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How to Find Free Money to Finance Your Education & Avoid Extensive Student Debt

How to Find Free Money to Finance Your Education & Avoid Extensive Student Debt

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The BiggerPockets Money Podcast

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The idea of college comes with a lot of questions—but there is one question that isn’t usually asked: is college worth the cost? Most would say yes, but the honest answer is sometimes. Today’s guest, Robert Farrington, the College Investor, answers college questions in a detailed manner to help you make profitable decisions on your higher education choices.

Robert goes over how to look at college as a business decision rather than a necessity. A deciding factor in any college decision should be profitability. Is going to college going to make you more valuable in your field? Will the salary you make post-grad outweigh the student loans you took out? What financial resources are available to you to minimize debt and out-of-pocket expenses? How can you leave college debt-free?

When you start asking the right questions, each decision gets easier. And in today’s episode, Robert gives you the right questions to ask. He also goes over different ways to pay for college, including FAFSA, grants, and scholarships, and how each of them work. College requires a lot of informed choices, and this episode contains the knowledge to equip you to make those choices.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast show number 297, where we talk to Robert Farrington, a college investor, about paying for college.

Robert:
So there’s all these pie slices that you could have bigger slices of some, smaller slices of others, but they all go to paying for college. And my ideal for you would be to minimize the student loan slices and maximize all these other slices before you get there. Of course, everyone’s passed a little different but there’s a lot of ways to get there.

Mindy:
Hello. Hello. Hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and joining me today is David [Perrey 00:00:31]. David, what’s up?

David:
Not much, just learning about college.

Mindy:
This was such a fun episode. I’m so excited to jump into it. David and I are here to make financial independence less scary. That’s just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are starting.

David:
Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate or start your own business, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so that you can launch yourself towards your dreams.

Mindy:
David, I love Robert Farrington and I’m so excited that he is back here today. I very selfishly had a ton of questions for him about paying for college because my daughter is a freshman in high school. She will or will not be going to college, who knows? It’s up in the air right now. But if she is going to college, I want to be able to pay for it in a way that doesn’t cost me a ton of money. And he had a lot of really great tips today. I’m so glad that we had him on.

David:
Well, and for me being in the military world and a veteran, we don’t really have to spend time learning about how to pay for school and everything, because we’ve got all these awesome tuition and GI bill benefits. So it’s one aspect of the financial spectrum that I’m not super educated in at all. So I learned a ton through this, including the fact that I chose the wrong investment vehicle for school, for my kids. So, hey, it is what it is.

Mindy:
But now you can not further compound the… I don’t want to say bad decision because it’s still a good decision, you’re still putting money away for your kids, but you’re not going to put any more money into that account. There’s other opportunities now for you to choose from. So that’s great.

David:
Absolutely.

Mindy:
Today we are joined by Robert Farrington. Again, we went 266 Robert Farrington less episodes. He came on episode 267 to talk about the pause in the student loan repayment. Almost immediately after we recorded that episode, they changed all the rules again. So we decided we should have Robert Farrington back to talk about his area of expertise, which is paying for college and college loans and student debt and all the things that are associated with going to college. So, Robert Farrington, welcome back to the BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Robert:
Hey, thanks so much for having me back. I’m honored that I made the cut to come back again. So this is great.

David:
It was close.

Mindy:
Many short episodes later.

David:
I mean….

Mindy:
It wasn’t close at all. He was great last time. Actually, let’s talk about that really quick, the student loan repayment. That was paused until March 30th, May 30th? I can’t keep up. It’s so hard to remember.

Robert:
May 1st right now, as of today but by the time we record this, because that’s what happens after we record a show, it will likely be extended again. And the word on the street is it will be extended again, probably until the end of the year.

Mindy:
This episode is releasing on May 2nd so we are recording a little bit earlier. I’m not sure exactly when they’re going to announce the student loan repayment moratorium extension, but I bet they will, because they always do right after we record so look for that. And again, if they don’t, make your payments… So, okay. How smooth was that?

Robert:
That’s some solid advice right there. I like it.

David:
I made that exact point in my Facebook group the other day. And of course, you don’t always get met with the… sometimes you get met with some resistance with that statement. But what I was trying to imply is, look, hey, if you make your payments, while this might happen, then at least you’re setting yourself up for success. Because if you bank on it happening and it doesn’t, you’re just hanging yourself out to dry.

Mindy:
Yeah. And in episode 267, when Robert last joined us, he gave some tips for what you need to do to prepare yourself to start your payments over. Again, remember a lot of these payments have been completely withdrawn, all your information is gone. Maybe you’ve moved because it’s been two years since you had to make a payment so just… you want to make sure that all of your information is updated. And Robert gave a lot of really, really great advice. So again, if you have student loans and you are coming up on this end of the repayment moratorium, you need to listen to episode 267 for all the great advice that Robert shared there. But today, we’re looking forward, we’re looking at paying for college and we’re looking at the cost of college in general. So a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, there was an article that’s called: Here’s what I wish someone told me before I racked up $180,000 in student loan debt by Dominick Bagnato.
And I’m not going to read the whole article to you. You can read it yourself, but there’s a part in the beginning. It says it is a singular detailed anecdote of one 37 year old’s journey through his student debt. It is meant to inform any reader who is interested in the student loan debt conversation about its personal realities and it is especially meant to be read by an audience of 17 year olds and their parents who may be making decisions about college right now. Because so many of us have been told that we need to go to college, but hardly any of us has been given an example of the true cost of that choice. Many people barely considered the decision of whether or not to go to college at all, before launching into the decision of which college to attend. Even then, the true financial costs and eventual life costs are rarely ever explained.
So Robert, I want to look at that last bit for a moment. Many people barely consider the decision of whether or not to go to college at all before launching into the decision of which college to attend. I grew up in the 80s. I know you guys are shocked, because I look so young, but I grew up in the 80s. And when I was in high school, you graduated from high school and then you took the summer off and went to college. That was it. There were no other options. High school then college, it wasn’t an option to not go to college. We didn’t talk about trade schools. We didn’t talk about military. We didn’t talk about anything, high school college to the end. And for so many years before I graduated and even after I graduated, that was the same story that people were being told. So what are some considerations for when people shouldn’t go to college?

Robert:
Well, I think you hit it on the head. I kind of view it as a pendulum and I think the 80s were the start of the outward swing, where everyone had to go to college. It’s also when you saw a decline in trades of… Every high school used to have an auto shop and a wood shop and all these things and then all those things started getting replaced with technology and because every kid had to go to school. Well, our high school district nearby here in San Diego actually just announced they’re bringing back auto shop. And so I think that pendulum is starting to swing back a little bit in terms of the extreme of everyone going to college because, you’re right, not everyone needs to go to college. But, I want to put an asterisks there because the data still says, even through today, that the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns anywhere from $300,000 to a million dollars more, over their lifetime, so we’re talking over 40 years of working after college than a non-high school graduate.
The question is what is the net present value of $300,000 to a million dollars? Because you get to a number and if you spend more than that number, it’s going to be a negative ROI on your college degree. And there’s also the personal factor in that. Some people really just want to work outside and not have a desk job, that is how they wired as a person, right? And so maybe there’s alternatives there. But the problem is we don’t expose our kids to it like we used to expose them. Kids don’t know that you could go work for the power company and make $200,000 a year, but yet can, going out and being a line men and climbing the pole, you can make a hundred to 200,000 bucks a year and that is a solid income.
But we don’t tell our young adults that today, right. Everyone has to go to college, that’s the only way you make money and it’s just not true. So do people need to go to college? Yeah, I think 40 to 60% of high school graduates probably should go to college, but then I think a good chunk of them probably don’t need to and there’s other options, the trades, starting their own business, joining the military. I bet David loves that one, but there’s a lot of options in that, there’s that other 40% that I think would benefit from doing something else, not racking up the student loans, not racking up a bunch of debt and going out and earning.

