18 Student Loan Mistakes to Avoid

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Most students have to borrow student loans to go to college. But very few know anything about them. That’s pretty scary considering you’re likely to take on several tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And making mistakes with that much money could cost you just as much. 

Take it from me. I borrowed six figures to get a doctorate to work in a notoriously low-paying field. And thanks to taking advantage of years of deferments, forbearances, and an income-based plan designed to help borrowers with high debt and low income, I now owe twice what I originally borrowed. 

Don’t make my mistakes. Instead, learn about the most common student loan borrowing and repayment errors. That way, you can avoid an overwhelming amount of student loans and get out of debt faster.

Student Loan Mistakes to Avoid

Most student loan borrowing and repayment mistakes deal with misunderstanding what you’re borrowing, how interest works, how to pay off debt quickly, and how to avoid default. Steer clear of these top mistakes to ensure you borrow smartly and don’t end up in over your head. 

Mistake 1: Applying for Aid at the Last Minute

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway to qualifying for all financial aid of any kind. That includes federal grants and student loans as well as state grants and most institutional aid — the grants, scholarships, or loans offered by your school. 

The FAFSA opens for applications every Oct. 1, and you must complete it by June 30 before the academic year you need aid for. You must complete a new FAFSA every year you plan to enroll in school.

Many colleges and universities also require additional forms, such as the CSS profile (short for the College Scholarship Service profile), which dives even deeper into your family’s financial situation. So check with the financial aid office to find out what they are, and stay on top of deadlines. 

But note that states and colleges have limited grant resources. And those resources tend to go to the students who apply early. In other words, they’re first come, first served. So the earlier you get your applications in, the better.

And while the federal government is unlikely to run out of education loan funds, if you miss the FAFSA deadline, you’ll have to resort to private loans, which are costlier and feature less favorable repayment options.

Apply as early as possible to ensure you get as much grant and scholarship aid as you can qualify for. The more grants you can get, the fewer loans you’ll need to borrow.

Mistake 2: Borrowing Too Much

It’s possible to borrow every cent you need to finance your education anywhere you want to go to school. But it’s crucial to ask whether you should. Getting in over your head with student loan debt can have catastrophic consequences. I’m living proof.

I needed a doctorate for my original career plan of teaching college. But few college professors earn enough income to manage the types of monthly payments I had along with other living expenses. That’s how I ended up in the deferment-forbearance cycle.

And it’s not easy to get out of. 

Thanks to a loophole in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program I was counting on and how colleges operate, my teaching position doesn’t qualify me for forgiveness. Additionally, discharging student loans in bankruptcy is currently so difficult it’s nearly impossible. And settling federal student loans isn’t any easier. 

The first step to reducing overwhelming student loan debt is to exhaust every other means of paying for college, including scholarships, grants, and work-study. Search online for scholarship aid using a national scholarship database like Fastweb.

And never count on options like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Historically, the government’s made it nearly impossible to get. Do your homework to increase your chances of getting it and apply for it if you qualify. But don’t base your student loan repayment strategy on it.

Additionally, consider less expensive colleges. State schools tend to give most students the best value. It only matters where you go to college for a select few graduates, such as those looking to build connections with specific financial or law firms. 

Finally, do a cost-benefit analysis. I found out the hard way all degrees don’t pay off, so as much as you want to pursue your passion, it might not be worth it financially.

Search sites like Glassdoor or PayScale to find out how much you can reasonably expect to make in your chosen field and compare that to the cost of school. As a rule, don’t borrow more than you can expect to earn as your annual salary your first year out of school. That ensures you can pay it off in 10 years or less. 

Mistake 3: Not Understanding How Loan Forgiveness Works

Historically, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program has been notoriously difficult to qualify for. The program was overhauled in the fall of 2021. But until then, only 2% of applicants who believed they qualified had their loans forgiven.

Much of that is likely due to bureaucratic mismanagement, hence the overhaul. However, the mismanagement led tens of thousands of borrowers into making payments under the wrong repayment programs. 

On Oct. 6, 2021, the government announced Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which allows previously nonqualifying payments to be counted toward loan forgiveness as long as those payments are certified before Oct. 31, 2022.

But moving forward, it’s crucial that borrowers are clear about the rules of loan forgiveness. You don’t want to find out after 10 years that your application is ineligible and you have to start all over.

To qualify for loan forgiveness, you must:

  • Have Federal Direct Loans. Private loans don’t qualify for forgiveness, nor do other types of federal loans, such as Perkins loans. If your federal loans aren’t direct loans, you can consolidate them into a direct loan to qualify. 
  • Work Full-Time for the Government or a Nonprofit. Payments only qualify while you’re employed full-time for an American federal, state, local, or tribal government or qualifying 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. That includes military service, Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps but excludes labor unions and partisan political organizations.
  • Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment Program. No other repayment options qualify. But even if your income is so low your calculated payment under the plan is $0, being enrolled qualifies you. 
  • Make 120 Qualifying Payments. They don’t have to be consecutive, but they must qualify, meaning you have to make them under an income-based plan.
  • Submit the Forgiveness Certification Form Regularly. You must fill out and submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program certification form yearly and each time you switch employers. While not required, doing so ensures the payments you’re making qualify for forgiveness and allows you to make any changes you need to before you’ve made too many nonqualifying payments.

See all the rules at StudentAid.gov. 

Mistake 4: Taking Out the Wrong Type of Loan

There’s more than one type of student loan. But it’s generally best to exhaust your resources for federal aid before turning to alternatives. 

That said, while rare, some students may find the caps on how much you can borrow in federal direct loans don’t cover the total cost of attendance. 

Fortunately, graduate students and parents of undergrads can borrow PLUS loans up to the total cost of attendance. So there’s no need for many students to resort to other sources. If that’s not an option for you, students can sometimes borrow from their state government or the school they plan to attend. 

But the primary source of alternative loans for student borrowers is private student loans from banks or credit unions.

Federal student loans almost always win out over private student loans because of their lower fixed interest rates, flexible repayment options, borrower protections, and the potential for forgiveness.

