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Countdown To College

Most parents want to give their children the best opportunity for success, and getting into the right college may help open doors. According to the Census Bureau, 33% of American adults have a bachelor’s degree, and those with a bachelor’s degree earn 67% more on average than those with just a high school diploma. ¹

Unfortunately, being accepted to the college of their choice may not be as easy as it once was. These days, preparing for college means setting goals, staying focused, and tackling a few key milestones along the way.

Before High School

The road to college begins even before high school. Start by helping your elementary and middle school children develop a love for learning. Encourage good study habits and get them dreaming about college. A trip to a nearby university or your alma mater may help plant the seed in their minds. When your child reaches middle school, take the time to find out which prerequisite courses may set the right track for math and science in high school.

The earlier you consider how you expect to pay for college costs the better. The average college graduate today owes $37,172 in debt, while the average salary for a recent graduate is $49,785.²

Freshman Year

Before the school year begins, consider meeting with your child’s guidance counselor. Discuss college goals and make sure your child is enrolled in classes that are structured to help him or her pursue those goals. Also, encourage your child to choose challenging classes. Many universities look for students who push themselves when it comes to learning. At the same time, keep a close eye on grades. Every year on the transcript counts. If your child is struggling in a subject, don’t wait to get a tutor. One-on-one instruction can be a huge benefit when mastering difficult material.

In addition to academic performance, many colleges want prospective students to be well rounded, so encourage your child to engage in extracurricular activities, such as sports, music, art, community service, and social clubs.

Sophomore Year

During their sophomore year, some students may have the opportunity to take a practice SAT. The practice test is a good way to give your child an idea of what the test entails and which areas need improvement. If your child is enrolled in advanced placement (AP) courses, encourage good performance on AP exams. A solid grade shows universities your child can succeed at a higher level of learning.

Sophomore year is also a good time to get some depth in extracurricular activities. Help your child identify passions and stick to them. Encourage your child to read as much as possible. Whether they read Crime and Punishment or Sports Illustrated, they will expand their vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Summer may be a good time for sophomores to get a job, do an internship, or travel to help fill their quiver of experiences.

Junior Year

Near the beginning of junior year, your child can take the Preliminary SAT, (PSAT), also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Even if he or she won’t need to take the SAT for college, taking the PSAT could open doors for scholarship money. Junior year may be the most challenging in terms of course load. It is also a critical year for showing good grades in difficult classes.

Top colleges look for applicants who are future leaders. Encourage your child to take a leadership role in an extracurricular activity. This doesn’t mean he or she has to be drum major or captain of the football team. Leading may involve helping an organization with fundraising, marketing, or community outreach.

In the spring of junior year, your child will want to take the SAT or ACT. An early test date may allow time for taking the test again in senior year, if necessary. No matter how many times your child takes the test, colleges will only look at the best score.

Senior Year

For many students, senior year is the most exciting time of high school. They will finally begin to reap the benefits of all their efforts during the previous years. Once your child has decided which schools to apply for, make sure you keep on top of deadlines. Applying early can increase your student’s chance of acceptance.

Fast Fact: Pre-Approved. The U.S. Department of Education says that all students, regardless of financial status, are eligible for up to $31,000 in federal Stafford Loans over four years.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2017

Now is also the time to apply for scholarships. Your child’s guidance counselor can help you identify scholarships within reach. Also, find out about financial aid and be thorough. According to research by NerdWallet.com, nearly $3 billion in free federal grant money goes unclaimed each year simply because students fail to fill out the free application.³

Finally, talk to your child about living away from home. Help make sure he or she knows how to manage money wisely and pay bills on time. You may also want to talk about social pressures some college freshmen face for the first time when they move away from home.

For many people, college sets the stage for life. Making sure your children have options when it comes to choosing a university can help shape their future. Work with them today to make goals and develop habits that will help ensure their success.

South Paws Wanted

Your child doesn’t have to be the high school valedictorian to qualify for a scholarship. In fact, thousands of dollars are awarded each year for the most unusual things. Consider these:

Countdown to College

  1. Right-handers need not apply.Frederick and Mary F. Beckley offer $1,000 to lucky left-handed students (who also want to attend Juniata College in Huntington, PA).
  2. Stick It. Duck Brand Duct Tape offers $3,000 to students who go to their high school prom dressed entirely in duct tape
  3. How Tall Is Tall? Tall Clubs International offers $1,000 each year to a tall person attending college. Get out the measuring tape. A woman must be at least 5’10” and a man must be 6’2” or taller to qualify.
  4. Candy Connoisseurs Unite. The American Association of Candy Technologists offers $5,000 to students who have exhibited an interest in confectionary technology.
  5. From “Mr. Top Ten” Himself. David Letterman offers $10,000 to students of Ball State University (his alma mater) who produce an original video, audio, written, graphic, or film presentation.

