President Barack Obama only has about six more months in office, and before he leaves, he has a message for college students and student loan borrowers.
In a report released this week, the White House describes America’s skyrocketing college costs and student loan debt and points out helpful tools and updates.
Here’s what the White House says you should know about affording college.
1. College is still a worthwhile investment — if you graduate
College is more expensive than ever, but you’re better off enrolling than not. College graduates — even those with student debt — are more likely to be employed and earn much more in their lifetimes than graduates of associate’s programs. The value of college graduates’ additional lifetime earnings far exceeds the typical amount of student debt they take on, according to the report. In fact, this graph from the report shows that additional earnings eclipse college graduates’ typical debt load by more than $400,000.
College isn’t a worthwhile investment for students who take on debt but don’t graduate. They’re much more likely to default on their debt, the report says.
2. The FAFSA is getting easier to fill out
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — a form college applicants and students must fill out to be considered for federal student loans, work-study programs, and many grants and scholarships — is notoriously complicated. But it won’t be as much of a headache starting with the 2017-18 school year.
New rules will allow students to fill out the 2017-18 FAFSA in October 2016 using their 2015 tax information. This better aligns the financial aid process with the college application process.
3. Choosing the right school can pay off
To get the best bang for your tuition bucks, choose a college that you can afford and that has a track record of helping students be successful after graduation. There are two tools that can help you pick: schools’ net price calculators and the Department of Education’s College Scorecard.
Net price calculators
A school’s net price is the amount you’ll actually have to pay for tuition, room and board, taking financial aid into account. It’s more telling than a school’s sticker price, because an expensive school could be less pricey if you qualify for enough grants and scholarships.
Most schools have a net price calculator. Use it to estimate your out-of-pocket costs for each school before you receive your financial aid award letters.
The College Scorecard offers insights about different colleges and universities, including their graduation rates, students’ average salaries after attending, students’ median debt loads and the percentage of students successfully paying back those debts.
4. Switch repayment plans if you need help managing debt
The typical 10-year repayment period for federal student loans can be tough for people whose careers start out slow. If this sounds familiar, there are four income-driven repayment plans that can help by capping your monthly payment at a percentage of your income and forgiving any remaining debt after 20 or 25 years.
The concept of income-driven plans has been around since 1994. But you now have more options, including Pay as You Earn or Revised Pay as You Earn plans. To find the best option for you, try the Department of Education’s simple repayment quiz.
5. You’ll get a tax cut to offset your tuition costs
The American Opportunity Tax Credit became a law in December 2015. It allows you — or your parents, if they pay your tuition — to take up to $2,500 off your taxes for each of the first four years you’re in college.
More plans underway
The Obama Administration has more plans to help borrowers saddled with unmanageable student debt. Earlier this month, the Department of Education launched a new feedback system for federal financial aid. The department is expected to release an initial report about the feedback in October 2016.
The White House is also improving the process by which borrowers who have been misled by unscrupulous, often for-profit colleges can get federal loan forgiveness. It’s expected to finalize the process by November 2016.