Franklin First Federal Credit Union launches college planning center with Invite Education

Press release from CUInsight:

GREENFIELD, MA (July 19, 2017) — Franklin First Federal Credit Union (FFFCU) has announced a partnership with Invite Education to offer a free comprehensive, life-cycle college planning website. FFFCU’s College Planning Center, powered by Invite Education, is available to anyone, FFFCU members or non-members, who would like better information, tools, and services to more effectively plan and pay for college. FFFCU is the first Credit Union to partner with Invite Education.

“Planning and paying for higher education can be a daunting task for families. Our hope in partnering with Invite Education is to make this process less stressful by helping families answer critical questions such as ‘How do I save for my children’s education?’ ‘Can my child get in to their dream school?’ and ‘Can we afford it?’” said Franklin First CEO/President Michelle Dwyer. “We look forward to helping all families in the community make the college planning process more positive and rewarding with our new College Planning Center.”

Jeff Bentley, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Invite Education added: “Invite Education is thrilled to have a strategic partner such as Franklin First, which is a visionary thought leader in offering a College Planning Center to clarify the college process for its members.”

The FFFCU/Invite Education College Planning Center is a robust platform with an intuitive design that empowers families to manage the entire college planning process from birth through high school. The website offers:

  • Age-appropriate guidance to empower families with detailed information on preparing, financing, and successfully applying to college
  • Easy-to-understand explanations to help parents evaluate options: savings, scholarships, financial aid, and loans
  • Comprehensive calculators and college and scholarship search engines
  • Resource Center with college planning resources and FFFCU endorsed products/services
  • Calendar that integrates relevant testing dates, college and scholarship deadlines, and family specific events

Those interested can access the FFFCU College Planning Center at https://franklinfirst.inviteeducation.com/. For more information, call Franklin First Federal Credit Union at (413) 774-6700.


About Franklin First Federal Credit Union

Franklin First Federal Credit Union began in 1958 at Franklin County Public Hospital. In the 1980’s there were mergers of four Franklin County credit unions: Franklin County Public Hospital FCU, Franklin County Teachers FCU, Lunt Silversmiths CU, and Greenfield Tap & Die Credit Union. Anyone who lives, works, attends school or worships in Franklin County can join Franklin First. They currently serve over 7,000 members and over 250 Business Group Partners at their branch at 57 Newton Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

About Invite Education

Founded in 2012, Invite Education demystifies the process of planning and paying for college by providing a comprehensive suite of information, tools and services for families. Offering an online custom College Planning Center, a weekly podcast called My College Corner, a blog and a book, they partner with organizations to provide this valuable information to their employees, members and customers.

Contacts

Michelle Dwyer
Franklin First Federal Credit Union
(413) 774-6700

Alleviating the Stresses of an Expensive College Tuition

By: Claire Bendig, Recent Graduate of Chapman University

Tuition loans can be a cause of student stress, especially with enough interest accrued to require repayment well into the future. Difficult to evade, only determined hard work will eventually pay them off.

As a college graduate myself, we enter a world of endless responsibilities, unsure of what to do. The debt that is carried over from an undergraduate degree is astronomical. education-2385117_1920According to Student Loan Hero, a blog that guides indebted students, “Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.”

There are ways to alleviate the stresses of an expensive tuition. FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a government form that qualifies students for aid based on their particular financial situation.  The problem for many is the tedious application process. It has more than 100 questions, including inquiries about parents’ assets, taxes and net worth.

In March 2016, a group of seven students went to Washington, D.C., to help pass a bill to streamline the FAFSA process. Patrick McDermott was among those who attended. As a student working with college freshmen in dealing with these issues, he says, “The FAFSA process could be made a lot easier by not only implementing the IRS direct transfer as is done now, but by streamlining the amount of information required in determining the monetary awards.” (The IRS Data Retrieval Tool has since faced security issues, causing it to be shut down for now)

Even though the application can be overwhelming for students to fill out, it is well worth the effort to gain access to guaranteed school funding.

Credit unions can help students with financial debt as well (along with other perks like reduced transaction fees, online banking, debit and low-interest rate credit cards). Organizations such as Credit Union Student Choice lay out credit union options for students and mentor them on how loans work and ways to evade interest penalties. When joining a credit union, if the student has a co-signer, they can get a lower interest rate.

In line with their mission to help others, credit union loans will often allow the co-signer to be without obligations if the student has been consistent with payments for the past 12 months. Toni Jaroszewicz, Detroit Branch Manager of Lake Trust Credit Union says, “We offer credit counseling and work with our young folks to help get them on the right track to pay down debt and implement plans that will lead them to financial success.”

Counseling is the educational foundation that is needed to better understand the expectations of the college graduate, and because of the member-status of account holders, credit unions are willing to provide more financial guidance than they are likely to find at banks. My peers and I have graduation fears because so much is unknown. By expanding practical education, we can enter the professional world more confident in our abilities to succeed.

Claire Bendig is a contributor to the Millennial Voice column for CO-OP Financial Services, a financial technology company for 3,500 credit unions and their 60 million members. She is a recent graduate of Chapman University in Orange, California, with an Emphasis in Creative and Technical Writing.

Gen Z wants to Save $: Lessons from #AmericaSavesWeek

Times are changing! It was an exciting #AmericaSavesWeek Feb 27-March 4 and much was learned. Check your socials for #ASW17 or #ASW2017 for loads of financial wisdom and motivation from a variety of institutions. If you ever wonder if it’s making an impact, remember a new generation “Gen-Z” grew up in the “Financial Crises” era with a different view  of money not seen since the Great Depression, so get ready to roll out even more financial literacy content to support their goals and share prosperity!

A study from the Gild featured on Marcomm.com explains:

“Yet Gen Z were shown to be a generation of savers having grown up post-financial crash, with 25% saying they would rather save for the future than spend money they don’t have and 22% saying they never spend on “unnecessary, frivolous things” because saving is so important. These attitudes were shared with the Silent Generation, with 43% and 25% of respectively.”

The study also notes that this is a generation that grew up with the internet and is accustomed to information being made available quickly on any modern device. It’s a long way from the dial-up modem days!

Feel old yet? THINK AGAIN! Traditional institutions like banks, credit unions, educational non-profits and 529 providers are in position to grow using a combination of new technology and time tested wisdom already present in your culture.  Technology is more socialized with Gen Z to where expectations for simple online tools has grown. They have goals and want to move forward. Will your organization help or hinder this process? Here’s a few ideas:

What is your narrative? Even if you think your organization doesn’t have one, or maybe it’s to “maximize shareholder value” (No small feat), your group’s goals are a piece of the greater story Gen-Z is living through.  Are you helping them get where they want to be? If the answer is a resounding “YES” then stick to it and continue to empower Gen-Z with your traditions adapted up to new technology.  Yes, you can promote financial literacy to a new generation of savvy savers and they want to engage your organization to do so!

Your content can provide both sides of the story: Let’s face it, it’s a noisy environment on social media. There appears to be a storm in every news cycle, and the cycles are happening faster than ever!   The good news is your organization does not need to pick sides on hot media topics (Education, Healthcare, Government are astoundingly media driven at times), it just needs to know both sides of the story.  If you are sticking with a principled narrative, you help people guide themselves through any situation using your concepts and ideas. Gen Z is very aware that a single story may be interpreted in many different ways, so instead of pushing an agenda, keep it simple and show both sides of the story while promoting honest dialogue.  Keep your comments section open to allow different views to participate and communicate perspective on your content.

Help with decision making first: There’s a lot of options! We’ve learned this first hand at Invite Education with software covering the financial variables related to college attendance. With over 4,000 institutions of higher learning plus a huge scholarship database, the best thing we can do is provide transparency and financial literacy fundamentals to help families make smart decisions.  We realize there is no perfect “one way” for everyone, so we take a “Consumer Reports” approach to the question of college choice.  This way anyone can use the resources and find what they need.  Just let people make their own personal decisions with your organization’s assistance.  This is far removed from the days of pushing product first on radio or tv.  It’s about targeting the goals of your audience first and providing value with products/services supporting those goals featured second.  Gen-Z is ready to move their life forward, are you ready to help?

Learn more about Invite Education; Subscribe to the Youtube Page for great interviews, college planning advice and more.