Mindy:
I love that you put a number on it, 40 to 60% of high school graduates don’t need to be going to college. I think that’s… First of all, I love that you said that and I’m so shocked that you would say that because when I was growing up, it was a hundred percent. So it’s weird to hear somebody acknowledge that not everybody should go to college. And I know that I’ve said it before too, but it’s nice to have somebody to agree with me.

David:
So I’m glad that you mentioned the trades and I’ll say from an investor standpoint, I hope that the pendulum is swinging because where we are right now, people are all worried about materials and costs and whatever, but I’ll tell you, for renovations, I mean, good luck finding a master electrician or a master plumber. So I have an electrician right now on a job site and he has been slacking and we’re going to end up having to let him go. We can’t find another permit to replace him or electrician to replace him on the permits. It’s like we’re kind of stuck and so there’s a massive shortage. And even here in Missouri, I mean, the amount of money I just paid a plumber for a two day job, that guy’s making great, great money, more than I am and for plumbing.

Robert:
Well, and you’re spot on. I recently had a plumber as well and it was the youngest plumber I’ve ever had. He was in his late twenties, right? And I’m like, why did you do this? He’s like, well, I never wanted to go to college. I liked working with my hands. He’s like, I got a job with a big plumbing house. They paid for all my apprenticeship, showed me how to do it. I worked with them so I was zero debt. He’s like, I was 22 years old and he’s like, I was making 80,000 bucks a year at 22 and then I just kept getting experience. And then soon I was doing gigs on the side and working on Saturdays outside the job. And then he is like, then I started my own company and he is like, it’s great. But he has no debt and is making good money. Now, is he saving it? I don’t know. But at the same time, he has that potential to earn and he’s debt free and it’s a great gig, right? And there’s a huge demand for it.

Mindy:
Enormous demand. And you hit the nail on the head. He signed with a big plumbing company who can’t find anybody, so they paid for him to learn how to do this.

Robert:
Yep.

Mindy:
He’s in plumbing college, no cost to him. 100% scholarship.

Robert:
And I think that’s the thing. The question to me isn’t necessarily, do you need to stop learning after high school? The answer is no, you need to keep learning and bettering yourself and getting an education. The question is, do you need to pay a fortune to do it? Because there’s a lot of alternatives today, whether it’s the trades and apprenticeships and that kind of thing or a coding academy, if you’re into tech or whatever, right? There’s so many different ways now that you can learn how to do things. Shoot, you could probably watch YouTube videos, become a freelancer and do other things like that as well. There’s a lot of options. Now, what’s right for you is going to vary, right? Because there’s also some people whose personality is like, I need to be in a seat in a classroom because that’s how I learn and I can respect that. But there’s also people that need to learn from being hands on, that can do other things and can self teach and different things like that.

David:
And I think people need to… I used this phrase before we started talking, people need to look at the decision to go to college as more of a business decision than a hobby decision. And so the plumbing thing ties in perfectly with that. If you look at it from a strictly business perspective, this guy is taking a job where he has no risk because he is getting paid to go through this apprenticeship, that they are paying for. He has no risk out of pocket, no cost, no nothing, with a pretty much guaranteed job on the other end because they just paid you for all this so they’re going to hire you. Versus… And there are definitely degrees like that, right? If you make it through as an architect, a lawyer, a doctor, you make it through any of those schools, engineer, whatever, there’s a really good chance that you are going to get employment on the other end.
But there are also degrees that you can take that are fun or they are exciting or they’re something you’re passionate about, but there’s not necessarily a guarantee for income on the other side. And not to say that you can’t do very well, you can do what you love, you can travel, you can do whatever but when you’re taking on a hundred, $200,000 in debt and you don’t know what the end… what the opportunity is on the other side, that’s a massive risk and you’ve got to make sure the up side’s there. Otherwise, it’s just a bad business investment, right? It’s…

Robert:
And that’s how I like to frame this. I do like to frame the how do you pay for college discussion in terms of ROI, return on investment, right? So if you know that you’re going to make 300 to a million dollars more over your lifetime, the net present value of that number is anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 and that’s just the math, right? So if you’re going to make a million dollars more over 40 years, your net present value with interest rates and you do all the calculations, don’t spend more than $80,000 or else it’s going to be a negative ROI. Now, that’s not to say that there’s a lot of fringe benefits to college education, right? But I do think a lot of those are overvalued, right? So you hear this thing of your network and the experiences and it’s who you know and… I’ll give that to you.
If you’re going to Harvard and you’re going to rub elbows with all of the future supreme court justices or whatever, there’s probably some value to that. But if you’re also that person, you’re probably not borrowing that money to do it too. So, there’s a big trade off on that front. If you’re going to actually borrow the money and you’re going to do that, you need to think in an ROI mindset. But I also don’t want to dismiss anyone from taking on any individual career. But I do think it’s important people to think creatively about how you get there. So for example, maybe you need to go to community college for two years, which is free in almost half of the states in the United States, right? So you can go to community college for free. I mean, you got to pay for books but the tuition and stuff is free and then transfer to a four year school.
And so you can maybe knock out a degree for 10,000, 15,000 bucks now and now you’re almost guaranteed an ROI on your education. So the question is, how do you want to do it, right? I don’t want to dismiss anyone. If you want to be an art history major or whatnot, go for it. But on the flip side, you need to think creatively, potentially on how you get there so that you don’t screw yourself up financially. Because the worst thing I see for people is… I always like to think of the outcome, right? So let’s just say you graduate in this degree you love and you went to film school, like the guy in the article that you mentioned, but you’re going to hate your financial life for the next 15 to 20 years after you graduate as a result of that choice. Now, do you want that or would you rather take a little weird approach for two years when you’re 18 to 20 and then enjoy your twenties and thirties in doing a career you like, right?

Mindy:
Yeah. I think it’s really unfortunate that we ask 17 year olds and 18 year olds to make these life decisions and to saddle themselves with these life altering debts that they will be paying for 15 and 20 years or declare… Well, you can’t even get rid of them with bankruptcy, can you? But it’ll mess up your credit.

Robert:
Rarely.

Mindy:
It messes up your credit if you don’t pay them, right?

Robert:
Well, it’s not even that… Of course, it messes up your credit.

Mindy:
Yeah.

Robert:
And yes, it’s rare to declare bankruptcy and if you’re able to, it’s typically because you have a lot of other issues going on, such as a disability or other things. So maybe your life didn’t work out the way it should have, but there’s probably other extenuating factors.

Mindy:
Okay. So, I mean, it’s hard to get rid of these loans other than paying them off or getting them paid off through other means. And it’s really frustrating to see that these kids are… I was 17 when I graduated high school. I chose fashion design as my major. Everybody who has listened to this already knows. They know that I don’t enjoy… I don’t care about fashion. Right now I’m wearing old clothes from my husband, which are comfy and it’s cold outside.

David:
For the record, he’s very fashionable and they were fashionable for him, right? Nobody is questioning [Carl 00:17:11].

Mindy:
Nobody is ever looking if it’s any fashionable. He looks like a bum all the time.

David:
Oh, my spirit animal.

