August 20, 2014

Guide for Parents | Learning About Student Loans, Scholarships, and Grants for College

If your child is a high school junior, no doubt you’ve already started the search for a college in earnest. This, of course, brings with it many mixed feelings – pride, joy, and the anticipation of loss. Finding the right college or university is one of the challenges of life that most parents face, and despite the current financial climate, it’s still a given for many families.

Although it is one of the major milestones of life, high school graduation is not the end. In fact, as the word “commencement” infers, it is just the beginning of tougher challenges that await your student in coming years – going deeper into studies to receive a college education.

It is never too early to begin planning how you will finance the studies of your college-bound child. With the increasing expense that tuition represents, it is essential to plan ahead of time to avoid any unforeseen surprises, especially if, like most people, you haven’t inherited great wealth. The sooner you start planning for the college education of your child, the less stress and pressure you will encounter later on.

To begin with, it is important that you educate yourself regarding the different financial aid programs available for college and university students. There are many options available, and your child’s school guidance counselor will help you sort out the possibilities. You may also find unexpected blessings as you search the Internet for loans and scholarships.

A basic type of college financial aid available is a GRANT. This form of assistance requires the completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. This is a process that can be initiated online, and you can learn more by going to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. Once the application has been submitted, it will be evaluated to determine what sort of financial aid for which your student is qualified. The application will ask that you provide the name of the college(s) for which your child wants to apply, the FAFSA information will then be forwarded on to each school.

A second form of financial assistance is a SCHOLARSHIP. Although scholarships are usually assumed to be intended solely for students who have “brains” but do not have the “fortune”, not all college scholarships are limited to academics. Students who do not have the most pristine academic record can still qualify for many other college scholarships. For instance, many athletes are eligible for college sports scholarships, and other students qualify for community service work scholarships, social involvement scholarships, etc.

STUDENT LOANS provide a way to make college possible by offering lower interest rates as compared to traditional types of loans. At times the loans are subsidized, so that interest does not accumulate until a student finishes college. Furthermore, these loans are uncollateralized, which means there is no risk to your home when you get this student loan for your child. Most of these loans are available on a variety of repayment plans at low interest rates and low monthly installment payments.

If you have not begun to research various financial aid programs that might be available to your family, it is highly recommended that you begin sooner rather than later. Doing the legwork now will help you be prepared as your child grows toward the milestone of high school graduation and successful adulthood.

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Computers and Your Child

Beginning kindergarten in this millenium is very different from what it was even twenty years ago.  Children today are much more aware of the adult world around them, they are much more sophisticated and certainly they are more aware of technology and the internet than was imaginable even a few years ago when they were born.  It becomes essential to take these changes into consideration as a child approaches the first day of school, because there is really no part of his or her life that will be unaffected by computers and technology.

You can begin by visiting the school and talk to the child’s teacher. Understand that it’s not a matter of a school forcing students to learn about cyberspace.  Schools are simply utilizing the internet to teach children, since students begin school already acquainted with computers and the world wide web.  In most any kindergarten class, there are dozens of computers, giving students access to the internet and allowing them to use the internet for anything from research to communications to playing games — even exploring the galaxies.

Much is written today about the dangers of the internet. These concerns are certainly real, and many times accurate reflect a particular situation. But the internet also offers tremendous resources to educators, and a savvy teacher will take advantage of what the internet offers, taking students to wonderful new places using safe and carefully prepared web sites that enhance education.

It’s important to be aware of what your child already knows about computers and the internet. If you allow your child access to a computer at home, and permission to wander around the internet, she may have been exposed to much more than you ever planned.  Initiating a conversation with your child or by sitting at the computer and exploring some basic web sites together, you can gauge her level of skill and knowledge.  In this context, there may be times you as the parent will be teaching her as the child and then roles may reverse and she will be the teacher and you the student learning things that even very young children already know about the online world.

Be sure when you begin to allow your child access to the internet that you have also put protections in place.  Create a protected, specific account on your computer just for your child and make sure that it is heavily restricted. There are excellent tools available (“net nannies”) that protect children from accidentally going to sites they should not see. You can even set up a set list of restricted web sites to protect them further.

Helping your child build savvy internet search skills will jump start him or her into the modern world of school.  Other computer skills will also assist in developing higher efficiency, even in this very basic level of schooling at kindergarten.  If you open the world of email and IMing to your child — on kid safe web sites where conversations are with other children only, a five year old will actually learn typing skills through these online conversations with other kids.

Another tool to consider is an office suite; an important tool set to begin teaching your student, even in elementary school. Learning to use the powerful resources of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint will give your child ways to complete school assignments. And because they are on the computer they will think it’s more fun — and it’s so much more efficient than the old pencil and notebook method.

By thinking like a twenty-first century parent, you can begin as early as their kindergarten year to see your child’s school experience as one that will be greatly influenced by proficient computer skills and the internet.  By effectively equipping your child to be ready to use those tools from day one at kindergarten, your child will begin school farther ahead and be better equipped to achieve greater success throughout the education process.

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Teaching the Kids About Credit

Often times, credit card trouble derives from nothing more than forgetting how credit card debt can sneak up on you.  The first time you maxed out a card and then dealt with the overwhelming task of paying off the charges in order to get back on solid financial footing, it was difficult and yet a valuable lesson.  Going through this experience, attending the school of hard knocks, teaches that it’s easier to prevent credit card debt than to recover, once you’ve gotten into trouble.

Of course, one of the most valuable results about acquiring such hard won knowledge is that you can pass it along to your children.  So just how do you help your kids establish a good foundation with their credit and help them learn how to use it responsibly?  Your children depend on you as their parent to teach them how to function as a responsible adult.

The first thing to remember is that effectively teaching your children to use credit effectively is not the same thing as preventing them from acquiring credit.  The reality is that the opposite is true.  Responsibly handling a credit card is just as essential a tool for modern living as owning a car or a cell phone.  In fact, sending a child out into the world without a working credit card and a respectable credit rating beginning to build; without training them to use credit is actually irresponsible parenting.  It is nearly the same as sending a child into battle without a weapon to defend himself.  Credit is essential but the wise use of credit is even more important.

A parent can help their child understand the basics of good credit by providing them with a credit card as early as high school.  Even if a parent pays the bills, this will educate them in using a card responsibly to pay for necessities, and a parent can track of the child’s spending from the monthly bills.  If the credit card is in the child’s name and gets paid off each month, the child will build up a good credit rating.  Consider it another one of the many legacies you are passing along to your kids.

In order to make sure that a child doesn’t spend irresponsibly, work with the credit card company — set a credit limit for the child’s spending each month. That way, if they overspend and suddenly cannot buy lunch because they abused their credit, several hours of going hungry will teach them much more than a week of lectures about fiscal responsibility.

It’s also important to make sure your child is aware that your paying their bills is a privilege and that they are fortunate to be able to start their independent life in this way.  Then give them three responsibilities they must complete to show they are worthy of this privilege.

Tell your child that he must save all receipts of every purchase made.  If they purchase an item and forget to ask for a receipt, tell them that they must make one.

Require them to maintain a ledger of spending.   Like a checkbook ledger, it should be filled in every time they buy something and a running total kept up-to-date.   If an expense is not entered, they will be required to pay that amount back to you or possibly lose their credit card privilege.

Sit down with your child once each week and go over the credit card bill. Have them explain item by item about each entry. Practicing these simple habits over several months will teach your child how to keep track of, monitor and be aware of their spending on a credit card.  In that way, when they are ready to start their adult life, they will not only have the credit necessary, but will also be able to wisely use that credit.

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