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.

Invite Education Featured on “Money Matters” @KPFTHouston

It’s “Back-to-school” season and parents are looking for answers when dealing with the high cost of college.  Join Chris Insley of the “Money Matters” show on @KPFTHouston interviewing Invite Education CEO John Hupalo to discuss the new book Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams.  Early savings strategies, student lending, choosing a major, considering career opportunities and other key topics are up for discussion and solutions.

Student debt crisis does not require a big government solution. Here’s my full Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal

Kudos to WSJ for maintaining focus on the student debt crisis and offering its pages to voice various views.  On Wednesday, August 10th, the Journal  printed my Letter to the Editor — see the full letter below.

My view in short: families empowered with better information, tools and services AND the emotional demeanor to choose less expensive schools over “brand-name” schools can avoid excessive student debt.  The educational outcome is likely to be excellent and their return on investment substantially better because they did not choose a higher cost, debt laden path.

What do you think?

To the Editor:

My career has been focused on helping families plan and pay for college: 20+ years as student loan investment banker, former CFO of First Marblehead Corporation (NYSE:FMD), school board member, education entrepreneur and, recently, the co-author of “Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams.”

Sheila Bair hits a few of the high notes of the college financing crisis. The root problem: everyone’s to blame. The Congress has tinkered around the edges of a student loan program established in 1965 when it provided many students with low cost loans with caps that nearly covered 100% of education costs. The current Administration’s political response is to find ways to forgive student loans. Colleges have zero incentive to control costs. Some for-profit schools are bogus. Taxpayers appear oblivious to the fact that we pay for every defaulted and forgiven federal loan. Borrowers seemingly prefer the status of victim of greedy lenders and corrupt schools to educated consumer that no one forces to sign a loan note.

College affordability is within the grasp of all families starting with the acceptance of personal responsibility for the contracts signed.   Loans should be the last resort, not the first alternative, to pay for college – no matter what the government or the schools say. Families should first use savings, financial aid, scholarships, current income and other “free money.”  Then project the total amount of debt that might be needed. If it exceeds the projected first year salary after college, the school is not affordable. Finding a less expensive school, working for a year, living at home or taking any number of other actions is far preferable to being the next headlined poster child in the college financing crisis.   This is a solvable problem that does not require a big government solution.

 

Early college savings strategies for children

Parents are inspiring their kids to learn financial literacy with a simple message: save for college! It’s a worthwhile goal helping to build healthy financial habits for life and also to reduce the need for student loans in the future. Here are some ways that parents can help their children get on the right track early and stay the course.

  • Learn by doing: The number one way for students to begin saving early for college is to actually do it. The very act of taking money and putting it into a specific account for college savings is instrumental, not just for growing education funds but also learning a healthy financial habit for life. For early savers, it’s simply a matter of motivation.
  • Encourage financial literacy: Embrace financial literacy and learn about money: how to save it, how to spend it, and how to make it work for you. Even with digital money and payment platforms becoming more common, parents can begin to encourage their children to understand financial literacy by explaining about the different coins and dollar bills, and help them put money into a piggy bank or a savings account. As they mature, you might begin talking to older children about investments and different kinds of savings. The key is to have open conversation about personal finance, so that kids learn early that money is something to be managed properly. If that didn’t happen for you, it’s never too late to learn.
  • Learn to budget: This is a great exercise for students and parents. Take a week or two to record all of your purchases and see how much you spend. Record all of your income. Categorize your expenses and determine how much of your income can go into savings. Though “expenses” may be limited, kids should get into the habit of doing this so they can manage a personal budget as they mature. The 50/30/20 method of budgeting suggests breaking things into percentages in the categories of fixed costs, financial goals and flexible spending, but there are many ways to do this.
  • Put a percentage of gifts away: Gifts from birthdays and other holidays are great opportunities to boost college savings accounts. The trick is allocating it to savings before it is spent! Put a percentage of each gift into that account and watch the money grow. One of the most fundamental aspects of starting early is that thanks to interest, your money will be worth more years down the line when you need it.
  • Getting a job: The best way to increase income is to make money on a regular basis through work. A student’s first priority, especially in high school, needs to be their education, but flexible jobs give you the opportunity to earn money of your own. Babysitting is a great job for high schoolers, because it’s flexible and families often need babysitters on the weekends. When the kids go to bed, you often can do homework, accomplishing two things in one go. Other jobs that have weekend shifts include being a cashier at a grocery store or convenience store, working in a bakery, working as a golf caddy, or serving in a restaurant. Students with an entrepreneurial streak might start their own dog walking business or make things to sell.
  • Be consistent: Having a good plan in place is important, but what’s more important is putting that plan into action. If you plan to save $100 a month, continue to do that. It’s important to stick with it until it becomes second nature. You’ll be grateful that you did when you approach college and have a sizable savings account to help pay for it.
  • Parents and children work together: Financial literacy brings families together with a shared goal of greater prosperity. Parents can help set up the paperwork for a college savings plan while their children follow through with their consistent plan to earn and save money.  
  • Keep parents or grandparents as 529 account holders: Make sure to maximize savings in relation to potential financial aid eligibility by making the parent (or even grandparent) the account holder of 529 savings. It turns out that savings in a student’s name can reduce financial aid eligibility, by increasing the family’s “Expected Family Contribution” Money in a child’s name (like in checking/savings accounts) is counted as a student asset on the FAFSA, with as much as 20% of it’s value weighed against financial aid eligibility. This presents an unfortunate situation when it comes to college savings and financial literacy; you want your child to learn about saving money, but you also want to get the best value for college savings. There are significant benefits to keeping the majority of college savings in the parent’s name. A 529 in the parent’s name counts as a parent asset, and is assesses 5.6% of its value against FAFSA eligibility, a lower rate than a student asset. This comes into play during the need analysis process, which shelters parents’ assets more than it does those of their children. There are a number of strategies that you can use to maximize your aid eligibility. For students who are saving for college, it could be helpful to have them save the money but put it into this account under the parent’s name. That way, you are maximizing the potential for aid.

