March A Newsletter from Novadebt A Garden State Consumer Credit

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					                   March 2006 A Newsletter from Novadebt A Garden State Consumer Credit Counseling Organization

Novadebt Once Again Offers Volunteer Tax
Source: Becky Winters, Education Developer for Novadebt

    n our continued effort to service those families and individuals in need, several Novadebt employees have been trained by the Internal
    Revenue Service and the State of New Jersey to provide FREE tax preparation for individuals whose gross income for 2005 is $37,000
    and below. As Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program graduates, these volunteers can also help you determine if you meet
the requirements for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). EITC is a federal income tax credit that is refunded to qualified taxpayers after
their taxes have been paid. Even if you don’t have to pay any taxes on your income, you may still qualify for a refund. EITC is based on the
amount of your earned income; is set up on a sliding scale and claimed by filing a federal income tax return. You could utilize your credit or
refund on any needed expense, or put it towards debt repayment.
If you are in the Monmouth or Ocean County area of New Jersey, and meet these qualifications, give our office a call at 1-800-772-4557 to
set up an appointment. If you do not live in the Freehold, NJ area, there are VITA tax programs located in most communities. To locate the
site closest to you, call 1-800-829-1040. ■

Financial Support Across America
Source: Christian Sezenias, Education Specialist for Novadebt

         ovadebt’s Debt Management Plan is an effective means to an        financial goals and introducing systematic savings are the vital steps
         end for many Novadebt clients. We help thousands of people        necessary for long-term financial stability. This new program from
         each year make significant strides in reducing their debt. That    Novadebt focuses on these core topics to help you succeed in meeting
is the ultimate goal for most Debt Management Plan enrollees. Cer-         your financial goals. Best of all, it is absolutely free. Novadebt is able
tainly, a number of our clients find themselves facing large personal       to offer this innovative program at no cost due to a generous grant
debt due to circumstances beyond their control. Divorce, job loss,         from the Chase Card Services Financial Literacy Grant Program.
and health care issues are just a few contributing factors. An even        If you’re committed to reaching your financial goals, “Financial Sup-
larger number of clients, however, have incurred significant debt and       port Across America” can help. For more information or to enroll,
face serious financial trouble due to poor budgeting practices and the      please call (866) 231-2447. ■
lack of a savings plan. Unfortunately, we’re not born with these skills.
They must be learned like anything else and, until recently, teaching
financial literacy in school has been largely ignored. There’s a growing
effort throughout the consumer credit counseling industry to address
the financial education needs of tomorrow’s consumers. Novadebt
has been extremely active in promoting financial literacy among high
school and college students in the communities we serve.
For those who are no longer in school and who are learning the value
of sound money management through the “school of hard knocks”,
Novadebt offers “Financial Support Across America”. This new
program is an in-depth, 9-month program that combines interactive
counseling with a certified Novadebt counselor and a home-study
component. It’s a hands-on approach to delivering financial education
designed to affect real change in how clients handle their finances. The
“Financial Support Across America” program objective is to greatly
enhance the benefits of the Debt Management Plan through educa-
tion. Developing a workable budget, improving credit, establishing
Help Is Available For Your Housing Concerns
Source: Becky Winters, Education Developer for Novadebt