Mindy:
I mean, I love him, but yes. So it’s not my passion at all. I chose it because it was interesting at the time. And if I hadn’t had parents who had been saving for my college, maybe I would’ve chosen a different path because I would’ve had to pay for it myself. But also maybe I would’ve continued and then had to pay for it myself, I don’t know. It’s just I’m very fortunate that they had the money for me to choose. I wish that they would’ve been a little bit more forceful, do something that isn’t dumb because it was really a bad choice for me. And I have said this before and I’ve gotten emails from people who are like, I love my fashion design degree. I’m like, then it’s your passion and that’s great. It wasn’t my passion. It’s almost like if David chose fashion design, it’s not David’s passion either.
I mean, of course, you can’t tell by the snazzy way he’s dressed today, but it’s just… there’s a lot of things that I could have studied that would’ve been better off for me. I mean, I ended up in a great position, but I could have been a lot better. And I wanted to get this in really quick before we moved on, episode 251, we spoke with Preston Cooper who did an exhaustive study, 30,000 degrees he reviewed, is college worth the cost? This 30,000 variable study says sometimes. And he said that-

David:
Yep.

Mindy:
Studying engineering, it doesn’t matter what college you go to, it doesn’t matter what kind of engineering, always worth studying. And studying psychology, almost exclusively a bad decision.

Robert:
Yep. I love that study. I love what Preston does over there. And it’s solid data. So think about what you want to do, Mindy, because I also think, what do employers look for? So all of us here have hired somebody, all of us here are looking for answers. Warren Buffet just said this last week, I’m sure we can find the interview, but he is like, the number one thing I look for is communication skills. And number two is problem solving skills. I don’t really care how you figure it out, but if you can’t talk to me and you can’t solve my problems, I’m not going to hire you.

Mindy:
And that’s a lot of employers.

David:
I couldn’t even tell you. I have two W2 and a 1099 that work in this office. I don’t even know if any of them have a degree, didn’t even ask, don’t care.

Mindy:
Elon Musk, when he was building SpaceX, he had some… his core people and he’s like, oh, we need somebody to do this and one of his engineers said, oh, I’ve got a friend, but he doesn’t have a college degree. He’s like, I don’t care. I just need somebody to accomplish this and a lot of the SpaceX guys have… I’m sorry, a lot of the SpaceX employees have college degrees but also a lot of them don’t, they’re just passionate about this thing and they can get it done so what does it matter?

Robert:
Well, and I also think a lot of young adults, especially when they’re 17 and making this decision, don’t realize how fast the value of that piece of paper, that your degree is, declines in the workplace. So when you’re a senior in college, the value of your degree is the highest it will ever be. You’re using it to get your first job after college, people care, whatnot. Two years later, no one cares. Your second job after college, no one’s asking you about college. They’re asking you what you did at your job to get your next job. And here’s the scarier part is, if you didn’t get a job within the first year after you graduate college, that piece of paper is probably a weight on your ankles, because people are like, you got a college degree and you haven’t gotten a job a year after graduation. What’s going on? Why is this happening? Right? So I mean, that value just falls like a rock, very quickly.
And then by the time you’re in your thirties, no one’s ever going to care and ask you where you went to college, it’s all on your experiences and your jobs and what you’re going to do and what you’re going to bring to the table.

David:
And so it’s… I don’t want to call the student loan world predatory, but-

Mindy:
I will.

David:
If you think about it context, right? If you were a bank, Mindy, and I was 17 and I had no credit and I had no income, but I was like, you know what? I’m probably going to make $150,000 in four years. Can I get a mortgage?

Mindy:
No.

David:
Can I get a car loan? Can I get a credit card?

Mindy:
You can get a credit card.

David:
But you can… I mean, maybe. Yeah, a prepaid.

Robert:
A $300 limit, they’ll give you 300 bucks.

David:
But they will flex for this and people… And not just student loan companies or whatever, but the entire industry pushes. I’ll tell you, I actually, at some point if I ever get really emotional and feel like being mushy gushy on a show, I wrote a five paragraph essay when I joined the military. Basically to be like, would you please leave me alone? I made a decision. It’s okay. The world’s not going to end if I don’t go to college because of the pressure that I was feeling my senior year of like, what’s wrong with Dave? Why is he… And the amount of pressure you put on people to go this one direction and then you’ve got these companies who are lending to this person who has no business getting a loan.

Mindy:
Well, but look at this [crosstalk 00:22:20] you can’t… This loan doesn’t go away. If I give you a mortgage and you don’t pay the mortgage, I take the house back. Your mortgage is now gone and I can sell the house. If I do the same-

David:
And seven years later, my credit’s good.

Mindy:
If I do the same thing with the car, I can repossess your car. I can’t repossess your credit, your college degree and you can’t ever get rid of this loan.

Robert:
Well, because remember guys, so the collateral of a student loan is your future earnings. So why do you get this loan? Well, because they know the data says that you will earn more after graduation. And if you don’t pay these student loans, the collateral is I’m going to garnish your wages, I’m going to take your tax return, I’m going to take your social security if you let this roll that long. In some states, if you have a private loan, I’m going to sue you. I’m going to take your house. I’m going to put a lien on it. They can collect on your earnings. And if you don’t make a whole bunch because you didn’t graduate college and you didn’t materialize out this life, it becomes even more problematic, right? You get stuck in this vicious cycle of debt collection, wage garnishment, yada yada. And so if you want to talk about student loan relief, generally, those are the people that probably need the relief because you get stuck in a vicious cycle that you can never escape. But for most borrowers, it can be positive too.
Because when you want to talk about this example, if you said, hey, I’m going to make a million dollars more in my lifetime, it only takes $50,000. That’s actually a good investment. So student loans necessarily, aren’t a bad thing, but just like any other debt, it’s an investment and you want to try to minimize the amount you borrow. You want to maximize your equity in the investment, which is your earnings over time and you got to think about it. And so there’s ways to offset the student loans you borrow, because I’ll also say even today, over 30% of graduates graduate college debt free. So and this is from a four year institution. It’s not like everybody has student loan debt. There’s still a good third of borrowers or third of graduates that don’t have student loans. The average amount of student loans in America at graduation is roughly $30,000.
So on average, most people should be okay with their student loans because in most jobs, $30,000 of student loan debt, low monthly payment, $200, $300, it’s not going to cripple you. Where you see it all because our media loves to hype the extremes is the extremes, right? So it’s the people that don’t graduate and have student loans. It’s people that have massive amounts of student loans. It’s the people whose life courses don’t work out like they say or the guy in the article that borrowed $130,000 of private student loans to go to film school. There’s these extreme outcomes that get the attention on social media, the mainstream media whereas I would put out that 80% of student loan borrowers are just fine, everything’s working out like it’s supposed to. If you asked them, can I get rid of my student loans? Of course, they’re going to say yes. It’s no different than if I said, hey, can you get rid of my mortgage? Yeah, you can. But it’s not going to change the outcome of everything, right?

Mindy:
Okay. That’s interesting. I’m glad you brought that up. I didn’t realize that 33% of grads graduate without student loan debt. And is that people… parents paying for college or them working through college or scholarships and things like that?

Robert:
All of the above. And so, there’s a lot of ways to pay for college. And I like to view it like a pie and you have all these slices of the pie, right? So you might have your own savings as a student. Your parents might have saved some money for you in a college savings account or whatnot. Your parents are probably still working when you’re in college and maybe they’re putting a little bit to it. You are probably working in college and you can put a little bit to it, right? And then you get scholarships and grants and then you get to student loans, right? And so there’s all these pie slices that you can have bigger slices of some, smaller slices of others but they all go to paying for college. And my ideal for you would be to minimize the student loan slices and maximize all these other slices before you get there. Of course, everyone’s passed a little different but there’s a lot of ways to get there.

Mindy:
So in episode 64, Zach Gautier came on and shared basically a laundry list of ways you can pay for college. And I don’t want to rehash that now, but I do want to recommend that if you have kids that are going to go to college almost at any time, listen to that episode, there’s tips in there for things you can do when your kid’s in elementary school and middle school and things to consider during high school that can give your kids a considerable leg up on scholarships and even how to earn college credits during high school, many times for free. So basically if you have kids of any age, that episode is worthless and again, that’s episode 64 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast. This episode is geared more towards the high school age kids and their parents, people who are getting ready to pay for college. David, my co-host today went a different route for paying for college. David, from military to millionaire group, how did you pay for college, David?