But if you’re planning to borrow PLUS loans and definitely won’t qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, it’s worth it to find out whether you could get a better deal on a private loan if you have excellent credit. 

Mistake 5: Not Shopping Around for the Best Interest Rate & Terms

If you decide to borrow private student loans, always shop around for the best loan you can qualify for.

Private lenders compete for your business. So going with the first lender you find could mean leaving a better rate on the table.

Use a comparison site like Credible, which matches you with prequalified rates from up to eight lenders with only a soft inquiry on your credit report, which doesn’t affect your credit score. That way, you can compare all your student loan options in one place. 

But it’s not only interest rates that should matter to your bottom line. The best private student loan companies offer various borrower perks in addition to low rates.   

For example, most lenders reduce your interest rate when you enroll in autopay. And some reduce your rate even further with loyalty discounts for doing other business with them, such as opening bank accounts or taking out personal loans. 

Some lenders also offer perks for specific borrowers, such as special payment plans for medical and dental students during their residencies. And some even offer unique perks like free financial coaching or career planning services.  

Just remember to read all the fine print so you know exactly what loan terms you’re agreeing to before you sign. For example, it may lack options for deferment if you fall on hard times or a co-signer release option. Don’t be lured by a shiny interest rate on its own.  

Mistake 6: Not Understanding How Variable & Fixed Interest Rates Work

The rate is only one piece of the interest puzzle. How that rate works also affects how much accrues over time. 

For example, all federal student loans come with fixed interest rates set each year by law. That means the rate stays the same for the life of the loan, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on the interest rate during the year you borrowed. 

But some private student loans have variable interest rates. These fluctuate with market conditions. Although the variable rates are generally the lowest offered rates, it’s because the borrower is assuming the risk that the rate won’t go up, which is likely if you take 10 or more years to repay your student loans.

If you already have a variable-rate private loan, look into refinancing to a fixed-rate loan while rates are low. 

And once you start making payments, contact the student loan company to find out if there are any ways to lower the interest rate, like signing up for an autopay discount.

Mistake 7: Not Understanding Interest Accrual & Capitalization

Another factor to consider is when the interest begins to accrue (accumulate). On subsidized federal loans, that doesn’t happen until after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment. Thus, whatever you borrowed is what you owe up until the day you’re no longer enrolled full time. 

But interest on unsubsidized federal and private loans starts the moment you get the money. So on graduation day, you owe a higher balance than you originally borrowed.

Worse, that interest is capitalized (added to the principal balance as though it were part of what you borrowed) once you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment. Since interest accrues according to the principal, that means you’ll then be earning interest on the interest.

Fortunately, you can reduce or even eliminate the burden interest can cause. Make small monthly interest payments while you’re still in school. That ensures none accrues and capitalizes on graduation. 

If you have to, take on a part-time job. As long as you keep it to part-time hours, it shouldn’t interfere with your studies, and a well-chosen college job comes with numerous benefits, like teaching you the money management skills you need to pay off those loans after college. 

Mistake 8: Co-Signing a Loan Without Understanding the Consequences

In some cases, a co-signer can help a student qualify for a loan or get a lower interest rate. 

But co-signing their loan comes with a great deal of risk. You’re taking on equal responsibility for the loan. That means if they make a late payment or miss one entirely, it could impact your credit score. And if they default on the loan, the loan company will come after you for the balance.

And it doesn’t matter how responsible or well-intentioned the borrower is. No one can predict the future, and they could fall on hard times. 

There are several programs designed to help people who have trouble paying back federal loans — if they enroll in them. But private lenders are especially hard to work with. Either way, there are risks associated with co-signing for a student loan. 

If you do agree to co-sign, ask them to look for a company with a co-signer release option, which absolves you of responsibility for the debt after the student makes a certain number of on-time monthly payments.

If not getting help means they can’t attend college, a parent PLUS loan gives you more control than co-signing a private loan. You can borrow up to the total cost of their attendance, but the loan will be in your name. 

If you want, you can still agree that they’re responsible for paying you back (though that agreement isn’t legally enforceable). Plus, if you experience financial hardship, you have access to federal repayment plans and borrower protections.

However, don’t sacrifice retirement savings or go into debt paying for your kids’ college. It could leave you unprepared, potentially placing a financial burden on them later.

Mistake 9: Putting Off Making a Repayment Plan

Many borrowers get lulled into thinking they can wait until after they graduate and their six-month grace period ends before they have to start worrying about their student loans. But you need to prepare your budget long before then.

A student loan payment could easily be $400 per month (maybe more). That’s a hefty chunk of anyone’s take-home pay. But recent grads won’t make as much as established professionals in any field. 

And if you don’t think about it for the first six months post-graduation, it’s easy to establish a post-college life that doesn’t leave room for it, such as upgrading your apartment or buying a new car.

Before you graduate, find out what your monthly payment will be. You can check your student loan balance by creating a student account at StudentAid.gov.

Then, build the rest of your post-college budget around your monthly student loan payment. That ensures you won’t take on more financial obligations than you can afford. Unfortunately, that may mean living that ramen-eating college lifestyle for the first couple of years after you graduate. 

Mistake 10: Choosing the Wrong Repayment Plan

The automatic student loan repayment schedule is 10 years of fixed payments, but it’s not the best option for all borrowers.

You don’t want to string out payments for decades unless it’s necessary. But income-driven repayment plans, which forgive any remaining balance after you make 240 to 300 (20 to 25 years) of qualifying payments, may be a saving grace for borrowers with high debt and low income. 

And for those entering public service fields, an income-driven repayment plan is the gateway to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives any remaining balance in as few as 120 qualifying payments. 

But even if you stick to the standard 10-year plan, you still have options. 

For example, you can repay your loans on a graduated plan, which lets you make smaller payments at the beginning. Your payments then gradually rise every two years. This plan is ideal for those who must start in a lower-paying job but expect their income to increase substantially as they gain work experience.

Use the loan simulator at StudentAid.gov to see how much you can expect to repay under different repayment plans. It shows your monthly payments, total amount owed, and any potential balance you could have forgiven under an income-driven repayment plan as well as the date you can expect to have your loans paid off.

Use this information to weigh your options. Ask yourself: 

  • Is it better to pay off your loans as quickly as possible by sticking to the standard 10-year plan? Is that realistic at your current income? 
  • How big will your payments be 10 years down the line if you opt for graduated repayment? Are you likely to make enough money for that to be practical? 
  • Is it better to make your current situation more manageable through an income-driven or extended repayment plan? 

Lowering your monthly payment will have consequences since it means more interest will accrue. But the loan simulator can give you an accurate picture of what those consequences will look like. 

Mistake 11: Only Making the Minimum Payment

The longer you sit on debt, the more it costs you thanks to the interest. So if you have any wiggle room in your budget, put whatever money you can toward your student loans to pay them off as quickly as possible. 

Even small amounts can make a big difference.

For example, if you borrowed $40,000 in student loans at 6% interest, your monthly payment would be $444. But if you paid $500 a month instead — a difference of only $56 — you’d save $1,957 in interest and have them repaid a year sooner.

If you can, opt for a side gig or cut your expenses. Additionally, put any windfalls — like tax refunds, gifts, or inheritances — toward your loans.  

But this is key: When you make any extra payments toward your loans, ensure you indicate the company should apply it to the principal. The more you pay down the principal, the less interest accumulates.

Mistake 12: Refinancing Without Considering the Pros & Cons

Refinancing is a common strategy for lowering the cost of debt, whether it’s a mortgage refinance or a student loan. But while refinancing can score you a lower interest rate, interest rates aren’t the only consideration.

When you refinance a student loan, you can only do so through a private refinance lender. That means you lose access to all the benefits of federal student loans, including federal repayment plans, borrower protections, generous deferment and forbearance options, and federal loan forgiveness. 

It may still be worth it to you, depending on the rate you can get. But it’s crucial to weigh that against all you’d be giving up.

Even if the private interest rate is lower, the future is unpredictable, and you never know if you could need those federal benefits. And you’ll lose all access to federal loan forgiveness with a refinance.

On the other hand, if you have private student loans, there’s no reason not to refinance. 

Mistake 13: Postponing Payments Unnecessarily

Both federal and private student loans have multiple options for deferment and forbearance. These allow you to temporarily suspend payments for various reasons, including full-time enrollment in school, economic hardship, military deployment, and serving in AmeriCorps. 

Sometimes, deferment or forbearance makes sense, such as while you’re enrolled in school. But prolonged use of these options just increases your overall balance because interest keeps piling up. 

Interest accrues on all but subsidized federal loans during deferments. And it accrues on all loans during forbearance. Additionally, that interest is capitalized (added to the principal balance) at the end of the deferment or forbearance. 

Only use these options when absolutely necessary. And if possible, make interest payments during periods of deferment or forbearance to prevent its accrual. 

If you’re deferring or forbearing for economic hardship and anticipate the hardship will last longer than a month or two, apply for an income-driven plan instead. 

Depending on the severity of your situation, your monthly payments could be calculated as low as $0. And some plans don’t capitalize interest and even have interest subsidies, which means the government covers the interest on your loans for a specified period.  

Additionally, those $0 “payments” count toward potential student loan forgiveness. But only periods of economic hardship deferment count toward the forgiveness clock. No other form of deferment or forbearance qualifies. And there’s a cap on how long you can defer for economic hardship.

Plus, if your financial situation changes, you can always change your repayment plan. 

Mistake 14: Missing Payments

Missing payments can result in late fees. The student loan company tacks these onto your next month’s minimum payment. So if you had a hard time paying this month, it won’t be easier next month. 

Plus, when you make your next payment, your money covers fees and interest before going toward the principal. So multiple fees could mean paying your principal down slower. And interest accrues according to the principal balance, so the higher you keep that balance, the more interest you pay.

Worse, if you miss enough payments, it can result in a default of your loans, which comes with severe consequences, such as damaged credit or wage garnishment or seizure of your tax refunds, Social Security benefits, or property. 

There’s never a reason to miss a payment on a federal student loan if you’re facing financial hardship. Simply call the company and let them know. Depending on what you qualify for, you can choose from multiple options, including deferment, forbearance, or an income-driven repayment plan.

Private lenders are tougher to work with, as fewer repayment options are available. But many are still willing to work with you if you explain the situation. Most of the top lenders have limited programs for deferment or forbearance in times of economic hardship. 

Mistake 15: Keeping Your Assigned Payment Due Date

Student loan companies allow you to adjust your monthly due date. That can be helpful if you’re having trouble stretching your dollars from one paycheck to the next.

Plus, if your bills are anything like mine, most of them are due at the same time of month. Thus, if you get paid biweekly, adjusting your due date to a different time of the month can make things easier.  

If you want a different due date, contact the company handling your student loans and ask if you can adjust your due date to one more beneficial for you. You may even be able to change it through your online account.

Ensure you get confirmation of the new date in writing. That protects you if you get hit with any late fees in error. Additionally, ask when the new date takes effect. It could take a billing cycle or two, depending on the lender. 

Mistake 16: Falling for Student Loan Scams

Many borrowers have reported receiving phone calls, emails, letters, and texts offering them relief from their student loans or warning them federal forgiveness programs will end soon if they don’t act now.

But the services these scam debt relief companies offer usually steal borrowers’ money or private information rather than grant any actual relief. 

Other student loan scams take fees for helping students apply for income-driven repayment plans or consolidate their loans. However, borrowers never have to pay to sign up for any federal repayment programs. They only need to contact the company in charge of their loan.

In general, if someone contacts you, avoid giving them any personal information. No matter who they claim to be, either tell them to send their request in writing or say you’ll call them back. Then verify their story by contacting your student loan company at their listed phone number or through their website.

Additionally, never pay an upfront fee for student loan services. The government doesn’t charge application fees for any of their loan programs. They also won’t claim an offer is only available for a limited time since all the terms are set by law every year and are available to all students.

For more red flags to watch for, check out the Department of Education’s tips on avoiding student loan scams. 

Mistake 17: Forgetting to Update Your Contact Information

You are responsible for making all your loan payments whether you received the bill or not. Additionally, the lender in charge of your loan can change, and you need to ensure you’re able to receive that information so you always know who to contact about paying and managing your loans.

Thus, it’s on borrowers to ensure the company in charge of their student loans has all their current contact information, including mailing address, email address, and phone number. That’s especially the case if you moved after you graduated or listed a parent’s address on your application forms.

Log into your student loan account to ensure your contact information is current. 

If you don’t know who services your student loans, check with your school’s financial aid office. For federal loans, you can always create an account on StudentAid.gov.

Then, each time you move, get a new email address or change your number, update that info with the company handling your student loans.

Mistake 18: Not Asking for Help

Paying off student loans can be overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with low income or a large amount of debt. Depending on your circumstance, it could feel like you’re drowning and may never escape.

Trust me, I know how it feels. And I’m hardly alone. A simple online search reveals dozens of stories of borrowers who’ve consistently paid on their loans yet owe more than ever thanks to the compounding effects of interest, which often feels like quicksand. 

But paying late or not at all only makes the situation worse. Damage to your credit report can make it difficult for you to rent an apartment, buy a car, or even get a job. And default can leave you subject to wage garnishment, steep collection penalties, and even lawsuits.  

But hope isn’t lost. There is help. Resources exist for borrowers who need an extra hand.

The first step is to reach out to the student loan company. See if there’s a payment plan that’s manageable for you. Even if there isn’t, let them know what payment you can afford, and go from there. 

If the company is uncooperative, contact the federal student loan ombudsman. 

Borrowers can also reach out to nonprofit student loan counselors, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or The Institute of Student Loan Advisors. These organizations work with borrowers to help them figure out the best strategies for dealing with their loans and overall financial health. 

Alternatively, if you’ve reached the point of needing to settle your student loans or file for bankruptcy, seek an attorney who specializes in student loans. For private student loan help, try The National Association of Consumer Advocates. For federal student loans, search the American Bar Association.


Final Word

The United States is currently experiencing a student loan crisis because of how the debt has impacted American lives.

It’s affected borrowers’ ability to save for retirement and buy a home. It’s also impacted people’s ability to start a family or even choose a job for passion over a paycheck.

And it can do so for decades. Many millennials who’ve entered middle age continue to face debt repayment. And many feel college wasn’t worth it as a result.

But you don’t have to be one of these statistics. I write about student loans precisely to help others avoid my mistakes. Learn from this list so you can borrow wisely and avoid overwhelming student loan debt.  

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Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She’s also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

Source: moneycrashers.com

REPAYE vs PAYE: What’s the Difference?

Struggling to make your student loan payments? Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) may ease the burden. The choice boils down to your degree of financial hardship, desired repayment term, and income trajectory.

Both adjust your monthly loan payments based on your income and family size.

PAYE vs REPAYE: An Overview

If your federal student loan payments under the standard 10-year repayment plan are high compared with your income, one of the four income-based repayment plans might be an option.

The PAYE and REPAYE plans generally enable eligible federal student loan borrowers to cap their monthly student loan payments at 10% of their monthly discretionary income. (Discretionary income is the difference between annual income and 150% of the poverty guideline for family size and state of residence.)

One main difference: While borrowers need to apply for both programs, the PAYE plan typically requires proof of financial hardship.

The pay as you earn repayment plans are available for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans; Grad PLUS loans; Direct Consolidation Loans that did not repay any Parent PLUS loans; FFEL loans if consolidated; and consolidated federal Perkins Loans.

Key Differences Between PAYE and REPAYE

Both plans extend the length of your loan beyond the standard 10-year repayment plan. Both require you to “recertify” your income and family size each year. Both cap your monthly loan payment at 10% of your discretionary income.

Both consider the same federal student loans eligible.

Both plans are designed to forgive any loan balance after 20 or 25 years, although if you’re also working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you may qualify for forgiveness of any remaining loan balance after 10 years of qualifying payments.

So what are the differences?

PAYE

•   Requires proof of financial hardship.

•   Has a repayment period of 20 years.

•   Counts a spouse’s income unless you’re married and file separately.

•   You’re eligible if you took your first loan out on or after Oct. 1, 2007, and received at least one Direct Loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011.

REPAYE

•   Has a repayment period of 20 years if all loans being repaid under the plan were for undergraduate study.

•   Has a repayment term of 25 years if any loans being repaid under the plan were for graduate or professional study.

•   Always considers a spouse’s income.

•   Has no application restrictions based on when you took out your federal student loans.

There are also differences in the interest subsidy.

What Is the Interest Subsidy?

If your payments under PAYE or REPAYE are too small to cover the interest your loan accrues each month, the government will help in the form of an interest subsidy.

Under both plans, the federal government covers surplus interest charges on subsidized loans for the first three years.

With REPAYE, though, after three years, the government will pay 50% of the accruing interest on subsidized loans. Eligible unsubsidized loans receive a 50% interest subsidy at all times if your payment is too small to cover the interest.

Interest will capitalize under both plans if you fail to recertify income and family size or you leave the plan, and in the case of PAYE if you no longer can demonstrate a financial hardship.

Answers to Common Questions

How do I apply for a repayment plan?

You only need to submit one application for any income-driven repayment plan and will need to supply financial information. It will take about 10 minutes. The federal Student Aid Office also will recommend a repayment plan based on your input.

I want to apply for PAYE. How is financial hardship defined?

A general rule of thumb: If your debt exceeds your income, you likely demonstrate hardship under PAYE.

More specifically, your loan servicer will compare your monthly payment under the standard plan and PAYE. If you’d pay more under the standard plan, you have a financial hardship.

What if I’m in PAYE and no longer demonstrate hardship?

Your loan payments will stop being based on your income, and unpaid interest will be added to your loan.

What if I forget to recertify my income and family size for either plan?

Your loan payments will no longer be based on your income. They will revert to the amount you would pay under the 10-year standard repayment plan.

I’m married and have a moderate income I don’t expect to change much. What’s the better fit?

PAYE might fit best.

