFSA account using an email account you check regularly. Turn on your email notifications on your devices so you won’t miss any emails reminding you to submit your FAFSA form or letting you know if something went wrong somewhere in the process.

Formally accept your financial aid awards

After submitting your FAFSA, you will receive a student aid award letter from your college. But your work isn’t done there. You’ll have to sign online to officially accept the aid (student loans, grants, work-study programs, etc). Typically, that will be facilitated through your college’s website.

If you applied for federal work-study, this is when you’ll decide if accepting it is best for your circumstances. Work with a financial aid counselor at the college if you need help weighing the pros and cons of accepting or denying any aid you’ve been offered.

Don’t forget to sign your Master Promissory Note. In order to receive federal student loans, you must sign a Master Promissory Note. The MPN is a legal document you must sign saying you promise to repay your loan(s) and any accrued interest and fees to the U.S. Department of Education. If you miss this final step, you won’t actually get any of the federal loans you’ve been assigned.

Log into your school’s student portal ASAP

Income freshman likely have access to a student portal provided by their college or university. There, you’ll likely find a checklist of important steps to complete before you can officially enroll.

The list may include important financial aid actions like accepting grants and scholarships or signing your Master Promissory Note.

Contact your school’s financial aid counselors early

If you’re not sure what your next steps should be in the financial aid process, you should reach out to the school you’re planning to attend. Call or send an email to the financial aid or admissions offices at your school if you are concerned about receiving the aid you need or get stuck completing all of the steps in the process.

In the future, your college may be the one reaching out to you first, as Georgia State University did with it’s Fall 2016 freshman class. The school experimented using a “chatbot” to send a control group of incoming freshmen alerts about the enrollment process.

The chatbot ‘nudged’ students to remind them of things they needed to do, like signing their MPN, or accepting scholarships, but it could also respond to students’ questions or help them get in contact with a human if asked or if it couldn’t answer the question.

“We saw our melt rate drop from 18% to 14%,” says Scott Burke, the school’s’ Associate Vice President and Director of Undergraduate Admissions. “That was 300 more students in our freshman class in fall 2016 than in fall 2015.”

Don’t forget your high school resources

Like Morales, high school seniors can still ask their high school counselors for help after they’ve graduated. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions you may have about your transcripts or other parts of the financial aid process.

High school counselors, like Morales’ uAspire counselor, are usually equipped to answer many of the questions you may have about the financial aid process or with the FAFSA, but they may not be able to answer more college-specific questions. For example, your high school counselor could help you navigate your way through Loan Entrance Counseling, but may not be able to explain the process you need to go through to accept any awarded scholarships or grants from the university.

If a high school counselor can’t answer your questions, they generally direct you to the proper entity or person who can.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Older Americans Are Getting Crushed by Debt, New MagnifyMoney Analysis Shows

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

More American seniors are shouldering debt as they enter their retirement years, according to a new MagnifyMoney analysis of data from the latest University of Michigan Retirement Research Center Health and Retirement Study release. MagnifyMoney analyzed survey data to see whether debt causes financial frailty during retirement. We also spoke with financial experts who explained how seniors can rescue their retirements.

1 in 3 Americans 50 and older carry non-mortgage debt

The Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center surveys more than 20,000 participants age 50+ who answer questions about well-being. The survey covers financial topics including debt, income, and assets. Since 1990, the center has conducted the survey every other year. They released the 2014 panel of data in November 2016. MagnifyMoney analyzed the most recent release of the data to learn more about financial fitness among older Americans.

In an ideal retirement, retirees would have the financial resources necessary to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during their working years. Debt acts as an anchor on retiree balance sheets. Since interest rates on debts tend to rise faster than earnings from assets, debt has the power to destroy the balance sheets of seniors living on fixed incomes.

We found that nearly one-third (32%) of all Americans over age 50 carry non-mortgage debt from month to month. On average, those with debt carry $4,786 in credit card debt and $12,490 in total non-mortgage debt.

High-interest consumer debt erodes seniors’ ability to live a quality lifestyle, says John Ross, a Texarkana, Texas-based attorney specializing in elder law.

“From an elder law attorney perspective, we see a direct correlation between debt and institutional care,” Ross says. “Essentially, the more debt load, the less likely the person will have sufficient cash assets to cover medical care that is not provided by Medicare.”

