New Processes for College Financial Aid

My son, who’s an important part of this business, is in his senior year of high school. Financial aid for his post-secondary education is on our minds.

It’s never too soon to think about college costs. Take a look at the financial aid worksheet below to get an idea of the expenses you can expect. It’s from the college tuition information night recently held at Saguaro High School.

 

Financial Aid Worksheet
Steps ASU recommends to calculate college financial aid

Before I continue, take note that the whole FAFSA process is brand-new this year. Whatever you’ve done for your older kids, or you’ve heard about from friends, neighbors, family, etc., just forget it. It’s a new game out there.

FAFSA: The Gateway to College Financial Aid

So what is FAFSA?

It’s the Free Application for Financial Student Aid. It’s on the web, as FAFSA.gov and FAFSA.com. They’re the same site. And it’s very important for your high school senior to open a FAFSA account  because all student financial aid that comes from a college, state, or Federal government goes through FAFSA.

Many private financial aid sources, like grants from employers and community organizations also ask to see FAFSA information before deciding on an award.

The accounts are free. Do not use any service that claims to handle your FAFSA account for you. They aren’t all that difficult to set up and you’re walked through the whole process. Sit down with your kid and open an account together.

FAFSA stores documents you upload to the site that help college financial aid offices and other organizations decide how much funding they will give your student. It also calculates how much a family is expected to contribute to pay for college expenses. These decisions are based on information from your income, taxes investments like the 529 college savings plan, and other financial information.

FAFSA stores student and family financial information online.

In the old days, you had to send all this information by email or US Mail. But for the past several years, this has been done online.

Yes, this means storing sensitive information in the cloud. If you don’t want to do this, then you’re giving up the opportunity to get financial help most kids need for college. Don’t get angry with me: I’m just the messenger! And for what it’s worth, online storage services are harder to hack than email accounts. It’s also a lot easier to make corrections and update information when it’s stored online.

FAFSA will begin accepting information for the 2016 – 2017 college year on October 1. That’s the first day high school seniors can open accounts and start filling out information. The deadline to apply for popular Federal financial aid like Pell grants is June 30, so there is plenty of time.

Keep in mind that students don’t have to open a FAFSA account to apply to a college. Colleges can wait until later in the spring to settle details about how tuition, room and board, and other expenses will be paid.

Beginning this year, FAFSA will be able to tell students as early as January how much financial aid they can get for the upcoming college year. In the past, this information wasn’t available until March. Many competitive colleges need to know as early as May if students will be attending in the fall. This didn’t give families a lot of time to consider options. Now, they have several months instead of several weeks to make these decisions.

What Kind of Financial Aid is Out There?

Once your student gets a FAFSA account started, he or she will begin to receive information about financial aid available. Some aid comes through grants, which do not have to be repaid, while others are loans, which generally do have to be repaid.  Some loans are forgiven (in other words, cancelled) later on in exchange for working certain jobs in certain regions.

Students must prove they are eligible to get financial aid from the government. This doesn’t pose huge obstacles for most high school students.

  • They need to be US citizens or US Nationals
  • They must have a social security number
  • Boys over 18 must be enrolled in the Selective Service (i.e., register for the draft) at age 18. Right now, women are not required to register.

There are some exceptions to these rules. Here’s a link to eligibility requirements—which you will see also requires a FAFSA account.

Many Arizona students who enroll in full-time undergraduate (associate or bachelor) degree programs apply for these federal grants:

  • Pell Grants, which are awarded by the federal government based on financial need. The maximum Pell award for the 2016 – 2017 college year is $5815.
  • Federal Supplemental Equal Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are given to students whose Pell application shows the greatest need for assistance. They provide up to $4000 per year.
  • The Federal Work-Study Program arranges part-time jobs on campus or with public interest organizations to students who show additional financial need. Students can work for up to 20 hours per week.

Remember, grants do not have to be repaid, ever.

Most grants can be renewed each year.  Virtually all require students to maintain a strong GPA. College admissions offices often steer students, particularly freshmen, for counseling to make sure they aren’t, frankly, blowing away the money or their grades.

There are also college loans to think about.

Most parents and students will want a loan backed by the Federal government because the interest rate (currently 3.7%) is fixed and repayment doesn’t start until after graduation. (These loans used to be called Stafford Loans.) In many cases, payment can be deferred (postponed) until a graduate is settled into a job and earning enough to start paying back the loan.

  • Subsidized loans are granted to students with financial need (according to their FAFSA documents) and don’t charge an interest rate while the student is enrolled at least half-time and for six months after graduation. Deferred loans usually stay interest-free.
  • Unsubsidized loans are open to anyone regardless of financial need but usually carry interest from the moment they’re signed. Keep in mind that colleges determine the amount of a federal loan a student can receive.

Some loans can be completely forgiven if the graduate works in public interest jobs in underserved areas, and/or they maintain an excellent payment record for 10 years.  Here’s more information about government-backed college loans. Note that Perkins Loans are no longer available.

Private loans are what get people in trouble. People (meaning parents) with good credit can usually get a stable bank loan with pretty good interest rates. Some institutional loans (loans offered by the college or university) might carry higher interest rates. Those are the ones you’ve heard about, that leave students (particularly independent young adults) with debts up to $100,ooo or more. Reputable colleges won’t let students go down that road.

Staying in Arizona? You’ll Get Pretty Generous College Financial Aid

Arizona residents get a pretty good deal from the three major public universities. Each of these schools maintain close contact with high school guidance counselors, who are excellent sources for information about  applying for financial aid. Here are links to Arizona universities’ financial aid offices:

  • ASU (Arizona State University)
  • U of AZ (The University of Arizona)
  • NAU (Northern Arizona University)

Our three public universities offer a variety of grants and loans. Their staff work with high school students applying for financial aid and current college students who need to renew theirs. They also help students with less pressing financial need find campus and off-campus jobs.

All three universities participate in the Earn to Learn savings program that encourage students from lower-income families to save for college in exchange for very generous financial help. (Here’s the eligibility chart.) Students who save $500 can qualify for $4500 in college tuition credits: an 8 – 1 return!  The program also provides personal financial training to students and boasts an 87% retention rate, higher than the schools’ average freshman return rate. About 10,000 students will be helped by this program through 2020.

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Raising AZ Kids Recommends our Resale Shop!

We were so excited to find that the popular local magazine Raising Arizona Kids put our resale shop front and center in their article about shopping for kids’ clothes (n’ more!).

RaisingArticle
Raising Arizona Kids featured our resale shop!

Even better, we are the first shop featured in the article, in the category for Best for Babies, Kids, and Tweens.

Our Resale Shop Features Items for Teens, Too

Although our resale shop does carry a lot of clothes, books, and toys for infants, toddlers, and tweens, we do have items for teenagers, including clothes, games, caps, and other fun stuff.

We maintain a healthy inventory of boys’ jeans, which some teen girls may be able to wear as well. (It all depends on her shape.) Similarly, teens of either sex can wear many of the shorts and virtually all of the t-shirts we keep on hand year-round as well.

Then there are shoes.

A lot of our customers have been with us since their kids were small. They keep bringing us their teens’ clothes and especially their shoes.

If you have teenagers, you know their feet grow quickly. A lot of our customers can only wear their shoes and sneakers for a year or less and bring them to us for resale. So if your tween or teen needs, say, dress shoes for Band or Orchestra, give us a call because we just might have a pair that fits him or her.

And of course, we have sneakers in all sizes. More than a couple of parents have picked up a pair for himself or herself.

Is Your Teen or Tween a Movie Buff?

We were a little sad to read in PC World a couple of weeks ago that the last VCR/VHS player would be made in July and then no more. Japan’s Funai Corporation was the holdout.

We used to buy dual DVD/VHS players but they always broke. Then we picked up a tiny TV with a built-in VCR at a yard sale. It plays our old Springsteen concert videos, a Saturday Night Live 20th Anniversary tape, and miscellaneous old movies like The Jerk and Spartacus.

Our back area, which houses books, textbooks, and movies, includes almost as many VHS tapes and DVDs. If your future Bill Goodykuntz or Michael Bay is asking for old classics (by their standards), come here first to see what we have. Our selection is a lot less expensive than anything they’ll find online.