‘Tis the season for College Savings: 3 Painless Holiday Tips

The year-end affords the opportunity to reflect and optimistically plan ahead. Use these three holiday hints to get started and by this time next year, you’ll be proud of your accomplishments. (…and don’t forget to clue in grandparents and other relatives to get a bigger bang for your buck!):

  • Check the couch for loose change – 2017 style:   I was riding the elevator with a woman who was reading Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams and she offered one of the best tips I’ve heard:
    couch-money
    …find more than loose change in your checking account

    Check the automatic payments connected to your checking account and cancel those you don’t regularly use or need.   She found more than $75 per month – loose change in the couch, 2017 style.  Next year, her re-allocated spending will fill up a 529 college savings plan with nearly $1,000. It’s repurposed “found money” that has no impact on her current spending or life style. Brilliant. How much can you find?

  • Make the Gift of College a Holiday Present: 2016 was a breakthrough year for innovation to make savings in 529 Plans easier. According to the College Savings Foundation, 90% of parents said that online and other gifting options would make college savings easier – and their holiday wish has been fulfilled. These innovations come in many variations so finding options that work well for your family should be easy. The College Savings Foundation outlines the various opportunities, which include:
    • Online gifting and/or gift certificates and coupons that can be printed and presented as gifts – with the gifted amount automatically deposited into a 529 account.
    • Emailed invitations offering gift givers access to make a gift directly into a 529 account.
    • Customized web pages with family or beneficiary (student) specific information.
    • GiftofCollege cards available at Toys’R’Us and Babies’R”Us or from some employers allows gifts to be made into any 529 Plan offered in the country.
  • Use Credit Card “Cash-Back” Rewards to Fill up 529 Plans. Find a credit card linked directly to 529 Plans or be disciplined about depositing Cash Back Rewards from other cards into a college savings account. The great things about these programs is that they allow you to fill your 529 coffers as you go through your normal day: no behavioral changes are necessary. Just be sure to not roll-up big credit card bills that you can’t pay in full each month to avoid paying big interest that will easily wipe-out the amount you can save.
    • Credit Cards linked to College Savings. There are several credit cards that permit users to accumulate cash back rewards to be deposited into 529 account. Some of these programs include:
    • CollegeCounts 529 Rewards Visa Card offers 1.529% back for those with a 529 Account offered by Union Bank in Alabama’s 529 Program and the Illinois Bright Horizons.
    • Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card offers 2% cash back to certain Fidelity accounts including Fidelity managed 529 Plans.
    • The Upromise MasterCard offers a range of cash-back benefits depending on the products purchased and the merchant from which they were purchased.
    • Other Cash Back Cards. Even if your credit card is not directly linked to a 529 Plan, you could easily take some or all of those cash rewards and deposit them into a 529 Plan. Every bit helps!
    • Learn more: “Using a credit card to save for college” from New York Times Money Adviser.

Each of these will allow you to increase savings without changing any of your current spending or giving habits. Find one or more that work well for your family. Recruit grandparents, relatives and friends to help and you’ll accumulate a nice nest egg that will no doubt reduce the amount that might need to be borrowed for college later. A dollar saved today is better than one borrowed tomorrow!

Send your success stories and other tips to info@Inviteeducation.com as you plan, save and succeed in 2017.

Happy Holidays!

John Hupalo is the Founder of Invite Education and co-author of the recently released book: Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide from Pre-K to Senior Year

Three Simple Ideas to Start Fixing the Student Loan Mess

I’m back from a few days in Washington, DC.   Despite working on Capitol Hill for two years, I’m still struck by the disconnect that seems to exist between our real world and their political world.   These ecosystems need to collide if we’re going to seriously begin addressing the real world student loan debt crisis.  Here are three simple ideas that would help borrowers immediately and could be the basis for a long-term solution to the spiraling college debt problem:

  • Stop categorizing federal loans as “aid” on Financial Aid Award Letters
  • Stop charging students and parents origination fees to obtain federal loans
  • Start requiring the Direct Loan Program to report Annual Percentage Rate (APR) calculations

We know the statistics: there is $1.3 trillion of student loan debt outstanding. We’ve heard the sound bites: college loans hamstring graduates who have taken on piles of debt and are underemployed.  So what’s the answer? Previously I’ve offered my thoughts about college affordability and ways for students to avoid excessive debt. However, there are some factors that are simply out of their control and need to be fixed in Washington. And soon.