        ousing expenses continue to be one, if not the largest, com-                        of HUD-398-H (4), “Preparing to Buy Your Home”. A budget plan is
        ponent of monthly budgets for each and every one of us.                             mapped out, whereby, the counselor develops an assessment of your
        According to the FDIC, 38 of 50 states in the past year have                        capability to obtain a mortgage and handle a mortgage payment.
seen home price appreciation far outpace personal incomes, and na-                          When applicable, counselors can help you review your credit report
tionwide, home prices grew 6.7 percentage points faster than incomes.                       and provide information on ways to improve your current rating,
Over one third of homeowners are devoting over one third of their                           including instruction on how to dispute any errors that may appear
incomes to monthly mortgage payments and 12% of homeowners                                  on the report. Topics covered are: budgeting for mortgage and rent
are seeing over 50% of their incomes placed towards this expense.                           payments, money management and referral to community services.
Aggressive lending secured by rapidly rising home values has been                           If applicable, a review is performed of HUD loan qualifications and
a major engine for consumer spending in an economy characterized                            Fair Housing laws.
by relatively slow job and income growth.
                                                                                            Default counseling is provided to any individual with a current or
There are numerous housing programs to help improve homeowner-                              expected delinquent mortgage situation on a FHA, VA, or Conven-
ship and mortgage rates are relatively low. In the hottest price areas,                     tional Mortgage. During the initial counseling session, the root cause
adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM’s) now account for over 50% of new                           of the problem is identified. A complete detailed, accurate analysis
mortgages. An estimated 42% of first time buyers made no down                                is prepared, so that the counselor develops an assessment of the
payment on their home purchases last year. And over 60% of new                              individual’s current financial situation to determine the capability to
mortgages in California have been in interest-only loans or option                          handle the mortgage payment. It is determined whether a repayment
ARM’s. It is well accepted that there is a link between rising housing                      plan can be proposed to the mortgage company. If no repayment plan
prices and non-traditional lending practices. Some households may                           can be proposed, the counselor can help refer you to the loss mitiga-
use these types of credit structures to qualify for homes that they                         tion department of your lender. Our counselors also work with lenders
really can not afford.                                                                      to help borrowers with short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure,
Whether you are preparing to buy a home, are having trouble meeting                         in order to help prevent foreclosure. Applicable resources are offered
current mortgage obligations, or are a senior who wants to remain                           to help ease immediate needs.
in your home, but need supplemental income to do so, housing                                Our certified housing counselors perform HECM counseling by
counseling provides resources to help guide you in obtaining the                            providing you with the information necessary to make an educated
best solution to meet your needs.                                                           decision as to whether a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage would be
Novadebt is a HUD approved housing counseling agency. Certified                              beneficial to your needs. Novadebt currently has three AARP HECM
housing counselors are available to work with you in the areas of                           network counselors on staff. During a HECM counseling session, an
Pre-Purchase, Default/Foreclosure and Home Equity Conversion                                in depth informational session is provided including: basic informa-
Mortgage (HECM) counseling. Perhaps you currently find yourself                              tion on reverse mortgages in general; key HECM program features
involved in one of these processes. We can help. Just take a moment                         and a detailed review of the implications of this type of mortgage,
and re-familiarize yourself with this important service offered by                          as it specifically pertains to you.
our agency.                                                                                 Novadebt is also pro-active in our community by providing housing
If you are looking to purchase a home, your initial counseling ses-                         literacy and counseling workshops where individuals learn about
sion will cover what point in the home buying process you are in,                           available resources and programs. Our next Homebuyer Education
i.e. whether actively searching and have found a home you like, or                          workshop in the Freehold, New Jersey area is scheduled for March
perhaps seeking knowledge as to the process itself. Included during                         23, 2006 at 7:00 p.m. If you would like to participate, please feel
the course of the session is the completion of a detailed, accurate                         free to contact our office at 1-800-772-4557 and ask for Darla or
analysis. The process of buying a home is reviewed through utilization                      Diane. ■

                                   If you have any comments or suggestions for future newsletters, please write to:
                                                           225 Willowbrook Road, Freehold, NJ 07728
                                                                 Editor: Jaime Nalepka
                                                Proofreaders: Becky Winters, Gina McCullough, Diane Gray
       “The Penny Pincher” does not assume responsibility for any advice given. It is up to the reader to determine if advice is safe and suitable for their own situation.
Dear Novadebt…
Source: A Novadebt Client