David:
I didn’t, the military did. Someone else did. I mean, so that was one of the main reasons I joined the military. I didn’t know what I wanted to go to school for and I didn’t have money. So I figured in my head, well, if I don’t know what I want to learn and I don’t like school anyway and I don’t have any money, I probably shouldn’t do this right now. And so I was like, well, I’m going to travel the world. And so I joined the military. And to just briefly touch on why that’s such a great idea. So the military, they pay for college two ways, right? They have tuition assistance while you’re in and so you can earn tuition assistance to continue going to school. In fact, they incentivize it. It actually looks really good for promotion, for you to have an associate’s degree.
I have an associate’s degree, didn’t pay a penny, never paid a cent…. Well, I take that back. I paid for one course because I deployed and I failed out of the class because I left the country and I forgot to close out the school or the class. But I got that all reimbursed once I got it all figured out. So I never paid for anything, got my associate’s degree, never went any further than that because I still didn’t like school and got financially free and realized I don’t need to go to school anymore. But I have friends who earned all the way up to a master’s degree through tuition assistance while in the military, enlisted officer, whatever it doesn’t matter. And then you still have, regardless of what you do with tuition assistance, that does not touch your GI bill.
And so you still have the ability to pay for a four year degree at a state level school or a certain percentage for private school and however that breaks out plus housing allowance plus whatever. And the real benefit there is that you can transfer that to your kids. So if you get to eight years in the military and you reenlist again, at that reenlistment, you can transfer 1% to each kid and to your spouse and whatever. And then you can tweak those percentages forever after that. And so you could then say, okay, well, now I want to slide this one up to a hundred percent because the other kid didn’t go to school or slide them up to 50 and 50 and they each get half paid or… And then even, it extrapolates even more out of that if you get VA disability, if you reach a hundred percent, there’s chapter 35 benefits where a lot of states will pay for your kids’ school for being a disabled veteran.

Robert:
And you say, also beyond the tuition, you can get base housing allowance, so you can get some stipends to live. You can get a book stipend. I think if you live in a rural area too, they’ll move you to the nearest college for 500 bucks, they’ll even pay to move you. There’s a lot of benefits with that GI bill that you can also pass on to your children like you said, but you’ve got to do it right. Right, David?

David:
Yeah. And that housing allowance correlates to where you live. Now, if you do remote, it’s a flat fee no matter where. But if you live in that place and physically go to school… So I had a friend, I say friend, a guy that I enlisted when I was a recruiter who’s now a friend. He went to school in Denver. He’s from Missouri. He went to school in Denver because he thought Denver would be a cool place to live. And the housing allowance made it so that he left Denver with a four year degree, no debt and he had a place to live off his housing allowance the entire time because his housing allowance was so much more there than it is here and then he moved back here. He was like, all right, cool, that was a fun four years.

Robert:
Yeah. Solid benefit. So again, there’s another way to pay for college and think about it. And again, you can either go your college yourself or if you’re lucky enough to have a parent, make sure your parent transfers that GI bill the right way so that you get that. Or if you’re in the military and you have young kids and you’re thinking about getting out, you need to do it before you mess that up.

David:
Yeah. It has to be done right at a four year reenlistment unless you’re commissioned and then you can do it at any time, as long as you have four years remaining on your contract or obligation.

Mindy:
And do you have information about that on your site, David?

David:
Probably.

Mindy:
Wow.

David:
I think so.

Mindy:
Okay. Thanks. [crosstalk 00:30:54]

Robert:
Well, Mindy, we definitely do. We’ll get it to you in the show notes so there you go.

David:
College has never been one of my main vocal points because everybody in the military has it paid for so they don’t have to talk about it too much because it’s like, eh, it’s paid for, all right, move on.

Mindy:
Okay. Well, I am trying to share this with people who aren’t in the military so luckily, Robert Farrington has you covered. Thank you Robert, from the collegeinvestor.com and we will include show notes. We will include links in our show notes, which can be found at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow297. Okay. I have a whole bunch more questions for you, Robert.

Robert:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
Some of these are rather selfish because they are for me because I have a 15 year old daughter, she’s a freshman right now. So we do have some time, but we don’t have a lot of time because she’s a freshman already. I have currently saved as much for my daughter’s education, as you have saved for my daughter’s education, as much as David has saved for my daughter’s education, which is to say-

Robert:
She’s loaded now.

David:
How do you know how much I saved?

Robert:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Which is to say zero. I know that you both have contributed $0 to my daughter’s college education as have I. I am financially independent so I am not worried about paying for her college. She is a very good student. I am not worried about scholarships available for her and grants and things like that. But I would rather not put $115,000 into the pockets of the college if somebody else would do it for me. So should someone be saving for college? And when should somebody make the decision to save for college or not save for college?

Robert:
Well, so first off, I like to go with the Yes model and I call it the yes model because the Y is you. And I don’t think anyone should save for their kids until they save for themselves first. So take care of yourself first. It’s like the airplane, right? You got to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you put it on your children. And there’s a lot of ways to pay for college, we went through a bunch of them, you have the whole other podcast episode of it. There’s so many ways to do it, but if you don’t save for yourself, you’re just going to hurt your kids later on. You’re going to be a burden for them. You think you’re doing all this wonderful stuff of putting them through college and maybe taking out loans in your own name to pay for your kids, see it all the time and these parents do that.
And then, lo and behold, they’re 64 and they’re like, I can’t retire. We’re going to have to move in with our kids because we didn’t save any money, things get ugly so take care of yourself first. Then if you want to save for college, look at education savings accounts. For example, a 529 plan is a great way to save for college, even with your older kids, because a lot of states offer tax credits and tax deductions to contribute to them. So if you were just going to write a check to your college, I would write a check to the 529 plan, get your state tax deduction and then write the check to the college, so from the 529 plan. So, don’t dismiss a 529 plan even if you have older children. Yes, the goal of the plan is right to save early, let the money grow tax free, compound and pay for college.
But there’s still benefits for you if you have kids approaching paying for college. Part two of that is I love 529 plan gifting. And what I mean by this is, let all of your friends and family help you save for your kids college. So I’m a minimalist. I hate when the kids have birthdays, especially younger kids, your older kids, probably less so than mine, but they get 30 presents and it’s really annoying. And they play with one of them, maybe two and the rest of them just get tossed to the wayside, it’s a waste of money, everything is dumb about it. And so one of the things that we’ve done and actually all of our friends groups have done the same thing, is we don’t do any gifts. In lieu of gifts, we donate to everyone’s 529 plans. So don’t go to Target and spend 25 bucks on a Lego set, send $25 to the kids’ gift and just show up at the birthday party because honestly that’s all the kids want.
They just want to run around with their friends and bounce in a bounce house. They don’t need all the crap and the crap can actually go to their college. And honestly, by doing this every year, they get about 500 bucks a year from aunt, uncle, cousin, friends, whatnot. And then that just grows tax free all the way there. And so there’s a lot of services that do this, we like [Backer 00:35:23]. A lot of the 529 plans have finally started getting up to par and doing this themselves, you don’t need to use a service. But there’s ways to gift and it’s a wonderful way to do it in lieu of actual presents. Because the kid will still get an actual present. I promise you, mom and dad, sibling will still get them something, but they don’t need 30 things, right? So that’s another way. And then, yes, there’s grants and scholarships and other things as you get closer but I think, Mindy, you wanted to say something?

Mindy:
I did. I want to talk… go back to that 529 plan where you have older kids and you still get a tax deduction. So let’s play pretend.

Robert:
Yes.

