Tag Archives: Budget Challenge

5.26-blog

Your Teen Wants You to Cosign a Loan—Now What?

Let’s paint a quick picture of the college landscape: there is $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, and, if the current system remains, every graduating class from this point forward will become the most indebted class in history.

That may seem dreary, but it’s important not to paint college affordability with a broad stroke because a picture may still be worth 1,000 words, but a solid financial college plan is worth way more than $1,000.

Part of that plan may include student loans. Before you sign on the dotted line as a cosigner for your teen and send them on their merry way, consider these important facts:

  1. Consider ALL options

Federal loans never need a cosigner and have more favorable terms for students to pay back the money in a fair and timely manner. Look into these types of loans first, along with any and all scholarship or grant opportunities. Only then should you look into private loans, which require a cosigner.

  1. Know the implications of becoming a cosigner

If you’re thinking about making a big purchase like a car or a house, you may want to reconsider your choice to cosign a student loan. Becoming a cosigner makes it more difficult to take out other loans or credit cards. Plus, if you miss any payments, your credit score will suffer. And if you want to get out of the pact, think again. It’s next to impossible to relinquish your responsibility once your teen is 21 years old and your name is still on that paper. In extreme cases, cosigners sometimes remain responsible for payments even if the person who is receiving the loan passes away. That is why many experts recommend a life insurance policy in conjunction with a private student loan.

  1. Be sure your teen is on board with the plan

Every parent will differ in their approach to their teen’s financial contribution. If you expect your teen to contribute, ensure that they can do so responsibly. You can get your teen accustomed to this responsibility by setting up a chores-for-allowance system. A more extreme option is to have your teen sign a document that stipulates they will repay any missed payment and/or fees you cover over the life of the loan. In an ideal world, this will mostly serve as a real-life reminder of the loan and not a first step toward a date in daytime television family court.

  1. Be realistic with the loan

One of five things all students should know about loans is to only take out the amount of money they truly need. The general rule of thumb is to estimate the salary your teen could earn upon graduation and stay below that number. If you learn better through hard figures, The Wall Street Journal reported that between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015, private debt collection companies hired by the Department of Education garnished more than $176 million in wages from defaulted student loan borrowers in order to pay back their debts. You don’t want that for your teen, do you?

After poring over the reality of the situation, you may find it in the best interest of both you and your teen not to cosign a student loan. You may get a cold shoulder or two because of it, but you will be able to say, “I told you so,” when they graduated debt-free.

Spending Your First Bit of Hard-Earned Cash [VIDEO]

Do you remember your first job? Of course you do! But do you remember how you used the money you earned? H&R Block Dollars & Sense asked parents and teens about how much they earned, and if they made smart financial decisions with their earnings. How does your experience compare? Watch the video to hear what people had to say.

Texas High School Senior Surprised With $120,000 H&R Block Budget Challenge Grand Prize Scholarship

On Tues., May 17, 2016, four Clements High School students were recognized for their hard work in the H&R Block Budget Challenge and awarded $20,000 scholarships. But one student had no idea she’d be getting a much bigger check. Watch the video to see how surprised she was!

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Money Savvy Tips for Planning the Ultimate Vacation

How do we love thee, summer? Let us count the ways: warm weather, no school, no homework and vacations!

But before you pack up a suitcase with bathing suits, sandals and sunscreen, consider this: the average vacation expense per person in the United States is $1,145. Sorry to rain on your seasonably warm and sunny parade.

With Memorial Day right around the corner, this is no reason to stay cooped up at home in front of the AC; just an excuse to get creative and frugal with your vacation plans. Follow these savvy tips to plan the ultimate vacation this summer without breaking the bank:

Create an overall vacation budget

A budget is kind of like the Clarendon filter of money management — that is to say it works every time. Check out how much money you have saved and then determine how much of that you are willing to spend. This should without a doubt be your first step, as it will dictate where you can go and for how long.

Create a food budget and stick to it

Yes, another budget. It’s important to consider this separately because it sometimes gets overlooked — and also because food is sort of essential to keep on living. Meals can be the activities in and of themselves when on vacation, and they can also simply be fuel for a larger activity. Decide how many times you want to eat out so you can afford it. The other meals you can pack up and eat while you explore your new surroundings.

Look for alternative accommodations

Hotels aren’t the only place to lay your head at night. See if a distant relative or long-lost friend lives in area you’re visiting. Hostels and rooms on Airbnb also provide much cheaper options. And last but certainly not least, consider the old tent and sleeping bag. Camping out is a fun way to spend a vacation — and it will make your vacation seem like an adventure!

