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College Talk

How to get your degree without all the debt.

Article courtesy of Member One Federal Credit Union

American college grads now collectively owe about $1.5 trillion in student loans—and nearly two-thirds of that debt is held by women. While it’s true that more women than men are now attending college, on a student-per-student basis, women are borrowing more than men—and may face a harder time paying that debt off, given the gender wage gap that continues to exist. College can still be a good investment in your future, but the less borrowed the better. Here’s what you, or the college-bound young woman in your life, can do to help minimize student debt. 

Stay open-minded when choosing a college. 

Many families go by “sticker price” when deciding on a school, but that can be a mistake because the published tuition may not be what you’re expected to pay. Some pricy private schools actually have more available aid to offer to qualified, less affluent students. On the other hand, don’t assume that a bigger tuition bill equals a better education. Many state schools today offer quality degree programs comparable to the big names. Apply to a mix of public and private colleges and favor the school that offers you the best financial aid package. And don’t overlook community colleges. Two years at one of the 23 schools in the Virginia community college system can save you tens of thousands in tuition. 

Appeal your financial aid. 

Many families don’t realize that a financial aid offer is potentially negotiable. We’ve all heard that women are less likely than men to negotiate, so here’s a chance to change that. If your preferred college offers you a financial aid package that’s insufficient, let them know that you’d love to enroll but need more help making it affordable. If another school has offered you a better aid package, mention that and ask your dream school whether they’d be able to match it. 

Keep hustling. 

Working through college doesn’t have to be detrimental to grades, and it can actually be an opportunity to gain career-relevant skills for the future. Work-study programs are convenient because they’re on campus and allow student employees to tackle homework during downtime. Co-operative education programs provide structured work experiences where students gain real-world knowledge while getting paid and earning college credit. And don’t forget, college is a great time to tap into your entrepreneurial spirit! Modcloth’s Susan Gregg Koger is one example of a female entrepreneur who got started in her dorm room. 

Make scholarship searching a priority. 

Yes, finding and applying to scholarships takes work—so treat it like a job because it can potentially pay very well. Every dollar you’re awarded in scholarships is potentially one less dollar you’ll have to borrow. Dedicate at least a few hours each week to scholarship applications, and look for opportunities in creative places where you might face less competition. Think community organizations you belong to, your parents’ employers, or even your local bank or credit union. 

Join Member One here each month for more money-saving tips and financial advice! Be sure to visit their website, www.memberonefcu.com, for more info on their products and services. Member One Federal Credit Union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration. 

Save Smarter: Get Financially Fit for 2019

Make these four financial resolutions now to start your year off strong. 

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

It’s January and the gyms are full—we hope you’re making good progress on your new year’s wellness resolutions so far. But there’s another type of fitness you should also be focusing on at the start of 2019: your financial fitness. Flex your money muscles for the new year with these goals. 

1. Strengthen your savings. If you don’t currently have an emergency savings fund—or you do but it’s looking a bit scrawny—this needs to be a top priority. Many financial experts recommend stashing three to six months’ worth of necessary expenses in your emergency fund. It’s best to keep this money separate from your checking account. Once you have several thousand saved, consider depositing your emergency funds into a money market account, where you’ll earn more interest without sacrificing instant access to your savings. 

2. Beef up your credit. Many of your long-term financial goals will depend on this, so make sure your credit is in good shape. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) once every 12 months via the federally authorized website annualcreditreport.com, and the start of the new year is a perfect time to do so. Scan your report for discrepancies and signs of identity theft. If your credit isn’t as good as you’d like, take steps to improve it, such as getting your credit card balances below 30 percent of your total available credit. 

3. Burn fat from your budget. Take a close look at your spending and you’ll likely find areas that could use a slim down. Budgeting apps like Mint.com, Goodbudget.com, and Youneedabudget.com make it easy to track spending on your smartphone, or good old-fashioned spreadsheets work just as well. Another trick to try is starting the new year with a month-long cash diet, which means taking out a set amount of cash each week and using it to pay for everything other than monthly bills (no swiping plastic allowed). Just like at the gym, exercising your budget works best when you have a specific goal, so visualize what you’ll do with the extra money you save—whether that’s paying off high-interest debt or treating yourself to a tropical vacation. 

4. Set the pace for retirement. By looking at your current retirement savings and considering how many years you have until your target date, you’ll get an idea of whether you’re running a marathon or a sprint at this point. If your retirement savings are a little behind where they should be, it might be time to start pushing yourself a little harder. Consider your age and risk tolerance when determining how aggressive you’d prefer to be with your retirement accounts, and aim for a good mix of stocks, bonds, and share certificates. It’s always wise to speak with a financial advisor about your specific situation. 

Join Member One here each month for more money-saving tips and financial advice! Be sure to visit their website, www.memberonefcu.com, for more info on their products and services. Member One Federal Credit Union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration. 

Member One: Credit Score Quick Guide

It’s one of the most important numbers linked to your identity: your credit score. But are you fully aware of why it’s so significant, and what constitutes a good credit score? Read on for a brief explanation of what it is and tips for improving it.

What is it? Your credit score is a number that ranges from 300 to 850 and, along with repayment history, is an indication of your creditworthiness. Anything above 700 is generally viewed as good credit and signals to potential lenders that you’re more likely to pay back your debts on time.

Why should I care? A credit score helps determine whether you’re approved or denied for a credit card or loan and your interest rate. On-time payments have a big impact on your score, and just one or two late payments can significantly lower it. If you’ve ever had a bill go to collections, declared bankruptcy, or had a foreclosure, your score will go down. The number of loans in your name matter and the more accounts you have (in good standing), the better, because it shows that multiple lenders have approved you.

How do I find out my score? The three major credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are required by law to provide you with a free credit report every 12 months. Keep in mind that this is just the report and not the actual score. In order to receive your score, you typically have to purchase it. Visit MyFICO.com to buy your official FICO score. Also, check your monthly credit card statement as some lenders now include your credit score as an added service.

What are some quick ways to improve it? One of the best ways is to consistently pay your bills on time. Other ways include paying down a credit card balance to improve your utilization rate, and keeping lines of credit open with zero balances. Both of these strategies show lenders that you’re able to manage debt and aren’t biting off more than you can chew.

As a general rule of thumb, you should review your credit report along with your score at least once a year. Not only is it beneficial to keep yourself informed and aware, it could help protect against fraud or identity theft.

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union