Mindy:
My daughter is in the ambiguous stage of college education right now and she’s like, I totally want to go to college. And then the next week she’s like, I don’t need a college degree. I could just go be a body piercer. And I’m like, Ooh, let’s go back a week. Not that I don’t want to support her hopes and dreams but maybe we could not make this decision at 15.

Robert:
Well, here’s the thing is, so a 529 plan on the flip side, doesn’t have to just be used for a four year college tuition. It can actually be used for trade schools, apprenticeship… So she wants to go be a body piercer, that’s cool. She probably has to do some kind of trade school or a beauty school or something to get that licensing, right? I’m just making this up but there really is a school for this kind of thing. And again, that can be used with 529 plan money to pay for that. And you can also pay for it with a tax free, potentially depending on your state. I’m in California, California does not like their residents to save for college. They do not offer any tax breaks, but Colorado, I think, Mindy, you’re in Colorado, right? Am I right? And so Colorado offers a 20% tax credit up to 500 bucks, it looks like to… Colorado, one of the most generous tax deductions with no limit. So up 20% of the amount you contribute to your 529 plan in the State of Colorado so there you go.

Mindy:
Explain what that means like I don’t know what that means.

Robert:
So you can get 20% of the amount you contribute to your daughter’s 529 plan as a state tax deduction on your state tax bill.

David:
Wow.

Mindy:
So is that for my Colorado 529-

Robert:
529 plan.

Mindy:
Now, do I have to use the 529 plan in Colorado for a Colorado school? Or can I use it for anywhere?

Robert:
You can use it for anywhere.

Mindy:
Oh.

Robert:
So, if she wants to go to Penn State or whatever it happens to be, you just write the check out of your plan to pay for that and you got your Colorado state tax break. There’s no federal tax breaks for it, but there’s state tax breaks, depending on your state.

Mindy:
Oh, I see.

Robert:
About 30 states offer it.

Mindy:
If only I had a tax break.

David:
It’s like money laundering but your kid gets a degree.

Robert:
Exactly. And so 529 plans, they get a little bit of flack because people are like, well, what if my kid doesn’t go to college, right? There’s ways to access the funds but there is potentially a 10% penalty for non qualifying withdrawals. But that list of what qualifies keeps growing and growing and growing every year. So like I said, you can use it for K to 12 education now, you can use it for student loan repayment, you can use it for trade schools, apprenticeships. You could switch the beneficiary to yourself and you could take one of those cruises around the world where you learn on the cruise. I mean, there’s so many different things you can do these days. Go ahead, David. Sorry.

David:
Oh no, I was just… For Mindy to let her know I… If you do a non-qualified withdrawal, right, you get slapped with a 10% penalty. In Mindy’s situation, would that be slapped with a 10% penalty plus you repay the 20% that you saved in state taxes or is it like, hey, I put a hundred thousand dollars in this 529. I got a 20K tax credit and oh, now I got to pay a $10,000 penalty. I’m still on top.

Robert:
Yes. So it varies on your state. So Colorado’s penalty is a recapture of any state tax deduction you received on the earnings, right? You do pay a 10% penalty on anything on the federal level. So yeah, it can be bad, but like I said, there’s a lot of options to go around it in terms of creating… You can change the beneficiary on the plan, you could use it for your next… your younger siblings, you can gift it to somebody else. You could hold onto it, let the money grow and change it to your grandchildren and basically set up an education trust effectively, that you can use this money over time. And there’s so many options with it. So it’s like, yes, there are some drawbacks, a hundred percent, everything has some trade offs. But on the flip side, the list of ways that you can use it keep growing and the options to use it keep growing.

Mindy:
Well, I think that’s a very valuable tip for people who are like me and didn’t save anything for their kids, but still want to help their kids out. I mean, that was a very generous gift that my parents gave me by paying for my college. So if I can pay for my children’s college or at least part of it, I would like to do that. And then if I can pay into a 529 plan, does it have to sit there for any length of time? Or can I put it in there and then write a check?

Robert:
It depends on the state. So some states do have a one year waiting period, other states don’t. And I don’t know the nuances of your state’s plan, but check with your state’s plan and see what those nuances are but some states will let you just put the money in and literally just turn around and send the money out. Some states do have a one year waiting period on that transaction so you might have to use it for their sophomore year of college, if you’re listening to this now and you’re a little bit behind, but hey, every little bit can help and you can save a little bit in taxes and maybe have that money grow a little bit as well.

Mindy:
Yeah, no, that’s a great tip. Okay. So you said yes. Y-E and we didn’t get to S yet.

Robert:
S is just regular savings, right? So you have these tax deferred accounts, like a 529 plan, a [Coverdell 00:41:03] savings account. Some people like a Roth IRA to save for college, I’m not necessarily a fan but it’s a valid option. But then there’s just regular savings. So S is just regular savings. And this is valuable because honestly, there are a lot of other random costs associated with going to school, traveling to school, moving there. So travel’s not a qualified education expense so if your kid goes to an out of state school, you got to figure out plane tickets, right? There’s just random things that are always associated with this. They want to go to Cancun for spring break next summer, right? Who knows? But this is what kids do. So just having regular savings is an important part of it as well. And that doesn’t have to be your own savings, right? That could be, you can make the kids save. You can do other ways, but having some cash outside of an education savings account, even if you do save in one, is still a valuable option.

David:
I like it. So you mentioned Roth IRAs and some other stuff. What about just normal index funds? Do you see any pro or con to that, other than-

Robert:
Yes. But again, who owns it? So you can have a UGMA, which is a uniform transfer to minor, uniform gift to minor act account. So they’re beneficial, but you could run into some [kiddie 00:42:14] tax issues. So right after they make 2000 bucks a year in earnings, you’re going to have to start paying the kiddie tax, which is going to be at your tax rate and it gets complicated. And so that’s where it’s again, not a bad thing, right? And it’s also going to totally cost them on any type of financial aid they’re going to get, because anything that’s in the child’s name as an asset is the highest value of it. And they basically… I mean the effective way they calculate it is they expect you to pull all that out and liquidate it. Retirement assets do not count on the FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid.
That’s why people like the Roth IRA, but there’s other drawbacks that comes with the Roth IRA like how do you get money into the Roth IRA, right? Very hard to get money into a minor’s account, right? Because what? Are they going to model for you or whatever, all these jokes that people do to get their kids money into a Roth IRA. Or if it’s the parents’ Roth IRA, I hate seeing it because you’re going to take money out prime growth years. Your kid’s in college when you’re probably in your late forties and fifties. And that’s when you need your Roth to compound and grow and then you don’t want to be pulling money out of that to pay for your kid’s school. So there’s some drawbacks there. And plus the distributions from it now count as just regular income on the student. So if you pull that out, there’s no… On the FAFSA, it counts as regular income and it’s just going to totally trash their financial aid. So it might work for their freshman year on the first year you withdraw from the Roth IRA.
But for any future years, if they qualified for any financial aid, you can just basically kiss it goodbye.