I’m single, I’ll probably earn much more in the coming years, and I can’t prove a financial hardship. Which plan of the two might fit me better?

REPAYE.

Does a Parent PLUS Loan qualify for either plan?

No.

Looking to lower your monthly
payments or reduce your term?
Check out SoFi student loan refinancing.

Income-Driven Repayment Alternatives

PAYE and REPAYE may lower your monthly student loan payments, and forgiveness of any balance after 20 or 25 years is a big perk. But these plans aren’t the only way to reduce the sting of loan payments.

You can also refinance your student loans — private and federal — with a private lender and potentially qualify for a lower interest rate.

Got graduate school or federal parent loan debt? Many borrowers refinance Grad PLUS Loans and Parent PLUS Loans, as those have historically offered less competitive rates.

The government Direct Consolidation Loan program combines federal student loans into a single federal loan, but the interest rate is the weighted average of the original loans’ rates rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percentage point, which means the borrower usually does not save any money. Lengthening the loan term can decrease the monthly payment, but that means you’ll spend more on total interest.

With PAYE or REPAYE, federal loan benefits and protections like deferment and public service-based loan forgiveness are in play and will not carry over with a refinanced private loan. But borrowers who qualify for a lower interest rate could see substantial savings over the life of the loan through refinancing.

The Takeaway

PAYE and REPAYE tie federal student loan payments to income and family size for 20 to 25 years. They differ in small ways, and each has its merits, but borrowers might want to consider refinancing student loans if they can get a better rate.

SoFi blazed the trail in student loan refinancing, offering flexible repayment plans and charging no origination fees.

Rates have been at historic lows. See what you qualify for in just two minutes.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL MAY 1, 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Source: sofi.com

Paying for College Without Parents Help

Paying for college without support from parents may seem like an overwhelming proposition, but it’s possible. Making college affordable without parental support may start before you even choose a college, by reviewing tuition and financial aid available to you at the colleges and universities you are interested in attending. Choosing the right college for you can go a long way in helping you pay for your education.

Other strategies that could help you make college more affordable include applying for scholarships and working through college. Each student is in a unique financial situation, and you may find a combination of these strategies can provide the help you need in order to pay for college. These strategies could also be used by students who do have parental assistance.

Strategies to Help Pay for College Without Parental Support

Finding the resources to pay for college can be a challenge and if you’re embarking on this journey alone, it may be stress inducing. These strategies and ideas could help you craft a plan that allows you to pay for college. As mentioned, a combination of these ideas may be required based on your unique financial situation.

Choosing the Right College

The best college for your situation lies at the intersection of ones that provide the programs you need to achieve your career goals and the ones you can afford.

Decisions you’ll need to make include:

•   Living at home or in a dormitory or other housing by the college

•   Choosing between a public or private college

•   Picking between in-state and out-of-state colleges

Living at Home

If you can live near the college, rent-free, or at low cost, then this is likely the most cost-effective choice. Perhaps you have family members who, although they can’t otherwise help you with college, will allow you to live with them while you pursue your education. Or maybe you could rent a cost-effective apartment near a community college or other school that doesn’t require freshmen to live in a dorm.

Considering Private vs Public Colleges

Public colleges are, generally speaking, less expensive than private colleges. According to The College Board, for the 2021 to 2022 school year, the average cost for tuition and fees at four year private institutions was $38,070, compared to the public college average which was $27,560 for out-of-state students attending a state school.

Prices get even more reasonable if you attend school in your home state and receive in-state tuition; The average cost of in-state tuition and fees was $10,740.

In general, in-state universities are more affordable than going out of state. But the difference between out-of-state and in-state students can vary widely, so check into your colleges of choice for confirmation. Factor in traveling costs for out-of-state options and also consider online college programs where you can take classes no matter where you are located.

Starting at a Community College

Completing your first two years of study at a community college is another option that could dramatically reduce the overall cost of college. In addition to less expensive courses, it may be possible for you to live at home, another financial benefit of attending community college.

Applying for Relevant Scholarships

Because scholarships don’t typically need to be repaid, they are a valuable tool to help fund your college education. If you’re finishing high school, talk to your guidance counselor about possibilities. There are often local scholarships provided by businesses and civic groups that you can apply for.

These days, you can also find a lot of scholarship opportunities online. There are often major-specific opportunities and more general offerings. It’s worth investing a bit of time in researching and applying for scholarships — a couple hours could really be worth it when those scholarship offers start rolling in.

Recommended: What Is a Merit Scholarship & How to Get One

As you’re researching scholarships, be sure to find quality opportunities and be wary of scams. Don’t shy away from smaller scholarships. While it would be nice to have one large scholarship to cover your cost of college, smaller scholarships can add up, incrementally chipping away at what you need to afford college. Some scholarships may be location-based. Check out SoFi’s state-by-state financial aid guides for more information on scholarships local to your home state.

When you find a college scholarship of interest, check the guidelines carefully to ensure you qualify and to make sure that you apply in exactly the right way. Fill applications out thoroughly, as early as possible within a scholarship timeline.

Proofread before turning in your applications and note that, although you can often reuse parts of one scholarship application to complete another, each opportunity has unique requirements, formats, and deadlines.

Need to fund your education?
Learn more about SoFi private student loans.

Obtaining Grants to Help Pay for College

Grant funding can come from multiple sources, including state agencies, local organizations, corporations, and more. And as with scholarships, this is money you don’t typically need to pay back. The biggest source of college grant funding comes from the federal government, with one of the best known is the Pell Grant .

Federal grants come in different categories, including:

•   Need-based grants which are based upon financial hardship.

•   Merit-based grants awarded to students who exhibit exceptional scholarship and/or community involvement.

•   Grants awarded to specific groups, including students with disabilities, those from under-represented groups, veterans, National Guard members, foster care youth, and those who select certain careers.

Obtaining federal grant funding without help from your parents can be challenging, though. That’s because most federal grants require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which, if you are a dependent student, will be considered incomplete without parental information. In the event that your parents are unable to fill out their portion of the FAFSA , you’ll have to contact your college’s financial aid office and show appropriate documentation that verifies that your parents cannot fill out the form.