Even worse, debt leads some retirees to skip paying for necessary expenses like quality food and medical care.

“The social aspect of being a responsible bill payer often leads the older debtor to forgo needed expenses to pay debts they cannot afford instead of considering viable options like bankruptcy,” says Devin Carroll, a Texarkana, Texas-based financial adviser specializing in Social Security and retirement.

Some older Americans may even be carrying debt that they don’t have the capacity to pay.

According to our analysis, 40% of all older Americans have credit card debt in excess of $5,000. More than one in five (22%) Americans age 50+ have more than $10,000 in credit card debt. On average, those with more than $10,000 in credit card debt couldn’t pay off their debt even by emptying their checking accounts.

Over a third of American seniors don’t have $1,000 in cash

It’s not just credit card debtors who struggle with financial frailty approaching retirement. Many older Americans have very little spending power. More than one-third (37%) of all Americans over age 50 have a checking account balance less than $1,000.

Low cash reserves don’t just mean limited spending power. They indicate that American seniors don’t have the liquidity to deal with financial hardships as they approach retirement. This is especially concerning because seniors are more likely than average to face high medical expenses. Over one in three (36%) Americans who experienced financial hardship classified it as an unexpected health expense, according to the Federal Reserve Board report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015. The median out-of-pocket health-related expense was $1,200.

Debt pushes seniors further from retirement goals

Seniors carrying credit card debt exhibit other signs of financial frailty. For example, seniors without credit card debt have an average net worth of $120,000. Those with credit card debt have a net worth of just $68,000, 43% less than those without credit card debt.

The concern isn’t just small portfolio values. For retirees with debt, credit card interest rates outpace expected performance on investment portfolios. Today the average credit card interest rate is 14%. That means American seniors who carry credit card debt (on average, $4,786) pay an average of $670 per year in interest charges. Meanwhile, the average investment portfolio earns no more than 8% per year. This means that older debtors will earn just $4,508 from their entire portfolio. Credit card interest eats up more than 15% of the nest egg income.

For some older Americans the problem runs even deeper. One in 10 American seniors has a checking account balance with less than $1,000 and carries credit card debt. This precarious position could leave some seniors unable to recover from larger financial setbacks.

Increased debt loads over time

High levels of consumer debt among older Americans are part of a sobering trend. According to research from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, in 1998, 36.94% of Americans age 56-61 carried debt. The mean value of their debt (in 2012 dollars) was $3,634.

Over time debt loads among pre-retiree age Americans are becoming even more unsustainable. Today 42% of Americans age 50-59 have debt, and their average debt burden is $17,623.

Credit card debt carries the most onerous interest rates, but it’s not the only type of debt people carry into retirement. According to research from the Urban Institute, in 2014, 32.2% of adults aged 68-72 carried debt in addition to a mortgage or a credit card, and 18% of Americans age 73-77 still have an auto loan.

Even student loan debt, a debt typically associated with millennials, is causing angst among seniors. According to the debt styles study from the Urban Institute, as of 2014, 2%-4% of adults aged 58 and older carried student loan debt. It’s a small proportion overall, but the burden is growing over time.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2004, 600,000 seniors over age 60 carried student loan debt. Today that number is 2.8 million. Back in 2004 Americans over age 60 had $6 billion in outstanding student loan debts. Today they owe $66.7 billion in student loans, more than 10 times what they owed in 2004. Not all that student debt came from seniors dragging their repayments out for 30-40 years. Almost three in four (73%) older student loan debtors carry some debt that benefits a child or grandchild.

Even co-signing student loans puts a retirement at risk. If the borrower cannot repay the loan on their own, then a retiree is on the hook for repayment. A co-signer’s assets that aren’t protected by federal law can be seized to repay a student loan in default. Because of that, Ross says, “We never advise a person to co-sign on a student loan. Never!”

How older Americans can manage debt

High debt loads and an impending retirement can make a reasonable retirement seem like a fairy tale. However, an effective debt strategy and some extra work make it possible to age on your own terms.

Focus on debt first.

Carroll suggests older workers should prioritize eliminating debt before saving for retirement. “Several studies have shown a direct correlation between debt and risk of institutionalization,” he says. Debt inhibits retirees from remodeling or paying for in-home care that could allow them to age in place.

Downsize your lifestyle

As a first step in eliminating debt, seniors should check all their expenses. Some may consider drastic measures like downsizing their home.

Cut off adult children

Even more important, seniors with debt may need to stop supporting adult children.

According to a 2015 Pew Center Research Poll, 61% of all American parents supported an adult child financially in the last 12 months. Nearly one in four (23%) helped their adult children with a recurring financial need.

Wanting to help children is natural, but it can leave seniors financially frail. It may even leave a parent unable to provide for themselves during retirement.

Work longer

Older workers can also eliminate debt by focusing on the income side of the equation. For many this will mean working a few years longer than average, but the extra work pays off twofold. First, eliminating debt reduces the need for cash during retirement. Second, working longer also allows seniors to delay taking Social Security benefits.

Working until age 67 compared to age 62 makes a meaningful difference in quality of life decades down the road. According to the Social Security Administration, workers who withdraw starting at age 62 received an average of $1,077 per month. Those who waited until age 67 received 27% more, $1,372 per month.

Retirees already receiving Social Security benefits have options, too. Able-bodied retirees can re-enter the workforce. Homeowners can consider renting out a room to a family member to increase income.

Consider every option

If earning more money isn’t realistic, a debt elimination strategy becomes even more important. Ross recommends that retirees should consider every option when facing debt, including bankruptcy. He explains, “A 65-year-old, healthy retiree would be well advised to pay down the high-interest debt now. Alternatively, an 85-year-old retiree facing significant health issues is better off filing bankruptcy or just defaulting on the debt. For the older person, their existing assets are a lifeline, and a good credit score is irrelevant.”

Don’t take on new debt

It’s also important to avoid taking on new debt during retirement. “The only exception,” Ross explains, “[is taking on] debt in the form of home equity for long-term medical care needs, but then only when all other reserves are depleted and the person has explored all forms of government assistance such as Medicaid and veterans benefits.”

Every senior’s financial situation differs, but if you’re facing financial stress before or during retirement, it pays to know your options. Conduct your research and consult with a financial adviser, an elder law attorney, or a credit counselor from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to choose what is right for your situation.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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4 Lessons We Learned from Buying Our House at an Estate Sale

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Newlyweds Laura and Chris Mericas, pictured above, stumbled upon their dream home at an estate sale in Houston, Texas. “We were never wanting to buy a brand new house,” Laura told MagnifyMoney. “We knew that whatever house we got, we would want to do work.” Photo courtesy of Laura and Chris Mericas.

Around a year ago, newlyweds Laura and Chris Mericas were eager to purchase their first home in Houston, Texas. It didn’t take long before they realized homes in the neighborhoods they liked were out of their budget, so they put home buying on hold. Laura and Chris aren’t alone — like other millennials, they’re being priced out of markets across the country. Homeownership among millennials is lower than decades past: For those under 35, 39% owned homes in 1995, compared to 43% in 2005 and just 31% in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the off chance that he might come across a good deal, Chris, 26, continued to look at realtor websites. A year later, he happened upon a home in the Garden Oaks-Oak Forest neighborhood in Northwest Houston that piqued his interest. The property — a three-bedroom, one-bathroom fixer-upper — was listed as part of an estate sale, and it was within their maximum budget of $350,000. They made their move.

“We found the house on a Monday and had an offer accepted by Friday,” Chris says.

But the journey was far from smooth. Here’s what they learned along the way.

You can’t judge a house by its cover photo

Browsing through realtor photos of the house online, Laura wasn’t exactly impressed. Driven by the price point, however, they decided to give it a shot.

They were pleasantly surprised.

“Because it was an estate sale and because the people selling it weren’t super motivated [to stage the home for photos],” says Laura, 25. “For whatever reason, the pictures online were awful.”

The home had belonged to a man who was born in the house and purchased it after his parents died. He had rented the home out and planned on permanently moving into the house before he passed away. It was his children who decided to sell rather than continue renting it out.

Laura says she thinks because the home was a rental property, the children were even more eager to sell it. Brian Davis, a real estate investor, says family members eager to sell estate sale properties is common.

“The adult children typically want to sell the property as quickly as possible, since it will continue to accrue costs while it sits vacant,” he says. “Mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and maintenance all add up quickly. These adult children often don’t have as strong of an emotional attachment to the house as live-in owners do, and are less likely to be offended by low offers.”