David:
Okay. So hypothetically and asking for a friend and all the other cliche caveats that you make when you’re clearly making admission of having done something yourself and don’t want anyone to know, if you had rolled all of the… Oh, what should my name at payment so we got through the pandemic into UTMAs for your kids. Would there be a place that you should roll that, that would be better in this scenario? I’ve got…

Robert:
Okay, it’s not a bad thing, right? But you just realize you’re going to start paying tax on it. It’s a taxable, a brokerage account. And it’s going to probably be taxed at your income level, which doesn’t really necessarily benefit your kids, right? Because of the kiddie tax. So the question is, what are your goals, right? So maybe you put some of that into a 529 plan for them, right? And save that. I mean, I’m always a fan of you could do and, doesn’t have to be this either or thing. You can have some 529, some taxable… If they work a little bit, put some into their Roth IRA as well. I don’t know if you have them doing some work for you, but there’s the potential for that and there’s just a lot of options.
So I’m a big believer in the and. Realize though, we’re having this discussion. So you’re probably not going to qualify for a lot of merit financial aid. And I think a lot of people get very hung up on that point. It’s like, how do I get the most financial aid possible? Well, it’s like if we’re having these conversations of how do we maximize a 529 and a UGMA and all these things, you’re probably not in a financial situation that’s going to earn you much merit aid. On the flip side, you should still be applying for the FAFSA every year because that’s how you unlock student loans, if you want to get those. Part two is there might be a lot of… Sorry. I was saying merit aid, I meant need based aid, but there’s a lot of merit aid out there so your kid can go apply for scholarships, apply for grants that they might qualify for, just based on their ability to write an essay or volunteer in their community or because you work at a certain organization, there’s a lot of potential there for that type of aid. There you go.

David:
Because you’re going to give me your GI bill.

Robert:
Or you give me your GI bill and whatnot, but even then, there might be stuff outside of it. What if your kid wants to go to a private school? I think the GI is $23,000-

David:
Yeah, it won’t cover it all.

Robert:
A year for private school, which is amazing, but it won’t cover it all, right? So…

David:
Well, thank you.

Robert:
Yeah.

David:
For helping my friend.

Mindy:
Okay. I have a question because either we didn’t recover this last time or I didn’t remember. You said retirement accounts don’t count toward FAFSA. My retirement accounts as her mother-

Robert:
Right.

Mindy:
And her retirement accounts as a child don’t count towards FAFSA so-

Robert:
So when you list it all out, it doesn’t count as anything that’s going to be required to be used as on the FAFSA form. Correct.

Mindy:
When you’re saying retirement account, you’re talking about 401k, Roth IRA, Roth-

Robert:
IRA.

Mindy:
Roth accounts.

Robert:
All of them.

Mindy:
Okay.

Robert:
Traditional and Roth. Yes.

Mindy:
401k, IRA, the TSP from the military?

Robert:
Correct.

Mindy:
What about the 457 plan?

Robert:
Yep. Uh-huh (affirmative). Any other retirement… any qualified retirement account does not have to be reported on the FAFSA as an asset.

Mindy:
Well, that is very delightful news because that’s where, I think, 50% of my holdings are in my 401(k) and I’ve been worried. I mean, this is such a good problem to have, but I’m going to be having RMDs when I’m 72, just based on the balances now.

Robert:
Right.

Mindy:
And not being able to get-

Robert:
Sure.

Mindy:
Any sort of financial aid wouldn’t kill me…

David:
But financial aid is nice.

Mindy:
Yeah. Financial aid is nice. I will take any dollar that I can get. Now, FAFSA has nothing to do with scholarships.

Robert:
Well, it can’t-

Mindy:
Or merit?

Robert:
It can, so yeah.

Mindy:
Merit scholarships

Robert:
Need based.

Mindy:
FAFSA’s need based.

Robert:
So not for merit based. FAFSA is going to unlock need based scholarships for you. And it depends. So the need based scholarships are going to be what’s awarded by the school or potentially your state. Some states offer scholarships to low income students, different things and all of that gets unlocked by the FAFSA. So you fill out the FAFSA, it goes to your school’s financial aid office and depending on how much your expected family contribution is, which is the very bottom number that’s calculated, which effectively is, if you have a lot of money, you’re not going to get much. If you have a little bit of money, you’re unlocking more potential for aid and that aid can include scholarships and grants that are need based. But there is still a lot of merit based options and merit based ones are the ones you apply for just because they exist. And they don’t really have anything to do with how much money you have.

Mindy:
Is there any point where filling out a FAFSA is just a waste of time?

Robert:
No, everyone should fill out the FAFSA every year, starting the year before you go to school all the way through graduation. Because at the end of the day, it unlocks federal student loans. You can’t get a federal student loan without applying for the FAFSA. And so in a worst case scenario, let’s say everything hits the fan and your life doesn’t pan out, and you lose all your scholarships and whatnot, by having the FAFSA end, you can apply for that federal student loan at the last minute if you need to, or even halfway through the school year if you need to, and that way you can at least finish your school, but I’ve seen it happen. Even these kids go on athletic scholarships, right? And then they get injured and then they lose it for the second half of their year. And that’s where having the FAFSA and things can come in handy. So always fill out the FAFSA. It’s annoying because it’s another form you have to fill out, but it’s super beneficial and it doesn’t really take that long.

Mindy:
Does it cost any money to apply for the FAFSA or fill it out or whatever?

Robert:
No. So the FAFSA stands for free-

Mindy:
Oh.

Robert:
Application for federal student aid. I love it.

Mindy:
Okay. Well.

Robert:
But I will tell you that there are a lot… it’s not a bad question because there are a lot of scams and things out there and people will prey on you. I can fill out this… I can get you a student loan and it’s like, there’s no application fee, you just fill out the FAFSA, it’s online, it’s quick and easy. It does ask for a lot of information. I will tell you, if you’re a parent listening to this, it might be weird but you do have to share your income and your assets and things like that with your teenager, that you might not have done before. So I’m a big believer in having these conversations early. None of this should be a surprise at this point in time, your kids should know how much you make, how much you have and they should know how much is going to be paid towards their college. But if you haven’t, you’re going to show them when they fill out the FAFSA so it’s going to be a conversation you’re going to be having.

Mindy:
Okay. Yeah. I was surprised to learn that you have to pay to apply to college. I didn’t realize… I mean, it makes sense because somebody’s got to go through the applications, but Colorado has free application day every year and that is the day to put your applications in because then you don’t have to pay. I mean it’s 250 bucks to apply to go to a college, right?

Robert:
It varies, so that’s very high. Usually it’s $25 to $50.

Mindy:
Oh, okay.

Robert:
And this is where it could be a problem, right? And so I’m really anti application fees for college because it does hurt low income students, right? If you’re already low income having to pay… You want to apply to six colleges, right? Which is kind of a recommended amount. Well, if it’s a $50 application fee, that’s $300. And if you’re a low income student, yeah, there’s typically waivers and other things that you can get, but it’s just another barrier to entry and it’s so silly because these application fees literally earn these schools no money. And they already have so much money that they’re building amazing aquatic centers with lazy rivers but yet we have to nickel and dime these kids to just apply to your school. I don’t understand.

David:
I want to go to that school.

Robert:
Just float on the lazy river while you [crosstalk 00:51:45]. Yeah.

Mindy:
Definitely, lazy river.

David:
[inaudible 00:51:47] is exactly what would do if I went to school.

Mindy:
Okay. Let’s get back to talking about colleges and how to pay for them. What are some options besides student loans? You’ve mentioned grants and you’ve mentioned… Well, you mentioned scholarships. We’ve talked about loans. What is the difference between a grant and a loan and a scholarship?

