College Planning Blog
College Admissions, College Planning and College Funding Advice

5 Facts to Know Before Submitting Financial Aid

EVERYONE should file a FAFSA but not everyone should file the CSS Profile.  One of the biggest mistakes is assuming you make too much money to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Whether your child is getting ready for the first year of college or the last year at high school, this is an important time for you. While your child focuses on studying, you have to worry about paying the college bills.

And applying for aid isn’t easy.  In addition to keeping an eye on your child’s grades and exam results, your family will also need to review all of your tax and financial assets to ensure that you can afford the fees that the college demands.

Here are the five most important facts about financial aid:



How Divorced Parents Plan For College











There is so much misinformation about how divorced parents plan for college. Coupled with the emotions and stress you may feel about sending your children to college, it is no surprise many families make big mistakes.

As a child of divorce, I can tell you there are many worries going through your child’s mind. They fear that college will be another dividing issue. The last thing you want is to reopen their wounds or reinforce any thoughts that they were the reason for the split. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that young minds are still struggling with the family situation.

However, this is a great time to eliminate some scars from the past and help your child move on.

Here are some basic steps and pitfalls to help make a hard time happy.



Your 6 Step College Plan

The college plan is a very important process to lay out in detail. Sometimes, families can feel overwhelmed or stressed out by all the information, the forms, the applications, the deadlines, and the requirements. Now, if your child is already in their senior year of high school and hasn’t started on their college plan…well, let’s just say it’ll probably spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

So, how can you and your family get on the right track before trouble hits? Our team has 6 steps to help you get organized and get those documents submitted. Is your child plans to go to college in the next two years? Then this is the time to pull out all the stops.



The 5 Top Considerations for Early Decision and Early Action Success

ED vs EA












College applications can be a frenzied process. Parents are worried about their student’s future. Students are worried about hearing back from that dream school. Those of you with a student who is already set on a particular school may have come across the terms ‘early action’ or ‘early decision’. These terms are deceivingly similar. But, there is a huge difference in each. It is very important that families know what kind of contract they are signing when considering these application tactics. This will literally define your student’s future.

To compound this confusing problem, many families forget to ask their college planner about the benefits and limitations of these application tools. In this post, we cover two core components of the Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) process. Understanding these two terms is critical for your planning strategies. Specifically, utilizing financial positioning and a college’s acceptance rates.

Financial Positioning

You must know your financial position before beginning the college application process. This is even more important as you review using EA or ED. By knowing your financial position beforehand, you are able to accurately estimate a potential aid offer. Combining that with the higher acceptance rates usually produced by the EA / ED strategy can create an admissions win for the family. The pitfall of this strategy comes without a proper plan. If your family does not do their homework, then committing to a school too soon can be a disaster. You must know what kind of aid you can get, how your financial package will look, and if your family can really afford this school. All of this before earlier application deadlines. Sounds a little scary, right? Let’s break down the terms so you have a better idea of what your student will be getting into.

Early Decision Applications

ED programs are usually binding. This means applicants commit that they will attend that school if accepted. One advantage is applying to a highly-selective school that admits 26 to 50 percent of students from the early admissions pool. This can be a great technique for a student with a dream school and an application that may be overlooked in a larger pool.



How much does college cost?

College Costs are high

Many people ask me: “How much does college cost?”

Before providing a number, I am reminded of the families who have saved thousands using the college success plan and those whom called years later wishing they had followed the path’s outlines.  Now, how I answer that question will impact the colleges they select and potentially the happiness of their child for the rest of their lives.

See, if I tell them the average private school’s cost of attendance (COA) is $42,000+ annually, they might dismiss all private schools as too expensive. The same would happen if I told them that the average out of state public school cost is $32,500, they might think “I can only afford to stay in Georgia.”

What people need to ask is: “how do I save save and have a successful outcome?” (more…)


Free Money for College












Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to more than 200 families on college financial aid at the AtlantaCares STEM event at Georgia Tech.

The last person scheduled, I had to follow a speaker that literally was a mix of Tony Robbins, Steve Harvey and Tyler Perry – he even had interactive props!  What can be learned is this…great information needs no props.  Our topic:  Free Money for College.