“Before I enrolled with Novadebt, I belonged to another counseling agency. I was very unhappy with their services (I should have known
after only receiving a 10 minute counseling session). My first experience with Novadebt was with my counselor Brenda. She spent over an
hour with me, reviewed all of my finances and made some recommendations to cut back on expenses that I still follow today. She sent me a
booklet to track all of my money I spent and some other very informative information that I often refer to. Everyone I have been in contact
with from your company is professional, caring, patient, non-judgmental and very knowledgeable. Every customer service rep that assists
me is fabulous. They not only take the time to answer my questions, but are always looking out for my best interest. My rep just sent me some
information on how to read and understand my credit statements. Because of my situation, my rep eliminated my monthly contribution. If I
had $1000 a month to send you, I would…the service is worth it. I have a long way to go but without your help, I would have filed bankruptcy
by now. I tell everyone I know about Novadebt and am so thankful I found you.”
Chris, New Jersey

5 Reasons to Check Your Credit Report

   n much the same way that a resumé displays your work experience         theft could jeopardize your
   to a prospective employer, a credit report provides prospective         ability to obtain further credit.
   creditors (and in some cases employers and insurers too) with           The best way to catch a thief
a detailed picture of your credit history. And like a resumé…your          who is using your name is by
credit report can influence whether you will receive what you are           getting a copy of your credit
applying for.                                                              report, which will show you if
Ideally, your credit report is an accurate, up-to-date reflection of your   there are accounts listed you
credit history. However, since we don’t live in an ideal world, there      know you haven’t opened. For
are many reasons that your credit report could contain inaccuracies        example, if a thief has inter-
that might prevent you from receiving the credit you deserve. The          cepted a pre-approved credit
good news is you can take action to keep your report accurate. Here        card offer in your name and
are the top five reasons why you should make a practice of regularly        sent it in with a change of ad-
reviewing your credit report:                                              dress, your credit report will
                                                                           include the account.
Many inaccuracies on a credit report can be the result of simple           INQUIRIES
human error, and therefore are not difficult to dispute. Of course,         If you’re shopping around
if you don’t order your credit report, you might never know about          for a loan or more credit,
it. Whether the inaccuracies relate to payments not credited, late         you should know that when creditors check your credit, it places an
payments, or data mixed in from the credit file of someone else with        inquiry on your credit report. Inquiries can add up, which is often
a name similar to yours, you will want to contact the credit bureau        interpreted as a negative by creditors. For this reason, too many
to dispute inaccurate information promptly.                                inquiries can actually make getting credit more difficult. Moreover,
                                                                           if you didn’t authorize someone to look at your credit report and they
TRACKING PAYMENTS                                                          did, they may have broken the law.
One of the most important elements of credit is a demonstrated history
of on time payments. Once you send the check through, anything can         CREDIT FRAUD – UNAUTHORIZED CHARGES
happen – a delay in the payment being received can kick you over           Credit fraud involves the theft of your credit card or account number
to a 30-day delinquency. If you call your creditor and explain the         to make unauthorized charges to your account. Though consumers
situation, they might adjust the information. Of course, if you don’t      are protected financially from this abuse, other creditors may take
read your credit report, you won’t necessarily know which payments         note of all this activity and decide to raise your interest rates or re-
are being received and reported properly.                                  fuse to grant you a loan. Ordering your credit report will help you
                                                                           catch new activity on accounts that you haven’t been using, or may
IDENTITY THEFT                                                             have closed.
This issue alone is reason to order your credit report immedi-             When it comes to managing your credit worthiness, your credit
ately. Identity theft is an insidious crime, involving a thief who         report is your best resource. Ordering your credit report gives you
assumes your name to open new accounts, divert your card statements        the opportunity to manage your credit wisely today, while planning
to another address, and run up all sorts of bad debt without you ever      your credit strategy for achieving future goals – a credit-savvy move
knowing about it until collectors come calling. Over time, identity        every consumer should make! ■

Top 10 Bankruptcy Myths Debunked

     f you think you know all you need to know about the new             to be automatically attributed to the other,” says Westbrook. “But, as a
     bankruptcy law, you might want to think again. There’s a lot        practical matter, filing could have a negative effect on the other spouse.
     of misinformation out there, and much of what you think you         It shows up as a bankrupt account.” He explains that marriage overall
know might not be true. A recent consumer survey conducted by the        is handled differently from other joint accounts. “For example: Say a
American Bankers Association showed that more than half of those         sister files for bankruptcy, provided the brother continues to pay off
surveyed were aware that Congress had recently passed a new law,         the account, the brother will not be affected by the bankruptcy.”
but that doesn’t mean those consumers knew what was actually in
                                                                         MYTH NO. 6: FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY COULD COST YOU
the legislation. Bankruptcy folklore continues to emerge. So much so
                                                                         YOUR JOB.
that Experian, a credit reporting agency, has joined with bankruptcy
attorneys to correct the top 10 myths that Experian uncovered.           Technically, this is not true. Bankruptcy experts say a current employer
                                                                         can check an employee’s or potential employee’s credit report provided
MYTH NO. 1: CONSUMERS CAN FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY AS                         they have the employee’s written permission.
                                                                         Employment lawyer Linda Correia of Webster, Fredrickson & Brack-
Some strict limitations have been set by the new law. Debtors will not   shaw in Washington, D.C., says that a statute under the bankruptcy
be able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy if they’ve been through a Chapter    code prohibits discrimination against an individual who is or has been
7 within eight years of the new filing. If they want to file for Chapter   a debtor. “However, it prohibits an employment action ‘solely’ because
13, they will not receive a discharge within two years of a previous     the individual is or has been a debtor. Courts have interpreted this
Chapter 13 discharge and within four years if they were discharged       language very strictly, however, so if the employer proves that one or
from a Chapter 7, 11, or 12 bankruptcy.                                     more other reasons for the action also were at play, and not solely
MYTH NO. 2: FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY WILL GIVE                                  the bankruptcy, the employer prevails,” says Correia.
Not necessarily. “Bankruptcy is a negative mark on the                       NEW CREDIT AFTER A BANKRUPTCY IS OUT OF THE
credit report that will impact a credit score on a consumer’s                QUESTION.
credit profile,” says Samah Haggag, manager of analytics                             According to Haggag, creditors and lenders will look at a
for Experian. This mark can lead to higher interest                                     consumer’s most recent credit history more than the
rates, the inability to rent an apartment and difficulty                                 past. “Each lender varies in their business practices.
getting a job. Haggag advises consumers to consider                                     However, the length of time since the bankruptcy was
all options like debt consolidation and credit counsel-                                 filed is often taken into consideration by lenders,”
ing before attempting to file for bankruptcy.                                            says Haggag. “Also, most lenders will factor in other
MYTH NO. 3: THE CAR, HOUSE, AND BOAT                                                    items, such as length of time in current employment,
CAN BE KEPT WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY                                                       income, etc., along with the credit history, in order
OFF THE LOANS WHEN INCLUDED IN THE                                                      to make a decision.
BANKRUPTCY FILE.                                                                          MYTH NO. 8: A CONSUMER CAN CHOOSE
You can’t keep them without paying the loan,”                                             WHETHER TO INCLUDE ALL THEIR DEBT IN A
says Jay Westbrook, bankruptcy scholar and                                                BANKRUPTCY FILING.
professor of the University of Texas Law School                                           Bankruptcy experts stress that all debts must be listed.
at Austin, “assuming that when you bought the                                             Misinformation or neglecting to include certain debts
car, for instance, you gave the lien on the car for the                                   can lead to additional cost and the possible dismissal
purchase price.” He adds that if the vehicle is repos-                                    of the bankruptcy case.
sessed and you file before the car or boat is sold, you
can get it back. “In order to do that, you have to make                                   MYTH NO. 9: LATE PAYMENTS ON A CREDIT
sure there’s insurance, and you have to agree to pay                                      REPORT ARE JUST AS BAD AS FILING FOR
off the loan in order to keep it.”                                                        BANKRUPTCY.
                                                                                          While late payments are frowned upon, they are not
                                                                                          viewed as negatively as bankruptcy filing. “The late
                                                                                          payment will be deleted from the credit report after
Bankruptcy experts say certain debts such as child                                        seven years has passed,” says Haggag.
support, student loans, and most taxes are not dis-
charged.                                                                                  MYTH NO. 10: A SPOUSE CAN PROCEED WITH
                                                                                          FILING FOR JOINT BANKRUPTCY WITHOUT
MYTH NO. 5: WHEN ONE SPOUSE FILES                                                         GETTING THE OTHER’S PERMISSION.
                                                                                          Bankruptcy experts say both spouses must give per-
                                                                                          mission for the filing of a joint bankruptcy. ■
It will if they have one or more joint accounts. “There
are laws against causing the bad credit of one spouse
Marriage and Taxes

       here’s an old song that says “love and marriage go together        And joint filing will continue to have a lot of appeal for couples, es-
       like a horse and carriage”…but the lyricists left out a crucial    pecially now that legislation has helped reduce the so-called marriage
       item – Taxes. Marriage can change your life in untold ways,        tax penalty. In the not-so-distant- past, many married couples found
not the least of which is its effect on your (and your spouse’s) taxes.   their togetherness at tax time cost them. When they filed jointly, they
Individuals are considered married if they are legally married as         ended up paying more than did two single taxpayers. This inequity
of the last day of the tax year. So, if you get married on December       arose primarily because of the standard deduction and the progressive
31, even though you spent 99.9 percent of the year single, the IRS        nature of tax rates. When the standard deduction was created, the
considers you married for the full year.                                  amounts were based on the assumption that married couples generally
Once you’ve pledged your love and committed to spend the rest of          share expenses and therefore live less expensively than do two single
your lives together, that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) file your   individuals, even if the singles make the same amount of money.
tax returns together. You have two options: married filing separately      So the single filers, based on the two-live-more-cheaply-than-one
or married filing jointly. Depending upon your personal situation,         rationale, were given a more generous per-person deduction. Then
such as your combined income, choosing separate or joint filing can        there are the income tax brackets. Previously, married couples found
be to your tax advantage or disadvantage.                                 more of their income was taxed at higher rates than single taxpayers.
                                                                          And their combined income on a joint return often pushed them into
FILING SEPARATELY:                                                        even higher tax brackets.
If you file as married filing separately, adverse tax implications          Tax law changes beginning in 2003 have helped ease the marriage
include:                                                                  tax penalty. The standard deduction that joint filers can claim is now
• You may not be eligible for certain credits, including earned           twice that allowed single taxpayers. And the amount of a couple’s
  income credit and education credits.                                    income that falls in the 15 percent bracket is double the income range
                                                                          of a single filer. In essence, these changes tax more of a couple’s joint
• A non-working spouse won’t be able to contribute to an IRA.
                                                                          income as if they each were filing as single taxpayers. This relief,
• Don’t overlook state taxes. You may get a federal refund but owe        however, is short-lived. The marriage penalty tax changes apply only
  a lot in state taxes.                                                   through 2010. But what are a few possible tax costs when you’re ready
However, filing separately may be advantageous if one spouse owes          to tie the knot? Just make sure you figure your taxes both as married
money to Uncle Sam and the other is due for a refund. Separate            filing jointly and married filing separately. That way, you can make
filing also may save you taxes if one spouse has significant medical        sure you file the way that will cost you the least combined tax. ■
expenses, casualty losses or miscellaneous deductions that
must meet a percentage-of-income threshold before they
can be claimed. Remember: A husband and wife filing
separate returns must use the same method of claiming
deductions. If one itemizes, both must itemize.
Joint filing is the most commonly used filing method
for married couples. Why?
• You have a lower tax liability if there is disparity in
  the two incomes.
• You could be eligible for many credits,
  such as those for education and
  dependent care expenses.
• Finally, it’s easier because it means
  filing one federal tax return
  instead of two.

Spring Cleaning the Frugal Way
Source: www.frugalliving. com

        pring cleaning can mean                                                                                     floors, and for polishing paint-
        gathering a supply of soaps,                                                                                ed appliances and stainless
        detergents, scrubbers, waxes,                                                                               steel surfaces. Use it to neu-
polishes and other cleaners which                                                                                   tralize bleach on your hands,
usually means, first of all, getting                                                                                 cloth or hard surfaces.
out the old checkbook. Some of                                                                                      Baking soda is a gentle abra-
these modern cleaners actually                                                                                      sive that can be used to scrub
do what they say they will. They                                                                                    black marks from linoleum,
dissolve grease, remove grime                                                                                       brush your teeth, clean the
and polish, shine floors, windows,                                                                                   sink and scrub white wall
cabinets, appliances and tires – but                                                                                tires, among other things. It’s
so do many other things that don’t                                                                                  also an alkali, which means it
cost an arm and a leg and that you                                                                                  will neutralize anything acid,
probably have on hand.                                                                                              like battery acid, etc. Use it to
First, to really spring clean in a fru-                                                                             scrub grease spots from walls
gal fashion, let nature do its thing.                                                                               and stoves, and use it to absorb
Fresh air, sunshine and patience                                                                                    odors on mattresses, carpeting,
can work miracles for a winter                                                                                      etc.
weary and dreary home. Open the
                                                                                                                    Borax is a super cleaner that
windows and doors, even if it’s a
                                                                                                                    isn’t a detergent. You can wash
bit brisk. Turn down the heat, put
                                                                                                                    bedding in it alone, with no
on a sweater if you must, but let
                                                                                                                    detergent, or add it to your
the outside air and sunshine in. It’s
                                                                                                                    detergent (but that’s not as
not a psychological thing; fresh air
                                                                                                                    frugal as using it alone). Bo-
makes quick work of stale air. Stale
                                                                                                                    rax also kills bugs like fleas,
air is loaded with bacteria, viruses
                                                                                                                    ants and cockroaches. Use it to
and pollutions given off by our
                                                                                                                    scrub walls, especially if they
furnishings, carpeting and appli-
                                                                                                                    have smoke stains (for those
ances, which create bad smells. Let
                                                                                                                    who smoke or burn wood for
the fresh spring air replace that.
Use fans to get fresh air to every
part of your home. Musty, moldy                                                                                     Mix dish detergent half and
smells will disappear along with                                                                                    half with water for scrubbing
other odors. Think frugal: take that                                                                                tile grouting and other grimy
new can of air freshener back to the                                                                                things. Use an old toothbrush
store for a refund. Let the sun shine on everything. It’s an easy and       or small hair brush to get in the cracks, then rinse thoroughly. Use it
very frugal method of deep cleaning because ultra violet rays are           on grungy floors or greasy areas. Mix it at the ratio of 1 tablespoon
naturally antiviral and antibacterial. Sun bleaches stains from white       per quart of water for really dirty jobs. You can add baking soda to
clothes and linens, so hang them out while your cleaning. Put out           it for extra scrubbing power.
throw rugs and bedspreads so they can air out. (It’s a great frugal         Of all the basics listed here, bleach is the most noxious and one that
disinfectant and deodorizer for mattresses, too, but you’ll need a          you must be careful with. Don’t use it where there is no ventilation,
strong back to haul them out and a neighborhood that doesn’t care!)         and don’t splash it on your clothes. It’s not good for your skin and
Sunshine does bleach fabrics, so hang non colorfast pieces in the           it’s dangerous to your eyes. Bleach is so common that we can forget
shade. All day in the sun won’t hurt most fabrics, but a few days will      the dangers, but if you’re using it to clean, please be aware! Use it to
cause a noticeable fading.                                                  bleach things, of course, but use it to disinfect bathrooms, kitchens
Now, how about the messy part of spring cleaning? Grunge and dirt           and hard surfaces. Keep a container of vinegar handy to neutralize it
that build up all winter needs to be tackled, but you can still do it       if it accidentally contacts something it will harm. Use it as an addition
without using chemically active cleaners that seem to attack your           to mop water (a half cup will do), spray it on counters to bleach out
bank balance. Instead, do it the frugal way. You’ll need just the basics:   stains, and use it to kill mold or mildew.
Vinegar, baking soda, borax, dish detergent, and bleach.                    You don’t need a whole army of bottles and boxes of cleaners, and
Vinegar has fascinating properties and can be used for a variety of         you don’t need to spend such awful amounts of money to get your
frugal cleaning purposes. Mix a quarter cup or so to a half gallon          home clean. Get back to basics this spring, and let these natural and
of water for cleaning windows, shower stalls, mirrors, hard surface         frugal cleaners do it all. ■

Strategies To Minimize College Tuition
                                                                            Go where you’re wanted: Somewhere out there is a college or

H       ere’s a roundup of some offbeat and overlooked strategies
        for pursuing and paying for a college degree:
Learn faster: Accelerated classes cram a semester’s worth of mate-
rial into six-or eight-week sessions. The classes, while intense, can
                                                                            university that’s dying to have you as a student. Find that school,
                                                                            fire off an application and watch the cost of your college education
                                                                            drop. Every student can be a star at some college and star students
                                                                            get deep discounts for their education. A college that really wants
really help to move your graduation date. You land the degree you           you will find the aid and scholarships to keep you. The trick is finding
want at a much lower price. Tuition in an accelerated degree program        the school that considers you a star.
at some schools runs about half of the cost of their traditional degree     Study college guides: Do your grades and SAT scores match or
programs…and many schools offer bachelor’s degree programs in               exceed the average marks of the current student body? Does the col-
three years instead of four. An accelerated degree program is a great       lege offer the courses you want? If so, this could be the school that
option for a student with a clear career goal. If you’re ready to work      rolls out the red carpet for you. Look for a college where you fit in
hard, why not put your college education on the fast track?                 the top 25 to 30 percent of a class – the higher you are, the more the
The flipside of this, of course, is to make sure you earn enough credits     school wants you and the better position you’re in. Not sure where
to be graduated in four years. Failing to take a full load of credits can   to start your college search? Begin by checking out smaller, regional
mean you get charged the full-time student tuition rate, but it will        colleges in your area. An excellent, but less-known college may be
take you longer to graduate. The sad truth is that the average graduate     searching for a student just like you.
takes more than four years to finish, driving up overall costs.              Choose a tuition-free school: Overwhelmed by tuition prices and
Start small, move up: In many cases, credits earned at a less ex-           the prospect of paying massive student loans after you graduate?
pensive college or university can be transferred and applied toward         Why not attend a tuition-free school? You get the college education
a degree from a pricey, elite school. You could earn a prestigious          you want without the hefty price tag. The catch? You may have to
diploma at a fraction of the price. So why not attend a community           work. Some schools require students to work 10 to 15 hours a week
college for a couple of years and then transfer to your dream col-          on campus and in jobs related to their majors.
lege? It’s not as if the fancy diploma you’ll hang on your wall will        Lock in tuition: Can’t stand the way college tuition keeps shoot-
say “transfer student”. Besides, taking the transfer-student route will     ing up? Consider locking in a single-tuition rate for four years. The
save you some serious cash.                                                 tuition rate you pay as a freshman is guaranteed until you graduate.
Every credit earned at a low-cost community college could save              No more losing sleep over skyrocketing tuition costs. Some schools
you hundreds of dollars in tuition. Also, by bunking at your parent’s       offer guaranteed-tuition programs for free. Others charge fees. Be
house, you could knock down your room-and-board charges to zero.            sure to check.
The first step is learning about articulation agreements at your dream       Get a little help from your friends: How’s this for a graduation gift
university and nearby two-year colleges. An articulation agreement          idea? Ask family and friends for help with those dreaded student
specifies which community college course credits will be accepted             loans. In lieu of birthday and holiday gifts, why not ask for help
toward a bachelor’s degree at the four-year college or university.             with heavy student loan payments? If you can find a way to ask
It also outlines scholarship requirements and specifies what                    for cool, hard cash without ruffling any feathers, why not give it
kind of grades a student must achieve to transfer to the four-                 a go? That way your family and friends won’t have to pay a hefty
year school as a junior.                                                         fee to the middleman…and you’ll be able to write a monstrous
                                                                                    check for your next student loan payment. ■

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