We also occasionally get games for Wii, GameBoy, and other gadgetry. Call us for titles and we can put out an alert if one comes in that you want.

We check out each media item we receive to make sure it works and that nothing is missing.  We do the same for toys, books, and puzzles. If we receive an incomplete game, we hold on to the spare parts! So call us if you need the funny bone from Operation, a red piece from Sorry! or someone dealt you and incomplete deck of cards.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hot Weather Clothes for School

It’s almost August, which means a new school year is about to start. It’s time to look for school clothes for your gang.

But it’s hot out. The department stores don’t care and are showing clothes more suitable for December than August, even though the temperatures in the Phoenix area go over 100° during this month. You need hot weather clothes suitable for school.

Don’t fight other parents for the leftover summer pickings. Bring your kids to our consignment shop, where they can browse for stylish hot weather clothes that won’t upset the principal. We feature popular brand names like Polo, Abercrombie, Hollster, and Izod, at prices far lower than in department stores, even their discount racks.

Hot Weather Clothes for the Early Part of the Arizona School Year

We’ve been clearing out space to get clothes to wear for school. But we aren’t quite ready to abandon hot weather clothes because kids still need them.

I have to admit, it will never feel quite right to prepare for school this early, in mid-summer. But it’s Arizona, and here in Scottsdale we start school the second week of August. This year, school begins Monday, August 8. Hot weather clothes are a must for at least another month.

Our clothes meet the dress code for the Scottsdale Unified School District. We continue to sell shorts, t-shirts, skirts, dresses, and even tank tops so your kids can stay cool until the heat breaks. We also have shoes and sneakers for kids in PE, as well as shoes with cleats for those participating in fall sports.

We do occasionally get slacks, polo shirts, and Oxford-style shirts that can be used for school uniforms. Call first to see if we have the size you need.

Once it cools off, come in to check out items like long sleeve t-shirts, jeans, long pants, sweatshirts, and light jackets.

Yes, it will cool off. We promise.

School Supplies ‘n More!

STEM for Kids
STEM for Kids

We have some school supplies as well but they will go fast. We currently have backpacks, tons of boxes of crayons, and some text books for both classrooms and home-schooled kids. Some cover a number of topics while others focus on math, reading, STEM, and other academic topics.

We also have a sizable reading section for kids of all ages. We offer several popular titles for early elementary grades, pre-teens, and young adults. From Dr. Seuss to The 38 Clues and The Hunger Games, we’ve got a pretty good (and steady) supply.

In past years, we’ve also received unused spiral notebooks, packages of pens and pencils (and loose ones as well that we package), erasers, and other supplies like posters and classroom decorations.

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Play It Safe with July 4 Sparklers

If you love the July 4 holiday as much as we do, you probably have a few boxes of July 4 sparklers ready to go.

Be careful with kids around July 4 sparklers
July 4 sparklers: pretty but can burn.

But if you have young kids around—say, under five—take extra care with those sparklers. Because even though they don’t explode like fireworks, they can burn if they aren’t handled properly.

July 4 is an exciting holiday, particularly for little kids. It’s not the best time to start with safety instructions, especially when they’re revved up on ice cream and other treats!

Keep July 4 Sparklers at a Safe Distance

I’m not going to say no to sparklers. I do suggest thinking twice about handing a lit one to a two-year old.

Sparklers are pretty! Little kids love them. But the truth is that they are combustibles, just like fireworks, and on a smaller scale.

Your typical younger toddler might be happy to hold and watch the pretty sparkler. But what if s/he drops it? That’s a big owie for whoever it lands on.

Your typical older toddler will probably take off running with a sparkler. I don’t have to go into details about how that can turn out, do I?

You can let your kids safely enjoy sparklers, from a distance. Keep the kids at least six feet away from them. That’s closer than you might think—consider a reasonably tall man’s height. To be safer, imagine the distance LeBron would cover if he were lying on the ground between your kid(s) and the sparklers.

  • Stick sparklers firmly into damp ground so they don’t topple over and spark onto something that can catch fire, like dried up grass. Or fill a large container with wet sand to hold them up.
  • Light one stick at a time.
  • Don’t let anyone touch them even after they burn out. They’re still hot.
  • When you do pull them up, drop them into a container with water to make sure there are no surviving embers.
  • Wear open-toe shoes around sparklers at your own risk.

Don’t throw your sparklers into air or toss or wave them around. If a sparkler or spark lands on someone, that’s another big owie! If they land on something very dry, there’s the darn fire dangers we’re always talking about in central Arizona.

Sparklers are Hot Items

July 4 sparklers are hot items in every sense of the word.

I know, I sound like a scold but I read this on Wired, OK??

  • Depending on the quality of the sparkler, they heat up to 1800º – 3000° F. That’s quite a bit hotter than that barbecue grill you’ve been shooing the kids away from.
  • While a single spark will cool very quickly, those that are larger and come out in larger amounts are more likely to burn. Think of what can happen if a sparkler is dropped on another person.

The National Fire Protection Association says sparklers can cause third-degree burns. They’re the reason for about a quarter of emergency room visits caused by fireworks. (I know, they aren’t the same but they are apparently coded that way for the insurance companies.) Fireworks are the reason for 18,500 ER visits each year.

Cup Shields for Sparklers? Really?

I know some people poke a hole through a cup to string a sparkler through it. The thought is that the cup covers and protect a kid’s  hand. I suppose this is better than nothing, but remember, sparks jump around. Since we’re talking about very short arms, they can easily fly into the face, on hair, to any nearby body part.

My advice is little ones should just enjoy the sparkler sights. I’d rather see them holding a Popsicle or ice cream cone.

If you really, really want your kid to experience the thrill of a sparkler, well, there are apps for this!

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KidsCare is Back!

Until very recently, Arizona was the only state in the entire US that didn’t participate in a federal health insurance program for low-income children. These are kids whose parents do not qualify for AHCCCS and often struggle with paying for employer or marketplace (Obamacare) insurance.

Much to pretty much everyone’s surprise, the Arizona legislature, which ended KidsCare in 2010, brought it back to life. Governor Ducey quietly signed the bill in May.

KidsCare is a Medical Safety Net for Low-Income Kids

KidsCare is the name Arizona used for the federal Childrens Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. It gives families who earn too much to qualify for AHCCCS (Medicaid) a low-cost way to get health insurance for their children. Families who qualify will pay no more than $50 per month for one child or $70 per month to cover two or more.

Arizona will restart its KidsCare program in July 2016.
KidsCare is coming back to Arizona!

Some families may not even have to pay a monthly premium at all. Native Americans who are enrolled with a federally-recognized tribe will not be charged premiums, as directed by Federal law.

Get the information you need about qualifying for KidsCare, including information about how and when you can apply. The state will start accepting applications on July 26 and begin paying for services September 1.

KidsCare Covers Same Services as AHCCCS

Children who are covered by KidsCare get the same services they would have through AHCCCS: medical, dental, mental health, immunizations, and more.

Unlike Obamacare rules, KidsCare ends at age 19. At that point, the covered child (now legally an adult) must obtain health insurance on his or her own. The best place to start is Healthcare.gov. This is the site where people shop for health insurance; it also tells them if they qualify for Medicaid (AHCCCS) in their state.

Parents can also cover their children under their private (not Medicaid) insurance policy until age 26.

Does Your Employer Offer Health Insurance?

If you don’t qualify to get your child into KidsCare, check into any health insurance offered at work. Companies that employ more than 50 people must offer insurance to them. Smaller ones may decide to do so on their own.

Take time to review what your employer offers you and compare it to the healthplans offered on Healthcare.gov. While cost is certainly important, you should think about how often you or the family members you cover need to go to a doctor. Those copays can add up for large families or those with a member with a chronic or severe illness. So an employee in this situation should see if paying a higher monthly premium leads to smaller copays and annual deductibles that save money.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Some health plans pay for extras like health club memberships and cover care like chiropractors and acupuncturists.
  • Some employers are pretty good at negotiating prices for health, dental, and vision insurance. Individuals who buy insurance on their own don’t have the opportunity to negotiate.
  • The marketplace (Obamacare) plans offer subsidies to people well into middle-class earnings, which may make their plans more affordable than an employer’s.

Here’s an easy-to-use calculator that can help you see what you and your kids can get and any help for which you might qualify.

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