In certain circumstances, you can obtain independent student status and complete the FAFSA yourself, but parental refusal to help with FAFSA completion might not be enough to gain this status.

Even if you fully support yourself financially and are no longer claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax forms, this status may not necessarily be granted. See your guidance counselor if you want to explore obtaining this status.

Applying for Student Loans

As mentioned, students that fund their college educations without assistance from their parents often need to craft a financial aid plan that consists of funding from multiple sources. In certain circumstances, students may have found funding from both the federal government and private lenders.

Applying for Federal Student Loans

Federal and private student loans are available, but most federal loans require a portion of your FAFSA to be completed with parental information, unless you have independent student status.

Effective with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 , college financial aid departments can offer students unsubsidized Stafford loans even if their parental section on their FAFSA isn’t completed, as long as they confirm that parents are not willing to financially help the student or fill out the FAFSA.

Applying for Private Student Loans

You can also apply for private student loans, although, if you don’t have a built up credit history, you may need a cosigner. Private lenders generally evaluate a potential borrower’s credit history, among other factors, as they make their lending decisions. Adding a cosigner with a strong credit history could potentially help secure a more competitive interest rate. If you aren’t able to find a cosigner, it is possible to apply for a student loan without a cosigner.

Another important note is that private student loans may not offer borrower protections like those offered to federal student loan borrowers, such as the option to apply for Public Services Loan Forgiveness. For this reason, private student loans are generally borrowed as a last resort option.

With determination and a willingness to seek out and accept help, students do find ways to fund their college educations without assistance from their parents.

Cutting Costs While Attending College

Smart budgeting and careful spending can help you stay in line with your means as you pay for college. Cutting costs when possible could allow you to save or funnel more money toward college tuition.

If, for example, you plan to rent a room in a house near your college of choice, you can furnish it in funky, eclectic ways using stylish and affordable finds from thrift stores and garage sales. ​If you’re handy, you can even build your own loft bed and other furniture, with plenty of instructions available online.

Recommended: What Percentage of Parents Pay for College?

Food gets expensive quickly. If you’ll be on a college meal plan, choose one that doesn’t include waste. Or if you’re living somewhere where you can cook your own food, plan thrifty meals in advance and shop in bulk. Watch for a slow cooker at rummage sales, and you can cook plenty of delicious soups and more.

Another considerable expense: textbooks. Do your due diligence and shop around to see if there are any used options you can purchase at a discounted rate. If the book you are buying is directly related to your college major, and you plan on saving it for reference in the future, it could be worthwhile to buy the book. If it’s a textbook for an elective class, you could consider renting the textbook which can often be cheaper than buying it brand new.

Working While Attending School

In addition to potentially helping you qualify for financial aid, your FAFSA may qualify you for federal work-study programs. Of course, finding a part-time job that isn’t associated with work-study is also an option.

You will need to determine how many hours per week you can work and still do well in school. And you’ll also need to find a job that is willing to accommodate the work-school balance you require. For example, it’s important to find an employer who will offer flexibility in scheduling during, for example, midterms and final exams.

The Takeaway

Students who are planning on paying for college without their parents’ help can start by choosing an affordable college option, applying for scholarships, getting a part-time job, and applying for federal student aid. As a dependent student, applying for federal aid may be challenging without your parent’s support, because the FAFSA may be considered incomplete without their information.

In the event that other avenues of funding have been depleted, students may consider private student loans. Note that as previously mentioned, private student loans don’t always have the same borrower protections as federal student loans. This is why they are generally considered an option after all other sources of funding have been evaluated.

If private student loans seem like an option for you, consider SoFi. Private student loans at SoFi have no hidden fees and the application process can be completed entirely online. Potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

SoFi makes the student loan process simple. Find your rates in just minutes.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’swebsite .
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SOSL18187

Source: sofi.com

How to Donate Money and Reduce Your Taxes This Holiday Season

It’s that time of year. Neighborhoods are twinkling with decorative lights, shoppers are filling stores in search of must-have gifts – and financial advisers are busy helping clients finalize their last-minute tax planning for 2021.

It’s also the season when many charities receive the bulk of their annual donations, as the holiday spirit inspires people to give a little more. As we near the end of 2021, investors who’ve seen their portfolios grow significantly due to gains in the stock market may be feeling particularly generous, especially if the painful challenges of the pandemic have opened their hearts to giving more freely.

If that idea resonates with you, your first instinct might be to mail a check or pledge a donation online to your favorite nonprofit. While doing so may be perfectly fine, you may be missing out on certain tax advantages that come with alternative ways of giving.

Here are some ways to extend your generosity, and at the same time potentially reap tax savings.

Gain by Giving Through Qualified Charitable Contributions

If you’re age 72 or older, you need to make required minimum distributions (RMD) from your individual retirement accounts (IRAs). But if your RMD amount is more than you need to cover your expenses, you may have a great opportunity to give to charity while managing your tax bill.  Simply have your IRA provider send the RMD amount – or more – directly to the charity.

This strategy is known as a qualified charitable contribution (QCD). The QCD fulfills your RMD obligation, and the amount distributed to the charity does not count toward your income taxes, as long as it’s less than the annual exclusion limit of $100,000. And if you file a joint return, your spouse can claim a QCD for up to $100,000 as well.

While the age for required minimum distributions has been moved to age 72, the ability to use QCDs is still age 70.5. So, tax filers within this age group, regardless of whether they itemize, can make a charitable contribution under the exclusion limit directly from their IRA to a qualifying charity.

Utilize Gift Tax Exclusions 

In some situations, you may want to give directly to a person.  If this is the case, you can take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusions.

The IRS allows anyone to give up to $15,000 (in 2021) to another person, and the gift transfers without adding to the taxable income of the recipient or counting against your estate and gift tax exclusion amount. Since each individual may make gifts up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount per recipient, you and your spouse can each give $15,000 to the same person. This means you and your spouse could jointly give a friend dealing with a financial hardship, for example – or a loved one who suffered an unexpected loss – $30,000 without gift tax consequences.

