Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Episode 7: Pay For and Paying Less for College
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With the cost of higher education rising, it’s now more important than ever to take steps to make college more affordable. In this episode we look at ways to pay for, and how to save money, when it comes to going to college. We speak with Lyndsey Thomas who is a Financial Resource Coordinator at Western Technical College in La Crosse (westerntc.edu/financial-aid), Director of Strategic Partnerships at Student Choice (altra.studentchoice.org) Denice Burmeister, and Ryan Sperling along with Bo Bassindale who are both Financial Peer Mentors at It Make$ Cents (uwlax.edu/it-makes-cents) at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

Transcript

(Tony Beyer)

Thank you for joining us on the Best Life Podcast where we here at Altra Federal Credit Union are helping you live your best life. I’m Tony Beyer, Financial Wellness Coordinator, and we’re talking about an incredibly important topic…and that is how to make college more affordable and how to decrease our reliance on student loans. According to an article in Forbes published back in February, there are 45 million student loan borrowers right now, and they owe a collective of 1.7 trillion dollars…trillion with a “T” in student loans…and student loan debt now ranks second in total debt, only behind mortgages in the United States.

So, we’re at that time of year where students are looking to go back to school, they might be going to their computers with what’s going on right now, or even high schoolers thinking about the next steps in their educational journey, we’re to speak with some experts that have some great advice to make college more affordable and to keep those student loans down.

In just a moment, we’ll speak with Denise Burmeister, she is the Director of Strategic Partnerships with student Choice. It’s a program that partners with credit unions and Altra being one of them, to help provide students with credit and also resources to pay for school. We’ll also speak with a couple of college seniors, Bo Bassindale and Ryan Sperling. They are both Financial Peer Mentors with the It Make$ Cents! program at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, but first, we wanted to welcome to the podcast Lyndsey Thomas, who is a Financial Resource Coordinator at Western Technical College in La crosse, we appreciate you making some time for the podcast Lyndsey!

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Yeah, thanks for inviting me. This is a great opportunity.

(Tony Beyer)

I know that you are incredibly busy Lindsay. I mean schools just starting but it really never ends for you guys there at Western, right?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Yeah exactly. We have the three terms, so we’re constantly awarding and processing financial aid.

(Tony Beyer)

Well, I certainly don’t want to take up too much of your time Lyndsey, but I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what you do to help college students there at Western Technical College?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

In my role, I help students with all things financial aid, starting with applying for financial aid, processing financial aid, any questions that may come up and even helping answer questions about repayment with students are getting close to completing and thinking about repayment.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent, to talking about repayment, especially those Federal, you know, those Direct loans, I know that there’s been a lot of news just recently and pauses and everything, you know due to the pandemic, how has it been navigating that? What advice are you giving students there?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Yeah, so there are lots of questions that a lot of changes that are currently out there. What I tell students is ask questions because you may hear something in the news, they may see something in an article, but it may not apply to your student loans, or may not apply in the way that you’re thinking. So, talk to a financial aid office because we would know the most up-to-date information and we’d be able to look at a student’s student loans and figure out what impacts based on all of the changes would apply

(Tony Beyer)

That makes sense, and again, we’re speaking with Lyndsey Thomas, she is a Financial Resource Coordinator at Western Technical College and Lyndsey, what advice would you give a high school senior, could even be a junior thinking about their education after high school, what research or what should students be looking for when applying for college?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Well, I think it’s really important to not only research the college itself to find out what the atmosphere is like, go on a college visit, but also to talk to the financial aid office, or to view the website on what the costs are. Colleges have various costs there’s different fees, there’s different expenses and knowing that before making a decision can really help when it comes time to like looking at your financial aid. So, researching what the cost is, but then also start researching financial aid as an option. Financial aid is made up of a lot of different types of funding. So, there’s student loans, there’s the Pell Grant, there’s work study, and having a better understanding of what each type of aid is, could help in making a decision.