Emotions will inevitably add complications

Despite the children not being attached to the home, Laura, a freelance journalist, and Chris, a mechanical engineer, still felt unsure how to act during negotiations.

“I think the fact that it was an estate sale made it different on our end,” Chris says. “In the negotiation phase, we were a little conflicted. We don’t want to belittle the fact that they just lost their father … but in addition to that, we wanted to play off the fact that they weren’t selling this house to buy another house. It was extra income that they weren’t expecting because their father died at a young age.”

There were other offers on the table, but most were from professional house flippers who were offering land value only, so theirs was accepted quickly.

A good home inspection is everything

Laura and Chris first found their new home in early March, and they closed on April 24. All in all, the whole process took around 50 days.

“It was a pretty stressful two weeks at the beginning, getting all of our paperwork and getting all of our employment records to get the loan,” Laura says. They both had strong credit scores and were already pre-approved for a mortgage because they had looked into buying a home a year earlier, which helped speed up the process.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“We had to scramble to get the inspection done,” Laura says. The couple initially asked for 10 days to get the appraisal done, but then asked for a two-day extension because a lot of inspection companies were closed for spring break.

After their initial offer was accepted, inspectors came to look at the home and found it was rife with problems: outdated and dangerous electrical wiring, plumbing troubles, and holes in the sewer line. The inspectors said it would cost around $20,000 for these repairs, so Laura and Chris sent a second offer that took these costs into consideration.

Their offer was accepted immediately.

Fixer-uppers require a lot of imagination — and cash

In most home sales, the property is tidy and beautifully staged. Laura and Chris discovered this wasn’t the case in their estate sale. “I feel like when people are trying to sell their house, they might try to spruce it up a bit in the months leading up to it,” Laura says. “There was definitely none of that. It was dirty. There was dog hair.”

So they used their imagination. Laura and Chris always envisioned purchasing a home in need of renovation and a little TLC, so the problems with the house didn’t faze them. “We were never wanting to buy a brand new house,” Laura says. “We knew that whatever house we got, we would want to do work.”

After completing around $20,000 in necessary home renovations after closing, Laura and Chris moved in early June. Although it’s been a whirlwind few months, the couple feels lucky to have swooped in on the estate sale at the perfect moment. They say every other comparable home they saw in the same neighborhood about $75,000 more than what they paid.

“We saw an opportunity to get into the neighborhood with a steal,” Laura says. “Down the street, there are people building enormous houses. We would never be able to get into this neighborhood at that price ever again.”

Tips for purchasing a home from an estate sale

Kevin Godfrey, an agent with Douglas Elliman and the owner of Henry Laurent Estate Sales, shares his advice for purchasing a home through an estate sale.

  1. Use the estate sale as the open house. Go into the rooms, check the water pressure, inspect the foundation, and discreetly take measurements. Take your time and make sure it’s what you are looking for. A standard open house lasts for two hours, while an estate sale lasts for two days — eight hours each.
  1. If you get in early enough, the owner won’t have an agent yet. Dealing directly with them and only using real estate attorneys to finalize the transaction can save the owner the typical 4% to 6% agent fee.
  1. As with any purchase of a home, you’ll still want to do all of the necessary inspections and search the property records for liens or encumbrances.
Jamie Friedlander
Jamie Friedlander |

Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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How These Student Loan Borrowers Are Getting Their Debt Dismissed in Court

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college students Teenagers Young Team Together Cheerful Concept

Student debt is only forgiven or discharged in special cases, but a new report by The New York Times might offer a glimmer of hope to some student loan borrowers struggling to manage their debt.

If a student loan lender or servicer can’t prove that they own the debt that they are attempting to collect from a consumer, it’s possible that the debt can be dismissed in court.  That’s what happened in a recent case profiled by New York Times reporters Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg involving private student lender National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, one of the nation’s largest owners of private loans.

National Collegiate sued dozens of former students who had defaulted on their private student loans. But in court National Collegiate failed to prove they owned the loans. This happens often when loans are sold to another lender, or otherwise handed to another account manager and paperwork gets lost. Ultimately, the courts dismissed the lawsuits, citing the fact that National Collegiate had no way of proving they owned the debts in the first place.

This isn’t always how the scales tip in cases against consumers for unpaid debts.