The idea of getting students to start saving for college early isn’t just about growing their contribution to their education savings, though that’s important. It’s also about children learning to manage their money and starting off strong so that they can grow up to be independent adults. It’s important because having them pay for a portion of their college costs gives them more ownership over the process because they’re investing their own money. Financial literacy is a skill for life; by starting young, children are are set up for financial success early.

 

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.

 

Is the Gap Year a good idea for my child?

Before the announcement of Malia Obama’s choice to take a “Gap Year” between high school and her first year at Harvard, many families have been internally wrestling with the idea.  Is it the right thing for my child?  Will they be able to get admitted later?  Will they lose track and end up not attending/graduating?  These are the types of questions that leave parents worried, while children wonder how best to shape their own education.  If you are trying to figure out if a gap year is a good idea, let’s consider pros and cons to balance a decision.

Pros

An Academic breather: Staying totally focused on academics can be a high-stress process.  For some students, a gap year provides the space necessary to transition out of a high school routine and into more real life opportunities.  Students can adjust their stress and refocus on their interests without the distractions of a high school environment.

Volunteering: A gap year may be a great opportunity to carry on with fulfilling volunteer work in your community.  This can even extend into opportunities to travel to new places as part of the process.  There are organizations that help connect students with volunteer opportunities around the world specifically for their gap year.  Some students find great satisfaction providing such service and may learn more about their own goals and motivations as a result.

Get On the job training:  Gaining employment is another great option for students fresh out of high school.  Some will thrive in a work environment where they can learn new skills on the job, interact with people professionally, grow a resume and even make valuable new contacts.  Most of the time, gap year students can expect service related jobs like working at restaurants, helping children, teaching english or even work as a ski instructor if so able.  It’s probably a good idea to flex financial literacy and make sure to save money earned from these jobs to help pay for education

Cons

Risk of Admission: Some students believe gap year can improve their chances to be admitted to their top choice school, but this may not be the case.  Students may need some concrete academically oriented accomplishments during gap year to stay on track for admission to elite schools.  There are always exceptions,but one cannot assume a gap year will improve their chances to be admitted if it was not possible just after high school graduation.

Failure to progress: It turns out that some students do not thrive in the gap year and end up wasting their time.  It’s critical that no matter what a student does during gap year, they grow and develop positive habits as a result.  For some, gap year becomes more like an unstructured series of events and parties where little positive gains are made.  Approach the entire process with a big-picture mentality and be conciensious about what real benefits are gained through the experiences.