(Tony Beyer)

That’s great advice of her talking about the whole financial aid package, we’re not just talking about loans and anything you can do to reduce your student loan burden, you certainly want to do that but Lyndsey, what are some ways in which students can reduce, you know, the amount of student loans they take out or possibly not even have to take out loans for school at all?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

What I’ve seen quite a few students do is you’re offered financial aid and you automatically accept all, but taking a step back before making that decision on what to accept and sitting down and calculating what are your actual expenses. And if you have a chance to do it ahead of time, that’s the best-cast scenario, if you’re a junior starting to plan ahead, great time to start doing that because there are opportunities to apply for scholarships, or to maybe look into work study, or working while going to school, that can help cover some of those educational costs and reduce the need to borrow student loans. And you may find that with what’s offered in your financial aid package you may not have to take out student loans, and in some cases you may, but understanding what you’re borrowing before taking that out.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent! Very important to know everything that you’re accepting and all the options that you have when it comes to financial aid, and Lyndsey, I was curious in your role, if there are any mistakes that you see students making with financial aid, or are there any questions who’s could be asking to avoid some of those mistakes?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Yeah, communication is really important and asking questions and having an understanding of what financial aid, you’re accepting. Sometimes students maybe are not knowing what’s the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans would be loans that the interest is not gaining while you’re in school, on subsidized loans interest is accruing. So, just knowing those details, asking questions to the financial aid office if something isn’t clear, looking into scholarship opportunities. Scholarships typically, require a separate application. So just reaching out to the college that you’re looking at to see if their scholarships available through the college, or if they’re scholarships available through different community organizations, or maybe like if Altra offers scholarships, things like that. So finding out different scholarships and not applying for those is another mistake that I see.

(Tony Beyer)

Yes, get those scholarships…money you don’t have to pay back.

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Exactly.

(Tony Beyer)

…and I did one mention it since we’re talking about it, Altra does have a scholarship for high school seniors, and that is our Community Service Scholarship, offered through the Altra Foundation. The Altra Foundation is our nonprofit organization that’s all about financial education and we should have information on how 2022 graduating seniors can apply for that on our website very soon. And speaking of something coming up in the not-too-distant future, that is the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student, Aid, and Lyndsey, is there any advice you could give students and families, about filling out the FAFSA?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Apply early for the FAFSA. It’s always open October 1st for the upcoming fall so filling it out early helps cause less stress for the process, you’re able to get it in. You’re able to add up to 10 schools so don’t feel like you have to make that decision before you fill out the FAFSA.

(Tony Beyer)

And if you’re on a site that’s asking to pay money for the FAFSA, what should you do?

(Lyndsey Thomas)

Never pay money for the FAFSA and I would say never pay money for scholarship applications either. There are plenty of free opportunities without paying anything.

(Tony Beyer)

All very valuable, great advice, Lyndsey, we really appreciate it… And I wanted to welcome to the podcast Director of Strategic Partnerships for Student Choice, Denise Burmeister. Thank you so much for being on with us, and Denise, you mentioned right before we started recording that talking about college is a very timely subject for you and your family right now, tell us a bit about that.

(Denise Burmeister)

Yes, I’m excited. I have a daughter who is going to be a freshman in college this year so this is a topic that is near and dear to my own heart.

(Tony Beyer)

Well, we’re really glad to have here Denise and we’re fortunate that you’re able to impart on us some valuable information on making higher education, more affordable.

(Denise Burmeister)

Yes, I’m really excited to share information I know this is a topic that can feel a little overwhelming for families who are looking to send that child through college so I hope to be helpful and share some information that can make the process feel a little easier and not so stressful.

(Tony Beyer)

Great, I know something that can be a little bit stressful for families, and that is the FAFSA, and it’s something that has to be done, Lyndsey, just mentioned it, and I know Denise, when you came on, you really wanted to talk about this as well…and that is how important it is to fill out the FAFSA, even if you feel that you may not qualify for anything.

(Denise Burmeister)

The FAFSA is really important for every student. I sometimes will hear family say, we’re not going to do the FAFSA because we know we make too much money, and it could be that when you fill out your FAFSA, you’re awarded a lot of low-cost or no-cost aid, however, a lot of financial aid management systems used by the university, that’s how they create sort of a record to that student, and so there might be scholarships that they’ll make available because they have that FAFSA record on file. So even if you don’t think you’re going to be eligible for some of the federal aid, it’s still important to do your FAFSA because it could open up your eligibility for some other institutional aid that the college itself is going to award, and then also it does make available some loan options for parents to consider.

(Tony Beyer)

That’s great advice when it comes to filling out the FAFSA, and Denise, I know that you work for Student Choice, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit more about the program and how it works with credit unions to help students families pay for college pay for those extra costs that federal aid and things like that may not cover.

(Denise Burmeister)

Yes, we partner with credit unions across the country to make available student loans and the great thing is our partners have done a very unique approach to college financing. So normally in the college financing space, you have to get a loan for your freshman year, then you have to reapply the sophomore, reapply as a junior, credit unions have done a line of credit, so this is great for families because they can really want that one of my costs for the full college career, get a line of credit open and established, and then you simply request a draw on that active line when you need it at the start of the school year. So, you only have to go through this origination process once, it’s available to the student when they need it and you can only draw down as much as you need.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent. Anything we could do to make that process a little bit easier we certainly want to do that, and I know you can access Student Choice through our website at altra.org, there’s a lot of different resources information and students and families could get their questions answered on there, tell us a bit more about what Student Choice has to offer there.

(Denise Burmeister)

When they’re on that Student Choice Altra co-branded website, they also have access to the Student Choice College Access Counselor, so, if they wanted to talk specifically about their family situation, and have more in-depth personalized conversation, that member can schedule a 30-minute appointment with the college access counselor at no charge and they can do that right from the website.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent. That sounds like a great resource and best of all it’s free. We love hearing about that, So thank you, Denise.

We wanted to welcome into the Best Life Podcast a couple of college seniors. They are Financial Peer Mentors with the It Make$ Cents! program at the University of Wisconsin – La, Crosse. Ryan Sperling, he is a double major in economics and public administration. Welcome to the podcast Ryan.

(Ryan Sperling)

Happy to be here Tony

(Tony Beyer)

And also joining us on the podcast is senior finance major Bo Bassindale, Welcome to the podcast Bo.

(Bo Bassindale)

Thank you for having us, we’re happy to be here.

(Tony Beyer)

All right, rock on croutons, and Ryan, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the It Make$ Cents! program there at UWL.

(Ryan Sperling)

Yeah, our main mission is to provide sort of financial counseling to students. We help anybody that comes by with a variety of issues, whether it’s budgeting, credit, student loans, even applying for scholarships. We try to help out every student as best as we can from the perspective of another student.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent. Is there anything that you wanted to add about the program Bo?

(Bo Bassindale)

Definitely, Ryan summed it up really well there. We’re led by our boss Amanda Gasper and so, she kind of also gives us some guidance outside of the student’s point of view…

(Tony Beyer)

Shout out to the boss! Smart!

(Bo Bassindale)

Yeah. We offer one-on-one consultations to students and like Ryan said, it could be a whole different bunch of topics that we did talk about. Whether it’s scholarships or just affording college. I would say generally we’re mostly talking about budgeting and just general money management, but people can talk to us about any issues that they’re having, even if they’re not financial.

(Tony Beyer)

Wow! The, It Make$ Cents program sounds like a great resource for students there at UWL and you can find the, It Make$ Cents Center there in the Student Union on campus, and Ryan, I was curious what’s a big piece of advice that you give to students that do a one-on-one consultation with you.

(Ryan Sperling)

You know, the number one piece of advice I give, you know, friends, family, anybody I have in a consultation is to apply for scholarships. I also work at the Scholarship Resource Center on campus. We actually share the Scholarship Resource Center and It Make$ Cents! actually share an office together, and our supervisor, Amanda has been sort of heading up both departments in the departure of our previous head of the SRC, so I’ve been working for both recently and that’s sort of give me a glimpse into how scholarship applications work, who gets awarded them, and everything, and you be really shocked at how few students at UWL really apply for, you know, the scholarships that they would be likely to win, I suppose, there are just thousands and thousands and thousands of scholarships out there both public and private.

(Tony Beyer)

Absolutely, get those scholarships and definitely save some money, and Bo, I was curious if you had any other resources or things that are on campus that you like to mention in your one-on-one consultations with students.

(Bo Bassindale)

There are a bunch of different resources for students like the food pantry is the one that I like to shout out at La Crosse. That’s because it’s free of charge, any student can be a part of it, and that can really cut back on grocery expenses. Food is a large part of every college student bills are at the end of the day outside of tuition. So, being able to cut back on that expense is definitely a great way to save money as a student.

(Tony Beyer)

In this episode of the Best Life Podcast we spoke with Lyndsey Thomas who is a Financial Resource Coordinator at Western Technical College in La Crosse, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Student Choice Denice Burmeister, and Ryan Sperling and Bo Bassindale who are both financial peer mentors at It Make$ Cents at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

That’s going to do it for this episode of the Best Life Podcast presented by Altra Federal Credit Union. We appreciate you taking a moment to learn how you can live your best life. If you have a question or a topic you’d like us to cover, shoot me an email at: [email protected] and who knows, it may even make it into a future episode. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Best Life Podcast pretty much wherever you get your podcasts or find it on our website at altra.org. Thanks again, be well, and we’ll talk to you again soon.