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This Week In Your Wallet: Funding A College Education

Go to college. Get an education. Stay in school. Say it anyway you want, but these days it’s understandable to wonder if the four-year degree is worth the $30,000 in average debt that grads face. And the answer is….yes.

A four-year degree has never been more valuable. Just look to the pay gap to see why: On average, college graduates (with four-year degrees) made 98 percent more per hour in 2013 than Americans without diplomas. That’s up from 89 percent five years ago. In fact, overall, the cost of college is negative $500,000. Meaning: Over time, a college degree is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you.

Still, too much debt can be a problem for individual students. It has been shown to delay your road into adult life — getting married, having kids, buying homes, etc. That’s why many experts recommend that your total debt shouldn’t exceed the salary you expect to make your first year out of school. Therefore, if you know the first step on your career ladder is only going to pay out $30,000, then you should limit your loans to $7,500 per year. (Depending on the school, this can be next to nothing.) 

Enter: A cheat sheet for reducing costs and upping financial aid. USA TODAY outlines seven money-saving moves, starting with maximizing financial aid and applying for scholarships. As I always say, FAFSA first. Regardless of your family’s financial standing, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at fafsa.ed.gov. (Bonus: If your student is in the school’s top 30 percent of applicants, then he or she is more likely to get a generous offer. See how financial aid is calculated here.) Along the same lines, don’t make the mistake of thinking you — or your teen — isn’t a good candidate for receiving scholarship money. With thousands of different scholarships, totaling to billions of dollars worth of free money, there may not be something for everyone, but there is something for more people than you might think. For national grants, have your kids hunt on sites like Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com. And before diving in, have your children make a list of their qualifications, hobbies and interests. (My kids both wrote resumes which helped with the application process, as well.) This will pare down the search.

Have you done your job as a parent?

Maybe not. According to a new study from Caring.com, only 56 percent of parents have a will or living trust document — and of these people — only 40 percent have updated them in the last 1-5 years. This is unconscionable. If you’re a parent, having a will is absolutely mandatory, because it’s the only document that allows you to name guardians for minor children. Die without one and the rules of your state will govern what happens to both your belongings and your children. How often should you update it? It depends. Big changes in your life — like having another child, getting a divorce, getting a significant bump in your salary, receiving an inheritance, or the death of an executor — all call for revisiting your will. Even if nothing major has happened, I say revisit your will every three years.

The research highlighted something else that’s potentially dangerous: Not having the conversation about your will with your family. About one-third of parents don’t have estate documents in place, and 16 percent of adult children are unsure if their parents do. But even when parents have estate documents, adult children are largely uninformed about them. Over half of adult children (52 percent) don’t know where their parents store their estate documents, and even more (58 percent) don’t know the the contents of them. If you never have the conversation, then surviving family members will be left not knowing what to do or how to act.

Can you do better?

The four most powerful words in any negotiation are: “Can you do better?” When it comes to negotiating, can you? (Given that too many people avoid having conversations about money, then there’s probably some room for improvement.) This week, LearnVest explores the psychology of negotiation — where you go wrong, how you come off  — and offers tips for getting what you want…like that bigger salary.

When accepting a new job, some people are so excited and grateful to be granted the opportunity that they’re scared to ask for more. But even an extra $5,000 a year (the average amount you can increase your salary when presenting a counteroffer) can make a major difference down the road: You’ll earn an additional $78,227 in 10 years, and $1,398,905 over 40 years. And guess what? Your employer is expecting you to negotiate. Despite 84% of employers saying they expect applicants to negotiate (according to Salary.com), CareerBuilder finds only half of applicants actually do.

First and foremost, you have to do your research. You should walk into the office with an idea of what you might be offered, and then, what you want. Know your number, but also know your words. Be specific and direct, but not aggressive. Express your appreciation of his/her offer, relay the requirements of the job, what you’re bringing to the table (ideally on top of the requirements), your experience and then why it amounts to you earning X amount more on the original offer. Keep in mind that your salary isn’t the only thing that’s negotiable. (The article notes companies will use the phrase “There’s no flexibility’” as a scare tactic.) You can counter with tuition reimbursement, extra vacation days, stock options or maybe working from home on Fridays.

Beware of online pet scams

How sad is this? Aspiring pet owners shopping for friendly companions online are being met with unfriendly scam artists. As Fraud.org reports, there’s been an uptick in online pet adoption scams in 2015. Here’s how it works: Consumers shopping for pets on Craigslist.org or Oodle.com are reaching out to “sellers” (who create attractive listings with pictures), and sending money before receiving the pet. The alleged seller then finds other expenses to bill the buyer for, like “a ventilated shipping crate” or “insurance.” Some people have shelled out hundreds, even thousands of dollars before realizing it’s a scam, and that the pet doesn’t exist. Fraud.org offers pet-buying tips (i.e. never send money without seeing the pet in-person and/or consider adopting from a local shelter instead) for consumers so that this doesn’t happen to you. 

Have a great week, 


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