Great Advice for Students and Parents

At Inceptia, the foundation of our nonprofit mission is to arm students and schools with the knowledge necessary to make informed financial choices.

As a high school junior or senior, you probably haven’t made very many financial decisions that affect your long-term financial well-being, but that’s about to change. College is likely your first big expense, so when it comes to choosing a school, you want to find one that’s a good financial fit for you. We know it would be tough to do this all on your own, so we teamed up with NerdWallet and created a guide full of advice for you and all of the people who are committed to your success as a student, including your parents, family members, teachers, and every other mentor in your life. This free eGuide provides timely advice on what to expect and how you and your family can prepare as you approach the college application process. Here’s an inside look at just some of what you’ll find.

  • Tax Breaks and Loan Options to Pay for College
  • Strategies to Maximize Your Financial Aid Eligibility
  • 6 Financial Aid Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask

This free eGuide will prepare you and your family for your first big investment and help you feel confident as you begin a new financial journey.

Visit to get your copy!

Peer Advice: What to do With Your Student Refund Check

The start of every new school year means a lot of students look forward to their financial aid disbursing – but for all the wrong reasons. The infamous refund check, the check handed over to students after aid is applied to their account, leaves many saying “I can’t wait for school to start again so I’ll get a refund check and actually have some money.” What they don’t always realize is what that refund check really is.

A refund check is money that is directly given to you from your school, but it’s not a gift. It is the excess money left over from your financial aid package after your tuition and fees have been paid. But where is this money coming from – grants? Scholarships? Not quite.

Schools use “gift aid” first to pay your tuition and fees, so grants and scholarships are exhausted first. So for most students, that means a refund check is leftover student loan money… That means the money in that refund check will need to be paid back in the future, and could be accumulating interest from the time that check makes its way into your eager hands. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it if you need it, either. Some students use their refund checks to purchase education-related items like books, laptops, or other program essentials – items your student loans were intended to cover.

However, it can be really tempting to use that extra money to enjoy some non-essentials.  And by that, I mean anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your academic success. Too many students spend their student loan refunds on trips during breaks, new clothes, and dorm decorations. While these costs all might be associated with what you consider the “college experience,” they are not essential for helping you earn that degree.

As an alternative to spending that refund check without care, I offer some suggestions for when you find yourself with more financial aid than you need:

  1. Give it back. Here’s a thought – if you really don’t need the extra cash, don’t take it! It’s not free money when interest and repayment are attached, so if you’ve over-borrowed, you can give the money back and keep that debt balance low. Or maybe you decide you only need half of your refund check to cover the cost of your textbooks, and the rest can be returned. You can pay some or all of your refund right back to your loan servicer as soon as you want and ta-da! You’re rid of a chunk of your student loans before you graduate.
  2. Only accept what you need. Alternatively, you can choose to avoid temptation altogether by only accepting the amount of money you need to cover your tuition and fees. That’s right, YOU get to decide how much financial aid money you want to accept – and it doesn’t have to be every single dollar that’s awarded to you! When your school sends you your award letter, look over your expected costs to determine how much you truly need to borrow, and how much you can decline.
  3. Hold the money in your account. But only for the current semester. Maybe you are expecting to have some additional charges throughout the semester. Holding onto your refund is a good safety net for extra costs, but once the semester is over, give the excess money back to your servicer so you don’t spend it on anything non-school-related (and try to pay any interest that may have accumulated while you were holding onto that money).
  4. Spend it on books or school supplies. Part of the reason you were given extra money in your financial aid package was to cover other school-related costs outside of tuition, so this is a worthwhile expense for your refund if you need some help. Supplies might include notebooks, calculators, or even a computer if you absolutely need one.
  5. Spend it on transportation. If you live off-campus, it might be costing you to get to class. Whether you have to take the bus or drive yourself, this every day travel expense can get pricey, especially if you have to buy a parking pass, too. Calculate how much it will cost you to get to campus and to park there (if necessary). Budget that chunk of your refund and don’t overspend on parking meters and excessive trips.
  6. Spend it on living expenses. This expense can get out of control (think swanky loft in the trendy district), so keep it in check and make sure you’re not wasting your money. Whether you live on or off campus, housing is expensive. Rent, groceries, meal plans, utilities, insurance, and other charges can add up to a big chunk of your monthly payments. Make sure you’re still budgeting and only paying for what you absolutely need, and your housing cost can be justified as school-related, too.

Don’t feel guilty if you have to spend your refund on school-related items. You were offered this amount because your school thought you might need it. Just go into it with eyes wide open, knowing that you every dollar you borrow today is taking away from your future financial independence. Managing your refund checks while in school is a great exercise in learning to live within your means, and remember – don’t keep it if you don’t truly need it.

FAFSA Available This Week!