Understanding the three-legged stool of college planning can help your family save time, save money and most importantly be successful.  The core of the college success plan centers around helping you find the best college fit.  Following this recipe, your student should receive plenty of free money. (more…)


5 Components of a College Funding Plan


Spring brings warm weather, flowers, as well as the potential for “emotional showers” as many families are racking their brains to figure out how they will pay for their child’s college tuition.  The best solution is understanding the 5 components of a college funding plan.

Are you in planning mode or paying mode?

To build a smart college funding plan, you should begin the planning process before selecting schools. Given the average cost of a public college is $25,673 and $54,298 for private, families need to understand the varying costs before sending in applications. Many people do not take the time to educate themselves about the price, and do not realize how expensive college is until they are hit with the first bill.

In their defense, no one forecasted the cost of college would increase by 510% over the last 10 years, so people shouldn’t feel bad. Families need to learn the art of planning and the proper strategies to pay the bill down to the last dollar for all four years.

We plan in the Fall and build the plan to pay in the Spring

The most common question about paying the bill revolves around a financial product (the 529 account) and not about financial strategies. The financial services industry has done a great job into convincing us into thinking a product is a solution. But is the 529 the best tool to pay the bill?

As someone who has witnessed the evolution of the 529 account, I cannot recommend using it 100 percent of the time. Like any financial product, there are benefits and limitations to its use. It is not a perfect tool for everyone.

Most people view the 529 account as a college funding strategy, but it is simply a financial product with benefits and limitations. I’ve seen the first hand impacts of said limitations in the form of higher costs for tuition.

Many families, college counselors and financial advisors need to be educated on the 12 to 15 strategies used to fund college.  The financial services industry has been trained that a 529 is the best and only tool for college funding, but it is not a one size fits all decision.

Anyone who tells you a 529 account is bad – or great – isn’t providing the full story.

At the very least, they do not fully understand on how to save on the cost of college, financial planning for college or financial aid.

You see, a 529 plan can be a great tool based on a family’s overall college funding strategy. In fact, I opened up a 529 account a few weeks ago when my second son was born. On the other hand, a 529 may be something that could negatively impact your ability to receive and maximize aid.  Additionally, it can create unintended tax consequences when overfunding or provided with large scholarships.

Rather than focus on a financial product, families should look at five core components before discussing and implementing strategies with financial tools. It is critical to understand how these components can help lower costs and give you peace of mind.

The five core components of a great college funding plan:

  • Resource identification

    • What funds are available to pay the college bill?
    • Are there additional funds I can access (loans, scholarships, tax credits)?
    • How do these resources impact my ability to receive merit money and/or financial aid?
    • Do I have a four-year funding plan that accounts for every dollar of the college costs?
  • Timing

    • Depending on resources, are they keeping up with college inflation?
    • When is the best time to use these funds? Certain accounts, scholarships and loans are better used at different times.
    • What is the impact on my ability to receive merit money and financial aid in the future?
  • Accountability

    • Does my student have “skin in the game” or do they expect me (the parent) to pay for college?
    • Does my student understand the cost of attending college or university?
  • Funding

    • Analyze the four-year costs of each college my student is applying to in the fall and compare them.
    • Have you mapped out your actual four-year blueprint with which funds, tax scholarships and resources you will use?
    • Did you stress test my current plans?
    • Is my allocation right given market conditions and my student’s college time horizon
    • Will we use loans?  What are our best borrowing options?
  • Tax Planning

    • Am I eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit? If yes, how do I maximize it?
    • Am I getting tax planning or really just tax prep? If no  – you might be missing tax scholarship opportunities.
    • If I am a business owner, can I hire my student and make them tax independent (not college student independent)?
    • Do I understand the 2018 taxes changes and how we might benefit?

Focusing on these categories should be the starting point of your college funding plan. Once understood, you can move on to building strategies that will lower the overall cost and/or provide the best plan to fund the college bills.

So what should you do now?

If you want ideas on funding college or planning for the price of college, please feel free to Schedule a Free 30 Minute Call or download our complimentary guide: A New Approach to Paying for College.