Robert:
Okay. So a grant is given to you because the program exists. And so typically grants are a Pell grant, right? You are low income, your financial aid office, you’re automatically qualified for Pell grant because you’ve filled out the FAFSA, that’s all that’s required. About half of states also offer a similar type grant. So California does offer a Cal grant. And this is another grant that, if you’re a low income student, you just get it by filling out the FAFSA and it goes to your school’s financial aid office, it’s just free money. A scholarship is very similar except you typically have to apply for it. So it’s free money except there’s usually an application process or some other qualifying criteria to it. Many schools will offer scholarships, but they’re donated and they’re usually used on behalf of something, right? So this is for the student that does this.
Or if you’re applying to an engineering major, you get this. Every school has got different scholarships and then there’s also just the scholarships that you apply to, that are out in your community. And these are the ones that are merit based. So I love scholarships because they are they’re relatively easy to get. I won’t say they’re so easy, but they’re relatively easy to get and it’s just free money. And a lot of it goes unclaimed. There was a study by Fast web a few years back that said $6 billion in scholarships go unclaimed every year. Isn’t that just shocking to you? And I see it. So I don’t know about you guys, but I run a scholarship on the College Investor called the side hustling student scholarship and I give 2500 bucks to an entrepreneurial student. And my only requirement is that you write me a thousand word essay about how you’re entrepreneurial.
I don’t really care what you do, sell stuff on eBay… A couple years ago it was a girl that went to sing national anthems at the County fair and I mean, but she sent these cool pictures of her doing it and she was getting paid for it and it was awesome. I love the stories, but I get maybe 80 applications a year and I will tell you that 50% of applicants don’t even follow the directions and I just delete their applications right away. And so you’re really in competition with 40 people maybe to get 2500 bucks. And everyone that I’ve talked to that runs a scholarship says the same thing. It’s shocking how few people actually do the work to get the scholarship. And so you might think it’s impossible to get scholarships, but your odds of actually getting one are one in five, one in 10, they’re very good. And so it just becomes a numbers game, right? If you apply to 10 scholarships, you’re probably going to get one or two of them, but nobody does the work.

David:
Right. I’ll validate this from the other side. My wife is a high school counselor and she runs the scholarship section… There used to be the senior counselor always doing the scholarships, got overwhelming so she does scholarships every year now for the school. And every year, same thing. It’s like, oh, scholarships were due three days ago. Why are you sending me this now? And it’s like, yeah, yeah, they’re there.

Robert:
They’re there. It’s able to do it, but you do have to put the work. You got to follow the directions. You got to write that essay. And so the harder part I think is finding these scholarships and so you need to go on Google and search for them. You need to check with organizations, check with your parents’ company, a lot of large companies offer scholarships to their employees’ kids, are you part of any local groups or organizations or nonprofits, especially the larger nonprofits in your community. Is your family part of a union? A lot of the unions offer scholarships to their union members’ children. So there’s so many out there, but you do have to spend the time and do the work to get those scholarships. And they’re out there and they’re possible.

Mindy:
Do grants and scholarships have application fees typically?

Robert:
They should never. So grants, no, it all is done through your school’s financial aid office. Scholarships should never have application fees. However, some of these scholarship search sites and stuff sometimes make you pay to be a member and stuff and I’m totally against it. And I don’t think you should ever pay to apply to scholarships. And typically if the scholarship is on these search sites that make you pay, you can also usually apply not going through the site. You just got to find the company or organization that is running the scholarship and they typically have it on their website as well and there’s no cost involved. So there are some companies that do try to take advantage of it, but you should never pay for either.

Mindy:
Okay, good. I’m glad I asked that. Are there any services that can help you write your essay or get you started on the path to your scholarship application process?

David:
Virtual assistance.

Robert:
Yes. I mean, there’s definitely companies out there that help you with these essays. I’m mixed on it. I don’t think there’s going to be any more value that this company can offer than you can do yourself. On the flip side, maybe you do hire a virtual assistant, like David said, to help you edit your essay because I see a lot of crappy essays. The story’s good, but could someone go through and put some paragraphs in there instead of a wall of text, right? [crosstalk 00:57:15] Maybe have someone… Yeah, have someone help you spruce it up, I think is a wise thing. And if you don’t have a family member or a friend or a teacher or a guidance counselor that can help you, yeah, maybe you pay a virtual assistant or something to help you. But I’m 98%, you just can do it yourself or have your network of friends and family or your school.
Literally, this is what your school is supposed to do if you’re in high school, they have people at the office, the guidance counselors, things like this is their job. They’re here to help you get into college, use them.

Mindy:
Okay. So when is my daughter applying for college? She’s a freshman right now. She’s just finishing up freshman year.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mindy:
When is she starting to apply for scholarships?

Robert:
Now, for many merit ones. So you’d be surprised on what’s out there and you can start stacking your scholarship dollars early. And I’m a huge fan. If you can find these in your community, start searching for them, apply to them. You don’t need to have such an urgency about it, but if you can start putting $2,000 away every year, right now, it can go a long way to help, right? I’m kind of a view of scholarship time and work time. So as a freshman, she’s probably just a year away from being able to work a lot in the summer. Because I don’t know about your state, but California is 16 is kind of where you have to be, to get a job at like a Big-box store or anything like that. So if she’s only 15, this year should be the scholarship year. Let’s spend the hours of the summer finding and applying for those. And then next year, balance it out.
I get some actual full-time employment during the summer, my go hustle and then a little less time applying for scholarships, but taking some of that, the money she earned and saving that away as well, is hugely beneficial. Not just the money, but the skillset as well, I think goes a lot farther as well.

Mindy:
Yeah. She’s working for a friend. She makes jewelry and she makes something like $15 an hour at age 15 when she’s not really able to go out and get another… she could probably work in a retail position, but we’re at the tail of the COVID. I don’t really want her to work in a retail position right now.

Robert:
Well, and I just think, I mean in our area and granted everything’s a market base, but the starting pay of a cashier at Target right now is $18 an hour in our area. If you want to go work at Chick-fil-A, it’s $21 an hour to work at Chick-fil-A. If I was a high school sophomore right now, I would just be crushing it and doing that because that’s a lot of money when you’re young, because you can put away, even if you’re working 20 hours a week, that’s a substantial amount. And even if you blow half of that on the dumb stuff you do when you’re 15 or 16, you still got a nice amount left over to pay for college and do other things.

Mindy:
That’s true. Yeah. I forgot that they’re paying a lot more than the $3.35 an hour that minimum wage was when I was working at Dairy Queen.

Robert:
And then I would also say, a lot of people dismiss this, but a lot of bigger companies also offer the same kind of benefits that David was talking about in the military, tuition assistance programs and things like that. So if you work for Target, Walmart, Amazon, these companies and you keep working… Starbucks, I think does it as well, you can leverage those companies’ tuition assistance programs to help you pay. So if that’s your part-time job in high school and college, shoot, you could be leveraging some dollars there to help offset your college costs.

Mindy:
That is a really great tip. I didn’t realize that they gave tuition assistance. Now, does tuition assistance mean you still have to work here while you’re going to college?

Robert:
That’s what tuition assistance is, yes.

Mindy:
Okay.

Robert:
So there’s tuition assistance programs and there’s student loan assistance programs. So the tuition assistance programs that a lot of these companies are offering is you’re working for us and we’ll give you money to your college while you’re working for us. Some companies now are offering student loan assistance where it’s like, you’ve already graduated, you have some debt and they’ll help you pay off your student loans, while you’re working for us. Some companies offer both, but if you’re looking for a part time job in college, and you have a choice of where I’m going to work, I’ll go to Target or Walmart or Amazon because they will give me up to 5,000 bucks a year to my college, even if I’m only working 20 hours a week and that’s a huge benefit.

Mindy:
Yeah. That’s great. $5,000. I mean, that’s free… Now, is that free $5,000 or is that $5,000 and then they take taxes out?

Robert:
Tax free.

Mindy:
Oh nice.

Robert:
Yep.

Mindy:
Nice. And when you said start now and stack scholarships, are scholarships sending her a check? They’re not sending it to the college that she’s designating?

Robert:
It’s both. So you can just take the check. Some scholarships will send it to your school, but if you don’t have a school yet and you’re younger, they’ll just send it to you. I will put the asterisks there that more scholarships than not are going to be taxable for you. And so a lot of people don’t realize that you will get a 1099 and these scholarships will be taxable. And the amount of scholarships that are taxable are about 48 to 50% of all scholarship dollars are technically taxable. And because that’s what’s actually reported to the IRS, I would probably venture that more are supposed to be taxable and people don’t know and or don’t report it.

