Post Academic

Brace Yourself for Student Loan and Pell Grant Changes

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 18, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionBoy, oh boy, I hope this kind of nightmare does not come to pass, but the powers-that-be are suggesting making a 15% cut in Pell Grants. That may not sound like much, but a grant is money that doesn’t have to be paid back, and Pell Grants are often lifesavers for those who want to attend college or grad school and can’t afford it.

If this upsets you–and it should–then I recommend calling your friendly neighborhood representative or senator. There is no telling where this could go, but either way, it means that you might be taking out more loans to cover what the grant money used to. Even if you have a good aid package now, remember that you have to reapply every year, and the package will vary depending on the whims of the government.

As always, this post does not intend to discourage anyone from attending graduate school and following a dream. Just a) make sure is is really what you want before you take on student loans and b) prepare to get by on very little when you are a grad student. Take a look at the Wild World of Student Loans for the details.

That’s your student loans coming to get you. Cover of the pulp magazine Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (October 1932) featuring “The Hunters from Beyond” by Clark Ashton Smith, published by William Clayton. Image Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Just How Far Will Banks Go to Collect Student Loan Debt?

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 12, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionRemember how I said that it is almost impossible to escape a student loan debt, not even through bankruptcy? A recent news story served as a reminder that banks will go after that money by any means necessary, no matter how vulgar their behavior may be.

Consumerist shared a story about a young woman who passed away from a rare form of cancer and left her student loan debt behind. According to the rules, no one else is responsible for her debt as long as no one else cosigned the loan. No one else did. So, when she passed away, the banks couldn’t go after anyone else for the money. This woman followed the student-loan rules and did not ask her parents to co-sign, so they didn’t have to pay her debts.

But did that stop Wells Fargo from going after her parents for money they didn’t owe? Nope.*

This isn’t a message to avoid Wells Fargo or one specific bank in particular. The name of the bank doesn’t really matter. What matters is that student loans are serious business. This young woman did everything right and had her loans in her name–yet one of the banks still made trouble. Whenever you take on a student loan, know the rules, and let your family know about your financial situation so they are prepared no matter what happens.

*After a local news story and some richly deserved public shaming, Wells Fargo backed it up. When in doubt, call “Seven on Your Side” or your local equivalent. It appears to be almost as effective as calling a lawyer.

Image of $620 in 31 twenty-dollar bills by Merzperson from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Wild World of Student Loans: What to Do If You’re in Trouble

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 4, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWarnings about student loans mean nothing if you’re drowning in debt. Anyone at that point shouldn’t be fretting about how they got there. The dream of education is sold harder than a Ronco product, and a bunch of people spent a lot of money for an education that isn’t paying off. What’s important is figuring out

Talk to your lender before you default. By talking to your lender, you might be able to create a payment plan or find a compromise that will keep your loan from defaulting. Once you default, there’s no going back. A deferment might give you some breathing room, but don’t forget that, depending on your situation, the interest will keep on growing.

Do your best to avoid default. If you stop paying, you won’t get to know the lender. You’ll get to know the debt collector, and you’ll face wage garnishment, not to mention a host of other unpleasantries, such as constant phone calls asking you why you haven’t paid up.

More after the jump! William Hogarth: A Rake’s Progress, Plate 4: Arrested For Debt. From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Wild World of Student Loans: Knowing How Much You’ll Need

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 2, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen you receive your financial aid package, you might not be able to determine whether or not it will be enough. So many factors are involved, with cost of living being at the top of the list. Before you sign on the dotted line, you must be sure that you can live on a low, low salary for a long, long time:

Have a rough idea of your budget first. Eh. Why lie? No one ever really sticks to your budget, but you should take a look at your bank statements to find out where your money goes and how much money leaves per month.

Cut out the fun stuff. Hey, you wanted the life of the mind, right? The life of the mind comes with used clothes and the dollar-value menu. Unless …

Get a roommate. I knew very few people who managed to live alone during grad school. Nearly everyone had a roommate. My roommate and I agreed to split utilities and had enough left over for basic cable.

More after the jump! Image of a storefront by Kenneth Allen from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The Wild World of Student Loans: Before You Take the Loan

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on January 31, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionAround this time, some of you might be receiving letters of acceptance from grad programs. If you made it in, congratulations! Pop out some cheap bubbly. Then, when you’re done imbibing, start thinking about borrowing some money so you can stay clothed and fed while pursuing your dream.

Unfortunately, the same student loans that seem like a godsend one moment can turn into concrete boots the next. You do not want to be the grad student trying to pay off ridiculous loans when some academic jobs have a starting salary of … wait for it … $28,000. These tips might keep you from feeling trapped in a Dickensian debtor’s prison:

The Big Rule: Don’t go if you aren’t paid for it … at least partially. There’s no reason to get in the way of anyone’s dream, but the school you attend should give you an incentive for working for them. They need to provide a fellowship or a TA-ship. Take moving expenses and cost of living into account as well.