How Schools Calculate Financial Aid

How do schools calculate financial aid?

For nearly a decade, on of the most popular questions we receive most often is: “Why didn’t this school give my child more money?

It’s frustrating that schools do not have a uniform financial offer document that outlines how a school decided on your aid offer and you are left on your own to decode your award.

Hopefully, this post will provide some insight into how schools calculate your financial aid.

First, it all starts when you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and/or CSS Profile form.  Each school then uses your FAFSA/CSS Profile information to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive at that school.

Each school has its own schedule for awarding financial aid and you will want to check with each school to find out when you can expect to receive an aid offer. 

Financial aid offers are based on three factors:

1. Enrollment Status (full-time, half-time, less than half-time, etc.)

Your enrollment status will impact the amount and types of aid you qualify for. For example, Direct Loans are available only to students enrolled at least half-time, and Federal Pell Grant amounts are partially determined by your enrollment status.

2. Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA = sticker price.  Your COA is the estimated amount of money it will cost to go to a particular school for that year. This figure is determined by your school and should be available on the school’s website. Your COA estimate includes

  • tuition and fees,
  • room and board,
  • books, supplies, living expenses, transportation, loan fees, and more.

Find more details about what’s included in cost of attendance.

Keep in mind that your COA will be different at each school since most schools have different cost structures.

3. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The information you provide on the FAFSA/CSS  is used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a guidepost schools use to figure out how much aid to give a family.  This number is not necessarily the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. Many families pay more than their EFC because they miss some key steps in the college admissions and college funding process.

The EFC is calculated using a formula established by law or by the institution. There are several methods (three to be exact) used for calculating your EFC and it is important to know which methodology a schools uses.

There are key differences between the federal, institutional and consensus methodologies which are important to understand if you are looking at strategies to increase your aid. 

The formulas can be difficult to understand; just know that many factors are taken into account—not just income. If you have questions about your EFC, contact the financial aid office at your school or please feel free to schedule a free 30 minute call with someone on our team.

Schools then use this formula to determine your financial need:

Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC)  = Financial Need

Once each school has determined your financial need, you will receive aid offers from the schools you’ve been accepted to. Remember that all of your aid offers will be different. Each school has a different ability to meet your financial need—it all depends on the funds available at each school.  Many times your first offer is not the best offer since there are other factors outside the formula that go into a schools decision making process.

You should compare all your offers and have your advisor help you evaluate if they are good or could be better. Many times a family is in a position to “appeal” an award based on their situation.

Don’t leave money on the table or overpay on college.  If you have any questions, please feel free to schedule a free 30 minute call.


The Importance of Course Selection When Applying to College

Today, your children face more course options in high school than a family ordering dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. When the majority of us attended high school, we had fewer selections and our path was pretty much selected for us.

Times have changed! Your course selection may now make or break your admission chances and if done properly it could reduce your costs. So, what do you need to know?

The most important thing:

Your son or daughter’s academic pace and maturity level are personal choices. Some students are compelled to run forward and others create a pace that is right for them. Always embrace your child’s needs first and remember college is all about fit for your student and pocketbook.

Course rigor…Fit, Fit, Fit

Make sure your student takes classes that fit their abilities. Courses should be challenging without being overwhelming.

Your son or daughter may argue for the easiest path, so they receive higher grades, but this may backfire during the college admissionsions process.  Students assume colleges do not know what a school offers but high school counselors typically submit a school report to colleges with a student’s transcript. This report usually lists classes that the high school offers and their difficulty level.

Make sure they are being challenged!

Honors Classes

Honors classes may be offered by the high school (often in 9th and 10th grades) to provide more challenge and in-depth examination of a topic. Honors coursework is not standardized and can vary immensely from school to school. Students should only take an honors class in a subject they are prepared for and/or are extremely motivated to do well in.