Mindy:
Okay. So is it taxable to my daughter, not me?

Robert:
Correct. She earned it, it’s her money, so yes, it would be taxable to her.

Mindy:
Okay. And if she’s not making enough money to pay taxes, then she doesn’t pay taxes?

Robert:
Correct.

Mindy:
Okay. I like that. I like this a lot. Wow. I learned a ton. Robert, this was so helpful. David, do you have any other questions for Robert? I feel like I’ve hogged him the whole time.

David:
No, I mean, this is great. Student loans, as I had mentioned, is not something that’s my wheelhouse expertise so I was just taking it in, asking a couple questions and living it up. This is… Man, I mean, every time we hang out… I became a fan of Robert’s. I told him I was going to throw this out there or I wasn’t going to throw this out there, but I was looking up whole life insurance research and I stumbled across the College Investor. And Robert wrote one of my favorite articles ever on the pros of term over whole and I loved it. And so we were talking about it before you jumped on, before we started recording and Robert does such a great job of breaking things down to… I mean, his blog is just full of great articles and great content with great breakdowns and the fact that he was able to just, on the top of his head, explain net present value, so much knowledge there so definitely tap into it.

Robert:
I’ll say too, while we’re talking about it, if you’re out there and you have someone telling you that a whole life insurance or permanent life insurance is a good way to save for college, please run away because it is not a good way to save for college, but I see it all the time because they’ll always fear monger you on all these alternatives. We already talked about the pros and cons, right? There are cons to a 529 plan and there are cons to a Roth IRA. And so then these sneaky salesmen come in and they’re like, oh, well, I got this amazing thing here and it’s not amazing because you have lower returns, more fees, you’re paying for insurance and you’re technically getting a loan out of your dang insurance policy to pay for this, it’s all dumb. Just don’t do it.

David:
Well, the best life insurance is being financially free.

Robert:
Just don’t die. No.

David:
I think, was it [crosstalk 01:04:47]?

Robert:
That’s it.

Mindy:
Well, yeah, I don’t want to die either.

David:
I think [crosstalk 01:04:48] personal neighbor. He said, I’m self-insured or the best life insurance is self-insured, meaning you’ve got a few money.

Robert:
Yeah.

David:
Like, Eh.

Robert:
Exactly. And there’s a purpose for it and saving for college is not that purpose. So it’s kind of [inaudible 01:05:06] but I guarantee you that there’s someone out there that’s listening to this podcast that has been pitched on it because I see it on social media a lot. And it’s not a great alternative to the other ways to save.

Mindy:
Yeah, no, I think we covered a lot to do. This was super fun. Robert, is there anything that we forgot to ask you or that you would like to add before we let you go?

Robert:
No, I think it’s just really hammering home the point of thinking about it as an ROI. And so on the student side, is what’s your goals? What’s your dreams? What do you want to do? Keep it loose, but don’t necessarily spend a whole lot to get to your end goal, right? Because when you’re 17, 18, you don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up. We’re kidding ourselves here when we think that of our young adults. They have some ideas but things change. They learn as they go. So if you spend less, you’ll have a better outcome when you change it all up. And now if you’re the parent listening to this, realize that college is not the end all be all to everything when it comes to this. And just because someone said in your family that they should go to some elite private school, there’s a mathematical cost to that.
And unless you’re cutting that check, you shouldn’t put that on your kid, that force them into something that’s going to really jeopardize their finances for the next 10 to 20 years of their life, because that’s what happens when they borrow and they get these student loans and then they’re indentured servants to their loans for a long period of time, trying to pay it off, when they could be enjoying their life. We kind of ragged on that article a little bit that you brought up at the beginning of the show, but he did make some good points. If you’re struggling with debt, whether it’s student loan debt or any other kind of debt, it does delay buying your first house and it does delay you starting a family and it does delay all these things. And as a parent, you probably don’t want that for your children. You want to, just like you’ve done for the first 18 years of their life, you’re trying to give them the best.
Don’t suddenly set them up to fail for the next 18 years, right? You want to make sure that they’re set up for the best there as well. And spending a fortune on school might not be the best way to do that for them.

Mindy:
Thank you, Robert. Thank you for your time today. No, this is great. I love the reminder to people that college is great, for the right person, for the right student, but college isn’t the right choice for everybody. Way back on episode 44, we talked to Tinian Crawford, Captain DIY on Twitter, who I love dearly. He’s an electrician. He went to college, he got his associates degree, which is a two year degree in just six short years because college was not the route for him. And now he’s living his best life. He’s doing electrician work. He actually worked at a college for a while, which I thought was kind of funny, but now he is out on his own. And he’s like, I’m booked solid, from now until the end of my calendar. And as soon as I open up more time, I’m booked solid. And it’s a great choice for him. He makes the money that he wants to make. And college was not the right choice for him. And college is not the right choice for a lot of people and trades… Oh my goodness, you can make so much money in the trades.
And when you do, when you’re an electrician in Missouri, David needs you or just do it yourself, David, it’s not that hard.

David:
Yeah. I can’t find them. It’s not that the electricity is hard, it’s that the signing for a permit without being a master electrician is… I can’t do it.

Mindy:
There.

Robert:
That’s it.

Mindy:
I just signed it for you.

David:
If I could forge those docs, trust me. I’ll be… All you got to do is… Anyway.

Mindy:
I would never suggest you forge documents, David, you should always go by the book.

David:
You just got to go buy some plumbers crack sign jeans and you’re good. That’s how you wanted to wrap up the show.

Mindy:
That’s exactly how I wanted to wrap up the show. Thank you. That’s how Robert wanted to wrap up the show too. He was really, really generous with his time and now we’re ending on a plumber joke.

Robert:
It’s all good. No, go be a plumber seriously.

Mindy:
Yeah. I could seriously be a plumber, that is-

David:
But we’re not ending yet.

Mindy:
Well, actually we are because we don’t really… This isn’t really a money story so we didn’t really do the famous four.

Robert:
I feel like I did the famous four last time, didn’t I do the last song a month ago?

Mindy:
Robert. Okay. Ask him that one.

David:
What’s your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Robert:
I don’t know but I just came back from Disney World. So I’m going to tell you my favorite joke to tell my daughter, because that’s what I got on the top of my head right now, is why can’t you give Elsa a balloon? Because she will let it go.

David:
Awesome.

Robert:
There you go. That’s what you get to end it with, now you know, David.

Mindy:
No, I have a good student loan joke. Post Malone has started his own student loan company. It’s called Post Malone’s postpone Malones. Oh that was-

Robert:
Postpone Malones, love it.

Mindy:
I’d like to take a moment to say thank you student loans for getting me through college. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you.

Robert:
There you go. Yes.

Mindy:
But I [inaudible 01:10:06].

David:
That sounds like a Hugh joke.

Mindy:
It does sound like a Hugh joke. Hugh Carnahan. He tells terrible jokes.

David:
He’s a friend of mine. He always posts in the BiggerPockets Facebook groups these ridiculous… you’re just like…

Mindy:
Horribly bad jokes. Hugh, you’re terrible.

David:
Did you Google worst financial puns and then you’re like, I’ve got content for a month.

Mindy:
Okay. From episode 297 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast, he is the inimitable Robert Farrington. The other guy is David Perrey and I am Mindy Jensen saying, give a hoot, don’t pollute.

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Looking at college as a business decision and determining whether a college education is financially worth it for you (or your child) 
  • How to finance college through loans, grants, financial aid, and scholarships 
  • 529 plans explained and why it’s an ideal way to save for college
  • Saving yourself by using the “Yes Model” to save for college
  • FAFSA vs. scholarships and how to apply for both
  • Cutting your college expenses in half with government-sponsored programs
  • And So Much More!

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