Have you heard? Big changes are coming that will forever change the financial aid process! For the first time in FAFSA history, students can now complete the FAFSA in the fall AND use tax information from the previous year. These changes will go into effect on  October 1, 2016, the day that students and parents can start filling out the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year (previously, the FAFSA would not become available until January 1).

To compliment this permanent date change, students (and parents, when applicable) will now use tax information from two years ago (referred to as Prior-Prior Year or PPY) to complete the application. This year, FAFSA applicants will use 2015 tax information, next year, 2016 tax information, and so on. This graphic helps to illustrate these new changes:




If you’ve filled out a FAFSA before with estimated tax information, you know it’s frustrating to then complete a FAFSA correction once you’ve completed your taxes. This new change eliminates that problem; you will already have your completed taxes on hand and you might even be able to use the IRS’s Data Retrieval Tool to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA.

Submitting the FAFSA earlier will also give you more time to consider each school you’re interested in, and decide whether or not each one is an affordable option for you. Keep in mind that first-come, first-served financial aid will still be in effect, and state and school deadlines may change with this update as well.

Again, this change is coming in five days – now is the time to educate yourself! For further information regarding dates and FAFSA changes, you can check out our previous posts:

What You Need to Know About the 2017-18 FAFSA

FAFSA Updates Coming Soon

What’s Up Next?

Imagine: You’re about to transition from high school to college. You’re secretly not sure what you’re going to do now that mom or dad won’t wake you up for school or force you to do your homework, but you refuse to admit that out loud…

Imagine: You’re leaving college – no more studying! But that means you now owe $20k+ in student loans, you just moved to a new city for your new gig, and you have to pay your own rent. Your planner isn’t big enough to fill in all your due dates for bills and work deadlines. And you thought college was hard…

NOW Imagine: You get a text to remind you of everything that might not be right in the front of your brain – like reminders to fill out the FAFSA, or to sign up for college entrance exams, or to pay back your student loans. You know, kind of like that one friend who actually remembers to remind you about stuff. Okay, now stop imagining – these reminder texts really do exist!

Up Next is a free texting service, provided by the nonprofit Civic Nation, that sends you text reminders to help navigate college admissions, financial aid, and student loan repayment. It’s pretty cool. And did we mention that it’s free? Yeah – learn more about it here.

FAFSA Updates Coming Soon

Change is coming – and this change can make the financial aid process a lot more simple! On October 1st, you can submit your FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year using your 2015 tax information. Does this update sound familiar? You may have heard of this referred to as PPY (Prior-Prior Year). Simply put, PPY means you’re using tax information from two years prior to the school year for which you’re submitting a FAFSA. Make sense? If you’re not quite following, this infographic from the U.S. Department of Education/s Federal Student Aid Office makes it VERY easy to see which tax year matches up with a corresponding FAFSA year. The bottom line: PPY means no more having to scramble to complete your taxes so you can complete your FAFSA – your taxes will have already been completed well in advance!


For more information on changes to the 2017-18 FAFSA process, be sure to check our previous post.


Back to School Without Breaking the Bank

You’ve probably already heard them; the worst three words of summer: “back-to-school.” The end of July is the Sunday of summer. You still have a whole month left, but you’ve already got that first email from an overeager professor. Stores have started putting up their back-to-school displays, and shorts and tank tops are put on clearance to make room for sweaters and coats. And of course, seeing all those back-to-school commercials signals not just the end of summer – it also means it’s time to pull out the wallet for new school supplies.

The upside to this back-to-school rush is almost unlimited options for cheap pens, notebooks, and other supplies from a number of stores. The downside is that you and millions of other students are all hitting the stores at the same time. So the longer you wait, the greater the odds that you’ll only have poor quality and/or higher priced items from which to choose. To save you from this sad fate, I offer up some advice and observations from my own back-to-school experiences.