  • Challenges a student who may become bored in the standard class in an area in which they already excel.
  • Shows the college that a student is striving for harder classes.
  • Can be a substitute for a student that may not be ready for an AP class and wants to demonstrate rigor.
  • Colleges do not reward honors courses with earned credit, so no potential to save on college.
  • Their GPA will suffer if they get a low grade because they were not prepared. Honors courses may not be weighted like AP courses. So, a “C” will be 2 points (on a 4-point scale) and will negatively affect their GPA. A “C” in an AP class will earn 3 points—the same as a “B” in a standard class.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP courses were created by the College Board, and are offered by your high school as an approximate “college level” course. They are taught at a faster pace (more like college), and students need to be academically ready for the rigor and faster pace. Every AP course culminates in an optional fee-based final exam that’s graded on a score of 1 to 5.

  • Admission officials like to see AP courses especially at selective colleges.
  • Achieving a high exam grade (3, 4, or 5) may exempt you from taking the entry level class in that topic in college. For example, achieving a 5 in AP Psychology could equal four semesters of college Psychology 101. This can provide a student with the ability to accelerate their learning, saving money with fewer requirements to graduate.
  • AP courses may help students prepare for the rigor of college classes.
  • AP courses are often weighted by the high school when calculating a student’s GPA. Instead of earning 4 points for an A, an AP student would earn 5 points on a 4-point scale.  Many in-state scholarship programs calculate GPA by removing the AP scale so understand how a in-state program weights GPA.
  • Any potential for use of the course in college is dependent on the exam! If a student is not a good test taker, sick, or not well-prepared by their teacher, scoring a 3, 4, or 5 will be a challenge.
  • Do not assume every college accepts AP coursework for earned credit. Some may only if the exam score was a 4 or 5. Taking the AP classes may help a student get in, but they may not apply the credit. Check with a school before applying.
  • Many parents force students into AP courses hoping it will help their admissions chance.  Know your student and only take APs when a student is ready.

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) program was created as an advanced educational option for students. The IB Diploma is earned by following a specific series of courses in every subject during 11th and 12th grades. Exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 being the highest. Students can take coursework on the diploma path or just individual IB classes.

  • Colleges reward college credit for higher level IB courses where a student achieved a certain grade level. Here is an example from University of Georgia.
  • The “international” nature of the diploma encourages a global outlook
  • High school grades are typically weighted when calculating the GPA.
  • The most competitive universities will expect high scores across all six subjects (english, math, science, language, the arts, and humanities). Students must perform well in all of them.

College Coursework

Dual enrollment is gaining in popularity given potential earn transcripted college credit at their local universities. Some high schools are also offering these college courses within the walls of the high school as well.

  • Students may get to experience the wider spectrum of college classes available.
  • It gives students the real experience with what a college class is like.
  • College credit can be earned without having to rely on a final exam grade.
  • Colleges reviewing a student’s application will note the more challenging rigor demonstrated.
  • Some students find the pace of a college class easier than the accelerated pace of an AP course.
  • Not every college accepts transferred credits. Be sure to seek out those colleges that do in your college search.
  • The college application process may need to be closely monitored to ensure proper credit is given for the college classes a student has taken (a college transcript should be sent to colleges with the application).

Other Options

Internships, marketing programs (like DECA), STEM, other career academies, career technology schools, service learning, and ROTC are just a few of the additional options available to high school students today.

  • Students get more interesting experience broadening their perspective.
  • Students can gain real career knowledge by exploring their interests.
  • These types of activities can broaden and applicants  picture.
  • Certifications can be earned for real job experience.
  • Allows students to explore and preview potential majors before committing a few years of their college lives to them.
  • These tend not to save on the costs of college. However, colleges will be highly interested in the programs and these types of real world experiences make a college applicant stand out.

What’s next?

You need to understand all the options available to your child. By starting to plan in their freshman or sophomore year, you will allow them to increase their options and maybe lower your college costs.


Parent’s Borrowing Options to Pay for College


Your student has probably made a college choice or is down to the final few and now you are wondering either how am I going to fund this or is there a better way.

You have reviewed your resources, free cash flow, scholarships, and grant options. And you discover you still haven’t covered all the costs or you do not want to use all your college funds now since your student has graduate school in their sights.

So like most, you have a funding gap and need the smartest solutions. This is where smart student loans planning and other advanced strategies come to play.