If consumer debts are left unpaid for an extended period of time, consumers can and often are taken to court by the companies they owe. Often, consumers don’t answer these lawsuits at all. And when lawsuits aren’t answered, judges usually rule in favor of the plaintiffs. With those judgments in place, companies can then push to have the consumers’ wages or federal benefits like Social Security garnished.

The outcomes in these National Collegiate lawsuits are proof of what can happen if consumers simply show up at court and try to fight back.

“Individuals trying to get rid of student loan debt should be proactive in demanding proof of ownership of the loan documents from the lender that is collecting or trying to enforce the [loan],” says Attorney Evelyn J. Pabon Figueroa, based in Orlando, Fla.

People who are going through the bankruptcy process and are attempting to have student loan debt discharged should also ask their lenders for proof that they own the debt, Figueroa says. If proof isn’t provided, they should dispute the debt.

Figueroa says in some cases borrowers should even stop making payments if they believe the lender doesn’t have the right documents to prove they own the loan. Instead, send the lender a debt verification letter, which asks lenders to provide proof that the debt belongs to a person. You can download a sample debt verification letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

The CFPB suggests asking these three questions in your letter:

  • Why a debt collector thinks you owe this debt.
  • The amount of the debt and how old it is.
  • Details about the debt collector’s authority to collect this money.

If the lender can’t provide proof, you should consider disputing the debt, either in court (if the lender has filed a lawsuit against you at that point) or through the three major credit bureaus (if the debts are appearing on your report and subsequently hurting your credit score).

How student lenders lose track of their debts

If the National Collegiate debacle sounds familiar, it should. It’s similar to the same issues mortgage lenders encountered during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Lenders took borrowers to court to pursue unpaid mortgage debts, but when the lenders could not provide proof that the borrowers owed the debt, courts often ruled that the loans were not collectible. The lack of documentation was so pervasive that many borrowers intentionally defaulted on their mortgage loans on the off chance a lender could not prove they owned the debt.

National Collegiate is already anticipating that it will face the same problem — that borrowers will simply stop paying their debts — as word spreads of its inability to win lawsuits against borrowers. “[A]s news of the servicing issues and the Trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises,” the company said in a recent legal filing.

What to do if you’re sued by a student lender or debt collector

First, don’t panic. The last thing you want to do if you’re ever sued is admit in writing or verbally that you owe the debt. In the event the lender can’t prove they own the debt, this may come back to haunt you. By taking these few key steps, you can protect yourself both legally and financially in the event you’re served with a lawsuit from a lender:

  1. Ask them to verify the debt. If you’re already suspicious your loan lender may have lost your paperwork and can’t prove the debt, start by sending out a debt verification letter. If the lender doesn’t respond (give them 30-60 days), they must cease attempting to collect the debt. If they don’t stop, you’ll likely need to contact a lawyer. You may not need to hire one, but a quick consultation for legal advice for your best course of action will be well worth it.
  1. Never discuss the debt over the phone. If a lender or collection agency contacts you via phone before you are served a lawsuit or receive anything in the mail, be sure to get the the caller’s name, company, and license number. Once you have this information, it’s best to communicate via certified USPS mail to track and document that every correspondence has been received by the legitimate collections company and lender. If you end up in court, this is important, as it establishes a paper trail for your communications. (Email and electronic timestamps can easily be forged.) Keep in mind you don’t ever have to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, and you have a legal right to tell debt collectors to stop contacting you entirely.
  1. Contact a lawyer. Lawsuits involving large sums of money are no small game to play in a courtroom. Most consumers don’t know the intricacies of the laws that actually protect them (and sometimes may not know how to read the contracts they signed), but a lawyer versed in contract law or one who specializes in bankruptcy can easily help dispute the debt and, if it’s valid, negotiate a settlement without ever stepping into a courtroom. The CFPB keeps a handy list of legal aid groups so you can find an affordable lawyer in your state.

 

Kelly Clay
Kelly Clay |

Kelly Clay is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kelly here

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Featured, News, Strategies to Save, Tax

16 States Offering Sales Tax Holidays in 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The back-to-school season can be an exciting but expensive time.

Buying school supplies adds up, even before new clothes, backpacks, and shoes join the list. Needs such as a new laptop, textbooks, or graphing calculator can cause costs to escalate.