We know that many people plan to leave an inheritance to family members. However, in some cases you may want to consider giving to those family members prior to your death, so that you can see your loved ones use and enjoy your gifts. This idea of “giving while living” can be another way to use the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion.

Similarly, you can also fund a child’s or grandchild’s education by contributing to a 529 college savings plan – but keep in mind the $15,000 per person gift tax exclusion applies (though there is an accelerated five-year gifting rule that could apply, see your tax adviser).

Gift Your Winners

When people donate to their favorite charity, they usually pull out their checkbook or credit card. But there is another option to give to causes you care about that may be very beneficial this year given the markets’ record highs: You can gift appreciated stock shares that you own.  The organization can cash out the stock at the current asking price, and you won’t be taxed on the capital gains from the asset’s appreciation.

If you donate appreciated stock that you’ve held for more than a year, then you’ll generally be able to claim a potential charitable tax deduction for the full fair market value of the stock. This approach avoids paying the capital gains tax that would result if you sold the stock and donated the cash. 

As you carry out your giving plans, consider using one of these tax-savvy strategies.  They can make the holidays even happier for you and those you care about.

This information is not intended to provide investment advice and does not account for individual investor circumstances. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor’s specific financial needs, objectives, goals, time horizon and risk tolerance.
Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and its affiliates do not offer tax or legal advice. Consumers should consult with their tax adviser or attorney regarding their specific situation.
Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC. Member FINRA and SIPC.  

Senior Vice President, Financial Advice Strategy and Marketing, Ameriprise Financial

Marcy Keckler is the Senior Vice President, Financial Advice Strategy and Marketing at Ameriprise Financial. She also oversees the Confident Retirement program. Marcy has been with Ameriprise Financial (formerly American Express Financial Advisors) for 21 years in a variety of positions in financial planning, marketing and interactive development.

Source: kiplinger.com

How Do I Get the Best Interest Rate on a Loan?

Whether trying to consolidate debt with a personal loan or thinking about a loan to pay for a major life event, taking on debt is a financial move that warrants some consideration. It’s important to understand the financial commitment that taking on a personal loan — or any other debt — entails. This includes understanding interest rates you might qualify for, how a loan term affects the total interest charged, fees that might be charged by different lenders, and, finally, comparing offers you might receive.

Shopping around and comparing loans can increase your confidence that you’re getting the best interest rate on a loan.

What’s a Good Interest Rate on a Loan?

You may see advertisements for loan interest rates, but when you get around to checking your personal loan interest rate, what you’re offered may be different than rates you’ve seen. Why is that? A loan company may have interest rate ranges, but the lowest, most competitive rates may only be available to people who have excellent credit, as well as other factors.

When shopping around for a loan, it’s typical that when checking your rate, even with online personal loan companies, you can check your rate without affecting your credit score. This pre-qualification rate is just an estimate of the interest rate you would likely be offered if you were to apply for a loan, but it can give you a good estimate of what sort of rate you might be offered. You can compare rates to begin to filter potential companies to use to apply for a loan.

Recommended: Personal Loan Calculator

Getting a Favorable Interest Rate on a Loan

The potential interest rate on a loan depends on a few factors. These may include:

•   The amount of money borrowed.

•   The length of the loan.

•   The type of interest on your loan. Some loans may have variable interest (interest rates can fluctuate throughout the life of the loan) or a fixed interest rate. Typically, starting interest rates may be lower on a variable-rate loan.

•   Your credit score, which consists of several components.

•   Being a current customer of the company.

For example, your credit history, reflected in your credit score, can give a lender an idea of how much a risk you may be. Late payments, a high balance, or recently opened lines of credit or existing loans may make it seem like you could be a risky potential borrower.

If your credit score is not where you’d like it to be, it may make sense to take some time to focus on increasing your credit score. Some ways to do this are:

•   Analyzing your credit report and correcting any errors. If you haven’t checked your credit report, doing so before you apply for a loan is a good first step to making sure your credit information is correct. Then you’ll have a chance to correct any errors that may be bringing down your credit score.

•   Work on improving your credit score, if necessary. Making sure you pay bills on time and keeping your credit utilization ratio at a healthy level can help improve your credit score.

•   Minimize opening new accounts. Opening new accounts may temporarily decrease your credit score. If you’re planning to apply for a loan, it may be good to hold off on opening any new accounts for a few months leading up to your application.

•   Consider a cosigner or co-applicant for a loan. If you have someone close to you — a parent or a partner — with excellent credit, having a cosigner may make a loan application stronger. Keep in mind, though, that a cosigner will be responsible for the loan if the main borrower does not make payments.

Recommended: What is a Good APR?

Comparing Interest Rates on Personal Loans

When you compare loan options, it can be easy to focus exclusively on interest rates, choosing the company that may potentially offer you the lowest rate. But it can also be important to look at some other factors, including:

•   What are the fees? Some companies may charge fees such as origination fees or prepayment penalties. Before you commit to a loan, know what fees may be applicable so you won’t be surprised.

•   What sort of hardship terms do they have? Life happens, and it’s helpful to know if there are any alternative payment options if you were not able to make a payment during a month. It can be helpful to know in advance the steps one would take if they were experiencing financial hardship.

•   What is customer service like? If you have questions, how do you access the company?

•   Does your current bank offer “bundled” options? Current customers with active accounts may be offered lower personal loan interest rates than brand-new customers.

Recommended: Avoiding Loan Origination Fees

Choosing a Personal Loan For Your Financial Situation

Interest rates and terms aside, before you apply for a loan, it’s a good idea to understand how the loan will fit into your life and how you’ll budget for loan payments in the future. The best personal loan is one that feels like it can comfortably fit in your budget.

But it also may be a good idea to assess whether you need a personal loan, or whether there may be another financial option that fits your goals. For example:

•   Using a buy now, pay later service to cover the cost of a purchase. These services may offer 0% interest for a set amount of time.

•   Transferring high-interest credit card debt to a 0% or low-interest credit card, and making a plan to pay the balance before the end of the promotional rate.