In the political world, current efforts are largely focused on relieving over-leveraged borrowers of repayment stress with loan forgiveness programs and income-based repayment plans. Great, but these programs address the problem after it has occurred and leave the root causes untouched.   We need to fix the problem at the source. In this case, before a loan is made.

Transparency and disclosure are all the rage – and rightfully so. But, the federal government comes up woefully short in providing adequate disclosure in two critical areas for the Direct Loan Program:

  • Marketing loans via colleges
  • The total cost to borrowers

Did you know that the federal government:

  1. Permits colleges to categorize federal student loans as “aid” on Financial Aid Award Letters.
  2. Charges borrowers fees but does not disclose an Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for their loan?

In effect, the largest student loan lender — with over a 90% market share — permits itself to market student loans as financial aid through colleges and universities without disclosing the APR. I bet the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would have a field day with a private lender engaged in these business practices.

Loans as “Aid”

Remember the old story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing? I do whenever I think about a high school senior first encountering a student loan “awarded” via the financial aid process.   Or worse, a parent relieved that their child’s dream college is within reach because they’ve been “awarded” a PLUS loan. A PLUS loan is packaged as “aid” but it comes with big up-front fees and encourages parents to borrow up to the full cost of attendance as long as they don’t have adverse credit — a very low level of scrutiny. Intentional or not, the disingenuous miscategorization of loans as aid no doubt confuses borrowers and leads to some very bad decisions regarding college affordability.

APR not required for a lender with a 91% market share 

According to the College Board, for Academic Year 2013-14, approximately $113 billion of student loans were made. Approximately $9.7 billion of these loans were made by non-federal lenders, mostly banks, credit unions, finance companies and some state based entities.   Few, if any, charge fees to originate the loans, and all are carefully watched to ensure consumers are treated fairly and receive proper disclosures including APR calculations.

Then we have the other lender, the federal government, which made more than $103 billion in student loans.   This monopolistic market share resulted from a long political struggle to replace private lenders participating in the government’s guaranteed student loan program with a nationalized student loan program under the auspices of the Department of Education.

No matter your opinion of the Direct Loan Program, can anyone make an argument to justify:

  1. Why government charges fees to obtain loans when private lenders do not?
  2. Why the Department of Education is not required to disclose an APR?

The Good News – Thanks to the DoE

Kudos to the Department of Education for recognizing the first problem addressed here – student loans nicely wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of a Financial Aid Award Letter.   Beginning in Academic Year 2013-14, the DoE introduced its Federal Aid Shopping Sheet, which asks colleges to CLEARLY show the:

  • Cost of attending the college
  • Amount of grants and scholarships awarded to the student
  • Net Price that the family will pay.

The standardized form then delineates what options the family has to pay those net costs:

  • Work options
  • Federal loan options
  • Other options including non-federal loans

Thousands of colleges have agreed to use the Federal Aid Shopping Sheet but thousands do not. Some likely add to the confusion by providing students with both the institution’s Financial Aid Award Letter and the Federal Aid Shopping Sheet.

Here’s a federal regulation I would support: require all Title IV eligible colleges to use the same form of a Financial Aid Award Letter with simple and clear disclosures so families can easily compare the cost, aid packages and options for filling the gap.   Don’t re-invent the wheel: the Shopping Sheet seems to fit the bill very nicely.

A Final Thought

To end where I started: our political leaders, no matter how well intentioned, seem stuck on a very unproductive treadmill of churning out sound bites about the student loan mess.   They’re spending too much political capital addressing the symptoms of the problem rather than actually fixing it at the root.  It’s time to replace political sound bites with real world actions to help families avoid excessive student debt.  My suggestions:

  1. Require all Title IV eligible schools to use the Federal Student Aid Shopping Sheet
  2. Stop charging students and parents fees to obtain federal loans – the private student lenders do not charge fees
  3. Provide APRs to federal borrowers

What do you think?

 

_________________________________________________________________

John Hupalo is the Founder of Invite Education and co-author of the recently released book: Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide from Pre-K to Senior Year

3 Key Points for Grandparents Funding 529 College Savings Plans

It’s wonderful to see so many Grandparents participate in college graduation ceremonies, cheering on their grandchildren!  It turns out many grandparents were also able to provide some financial support along the way which minimized their old time photosgrandchildren’s student loan debt.  If you are a grandparent (Or soon to be one) here are a few things to consider when planning to help with college costs using a 529 plan.

