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College In Your Future? Look to Your Credit Union to Start Planning

College In Your Future?  Look to Your Credit Union to Start Planning By Cyndi Cohen
Published August 24, 2011
Credit Unions Online
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If you are a high school student or graduate who wants to attend college, it is never too early or too late to begin planning. Higher education provides endless opportunities and choices in terms of jobs, careers, and advanced graduate studies. It gives you the knowledge, tools, and means to improve your lifestyle, reach your financial goals and pursue your dreams. If you are a credit union member, you're already ahead of the game in terms of planning and financing education beyond high school. Many credit unions offer substantial student resources comprised of any combination of scholarships, student loans, and student credit cards. Once you've made the decision to attend college, your first step may be to evaluate your interests and perhaps determine the area of study and/or career that you might like to pursue. By obtaining advice from your high school guidance counselor, your parents, and doing some online research, you can figure out how to best prepare for college in terms of classes and standardized tests, what type of school you'd like to attend, and whether you'd prefer to live on-campus or commute. Some helpful websites to check out include www.collegeprep101.com and www.getreadyforcollege.org. The next major step is to think about how your education will be funded. According to www.collegeboard.com, the average costs to attend college are:
  • Public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,990.
  • Private nonprofit four-year colleges charge, on average, $27,293 per year in tuition and fees. Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,713 per year in tuition and fees.
Although these numbers may seem daunting at the onset, there are now many options for higher education as well as many funding solutions. The key is to do your research and have a steadfast plan in place. You and your parents may have already started a college fund. However, every little bit helps and scholarships based on academic achievement are open to all students, so start applying! According to Randi Marmer, AVP, Community Relations at TruMark Financial Credit Union (Trevose, PA), the credit union partners with local schools through the credit union's financial literacy program, offering scholarships via its Financial Jeopardy Game. "The Financial Jeopardy Game, a spin-off of the long-running nightly quiz show that airs on 6ABC in Philadelphia, tests students' knowledge in subjects relating to personal finance," explains Marmer. The competition features an Elimination Round, and rounds of Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, and Final Jeopardy. The Financial Jeopardy Game gives schools the opportunity to showcase an exceptional senior from their school and give him/her a chance to win a scholarship. Students are required to take a preliminary personal finance exam written by the credit union and administered by the schools. "The top three students compete for a Grand Prize of $5,000, a Second Prize of $2,000, and a Third Prize of $1,000. All students receive a monetary award, regardless of their final standing," says Marmer. Laura Richard, Marketing Manager at Central Florida Educators (CFE) Federal Credit Union (Lake Mary, FL) says her credit union places great value on its young members. "CFE feels a strong sense of responsibility to educate youth about financial management so they can experience a financially successful future," she says. CFE has created a Student Center on their website (mycfe.com/student), geared directly toward students, with content written on their level. In the Student Center, members find account information, fun money facts, and financial resources. Financial literacy presentations are one of the other ways CFE gets involved with the school districts. Every year CFE representatives visit classrooms to discuss the value of saving and the importance of managing money. According to Richard, during the 2010 - 2011 school year, CFE representatives made 183 classroom visits, reaching over 4,000 students. In addition, each year CFE awards six scholarships worth a total of $4,000 per recipient. The scholarship winner is paid $1000 per year, renewable for four consecutive years. Scholarship winners are selected randomly in a drawing, with one winner per each of the four counties in CFE's field of membership, and two winners chosen from the membership at large, explains Richard. Although scholarships are the ultimate form of college funding because they don't have to be paid back, Student Loans are also an affordable option and help make it possible for countless students to attend college. According to Lisa Albany, Chief Lending Officer at TruMark Financial Credit Union, they offer the Credit Union Student Choice Program. "This program was created with one goal in mind - helping finance a higher education without a higher price tag." She explains that this private student loan solution helps fill the gap federal funding can leave behind. Other advantages include:
  • Offers zero origination fees and lower rates than many other lenders
  • Allows for fully deferred payment while in school (optional)
  • Gives the student a full Line-of-Credit (LOC) which can be used over multiple years. One application qualifies students for a LOC for the remainder of their undergraduate career (up to $75,000).* Students determine how much of the eligible LOC amount the credit union should send to the school during disbursement periods
  • Offers flexible repayment options resulting in lower initial payments after graduation
  • Gives students the chance to reduce your interest rate by 0.25% during full repayment when they enroll in automatic payment
  • Gives student a lender relationship they can trust - as the loan will be granted and held by not-for-profit credit union.
Albany stresses, "By choosing your credit union's program over other alternative lenders, you'll enjoy significant cost-savings and consumer-friendly terms." Likewise, CFE recently introduced a student loan referral service through Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan(R), explains Richard. The Smart Option Student Loan features:
  • Rates that reward creditworthy borrowers, with option to apply with a creditworthy cosigner
  • Ability to borrow up to 100% of school certified education costs. (minimum $1,000)
  • Flexible repayment options, and no prepayment penalties
  • Quick and easy online application with 24/7 online account management
In addition to scholarships and loans, many credit unions offer Student Credit Cards with special features and rates. This type of card can help with additional college costs including room and board, food, getting your dorm ready, books and supplies, transportation, etc. For many young people, this may be their first credit card which will help toward building credit. TruMark Financial Credit Union offers VISA cards unsecured or secured by savings accounts for students. If the student does not have income to support debt, they offer the secured VISA which is attached to a savings account. If you are a young person getting ready to plan for college or the parent of a student, why not check out your credit union's website for Student Resources? You may be pleasantly surprised to find a helpful partner whose focus is your financial independence and future success!

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