Financial issues:  Without a solid plan, taking a gap year could be a financial flop.  Students need to carefully consider how they can afford to pursue their interests while they cover their living expenses.  Providing volunteer work is great, but life does cost money so students need to project their budgets in advance to stay afloat.  Parents need to communicate with their children regarding financial expectations during gap year.  This way, clear boundaries are established so students can take financial control of their lives.

 

 

 

John’s Jots #3: Helping H.S. Seniors Pick Their College

Hooray — Finally.  For the first time that they can remember,  most high school seniors (and their families) now have the power in the college selection process.  With college  acceptances having been received and the May deposit deadline looming, the shoe is on the other foot.   Applicants have morphed into accepted students and most colleges are now the ones sweating.  What will their yield numbers and net tuition dollars look like once the Class of 2020 forms?   Seniors are very close to the end of a long journey.  However, as Yogi Berra said: “it ain’t over till it’s over.”  And it ain’t over yet.

Here’s what high school seniors and their families should consider:

  • Which college is the best academic and social fit?  To get to this point, the college made some favorable impression but now it’s time to dig in a little deeper.  This is the time for a revisit, discussion with a current student or a little more research into majors offered, internship opportunities, job placement rates, social activities — is greek life important? — and other areas of student interest.  Can the student visualize her/himself on the campus?
  • Which college is most affordable?  For some, this may be the first and most important question.   No more theory about paying for college, it’s nut cutting time.  In the summer, a tuition bill will arrive.  For some with lots of merit and need based aid, the bill may be small or zero.  For most, the cost of attendance less free money (grants, scholarships and gifts) may leave a gap that needs to be filled.  Take that gap amount and reduce it by the amount of savings that can be used for the first year and any other gifts or projected income to be kicked-in.  Parents may allocate some earnings, while students may contribute from a work-study or a part-time job.  Now that all of the free and earned  money had been exhausted, the college with the smallest remaining gap is arguably the most affordable.   If a gap still exists, you will likely need to borrow from  the federal government or a private credit student loan lender.  Here are a few important tips when it comes to borrowing student loans:
    • Borrow as little as possible.  Whatever is borrowed needs to be repaid with interest.  And remember, college may last 4 or more years.  Think seriously about how much will likely need to be borrowed over the course of the entire college experience, not just the first year.
    • Pick a loan that makes the most sense for your situation.  The federal Direct Loan program is most often, not always, the very best for student borrowers.  There are up-front fees but the interest rates are relatively low and for lower-income borrowers, the government pay the interest while the student is in school.  After graduation — when it’s time to begin repaying the loans, all federal borrowers are eligible for repayment plans that are more favorable than private credit loan plans.  There are also parent loans available from the federal government (PLUS Loans) and from private credit lenders such as banks, credit unions, finance companies, and some colleges and state agencies.
    • Figure out your monthly payment NOW — before you take the loan.  How much will the required monthly payment be once it’s time to start paying?   Repayment usually begins six months after separating, i.e. graduating or leaving the college early.  Does the projected monthly payment (most loans require minimum monthly payment of $50) make sense based on what the  monthly earnings might be?  The Bureau of Labor Statistics and others offer earnings statistics by job and sometimes by major. Look them up.  One rule of thumb is that college loans should not be more than 15-20% of income.   And remember — there may be need to borrow for more than one year.  DO NOT PUT YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND AND THINK THAT EVERYTHING HAS TO WORK OUT FAVORABLY.  BE REALISTIC.  WILL THE POST-GRADUATION JOB PRODUCE ENOUGH INCOME TO PAY-OFF THE DEBT?  No one starts out with the goals of becoming the next headline of the poor student who took a ton of debt and wound up with a low paying job.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow looks like this: a student graduates from college in 4 years having enjoyed a great campus experience with a job offer in hand and manageable debt that will enhance their credit rating as they make repayment.  For a nation that put a man on the moon in less than decade after President Kennedy’s inspiring call to action, the goal of college graduates without mountains of debt does not seem to be much of a reach.

High school seniors should enjoy these heady days of having the power on their side but should use them wisely to set the stage for great success in college.  The decision high school students and families make in the next 20 days may well determine if the promise of their college dreams become reality.  Those who pick an affordable college that offers the best academic and social fit will be on the road to success.