Keep an eye out for deals

If you’re flying, make sure you use all the tools at your disposal to find the cheapest flight. It’s also possible to find package deals or guided tours that combine all the possible expenses of a trip into one fee. It may seem like a large amount of money up front, but it usually ends up being cheaper than paying for everything separately. Plus, it helps you stick to your budget.

Off-the-grid “staycation”

As much as you may want to travel to a distant land or tropical locale, remember that vacations serve as a great way to spend quality time with family and friends. Exploring a new area that’s close by will still be fun with the right people, and it won’t send you into debt until next summer. Take it a step further and go “off the grid,” and try not to check your social media notifications or check email.

So get out there and make your summer frugal and fun! Before you know it, it’ll be fall, and we’ll be packing our backpacks to heading back to school.

5.19 blog

What Do I Need to Know About Credit Reports?

Credit scores, credit reports, credit bureaus — you hear these terms thrown around on TV commercials, but what do they really mean for you?

Think of it like this: your credit score is kind of like a quick snapshot that shows lenders your financial reliability. It affects your ability to get a loan and determines how much you will have to pay to borrow money.

The most reliable and widely used credit score is the FICO® score. It is used by 90 percent of lenders, so this is the credit score you should always look to pull. FICO scores range from 300-850 — the higher the score the better.

Where can you find your credit score?

That’s where the credit report comes in. The Federal Trade Commission allows every person in the United States one free copy of their credit report every 12 months. That includes one report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies — also called credit bureaus — which are Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

What’s the difference between the three bureaus?

Each bureau serves the same function (to keep information about your credit history) but they remain independent of each other, sort of as a way to keep the whole process honest. They generally all have the same info on you but not always. That’s why the individual credit scores can differ from one another. You can pull all three reports at once to get the clearest picture of your overall credit health, or you can stagger them over the course of the year to see how your credit score has fluctuated and keep an eye on accuracy.

Where should I pull my credit report?

The only authorized website where you can obtain your free credit report is annualcreditreport.com. Since you will be providing personal data like your social security number, it’s imperative that you use a trusted site for this service and this resource is recommended straight by the US government.

Keep in mind that you can only pull your credit report if you have accumulated enough information. That means you must have at least one account that’s been opened for a minimum of six months and at least one account that has reported to a credit bureau within that timeframe.

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Scholarship Winner: Joseph Cain

Joseph Cain, a student at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, was determined to win a scholarship through the H&R Block Budget Challenge. He had played last year, but this year Cain made sure he paid his bills, stuck to a budget and took the quizzes. The hard work paid off and this year, he won a $20,000 scholarship!

See what he said he learned from the H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

Do you think your peers are financially literate?

I definitely don’t think they are. I talk to my friends a lot about finances and they recognize they don’t really know a lot. Recently, my friend blew his car transmission and was talking to his dad about how he was going to pay for it; I asked if they had a certain type of insurance to cover it because it would help fix that. Turns out he’d have to pay a lot less if they did have it.

What kind of financial education or background did you have prior to taking the Budget Challenge?

I had a little because I’ve been participating in Ms. Loggie’s LifeSmarts club since I was a freshman. Also, my dad works in the financial industry so he keeps me knowledgeable on the subject.

Do you talk to your parents about money ever?

I do. My dad and I talk about it sometimes if the conversation comes up. My parents are really informative.

What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve gotten from your dad?

He’s taught me that it’s really about trying to stay out of debt, but it’s also about managing the risk and reward when spending your money.

 

What did you think when your teacher introduced the H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation to your club?

Originally last year I thought it was interesting. I didn’t think we had any chance of winning a scholarship or grant this year so I wasn’t excited initially. In the end I’m glad we did it!

What was your motivation for participating in the simulation?

My whole class was actually in it together, helping and motivating each other along the way. It was a team effort.
What was the most important thing you learned from the Budget Challenge?

The most important thing I learned is that there’s going to be a lot of unexpected things that happen to you along the way so it’s important to be prepared for any circumstances.

How did you react when you found out you won a scholarship?

The day before I was in position 30 and so I accepted that it was a bit too far off for me to win. But the next morning Ms. Loggie called me and told me to look at the scores. I was really surprised. I kept checking it for the next couple days because I couldn’t believe it!

What are your plans for after high school?

I’m planning on going to University of Central Florida to study political science and then go to law school after that.

How has winning the scholarship impacted your post-grad plans?

It’s a large sum of money and since I plan on doing extra schooling after I get my bachelor’s degree, it’s really going to help me pay for it.

Do you think the skills you learned in the Budget Challenge will be beneficial to your real life?

Absolutely. The simulation is pretty similar to real life. No matter who you ask, they’ll say it’s pretty accurate and can teach you so many lessons.

What advice do you have to other students who might take the Budget Challenge?

You have to be prepared and just look ahead and figure out when you have to pay certain things so you’re never caught off guard with bills.

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Scholarship Winner: Tuffa Said

Through the H&R Block Budget Challenge learning financial literacy is both fun and applicable to real life! If you don’t believe us, just ask Paxon School for Advanced Studies senior Tuffa Said.

By paying his bills on time and being financially savvy, Said climbed to the top of the ranks in the simulation and won a $20,000 college scholarship. He is also part of the Life Smarts club coached by Ms. Kathryn Loggie, which won a $5,000 classroom grant.

Read below to learn more about his experience.

Did you have any knowledge about managing money before participating in the Budget Challenge?

I had a very small amount of financial knowledge before the Budget Challenge. I mostly learned what I knew from the Life Smarts club and my teacher Ms. Loggie.

Do you ever talk to your parents about money? If so, what kind of things do you talk about?

I’ve started to do it more recently. Since I’m going to the university, we talk about tax returns, what forms are required and how to fill out the FAFSA correctly.

Was this your first year participating in the Budget Challenge?

No, I participated last year as well. This year I made sure I paid my auto insurance!

When you started the simulation, did you think you would win?

At first I was really determined to win. Then, in the middle I realized that the bills were starting to appear and that kind of threw me of. I really couldn’t believe it when I saw that I was winning toward the end of the simulation!

What would you say was the biggest thing you learned by participating in the Budget Challenge?

To pay my auto insurance on time! But fortunately, I don’t pay auto insurance in real life, my parents pay it for me.

How have you taken the financial skills you learned and applied them to your real life?

I’ve encouraged my parents to pay their bills on time! It also helped to ensure that I don’t go into credit card debt.

Where do you plan on continuing your education?

I plan on going to the University of North Florida to study electrical engineering.

How has the scholarship changed your financial outlook when it comes to college?

The scholarship will help me focus on my schoolwork rather than having to worry about how I’m going to pay for school.

Now that you’re a financial whiz, do you plan on passing along your wisdom to your friends?

No! I want to keep it all to myself (laughs).

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Classroom Grant Winner: Ms. Kathryn Loggie

Teachers often work double-duty to make sure teens are well-equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed. One example is Paxon School for Advanced Studies teacher Kathryn Loggie.

In addition to teaching grades 9-12 journalism and computer science, Loggie is the supervisor for an after school club called LifeSmarts, where students learn about life skills, including finance. It was in this class that Loggie introduced her students to the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Because of her efforts three students walked away with $20,000 scholarships and Loggie won a classroom grant! See what she had to say about the program.

Do you think the students in your community are well-versed in money management?

Definitely not. Teens today need to know about credit, credit cards and how easy it is to get into debt. Students preparing for college need to know about student loans, how they’re going to pay them back, and the implications of not paying them back.

How did you find out about the H&R Block Budget Challenge?

I got an email last year about it that sounded intriguing. Finance is a subject we’ve been covering in the LifeSmarts club for a number of years. We thought we’d give it a try and we did OK the first year. I was disappointed none of my students last year won scholarships, but we made up for it this year!

How did your students enjoy the simulation?

They really enjoyed it. They liked having that persona in the simulation where they had to guess what they were going to do and spend their money on. A lot of students would say, “Can you believe my person spent that much on entertainment?!”

Have you found that your students have more financial-related conversations after taking the Budget Challenge?

Absolutely. The students can conduct an intelligent conversation on personal finance with anyone now. Sometimes we have guest speakers come in and I tell them that the students really understand it at a high level and don’t need to talk down to them.

As a teacher, what did you enjoy about the simulation?

The quizzes were great. Some of them were very difficult, but we worked through the quizzes and the students really learned from them.

How did you react when you found out your class had multiple winners?

I had students who participated both years, but as far as getting to the top, I don’t know if we even thought that was possible given the number of students who participated in the Budget Challenge. We were so pleasantly surprised when we had three individual scholarship winners!

Would you recommend the Budget Challenge to other teachers? Why?

Just look at the benefits in terms of the scholarships and grant money—that alone is enough to participate. We’ve gotten a lot of publicity at the district level about this too. I’ve even gotten emails from parents asking how they can get their son or daughter involved. It’s well worthwhile!

What do you plan to use the grant money on?

I would like to take the students on field trips, like to the Jacksonville branch of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. I’ll probably also use it to buy additional resource materials for the students.

5.5blog

4 Things Teens Absolutely Must Know Before Taking Out a Student Loan

A college degree today is equivalent to a high school diploma 50 years ago. That is to say it’s an expected, if not necessary, level of education needed in order to secure a job in a number of professional fields.

The one major difference between high school and college is, of course, price. But given the importance placed on higher education, many families will do whatever it takes financially to ensure their child can earn that degree.

For most, that means taking out student loans. Before you and your teen go down that road, you should both be aware of the implications going forward.

These are four things you and your teens absolutely must know before taking out a student loan:

  1. Almost 71 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients will graduate with a student loan.

As a parent, you might think loans aren’t necessary since they weren’t when you were looking into college. According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal article, your memory doesn’t deceive you — less than half of students graduated with student loans two decades ago and about 64 percent did 10 years ago. These days, however, roughly 3 out of 4 students will need to borrow money to graduate.

  1. The average 2015 college graduate with student loan debt will have to pay back a little more that $35,000.

If your teen is one of those three students who will take out a loan, they can expect to be saddled with $35,000 upon graduating. That amount is more than double what borrowers had to pay back two decades ago, even after adjusting for inflation. So not only are more students taking out loans, they’re also paying more in loans.

  1. Only borrow what you need.

It’s generally thought the biggest loan you can get is the best. This is not true. A loan should strictly serve to cover the cost of college — this includes spending costs in addition to the basic costs of education, room and board. When taking out a loan, look at what the averages are and then apply yourself and your situation against those. This is one of several tips you should consider during the process.

  1. Know what types of loans are out there

When applying for financial aid, loans are normally included in the school’s offer. Some student loans are made through the federal government, while others come from private sources like banks for financial institutions. Generally speaking, federal loans offer borrowers more ways to pay the money back along with a lower interest rate.

Make sure your teen has a basic idea of what they’d like to study and what they hope to achieve while in college. They can figure it out while already there, but that’s a costly deliberation period. Getting some real world experience first either through a job, volunteering, or even traveling can help hone their interests and formulate a plan for a worthwhile college experience.

Remember to remind your teen to speak to someone in his or her desired college’s financial aid office. They’re there as resources to help you!

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To Financial Literacy And Beyond: Recognizing The Great Work Of Budget Challenge Educators

(This post was originally posted on Block Talk.)

“A teacher affects eternity…” said American historian Henry Adams. Those true words ring especially sweet today, as the United States marks its national Teacher Appreciation Day.

Although we celebrate and value our teachers throughout the year, this is an especially important time to recognize their hard work. In the White House’s 2015 proclamation for the day, it issued a statement saying teachers “…teach the subjects and skills that will fuel the next century of growth and innovation, as well as the virtues and values … that will prepare their students to take on the challenges of the future.”

These are all reasons why H&R Block’s Dollars and Sense financial education program has partnered with high school teachers to deliver Budget Challenge to students across the country. We know teachers have a lasting impact on their students individually and on society as a whole. What subject is more important in that regard than personal finance? Some students may not have to write memos as part of their future jobs; some may never use geometry again. But they all will need to manage personal and household finances in order to be successful.

According to the H&R Block Dollars and Sense team, only seven states require high school students to be tested on personal finance. Our Budget Challenge program helps fill that curriculum gap and teaches teens how to manage their money in the real world.

Plus, there are monetary incentives. Students can win $20,000 scholarships (and $100,000 for the overall annual winner), and teachers can get $5,000 classroom grants. But the education still trumps the money for these dedicated teachers.

Deane-Western-BLOG“You win so much more than $20,000 by participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge. You learn the skills and education you need,” said Deane Western, economics and government teacher at the State College of Florida Collegiate School.

For Greg Eppes, teacher at Clements High School, the competitive element was just as rewarding as any monetary award.

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“Those few days of having the kids up at the top of the ranking were amazing. I pushed them and encouraged them and every night I would wake up and log on to check the scores to see how they were doing. That was my reward, just seeing them doing well,” he said.

And for Sherry Brown at Guntersville High School (pictured at the top of the post), the knowledge of giving her students a better future fueled her participating with Budget Challenge.

“Forty percent of the students in Guntersville schools qualify for free and reduced lunch based off of their household’s income. There are a large amount of students whose living conditions are less than average,” she said. “Anything I can do to help better these students to get out their current conditions is always a goal of mine.”

These are just a few of the fantastic teachers we are privileged to partner with at H&R Block. They are all dedicated to furthering their students’ personal financial education. They are all making a difference on these children for an eternity. We hope you – and all hardworking teachers – feel appreciated on this day, and every day. We certainly know we couldn’t be as effective teaching financial literacy without you.