  1. Make a list. Before you even think about going to the store, figure out what supplies will be needed for each class you’re taking and write it down… Sticking to this list will help you avoid the temptation of walking into a superstore and buying everything on display. Don’t fall into the trap! Make a list, get what you need, and get out.
  2. Dumpster dive in your old backpack. Before you even go to the store, empty your old backpack and see what you can reuse. Pens, pencils, and folders are items you can typically reuse year after year. Personally, I even keep partially used notebooks as “scratch notebooks” for homework assignments and study pages. Other items like staplers, scissors, and your backpack itself are all reusable as well.
  3. Don’t worry about the color. “So last year I was into blue and white polka dots, but I just saw this awesome chevron print phone cover, which matches this new iPad cover I just saw…” wait, let me stop you right there. Do you really need to spend more money to switch up your style every year? Nope. I think it’s safe to assume that no one cares if your phone matches your iPad, or if your dorm room style is perfectly coordinated like a Target ad… Avoiding yearly upgrades for the newest trends is not only practical for your wallet, it’s also being earth friendly (reduce, reuse, recycle!)
  4. Start early. Waiting until the last minute to buy your supplies may leave you sifting through near-empty bins of picked-over items. School supplies often start going on sale around the end of July, so have your list ready and go shop right away. If you wait until the Sunday night before classes, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Supplies will be out of stock and you’ll have to pay full price for the expensive stuff. You don’t want procrastination to carry over to the school year, so start your year on the right foot and buy your supplies early.
  5. Buy quality. Okay, let’s be real. Sometimes the more expensive supplies really are better. Things like laptops and other high-end electronics may be worth forking out the extra dough if they will better meet your specific technology needs. And because you will use your computer all throughout college, you want to invest your money in a product that will last – not just whatever is necessarily the cheapest option. Electronic stores often have deals for students around July and August, so shop around for the best discounts on higher quality products.
  6. Buy used. Textbooks, that is. Your required materials list probably includes a textbook for each class. Talk to students who have taken the class before you and see if they’ll sell you their textbook at a discount. If not, search websites like Chegg and Amazon for used textbooks.
    • Even better, rent a used book. One mistake first-year students tend to make is buying all of their books thinking that they’ll use them in the future. This is a common mistake that will cost you an arm and a leg. Most students don’t even look at the book after finishing a class. Many campus bookstores offer rental options, but be aware: the earlier you look for books, the better chance you’ll have at getting one at its lowest price before they sell out.
    • Other alternatives to saving money on books include buying previous editions of the required text (which are often very similar to the current edition) or purchasing just the online access code to a particular text. To be on the safe side, you may want to check with your professors first to ensure you’re not missing out on anything by taking these frugal routes.
  7. Buy groceries. Not what you were expecting, huh? Okay, this is something that can wait until the Sunday before class starts. Your first week of classes will probably be a little bit overwhelming, even if you are an expert student. A new routine takes some time to master, so having your meals under control will allow for a smoother week. You’ve probably already thought about how early you have to be up for your first class, but take a look at when you’ll have time for lunch and supper, too. Packing your lunch will save you a lot of money, but can also be more nutritious than a greasy burger from the student union. Planning what you will have for supper each night will save you from last minute runs to the nearest fast food joint. And yeah, brain food is a real thing. Preparing your food will not only be healthier, but it will save you time during your day, and save you a good amount of money.

You don’t have to break the bank to get ready for another semester. “Back-to-school” might be the last thing you want to think about in the summer, but preparing early will save you money and start your new year off on the right foot.

Peer Advice: What You Can Do Now to Get Financially Ready for College

And that’s a wrap. Another year has come and gone and I am officially down to three semesters left of college. Where has the time gone?

When I reflect on the last two years, I think about how much I’ve learned since I was a junior in high school. If only I could have known then what I know now – and I know I’m not the only one who thinks that. So, to you high school juniors and seniors who may not have thought much about the higher education investment in your near future, take some tips from this fellow student who went into it all without an idea of what it would cost me on the flip side.

First, start saving now. Yeah, that’s easier said than done, but trust me on this one. College isn’t just tuition and textbooks (and yes, it is true that most books are upwards of a couple hundred dollars…). It’s also living expenses, a wardrobe to rep your new team, and nights out with new friends. It will cost you to “worry about it later” because you still won’t be saving “later” if you have a spending habit now.

If you are already a spender, now is the time to break that habit because your expenses will only rise when you get to campus. If that’s not convincing enough, try this not-so-fun fact: I spent every single dollar of every paycheck that I earned during my first semester of college, and not a penny of that was spent on tuition or textbooks. Yikes, that was hard to admit… SAVE NOW. You’ll need it.

Keep filling out scholarship applications! I didn’t realize how important this was until I saw that none of my first-year scholarships returned my second year- surprise! Scholarships that you receive as a freshman may not necessarily be renewed year after year, at least not without reapplying.

You should continue to apply for new scholarships each year, and set aside time to research and write quality essays. It may require a big chunk of your time, but it’s worth it; remember, you don’t have to pay scholarships back. The more money you are gifted, the less you have to take out in student loans.

Take advantage of any financial education you can get your hands on. If you are lucky enough in high school to be offered a financial education class, take advantage of it! If not, take a look online at online programs, or try to enroll in a personal finance class your first semester of college. You will be amazed at how much you actually don’t know, and how much lifelong information you will learn. A financial education course will provide you with indispensable information for college that will be as close to real-life experiences as you can get without making those real world mistakes. This opportunity is priceless and the more knowledge you can obtain before you start taking out student loans, the better.

