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

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

How do I save for retirement AND college?

Finding balance between retirement savings and college savings represents a challenge most families need help managing. If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Consider some eye-opening statistics from Roger Michaud’s recent article “Financing Education is a Retirement Issue “

  • When it comes to financing a college education, 21% of parents would delay their retirement and 23% would withdraw money from their retirement account to help fund college
  • 94% of parents believe college savings will impact their ability to save for retirement
  • 56% of parents with children in the home are currently saving for retirement

The struggle is real, especially when parents would actually withdraw from their retirement savings to help fund college. Early withdrawals face taxes plus potentially a 10% early withdrawal penalty making it less of a financial plan and more of a knee-jerk reaction.

find your balance photo-1444312645910-ffa973656eba
Find Your Balance

Why? Let’s consider the circumstances. Retirement is most often cited as a goal for long-term savings, but the rise in college costs has emerged as a financial challenge as well. Retirement planning extends beyond the typical 18 years leading up to college attendance, and parents may have started saving for retirement before they got married and had kids, giving them a head-start. This creates a false sense of security where a parent may simply feel comfortable pulling money for retirement to help fund their child’s college dreams, but this is unsustainable. Here’s how families successfully manage both.

Start with retirement savings: Securing your long-term financial goals puts you in best position to help your children over time without unnecessary financial sacrifice. Every dollar counts, and the tax benefits provided by Traditional and Roth IRA’s, 401(k) and 403(b) really help long term savers. While you cannot predict the future of your child’s academic plans, you do know and understand your own future financial needs better than anyone else. Once you’ve mastered your retirement plan you can more confidently pivot the remaining income towards college savings.

Play the long game with college savings: Take a big picture perspective, developing your patience and putting value on consistency. This is a relaxing exercise far removed from an overly busy day-to-day life, so enjoy it and you’ll thank yourself many years down the road. Stay motivated by reviewing savings progress as consistently as you would review your child’s report cards every semester / quarter. You’ll notice that as the savings grow, your child’s academic progress will help you zero in on admissions criteria for various colleges, further motivating you to stay the course. Maintain active engagement by using simple online tools like Invite Education’s Passport for Success that outlines college savings and academic planning all on one platform.

Enfranchise your child: Help your child develop their role as an active saver for college. During the key early years, its expected parents and perhaps relatives will make the lion’s share of deposits in college savings accounts. Once the child begins some part time work, have a portion of those earnings added to the college savings account to help them get involved. This helps develop an all-important habit of saving, a key lesson often overlooked but sorely needed for financial literacy education.

Forecast Financial Aid: Savings are accounted for as part of financial aid eligibility calculations, but the way the money is saved makes an impact. For example, cash in a checking account in the student’s name can weigh against financial aid eligibility by as much as 20% of full value on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid! There’s a better way. If you’re worried about financial aid eligibility, just remember;

  • It’s cheaper to save long term than to borrow and pay back loans later
  • On the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) money saved in a 529 plan owned by the parent is weighed against financial aid eligibility at 5.64% of full value, a great reduction from cash found in a checking account.

In other words, college savers are not punished for their efforts. It’s the income from work declared on the FAFSA that can reduce financial aid eligibility more dramatically. Always use a financial aid estimator to forecast and plan ahead, but you may quickly determine that your income would remove eligibility for Pell or State based grants. This reinforces the need for college savings with an early start date to allow greater time to compound, putting your family in better position to handle college expenses as they arrive. This is especially important for families considered “middle class” as they may have just enough income to reduce financial aid eligibility, but lack the actual cash to pay college outright. A dedicated college savings strategy is critical in such cases.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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: