Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On The Road Again

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I’m moving…again.  It’s turning into an annual tradition; but not the kind you anticipate like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, it’s more like the dreaded fruit cake you always get from a neighbor at Christmas and don’t know what to do with it besides turn it into a paperweight.  I loathe the actual moving process.  Plus, I’ve really enjoyed my time in my current location and will miss it greatly.  However, after all the boxes are packed, loaded, delivered, and put away, the fun of moving to a new area begins!  New cultures, new people, new restaurants and tons of exploration are some of the best parts of living in a new place and that’s what I look forward to most!
Anyway, last year when I moved I offered 6 Tips for Moving on a Budget.  This year I have learned a few more tricks and would like to share them with you! 

  1. Get Your Moving Expenses Covered.  If you are moving for a new job, try to negotiate with the employer for them to either give you a stipend for moving, cover the moving costs directly, or reimburse you for the move.  Make this separate from any salary or signing bonus you may be offered.  Moving is expensive and not easy.  Employers understand and some are willing to help.  
  2. Check the Tax Code.  If your move meets a few criteria, you may qualify to deduct your moving expenses when it comes time to pay your taxes.  While you’ll have to pay those expenses upfront, it might pay off at tax time.  Here is the Internal Revenue Service’s Publication on the 2013 Moving Expenses Tax Deduction. 
  3. Use Pinterest.  Pinterest has great tips and tricks for moving, and most will help you save money.  Like using soap for nail holes, keeping your clothes on hangers, and putting Styrofoam plates between dishes to keep from breaking.

Hopefully, these three new tips and the six old ones will make your move a less stressful and more affordable process!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So Your Loans Are Entering Repayment

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    Time to dust off those loan agreements!  As your grace period nears an end, you need to determine your repayment options and start budgeting for payments.  Here are a few tips to help you.  
  1. Get Your Terms in Order.  Make sure you know who your lendors are and to whom you need to make payments. To make sure you have all of your loans accounted for, The U.S. Department of Education’s National Student Loan Data System will tell you about your Federal Loans and who is servicing them.  For private loans, you’ll need to check your records or start hitting the pavement.  All of your loans will likely have different terms, options for repayment, interest rates, and calculations of payment; so you’ll need to figure that out for each loan.  Additionally, once you find your lendors/servicers, you need to update your information – addresses, maiden/married name, phone numbers, etc. Otherwise, you could end up in default on a missed payment as not receiving a bill is not an excuse. 
  2. Find Out Your Repayment Options.  Have you consolidated yet?  Are there income based repayment plans or interest-only repayments to make paying more manageable?  Do you qualify for any repayment assistance through your employer (you’d have to check with your HR office)?  There are many different repayment options (more so with federal loans) available.  Calculate what will be most manageable for you and work with your loan servicer or lendor. 
  3. Repayment Benefits.  Can you get a discount on your rate for paying electronically?  Can you get credits for making so many consecutive and timely payments?  Are there penalties for paying off your loan early?  Little perks can add up, and if paying the penalty is less than paying the interest over the full term of the loan, it might be worth it. 
  4. Avoid Default!  At all costs, you should avoid default.  First, find out if you qualify for a deferment.  A deferment allows you to postpone repayment without interest accruing.  If you don’t qualify for deferment, find out if you can make interest only repayments until you can make a full payment.  Another option is forbearance.  Forbearance allows you to postpone repayment, but your interest accrues, which can grow your outstanding balance exponentially. Obviously, a deferment is better than forbearance for this reason, but forbearance is better than a default.  Don’t wait for a potential default to apply for deferment or forbearance. 
  5. Forgiveness and Cancellation.  Are you eligible for a loan forgiveness program? Some public service, military, or even rural jobs apply for payment assistance or eliminate repayments altogether.  In extreme cases, cancellation may be available to completely discharge you from repaying your student debt such as disability.