 

 

John’s Jots: Reduce Customer Anxiety About Paying for College

More parents worry about paying for their kids’ college (73%) than they do about saving for their own retirement (68%). (Gallup, April 20, 2015). It is good business for you to help them by clarifying their options by offering information, tools and services to give them a chance to finance their family’s college dreams.

Here’s what you can do strategically to help them:

  • Identify the sources of funds they can use to pay for college.   There aren’t many so help them zero in on those that make the most sense for their situation:
    1. Savingsstarting early is preferred but it’s never too late to start. A penny saved today could translate into fewer dollars borrowed tomorrow.
    2. Free Money: The federal government, states, foundations, colleges and others offer financial aid including grants and scholarships.
    3. Current Income: Families who have been saving for college may also continue to contribute while the student is in school to reduce amounts the student might need to borrow.
    4. Loans: Loans should be at the bottom of the list of financing options used to close small gaps in financing. It is critical to help customers understand if the amount borrowed will be affordable after graduation.
  • Focus them on important issues: Paying for college is as much about understanding the cost of the college experience as it is about assembling a financing package. Significant issues that drive the cost of college up or down include:
    • College type: 2 vs. 4 year, public vs. private, in-state or out-of-state
    • Location: travel and living expenses vary widely
    • Living on campus or off?

Provide Resources.   Offer the information, tools and services families need to understand what it takes to fulfill their college dreams.   You have a trusted advisor relationship that affords you a unique opportunity to calm their trepidation while strengthening your bond.   It is a win-win for you and your customer.

Here’s what you can do to help them tactically:

  • Spice up your web site. College planning calculators, content and helpful links are very attractive value-additions to your web site. Invite Education’s experience with a commercial lender in New York is instructive. The bank put a College Planning button on its web site and had more than 20,000 visitors inquire about the service. This is a bank with a commercial focus — illustrating that employees are people too. They may have originally sought information about the bank’s services for their business purpose.  But when they arrived at the site, their personal curiosity prevailed and they sought guidance on an issue that affects them personally. It happens all the time.
  • Sponsor college-planning seminars (live or via webinar) on topics of interest to your customers on topics such as “Savings for College” or “Selecting Affordable Colleges.” There are many local experts, including guidance counselors and others, who would be glad to be featured at your event.
  • Offer a scholarship (and an internship?). It doesn’t have to be a large amount. Perhaps even offer a summer job or internship to the recipient. Students need cash for college but they also need experience for their resumes.   Picture your scholarship winner working at your institution – earning money while gaining experience and serving as your ambassador. You will leverage your scholarship dollars by creating good will in the community many times over.
  • Create a “Student Package.” Provide a package of products that students need (savings accounts, debit card, checking accounts – maybe even a secure credit card and/or loan product) and financial education outlining the benefits and responsibilities of the financial products you offer. These products and services to students — beginning in late high school and into college – will help you establish a customer for life.

Helping your customers and their students (your future customers) reduce their anxiety over the college process is good business. Get started today.

John Hupalo is the Founder and CEO of Invite Education, a company dedicated to providing the information, tools and services families need to effectively plan and pay for college. Learn more about John on LinkedIn and Twitter. His upcoming book Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide from Pre-K to Senior Year will be published by Peterson’s in June 2016.

Provide the benefits of better college planning

So many great benefits are being provided to employees through smart use of technology combined with insightful knowledge.  Just take a look at how employers like PwC are providing student loan repayment programs with Gradifi, or how companies can utilize Student Loan Genius to encourage employees to successfully repay student loan debt, even going so far as to match payments like a 401(k).

But all this focus on student loan debt begs the question:

Wouldn’t it be better if students could finish college with less debt in the first place?

Invite Education offers a complete planning platform that’s perfect for families managing the college process as early as Pre-K all the way to senior year of high school.  We make college savings the first priority to help families take control of their future plans. Along the way, as the student progresses grade by grade, admissions and testing criteria are highlighted in preparation for the academic competitiveness involved.  As college nears, scholarships and financial aid are highlighted along with cost analysis and comparisons to help finalize school choice.  Finally, after all other funding avenues have been secured, student lending insight is provided to help families make wise decisions about debt.

Taking the “big picture” approach helps benefit long term planners with smart college decisions early helping to ease future student loan debt burdens.  Some parents may still be paying off their student loans now, and want to find a better way to help their child.  You can make this program available for your employees 24/7 and customize it to fit with your pre-existing benefits package.

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