The good news is that for the last 20 years, some states have offered holidays on which they don’t collect state sales taxes on many items on your back-to-school shopping list.

Craig Shearman, vice president for government affairs public relations for the National Retail Federation, a retail trade federation, says consumers can save about 5% to 10% during sales-tax holidays. Actual savings for consumers depend on the state sales tax rate in their state.

Sales Tax Holidays 2017

This year, 16 of the 45 states that collect sales taxes are offering tax holidays, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators, an organization that provides research, training, and other resources to state-tax administrators. Most of these holidays revolve around school-related purchases, though some states also have other tax holidays throughout the year for things like disaster preparedness items, firearms, hunting supplies, or energy- and water-saving appliances.

Here’s a schedule of upcoming tax holidays by state:

How does a tax holiday work?

Sales-tax weekends are a set period of time in which the state doesn’t collect typical sales tax on certain items up to a certain dollar amount. Each state defines what will be exempt during the holiday, but common items for July and August holidays include clothing, shoes, school supplies, and personal computers.

Eight states holding tax holidays this year are doing so during the first weekend of August to help families buy back-to-school items. For example, Florida isn’t collecting sales tax on school supplies that are less than $15, clothing, footwear, and certain accessories that are less than $60, and personal computers and computer-related accessories less than $750.

Things to watch out for: Timing and spending caps

Just because a state offered a tax holiday in the past doesn’t mean its residents can expect to get one in the future. Georgia is not having tax holidays this year, after having two in 2016 that covered back-to-school supplies and Energy Star and WaterSense appliances. It’s the first time since 2012 Georgia will not have a tax holiday.

Previous sales-tax holidays in Georgia have helped mom Cheri Melone, 45, save on school supplies, lunchboxes, and backpacks for her sons, ages 11 and 3. Melone, who lives in Watkinsville, Ga., estimates she saved about $10 to $20 per child each year.

“It’s disappointing,” Melone says. “I know a lot of my friends that have big families, they wait for that weekend to go shopping.”

Massachusetts lawmakers are still determining whether the state will have a tax holiday this year. The state canceled its 2016 holiday after a Department of Revenue report found that the 2015 holiday caused it to miss out on $25.51 million in revenue.

In addition to double-checking if and when a state’s holiday is happening, shoppers will want to familiarize themselves with the holiday’s limits: The holidays only apply to certain items and often impose tax-free spending limits. And even though a state isn’t collecting sales tax during this period doesn’t mean that shoppers won’t see taxes added to their bill at checkout. Some states allow counties, cities, and districts to choose if they want to stop collecting their specific sales taxes during the holiday. In 2017, 49 of Missouri’s 114 counties will collect county sales taxes during the state’s back-to-school sales-tax holiday.

Beyond that, not all retailers may participate. Retailers in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia are required to participate in the tax holidays. New Mexico does not require retailers to participate. Missouri lets retailers opt out if less than 2% of their merchandise would qualify for the tax exemption. Florida lets retailers opt out if less than 5% of their 2016 sales were from items that would be exempt during the 2017 back-to-school tax holiday.

Guides to the sales tax holiday in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi don’t specify if retailers are required to participate.

What are the pros and cons of tax holidays?

Shearman says the events benefit retailers by bringing customers into the store and help consumers by saving them money.

“Because [consumers are] excited about the prospect of what amounts to a sale going on, they’ll be in that frame of mind, and they will buy other things that are there that are not tax exempt,” Sherman says. “So the boost in sales per items that are still being taxed very often offsets the tax revenue lost from the tax-free items.”

However, economists like Ron Alt from the Federation of Tax Administrators says he thinks it is a bad tax policy because states lose the revenue. Also, retailers may mark up prices for the holiday to make money off the hype of a tax-free weekend, says Alt, senior manager of economic and tax research.

A March 2017 study from economists at the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve System found that tax holidays boosted retail sales throughout the whole month.

Shearman says that while 5% to 10% saved is “relatively small,” it can help families that are financially stretched.

Georgeanne Gonzalez, 32, an Athens, Ga., mom who buys school supplies for her two children and her niece, says the state’s tax-free weekends helped her out a lot in the past as the school supply lists grew.

“It made it a lot easier when having three children to buy school supplies for,” she says.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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