Source: Financialaidfinder.com, 2017

  1. Census Bureau, March 2016; Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 20, 2017
  2. U.S. News and World Report, May 9, 2016; Time.com, May 12, 2017
  3. NerdWallet, January 27, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

A Brief Guide To Condo Insurance

The ownership structure of a condominium unit is different from that of a single family house. Here’s what you need to know when purchasing insurance for your condo.¹

Understand the Master Policy

Since the ownership of all the common areas is shared with other condo owners, the association of owners typically purchases insurance coverage (a master policy) for the common areas, e.g., hallways, exterior walls, etc. The condo association’s policy will outline what is covered and what is not.

Three Types of Coverage

There are three basic types of coverage under a master policy.

  • Primary buildings and common areas
  • Your unit and any items within your unit other than personal belongings
  • Building, unit, and any fixtures

As you can see, the individual coverage you may consider depends upon the scope of coverage of the master policy. Start by determining what is and isn’t covered under the master policy—that can influence the coverage you need.

Know the Master Policy Deductible

Generally, an association’s master policy has a deductible that is typically charged pro-rata among unit owners in the event of any claim. Determine that obligation because, while it may never materialize, it can represent a meaningful financial commitment.

Consider Additional Coverage

Similar to any homeowner, you will need to make decisions about other coverage options, such as cash value or replacement coverage, adding personal liability coverage, and whether flood insurance may be appropriate.

Several factors will affect the cost of condo insurance, including the insurance coverage provided by the homeowners association. You should consider the amount of your deductible and level of coverage before purchasing a condo insurance policy. Any guarantees associated with a policy are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Important Birthdays Over 50

Most children stop being “and-a-half” somewhere around age 12. Kids add “and-a-half“ to make sure everyone knows they’re closer to the next age than the last.

When you are older, “and-a-half” birthdays start making a comeback. In fact, starting at age 50, several birthdays and “half-birthdays” are critical to understand because they have implications regarding your retirement income.

Important Birthdays

Age 50
At age 50, workers in certain qualified retirement plans are able to begin making annual catch-up contributions in addition to their normal contributions. Those who participate in 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans can contribute an additional $6,000 per year in 2017.¹ Those who participate in Simple IRA or Simple 401(k) plans can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000 in 2017. And those who participate in traditional IRAs can set aside an additional $1,000 a year.²

Age 59½
At age 59½, workers are able to start making withdrawals from qualified retirement plans without incurring a 10% federal income-tax penalty. This applies to workers who have contributed to IRAs and employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans (457 plans are never subject to the 10% penalty). Keep in mind that distributions from traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, and other employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income.

Age 62
At age 62 workers are first able to draw Social Security retirement benefits. However, if a person continues to work, those benefits will be reduced. The Social Security Administration will deduct $1 in benefits for each $2 an individual earns above an annual limit. In 2016, the income limit is $16,920.

Age 65
At age 65, individuals can qualify for Medicare. The Social Security Administration recommends applying three months before reaching age 65. It’s important to note that if you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospitalization) and Part B (medical insurance) without an additional application.³

Age 65 to 67
Between ages 65 and 67, individuals become eligible to receive 100% of their Social Security benefit. The age varies, depending on birth year. Individuals born in 1955, for example, become eligible to receive 100% of their benefits when they reach age 66 years and 2 months. Those born in 1960 or later need to reach age 67 before they’ll become eligible to receive full benefits.

Fast Fact: Early Benefits. The most popular age to begin taking Social Security benefits is 62—the age chosen by 42% of men and 48% of women.
Source: The Motley Fool, April 19, 2016

Age 70½
At age 70½, participants must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans. RMDs are based on your account balance and life expectancy.

Understanding key birthdays may help you better prepare for certain retirement income and benefits. But perhaps more importantly, knowing key birthdays can help you avoid penalties that may be imposed if you miss the date.

  1. The catch-up limit is adjusted in $500 increments.
  2. If you reach the age of 50 before the end of the calendar year.
  3. Individuals can decline Part B coverage because it requires an additional premium payment.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.