Get to know your student loan options. Student loans can be intimidating… if you’re not aware of how they work. Student loans are a reality for most students, and yet many just skip through their federal loan entrance counseling without paying it any mind. That lack of interest and state of being uninformed leads to student loans that can spiral into five and six-figure debt. Take the initiative to learn about what you’re doing before you borrow – after all, they’re your loans:

  • Discover the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
  • Master any unknown terms that you encounter during the financial aid process.
  • Calculate how much you will take out versus how much you will pay back.
  • Be sure you only borrow what you need (and no, spring break is NOT actually a necessity).
  • Realize the difference between federal loans and private loans.
  • If you’re using private student loans, compare lenders to see who will offer you the lowest interest rates.

There is a lot of information out there about different types of loans and how you “should” pay for school, but a good place to start is the Federal Student Aid website where you can learn about federal financial aid. Keep in mind that you know your financial circumstances better than any piece of paper or website, so what works for the mainstream may not be for you, and that’s okay. Your school’s financial aid office is there to help you figure it out.

While each student’s experience is unique, a lot of us share common financial flaws when we first leave the nest. It’s safe to say you’ll make mistakes as you learn how to borrow and invest in your future, but limit those by learning as much as you can before you make the transition, and lessen the burden on your future self. Your future self will thank you for it.

Measuring and Understanding Your Financial Well-Being

Financial well-being: the phrase can conjure up a number of different interpretations, depending on who you’re asking. For some, it can mean having an emergency fund. Others may think it’s finally paying off those student loans (woo-hoo!) Still, others may simply believe that financial well-being is attained by making a lot of money. But that’s not totally correct. While making money certainly is a factor in financial wellness, it’s certainly not the only one. After all, having a large paycheck is great but it won’t seem like much if you’ve comparable levels of debt and expenses. Despite the common belief that more money brings more security, the definition of financial well-being shows that there’s more to it than just your income:

Financial well-being: a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.

                                -Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)              

As the CFPB indicates, financial well-being is not at all about how much you earn. Rather, it’s about making smart decisions with the money you have to allow you to experience peace of mind. True, earning bigger bucks can give you the opportunity to more comfortably cover your financial obligations, but all of that can be undone by giving in to lifestyle creep and failing to plan.  That’s why the CFPB has created a tool to help you measure how financially fit you are and a starting point upon which to build your path to financial well-being.

The CFPB Financial Well-Being Tool

The CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale was created to help quantify something that hasn’t been very easy to measure up to this point: your financial wellness! It’s based on a series of five to ten questions, depending on the version you decide to complete. The questions were carefully selected through a series of cognitive interviews, factor analyses, and three rounds of psychometric testing to ensure that you can clearly interpret them in order to construct an accurate score. In other words, it’s a scientific look at the not-so-scientific way we spend money!

Why is this important?                     

If you’ve seen any financial literacy survey or research lately, you know that Americans are failing miserably when it comes to managing money. Millennials, especially, are being targeted as a generation that doesn’t understand credit, can’t repay their student loans, and will need to work well into their golden years due to a lack of saving and retirement planning. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Learning about and investing in your financial well-being can turn these trends around and ensure that you don’t become part of these statistics. And the Financial Well-Being Scale is a good place to start.

That being said, this tool doesn’t “grade” you; there’s no gold star for finding yourself high or low on the scale. Most people will find themselves in the middle. However, you might challenge yourself to an annual competition to monitor your progress on a monthly, quarterly, or annual level. You can use your findings to help yourself cut back, maintain, or add some splurge funds to your next budget.

Can my score change?

Absolutely. Although it’s probably ineffective to take the test every time you put money into your savings account, taking the test every few months may be beneficial as it can help you determine whether or not you’re making the right financial decisions for your lifestyle. Your score is based on things that change – income, spending, savings – so it will fluctuate as your financial behaviors do.

How do I take the assessment?

The assessment is online and ready for you to complete when you’re ready. The best part? It’s everyone’s favorite price – free. The assessment can be downloaded in three easy clicks starting here.

How do I find my results?

Each response has a set value between zero and four, and the sum of those response values is located on a table where you will follow the number to your corresponding identification and you’ll see your score.

In the end, your score means more than just the number you find on a piece of paper. It gives insight into what you’re doing well and where your challenges are when it comes to money. It provides an objective lens through which you can view your ability to pay the bills, both today and in the future, and whether or not you can splurge on a Friday night on the town. And when you know all that before you even receive your next paycheck, then you know you have achieved financial wellness.

Take your assessment today and start becoming your own financial hero.

How to Become Habitually Frugal

“Frugality is often borne out of necessity but eventually it becomes habitual.” Jim Wang grew up living a frugal lifestyle, and although he can now live more comfortably, his frugal habits stuck with him. He shares a few things he’s learned over the years, and how they can help you become habitually frugal, too. Take this clever idea – he puts a whiteboard near the freezer with a list of everything inside, allowing them to keep inventory and use items before they go bad. Read the rest of his tips and tricks to create your permanently frugal lifestyle.

To read “9 Daily Extravagance Habits Frugal People Don’t Have” by Jim Wang, click here.