For more information on loan terms and repayment options, check out Chapter Five of my book Barrister on a Budget.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Colorado Reaching a New High Since Marijuana Law

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A recent article debates whether an increase in applications to Colorado colleges is a direct result of the passage of Amendment 64, which made recreational marijuana legal in Colorado.  College applications have risen by thirty percent since the new law.  Schools say that this may be coincidental because of more aggressive high school recruitment measures and new, easy-to-use application formats that were also implemented this year.  While many of you are weighing your undergraduate and law school options, putting a Colorado school higher on your list for the sole purpose to smoke a joint might be a half-baked idea.  Here are a few things to consider…
1.      College Campus Restrictions: The Controlled Substances Act, the Drug-Free Workplace Act, and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act are being cited by Colorado schools to enforce federal statutes that still prohibit the use of marijuana.  Additionally, students typically sign agreements upon acceptance to college that require them to adhere to a code of conduct, which could expel them for using banned substances.  Amendment 64 also prohibits the use of marijuana for those under 21.
2.      Money:  One of the purposes of legalizing marijuana for recreational use was to increase tax revenue for the state; and this has succeeded.  These extremely high taxes cause the product to be very expensive.  You might also need to spend money on supplies to use the marijuana.  And, your grocery budget is also likely to increase with one of the side effects of marijuana use – the munchies.  Further, federal drug-related conviction could prevent you from qualifying for federal student loans.
3.      Future Employment:  Because there is a conflict between state and federal law, there are still many unanswered questions about the consistency of enforcement.  For law students specifically, questions concerning drug use and criminal activity are posed during the character and fitness portion of admission to the bar.  Will the legal use of marijuana disqualify you from sitting for the bar exam?  If you search for a job outside of Colorado, you will have to consider drug screenings for THC levels.  Even if your use was sometime before your interview or employment, but can still be detected in your system, your legal use in Colorado may not afford you an excuse to employers in another state where marijuana use is still illegal.  In the job market we have today, is taking a hit worth the hit to your employment opportunities?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting Ready for 1L of a Semester

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The summer before law school can be filled with excitement, but it can also be a time of worry, questions, and a general feeling of unpreparedness.  Here are a few tips on how to spend your summer in order to answer those questions, give you confidence, and put you one step ahead before your first class.
  1. Hit the Books.  Your reading should start well before your first assignment is given (which is usually a week or two before orientation/classes).  Most schools provide a summer recommended reading list, ranging from how to brief a case to how to ace exams.  If your text book list for classes is available, start hunting down required text and read some of the cases.  Purchase supplements for those books and read them, too.  If you enjoy leisure reading, now is your chance to get that in as well because you won’t have much time for fun reading during the semester.  To learn how to get all of your books for a good price, read THIS.  
  2. Learn Your Learning Style.  While you read, try your hand at briefing cases, outlining, or making flashcards or pictures.  Maybe studying alone teaches you that you work better in a study group.  This is the perfect time to see how you learn best as you won’t have much time or opportunity for trial and error once school begins.  To further help you, read my post on learning your learning style. 
  3. Get Your Supplies.  It’s time to hit up the dollar store office supply aisle.  Here is a great list of supplies that you will want to buy in bulk.  Look for good deals and sales.  Also, most students purchase a laptop.  Try to save up for a laptop instead of using the allotment calculated into your tuition cost (thus lowering the amount borrowed for a student loan).  Paying out-of-pocket is much better than adding the expense to student debt plus interest for thirty years.  If you’re undecided about purchasing a laptop, check out this helpful article.  You should also consider purchasing Carbonite to automatically save your work in case your computer is stolen or breaks. 
  4. Form Your Cheerleading Squad.  This first semester is going to be hard and will test you mentally, physically, and emotionally.  You’ll need some back-up for those days where you want to give up.  Try interning for a law firm, courthouse, or pro bono clinic to garner experience, but also to find a mentor.  Spend time with friends and family.  Hold on to close friends who will keep you focused and won’t cause drama or expect you to party all the time.  Get a workout buddy.  You’ll want to exercise to keep blood flowing to the brain, to keep your body healthy, to make you happy and energetic, and to give you good sleep.  A workout buddy will give you accountability and a push when you need it – and it’s more affordable than a trainer. 
  5. Speaking of Health.  Get all of your doctor appointments and follow-ups out of the way.  Dental cleanings, flu shots, etc.  If you have this all taken care of, you can limit emergency or multiple visits during the semester.  Plus, you’ll feel healthy and be ready to get down to work. 
  6. Get Your Finances in Order.  Calculate your budget and start maintaining it.  The sooner you form the habit, the easier it will be to continue.  My book, Barrister on a Budget, offers tips on how to get ready for classes as well as what costs you might expect.  In the appendix, there are sample budgeting sheets, which include all of the expenses during your first year.  Just fill in the blanks! 
  7. Carve Out Time for Fun.  Make sure you have some time to have fun.  It’s important to let your mind and body relax to avoid burnout during the semester.  Make a mini bucket list and enjoy checking each thing off!