Here is a quick playbook and some detail on some different ideas.

Use student federal loans first.

Students have a certain dollar amount in federal loans they can borrow each year: $5,500 freshmen year, $6,500 sophomore year, $7,500 junior & senior year. Now, say you’ve also maxed out the federal student loan funds available.

Why do we like these loans first?

These loans do not require a co-signer, offer reasonable interest rates, flexible repayment options, build the student’s credit and don’t jeopardize the parent’s savings and retirement.  Additionally, using repayment options after graduation can provide a more efficient planning option.  (This blog has a six step plan that incorporates using the federal student loan each year.)


Still have a funding gap?

After student federal loans are maxed out, do you still have a funding gap? What options remain? Private loans, Parent PLUS loans from the government, home equity loans, or loans on retirement plans are all places you can look to cover this gap.

Before we cover these options, we want to stress the importance of using any of these to fund a smaller gap or are part of a longer term plan.  Parents have two primary loan options to explore first: Parent PLUS and private parent student loans.

Interest Rates & Loan Fees

One of several key difference between the two is interest rate. Finding the best rate for you will depend on your credit rating but your rating is not considered when setting the rate. The Parent PLUS loan is a fixed interest rate of 7% for the life of the loan (as of 7/1/17 to 7/1/18). This relatively high rate is based on a group credit rating similar to group health rates at your employer.

If you have a better credit rating, your interest rate through a private lender may be much lower than 7%. Rates could be as low as 3%.  Another great difference, is the opportunity for you as a co-signer to be removed in the future.

Is it a fixed rate?

Private loan interest rates may be fixed or variable. The PLUS rate is fixed and while higher will not change throughout the life of the loan.

Are there origination fees?

For PLUS loans, a loan fee of 4.264% will be deducted from the loan disbursement amount (as of 10/1/17 to 10/1/18). For private loans, any applicable fee depends on the lender so read the terms carefully.

Repayment Options

Another key difference between PLUS and private loans is repayment options. Private loans will typically offer different terms like 10, 15, or 20 years. PLUS loan repayment plans include the standard 10 years as well as Graduated and Extended plan options. The Graduated plan payments are lower at first and then gradually increase of the life of the loan (usually 10 years). The Extended plan allows for either fixed or graduated payments but increases the term up to 25 years.

Unless you request deferment of student loan payments, you will start being billed soon after disbursement of the funds (often in 60 days). With PLUS loans, you can elect to defer payment until after the student graduates from college. Interest continues to accrue during that time.

With private loans, they may have more available options. You could start making payments in 60 days, or you could choose to make interest only payments while the student is in college, paying a fixed amount like $25 per month until they graduate, or deferring payments all together until after graduation. Unpaid interest will accrue.

Who’s Responsible?

We always recommend parents do not take out private loans in their own names if possible. We would suggest that having the student take out the loan in their name but in most cases the lender will require the parent as a co-signers.

Parents need to realize that co-signing the loan makes them just as liable for the payments as their student. Those loans will appear on the parent’s credit report as well. Please understand the impact if you are looking to make a major purchase in the next four years or you already have a lot of debt.

Another important note, Parent PLUS loans are 100% in the parent’s name and sometimes parents think they’ll be able to transfer this loan to the student after the student graduates. Unfortunately, this information is not true.  The parent is the borrower for the life of the loan.

Future Considerations

What happens if a parent or student dies? With a PLUS loan if the parent or student dies, the loan is discharged or forgiven. With a private loan, that is not necessarily the case. It depends on the lender.

How do I apply?

To obtain PLUS loans, parents complete the FAFSA each year, and the school will direct you on how to setup the PLUS loan.

To obtain private loans, a good place to start is with your college’s financial aid office. They may have preferred lenders they recommend. Other potential options like or can be a good starting point to find and compare lender information.

If you are a member of a local credit union, you can find favorable rates for student loans most of the time.

What About Home Equity and Loans on Retirement?