More after the jump! Barney’s Loans sign in Seattle taken by Joe Mabel from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

How to Avoid Student Loan Debt

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you insist on taking out a loan for graduate school, remember …

Don’t do it. That’s the easiest way for potential grad students to avoid student loan debt.

But who are we to get in the way of a career dream? So, if you insist …

Don’t take out anything more than you think you can make in the first year. Assume that you’ll be employed at a state school, not at a private school. Visit sites that list the salaries of state employees, and look up the salaries of people you know are assistant professors in your field. (It’s a lot more polite than asking people what they make.) Type in “state employees salary database” in Google and see what comes up. Many newspapers keep a database for muckraking purposes. If you’re in California, start here:

Get federal loans at a fixed rate. Perkins or Stafford loans, for example, come from the government, and they have a fixed rate. You don’t want to get a private loan with a variable rate. That variable rate might seem low when you first get the loan, but it can go up based on market whimsy, and the market has been unusually whimsical as of late. At least with a fixed rate, you will have an easier time setting a budget.

More after the jump! Cover of Bleak House from Wikimedia Commons. (more…)

Lawyers, Grad Students, and Money

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn the past, law students could shoulder massive amounts of debt because they could be fairly confident of getting a job. Now they are facing a situation that should be eerily familiar to Post Academic readers: Firms aren’t hiring the way they used to, and that student loan debt isn’t going anywhere.

Above the Law sums up the anger at the situation: “But do you know what the real bitch of it is? If it turns out you made a terrible investment by going to law school, it’s impossible for you to get out from under your mistakes. You can’t discharge law school debt through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship.”

You sure can’t. But, chin up, o lawyer friends. Post Academic can help you look on the bright side! You still have it better than grad students! Here’s how:

Going to a big-name school can still help you. In academia, there are so few jobs that an Ivy League PhD can only get you so far. In fact, it might not get you far at all. A JD from an Ivy or otherwise big-time school still means you’re hot stuff, however, or at least you’re well-connected.* Even if you don’t have a JD from a top-tier school, you have a better shot at a job than your peers in the humanities.

More reasons for lawyers to feel a little better after the jump! Image of The Illustrated London News – Tichborne Case (1874) from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Last week on Post Academic (3/28-4/3)

Posted in Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on April 4, 2010
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Happy Easter!  If it’s as nice outside where you are as it is here in So Cal, you and your Peeps probably aren’t at your computer to read this.  But whether you’re brand new to the blog or haven’t been back in a while, here are some posts that might have been lost in the shuffle or cycled off the front page.

* We really explored the money side of academia and post-academia this past week.  Caroline warns about accruing too much in the way of student loans while you’re in grad school.  See if you can afford ’em by figuring out how much you’d make as a professor (or not) by checking out the salary comparison sites we’ve compiled here and here.

* And if you can’t afford the loans, Caroline suggests, with tongue-kinda-planted-in-cheek, that you might try out for The Apprentice.

* Arnold obsesses over what might be the vestiges of his career as an academic, psychoanalyzing his CV and mourning his account–which, by the way, still lives!

“Pink Marshmallow Peeps” by Jon Sullivan from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

News maybe you can use: Student loan reform

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 30, 2010
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Caroline’s post yesterday about student loans was a particularly timely one, in light of today’s ceremonial signing of student loan reform into law by the Prez at Northern Virginia Community College.  Largely overshadowed by the monumental health care reform bill/law that it is attached to, student loan reform is one of the those things pretty much everyone agrees with.  Even more obscured is how the new law, which, as the AP explains it, “strips banks of their role as middlemen in federal student loans and puts the government in charge,” might impact graduate students, since the focus, rightfully enough, will be on how to get students into undergraduate programs and community colleges.  Searching briefly online, I found one impact that the law will have on graduate student loans, via tax credits.  Per the Washington Post: “In addition to increasing Pell grants, the administration has expanded tax credits for higher education, and is increasing funding for programs to help colleges retain and graduate students.”

If anyone knows how and when student loan reform will affect graduate students, please feel free to drop us a line or post a message in the comments section.  Thanks!

The Grad Student Loan Trap

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on March 29, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that people are getting into grad programs, they are wondering how to pay for it. Some schools are generous and offer fellowships or TA-ships. However, that might not cover everything, and you may need to get a loan. These tips can help you avoid winding up in debtor’s hell:

1. Set a budget to find out what you really need. What you need will depend on where you live. If your dream grad program is in New York City, your living expenses will skyrocket. Don’t forget to factor in moving costs and the fact that you may not be employed in the summers.

2. Turn to the school and the government first. Did you fill out a FAFSA? Good. You should receive information soon on how much the school can give you and if you are eligible for government loans, like Stafford or PLUS loans, that offer fixed rates.

3. Steer clear of private loans. This is your dream and you can’t turn it down. Okay. But you should still beware of private loans. Haven’t you read Dickens? If you don’t have time to read Dickens, read this article from Kiplinger, which describes how students get hooked by a teaser loan rate that can balloon later on.

More after the jump!