•   Taking on a side hustle or decreasing monthly expenses to be able to cover the cost of a major purchase or renovation.

•   Researching other loan options, such as a home equity loan, depending on your needs.

Recommended: 39 Ways to Earn Passive Income Streams

The Takeaway

A loan is likely to play a big part in your financial life for months or years, so it’s important to take your time figuring out which loan option is right for you. And it’s also important to remember that interest rate is just one aspect of the loan. Paying attention to details like potential fees, hardship clauses, and other factors you may find in the small print may save you money and stress over time.

SoFi offers competitive unsecured personal loan options with fixed rates and no fees. Completing an easy online application will show what rate you qualify for — no commitment required and it won’t affect your credit score*.

Check your rate in just one minute.

Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio


*Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Source: sofi.com

Financial Topics Safe for This Year’s Thanksgiving Table

Coronavirus? Politics? Whether or not your Uncle Joe will ever get a job?

There are always some topics of conversation you would rather avoid at the family Thanksgiving table, and the past two years have thrown some doozies into the mix. This may be your first family holiday after an extended period of social distancing, so there could be some interesting developments. Holiday gatherings and family dynamics can be movie worthy, from comedies to downright horror shows. So, it might be helpful to do a little planning in advance to help keep the conversations positive and the mood festive.

Financial topics can be on the touchy side of some family dynamics, but this year there are many financial subjects you can amiably navigate. And some of these neutral zone areas might be just the right distraction from comments about Aunt Dotty’s third helping of yams.

1 of 5

Gratitude, it applies to finances as well

A retiree hugs a friend.A retiree hugs a friend.

It is easy to get so caught up in the logistics of Thanksgiving that you forget to focus on what the holiday is all about. Thanksgiving is a natural time to count your blessings, and that includes being mindful of what you already have. Even if it is not your family tradition to have everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for, you can quietly do this for yourself.

From a financial perspective, being grateful for what you already have can reduce stress, and allow you to avoid spending traps that come with the next day’s holiday, known as Black Friday. This is then quickly followed by Cyber Monday. A focus on gratitude can shift your attention to what you have rather than what you are lacking. It may also help you to commit to your long-term goals, focusing, for example, on the value and importance of saving to buy your first home or meeting your retirement savings goals.

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Celebrate financial wins

A retired couple jump for joy.A retired couple jump for joy.

Financial accomplishments are always worth celebrating, but they are especially sweet after the challenges of the last year and a half. While many Americans faced financial hardship during the pandemic, others were able to take advantage of a forced reduction in spending. Whatever you were able to accomplish, small or large, take a moment to recognize what you achieved. Maintaining employment, not getting behind in bills, refinancing a home … all are wins.

A year into the pandemic, more than half (53%) of Americans said that their financial situation had improved when compared to the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center. Why not take some time at the Thanksgiving table to recognize the financial goals that you and your family members realized this year? If family members were able to increase their 401(k) contribution or purchase a home over the past year, that is an accomplishment worth recognizing. And for kids who were at home and had some extra time to help neighbors or pick up odd jobs, they can join in with their stories as well.

Such celebrations can be a motivation for family members who have had success to keep it up — and inspiration for those who need a push to get started.

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Charitable giving

A pair of hands carefully hold a soft red crocheted heart.A pair of hands carefully hold a soft red crocheted heart.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to discuss end-of-year charitable giving plans of either individual members or the family. As in last year, you can get a deduction for charitable contributions made in 2021, whether you itemize or not, and if you do itemize, the contribution limit is higher than usual — you can deduct up to 100% of your adjusted gross income for donations to qualified philanthropies. This includes donating used cars, especially important right now as there are fewer used cars available in the market. Your used car this year may have more donation value than you think.

If your portfolio benefited from the stock market gains of the past year, you may have another tax-smart option for charitable giving. By donating appreciated stocks to a charity, you can deduct the current value of the securities without having to pay capital gains on their appreciation.

Finally, family members over age 70½ might consider donating some of their required minimum distributions. You can give up to $100,000 directly from your IRA or workplace retirement account to charity without owing income taxes on the withdrawal.

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Referrals for financial planners

A friendly looking financial adviser sits at a desk.A friendly looking financial adviser sits at a desk.

If you have financial goals with which you could use professional guidance, use this time with your family to ask whether they can recommend a financial planner who can help. Just as you might ask your family for recommendations on the best new restaurants or a trusted doctor, getting a referral for a financial adviser can be invaluable.

Of course, once you get a few names, you will want to do your own homework to make sure that adviser is a good fit. Look for someone who has experience working with clients who have a similar financial situation to yours. It is also essential to understand how they get paid, and whether they offer the services that you need.

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Estate planning

A will and insurance papers are scattered on a desk, along with a cup of coffee.A will and insurance papers are scattered on a desk, along with a cup of coffee.

While this one might be better suited for after you have left the Thanksgiving table, holiday gatherings are a great opportunity to discreetly check in with family members on estate plans. This can be an uncomfortable topic for some, but the pandemic has also reminded many of us of our own mortality and could mean family members are more amenable to having this important conversation. Especially if someone volunteers what they have done to be better prepared for the unexpected.

Having an estate plan in order means that your family member can rest assured their wishes will be carried out in a worst-case scenario. At a minimum, an estate plan should include a will, health care directives and a health care proxy, and financial power of attorney. Those who want or need to provide additional financial support to loved ones might also consider a life insurance policy.

Having financial conversations does not have to be awkward, especially if you stick to broad topics, like those above. The more you talk about money as a family, the more comfortable you will be discussing it going forward, which means you can tackle more difficult money conversations in the future. And who knows, Uncle Joe might leave the gathering this year and be inspired to get that job.

President of Prudential Individual Life Insurance, Prudential Financial

Salene Hitchcock-Gear is president of Prudential Individual Life Insurance. She represents Prudential as a director on the Women Presidents’ Organization Advisory Board and also serves on the board of trustees of the American College of Financial Services. In addition, Hitchcock-Gear has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law, as well as FINRA Series 7 and 24 securities licenses. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association.

Source: kiplinger.com