With the current changes to the tax code, using home equity had changed significantly.  The benefit of using a second mortgage or home equity line of credit before the 2018 provide the opportunity to write off the interest (unless you were subject to AMT and to be technical it was part of original indebtedness).  Under the new code, you are no longer allowed to take this write off.  However, the proper mortgage structure allows for a better way to pay.

Given the low interest rate environment,  home mortgage interest rates will be lower than private student loans. Home mortgage interest and student loan interest are both tax deductible. However, student loan interest is capped at $2,500 (vs. a primary mortgage now capped at $750,000), and your to write off student loan interest your modified adjusted gross income cannot be more than $80,000 (or $160,000 for married couples filing jointly).

Borrowing from your retirement plan has very little upside and you should consider every other option before taking a loan. Money taken out of your plan is not earning for you because it is not in the market. Money from your 401k typically must be paid back within 5 years—not a very long term compared to other loan options.

Don’t jeopardize your retirement to send your children to school since there are many alternative options for lowering the costs of education.

What should you do?

Be careful, be smart and get advice if you need it.  There is no limit to how much a parent can borrow so long as it does not exceed the cost which can create a dangerous situation indeed when college can cost up to $70,000 per year.

By carefully considering your costs before applying, you can eliminate a lot of the problems outlined above.

Our advice: Choose a college you can afford, plan out how you’ll cover all four years of the costs down to the penny, and use loans wisely to cover small gaps.

Need help?   Let’s Connect – we are here for you!   

Let's Connect - Schedule Your free 30 minute call or 1 hour consultation.

  • We usually start with a free 30 minute call but many people who attend a workshop are ready for a free 60 minute consultation.
  • Phone number so we can schedule your call or visit.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Financial Aid and the New Tax Bill for 2018

How does the new 2018 tax law affect your college funding?

Specifically, in regards to cash flow and financial aid, the simple answer is…

It depends.

If your taxes end up being lower under the new tax law, then lower taxes means additional cash flow to cover college costs. However, financial aid is the opposite. Taxes paid (owed) is actually a financial aid deduction. So lower taxes paid means a lower financial aid deduction, resulting in higher financial aid income and lower financial aid eligibility.

Let me explain in more detail.



Get In-State Tuition at an Out of State Colleges

2 Strategies to Get In-State Tuition at an Out of State School

Get In-State Tuition – Academic Common Market

Paying for college tuition is a sizeable investment, but did you know out-of-state tuition may cost 2-3 more than in state tuition. At Peachtree, we want to help you find that “unicorn” college – one that fits the social and academic needs of the student and the affordability (financial fit) needs of the family.  Proper planning can deliver that perfect fit college for your child and pocketbook. You may have heard one of the following two strategies to help save on out of college costs, but please be cautious before you use them.



The Biggest College Planning Mistakes

Imagine looking back and realizing you made a mistake with your student’s college planning. Could things have been different?  How would that make you feel?  What if you had the answers you needed?  Don’t let mistakes we have seen families make unnecessarily over the last 10 years happen to you.   (more…)


5 Hints for Parents of College-Bound Families

College may seem far away (even for seniors) but it will be here before you know it. In no time at all, you’ll be helping your child settle in at their new school, and signing your first tuition check. You should begin preparing now, even if your child is in ninth grade.

For parents of seniors, you should be familiar with the schools in which your student plans apply. We suggest having a strong mix of safety schools, reach schools and other colleges you know your student will flourish. For all other parents, you should really start by understanding your financial fit and learning strategies to find the best colleges for your budget.

We’ve discussed Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and if you are unfamiliar with this term, you should start here. This post will cover a few recommended hints all families can implement to start saving before tuition kicks in.


Get 5 Hints for Parents with College-Bound Students…




5 Things To Do After Submitting For Financial Aid

Congratulations! Hopefully, you have completed your 2018–19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA) form!

If not, here is where you start. Your first step is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You need to fill out this paperwork every year for each student. The FAFSA allows your children to be eligible for any form of federal aid, including grants or loans. Fill out the FAFSA in early October . Once you submit your FAFSA, the financial aid administration will read through your application and calculate how much financial aid you will receive towards tuition—and how much you will pay on your own.

What should you do after filing the FAFSA?


page 1 of 3
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search