  1. Early savings is key: Most grandparents understand the value and importance of savings and compound interest and the resultant benefit to them and their family members of a patient and disciplined strategy.  Saving for college is a great example, since it takes patience to stick with a  college savings plan for young toddlers and children. Grandparents are already well aware that “time flies” all too fast and what is required when making a long term commitment to a financial goal.   By helping to start a college savings plan, grandparents can make a big difference for long term college savings, increasing college options and minimize student debt for their grandchildren.
  2. Utilize the special 5 year 529 gifting rule for estate planning purposes: Grandparents should consider utilizing their estate plans to kickstart college savings.  Up to $14,000/year in 529 contributions can be made without triggering any gift taxes, considering the annual gift exclusion rule from the IRS. Under the special 5 year accelerating gifting rule, grandparents can gift as much as $70,000 contribution to a particular 529 plan beneficiary in a single year, but this would require no subsequent gifts over the next 5 years in order to average out a $70,000 lump sum within the $14,000 guideline.  Utilizing this rule and infusing a large amount now would certainly make a huge difference in the amount available in the future for college tuition.
  3. Be aware of financial aid policy; Use 529 accounts in junior and senior year of college:  Grandparent assets are not directly disclosed on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) since they are not the custodial parents or the student, obviously.  However, when 529 funding distributions are provided to the student, the money is treated as “income” in the student’s name for financial aid purposes in the year it was received.  This additional income may actually decrease financial aid eligibility for the student as it is weighed even more heavily against need based grants, even more so than income in the parent’s name!  Wise planners simply look ahead and determine if the student would qualify for need- based funding considering the custodial parent’s household income (Like using Invite Education’s financial calculators).  If drawing high disbursements from the 529 accounts would sacrifice financial aid eligibility, then hold off on disbursements until the student’s junior and senior years.  This way the student can qualify for maximum need based financial aid for the early years, and then use the 529 to fund perhaps the entire cost of their last two years of college.  Or the 529 funding could be used to pay for Graduate school, where need based grants are not awarded on the scale of undergraduates. If there is excess funds, the grandparents can change the beneficiary or even take the money back .  No one wants to be punished for savings, so always go back and re-evaluate the funding strategy each year for optimization.

 

How “The Rule of 70” Doubles your Savings

What is the “Rule of 70”?: This classic financial literacy concept provides vision for investors planning for college savings. (Also known as the Rule of 72)

At Invite Education, we help families apply that concept towards college planning everyday.

It’s simple: You can figure out how many years it will take for money to double based on a rate of return.

Take the number 70 and divide it by a growth rate.

Let’s try with an investment rate of return @ 7%.

70 divided by 7 = 10

10 is the number of years it would take for the investment to double.

So for example, a $10,000 investment would double to $20,000 in ten years at a 7% annual growth rate.  Simple enough.

Yet for most families in the daily grind, this concept is easily missed.  Especially during critical early years on an 18 year horizon to college.

Engage customers with simple solutions to complex college problems: Join our Demo

What we’ve learned:

Life moves fast while college planning remains methodical:  Consistency is key when distractions become the norm.  Providing your customers the means to achieve this defines superior engagement for financial services content.

There’s no time like the present, or the future: The power of compounding interest allows small investments to grow long term.  It turns out that it’s cheaper to save long term than to borrow later for college costs.

Your customers “most thoughtful” data; their child’s academic and financial future:  Higher education is high on the list for families with children.  We recognize the challenges, the benefits and most important the emotions that move families towards making smart college choices.  Isn’t it time to give your customers a better college planning experience?

The logical path: Once school choices are targeted, give customers the ability to plan step-by-step a clear path to college success while helping them recognize and compare choices based on costs and benefits.

Engage and deliver results with your organization’s products and services:  Your product suite may be excellent, but until engagement begins with the customer’s mind space about the topic the competition will instead pick up business.  Everyday more people search for solutions online to find answers to their most pressing college questions.  If you have products or services targeted towards that group, give them a platform that answers all the questions they have and collects an email address for targeted follow-up.  It’s just that simple.

Are you ready to Invite Education?

Schedule your Invite Education Demo: