25 May 2009

Undergraduate student loan options

Which are your best options (or order of lower rates and better terms):

(1) Private interest free organizations (i.e., Hebrew Free Loan Association) - though they're rare, you should investigate before moving on. This is like investigating for scholarships and grants - it comes first. The organization paying the interest for you is essentially giving you a scholarship for the interest, and that can be a lot over time.

(2) Federal Perkins Loans - currently 5% (great rate!) but limited to those who demonstrate extreme financial need and only so much funding is available for each school in a given year.(3) Federal Direct loans for students (i.e., Stafford loans)____
  • Subsidized (the government pays the interest for you while you're in school)
  • Unsubsidized (interest starts accumulating immediately)
Direct Stafford loans offer low interest rates relative to private or PLUS loans, but you're limited in how much you can take. It depends on:
  • your year in school (i.e., freshman, junior, graduate student, etc),
  • your school's offer (which may be less than the maximum - it's based on your need derived from your FAFSA).
  • whether you're dependent or independent (which can increase unsub'd amount available)
(4) Parent PLUS (or Graduate PLUS) direct loans - fixed interest rate, relatively favorable policies/terms/fees compared with most private loans. However, higher interest rate relative to Stafford and Perkins loans.

(5) Private loans (a.k.a. Alternative laons) - Citiassist,
Sallie Mae Education Trust, Wells Fargo, Chase, Ed America, U.S. Bank, etc.
  • Shorter repayment term (standard 20 years)
  • Higher, variable interest rates (LIBOR or Prime + X%)
  • Less favorable terms for borrowers often (i.e., prepayment penalties, origination fees, etc)
  • Not available for everyone (depends on credit of borrower and possibly a co-signer)
Assuming you need more money than is offered by the Stafford Direct loans, you have to decide whether to take a Parent (or Graduate) Plus or Private / Alternative loan. The general consensus is to take the Plus loan.
Finaid.org's advice:
Of course, borrowers who are eligible for federal education loans should exhaust their federal loan eligibility before resorting to private student loans, as the federal loans are generally less expensive. (There are a few exceptions where private student loans offered by nonprofit state loan agencies are less expensive, but private student loans offered by commercial lenders are generally much more expensive than federal loans. For example, the average interest rate on private student loans in 2007 was about 2% higher than the Federal PLUS loan interest rate and about 4% higher than the Federal Stafford loan interest rate.
I was uncertain whether Parent Plus loans would always be a better option than private loans. My private law school loans offered very low interest rates, but these are not available to undergrads. The differences are in the interest rate and loan terms/policies/fees.

The differences between Plus loans and private loans come down to interest rates and loan fees/terms.
  • Plus loans are fixed: this year they are 8%.
  • Private loans are mostly variable: LIBOR (the rate banks charge to lend each other money) plus 3-15% depending on the lender and depending on your credit, whether you have a cosigner, and other factors. They may also be based on the Prime rate (benchmark in setting home equity lines of credit and credit card rates) minus 0.50 to plus 5%.
To decide if a private loan would be better than a Plus loan, you need to know:
(1) What the interest rate is likely to be over the life of the private loan (i.e., a prediction for the average LIBOR rate):
So it seems that over the past 10 years LIBOR has varied between 0.38% and almost 7% (which is added to your loan interest amount, i.e., LIBOR + 6% = 6.5% today, but it was 13% in 2000). LIBOR can be even higher, see the 1989 - 2009 chart where it went over 9%.

So the average LIBOR rate is over 3% in the past 10 or 20 years. You'd be repaying your variable loan over 10-30 years depending on the terms, so odds are that LIBOR will average around 3%, so your rate will be 3% + [your lender's additional amount].

If your lender is offering a rate below 4% then a variable loan has reasonable odds of beating a Plus loan, though certainly no guarantee. But if it's LIBOR + 5% or higher, then the private loan is probably going to cost you more than the Plus loan.

(2) Beyond simply the interest rate, other fees and terms in a loan can impact the total cost substantially.
  • Plus loans have very standardized deferment policies, repayment terms, and are government regulated to afford you some protections.
  • Private loans are much more varied - you might get better terms, you probably won't. There might be origination fees, pre-payment fees, hefty late fees, and others which the Plus loans do not have.
Take Sallie Mae for example: their "Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan" offers rates of LIBOR plus 5.75% to 12.5%. Today's historically low LIBOR would mean you'd get an optimal rate of 6.25%, but on average that would be 8.75-15.5% ... substantially worse than the Plus loan.

Chase offers LIBOR + 3.65% to 12.25%. If you got their best rate, LIBOR + 3.65%, you might consider accepting their private loan over a Plus loan. However, the terms are much less favorable for you as a borrower:
Maximum 20 year repayment period (vs. Plus offering 30 years)
You may be required to pay origination or repayment fees depending on your creditworthiness.

CitiAssist offers Prime -0.50 to +4.5% ... an analysis of various lenders offering Prime -0.5 to +4.5% may give different results;

But for now I'd recommend accepting a Plus loan over a private (or alternative) loan unless you can get a rate lower than 4% ... even if you can get <4%,>

Winner: PLUS loans

*if your parents are denied a PLUS loan, you become eligible for additional Stafford (subsidized and unsubsidized) loans, so don't immediately seek out a private loan, go to your fin aid department.

** if your in a different position from when you filed your FAFSA, file a changed circumstances petition with your Fin Aid department ASAP, you may be eligible for Perkins loans, more Stafford loans, or a changed budget increasing your maximum loan eligibility.

24 May 2009

Who exactly is trying to scare us into changing our political goals?

I'm going with our own government:
FBI Blows It: Supposed Terror Plot Against NY Synagogues Is Bogus

A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

State Department's definition of terrorism:
The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
Elements of their definition:
1. Premeditated
2. Politically motivated
3. Violence
4. Against noncombatants
5. By groups smaller than a government
6. Intended to influence an audience.

What the FBI did here meets all those components except #5 - they are more than a "subnational group."

Premeditated: Planned since 2002 when their "inside man" was busted for ... terrorism? No, identity theft. Started pitching his "plan" and recruiting for his "team" in 2007 at a Mosque.

Politically motivated: became informant months after 9/11 and FBI directed him toward a group of people who looked like the bombers and their success changes political outcomes, appears to be a victory in the "ongoing (i.e., we need more funding) war on terror."

Violence: incarceration is an act of violence apart from any additional injury suffered from being jailed.

Against noncombatants - these men were not part of a military unit or a "terror network" until the informant drew them into his own sham of a group. Even if this falls short of entrapment, it is still not a combat group as it is actually created by a government agent.

By groups smaller than a government - again, this component is not met.

Intended to influence an audience - tell me you don't think the "successful capture of homegrown terrorists" is not meant to influence the US population into changing our political and social activities, into supporting policies and groups and fighting against (or stopping support for) others (i.e., the ACLU, Democrats, etc).

So no, it's not terrorism, but why the hell are we up to something the falls so fucking close?

Space shuttle Atlantis landing in California TODAY

because we have better weather than Florida.

20 May 2009

Guns kill people. Including those demonstrating gun "safety"

I guess my problem with guns is that they kill and maim people ... even those who say they're safe, those who are demonstrating that they're safe ... because, well, they're not.

"Keep them unloaded or you'll end up killing/hurting yourself/someone else ... just like this."


18 May 2009

Summary for people looking at taking the bar exam ... again.

I'll go over what happens initially and what I suggest you do to get over it the next go around. (rehashing this old post on the same subject).

You feel like shit
Failing sucks, a lot. But no, it's not as bad as you're making it out to be in your head. It takes time to reconcile how much of a problem it is in the bigger picture of your life vs. how much you blame yourself and feel like beating yourself up over and over again. Seriously, it's not as shitty as you're telling yourself.

You should start getting ready to pass it next time
No, don't freak out and sign up for some crazy expensive tutor today to make yourself feel better ... get perspective on your needs and resources then act and commit to your well thoughtout plan.
  1. Money and Time? --- Taking the exam was expensive the first time, it will be again. Like buying a house or car, a good place to start is to create a budget to determine how much money and time you'll have to prepare for the test this time. This depends on whether you have a job, what it is, and whether they'll give you time off or let you work part time / half days ... and for how long. Working the whole time you're studying is not a good idea, but if it's necessary, well, yeah. You certainly need loads of time near the exam for memorization, get vacation time or otherwise get that time off if at all possible.
  2. How to study this time? Odds are you took BarBri your first time, maybe PMBR also. So what do you do now? Probably you've already started googling prep courses common for repeat test takers ... take a breath first. You need to know what you need help with before determining how to focus your studies. MBEs, Essays, or PTs? All of them? How close to passing were you? There are tons of questions you need to answer before figuring out your approach.
Three suggestions for everyone:
  1. Jeff Adachi's Bar Survival series - Bar Breakers I and II are the biggest parts, there are also flash cards (pretty good), a "Survival Guide" (has outlines which parallel the flashcards closely), and a book on the MBE's (which is supposed to be inferior to other MBE specific resources). ($100 off craigslist for all the above, ~$325 new)
  2. Strategies & Tactics for the MBE by Walton and Emanuel - recommended by many online and by John Holtz (see below). $56 (By far the best bang for your money.) I'd even say this is better than PMBR for much less money ... though it provides many fewer sample questions.
  3. Conviser - you need a copy of the Conviser Mini-Review, used is fine if you don't have your old copy from BarBri. It's just an excellent resource.

-------------------repeat of old posts follows-------------------

I used several resources for my studies, I’ll list them below, but don’t limit yourself to this list, I’ll list others further below).

(a) The Survival Series by Jeff Adachi – This is an amazing set of materials, best bang for your buck by a long shot. The main two volumes are called “Bar Breakers” and train you on writing essays, just incredible stuff there. The other materials are for studying the subjects – the Survival Guide is a set of condensed outlines which are not perfect, but a really excellent summary to memorize. There are also flash cards which are almost identical to the Survival Guide text. I made my own flash cards as per the Essay Intensive suggestion – I found it worked very well, but for three subjects I ran out of time and knew they were less likely to appear on the exam (though one of them did). I think everyone should get the 2 volumes and the survival guide, but flash cards are a maybe. Bar Breakers ($100?) Survival Guide ($30) Flash Cards ($100) (approximately, search for them on Craigslist then get the updates form Jeff’s website for free, great stuff).

(b) The Bar Code – they offer a book (The Cheat Sheets, $139, great – can’t recommend enough!), a class that meets 4 times and you get 15 graded essays (also amazing if you’re working and can’t attend weekly or daily classes – this is what I took , amazing essay feedback and the courses are excellent on helping with hard subjects – cost is $1300), or tutors (tutors are a bit more expensive, but you get 60-70 essays graded with incredible feedback and tons of personal help – this is what I would have used if I had a little more time and substantially more money –$3500-4000).

(c) John Holtz – private tutor ($450 retainer is very reasonable, he’ll go over your essays with you and create a study plan which is reasonable, his feedback is great and he works over the phone/fax) and teaches a Performance Test course (also $450, complex method that worked GREAT on one PT this summer, and was harder to apply for the other PT – overall, it was worth it. Email me if you want a more detailed review of his class and his method). The Bar Code also offers a 2 day PT course that others seemed to respect and the price is the same, $450.

(d) Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) by Kimm Alayne Walton – absolutely the best MBE study guide – all the “tips” and suggestions that PMBR will give you but presented in a much more organized and transparent method. This was highly recommended by John Holtz and The Bar Code tutors/teachers. Absolute necessity for repeaters, should be used by first time takers too.

(e) Flash cards – I made my own based on a summary of the materials in the BarBri Mini-review and the Adachi Survival Guide. I really liked this method. The most important thing is to keep the “answer” side of the card to under 25 words – otherwise it’s more than you can memorize which is the whole point. SHORT ANSWERS! This is super important, Adachi and The Bar Code agreed on this, keep the answers short. If you think there has to be more on the issue, separate it out onto another card. The Adachi cards a too long usually, must your own with SHORT answers. This will be part of you studying for the first 12 weeks and it will be all of you memorization practice for the last two weeks. Memorizing at the end is very important, see the Adachi book for the reasoning here – this made a HUGE difference for me as the first time I spend the first 10 weeks memorizing, then the last two weeks practicing essays – totally backwards!

I thought this was a good combination of affordable and focused on my weaknesses (I needed to make up on my PT and Essay scores which apparently is common). Essay Intensive helped with my essays, Holtz’s course helped with PTs, and I studied by making the memorizing flashcards from the mini-review and Survival Guide.

Finally, you'll know more when you get your score back (i.e., priority for MPE or essays or PTs). I freaked out quite a bit afterwards and did far too much research about the different programs that were available, but focused on the Bay Area. First, you should consider what you can afford in terms of time and money, then focus on what areas you need to work on, and last which programs fit those requirements (mine is only one of many examples).

Random thoughts now, sorry, just passing by, email me for other ideas or check here later for feedback or updates to this.

-----------old post repeated here for more options---------

Options, options, options. I've been researching which books, programs, tutors, and bullshit work the best and here's the general plan:

  1. Jeff Adachi's Bar Survival series - Bar Breakers I and II are the biggest parts, there are also flash cards (pretty good), a "Survival Guide" (has outlines which parallel the flashcards closely), and a book on the MBE's (which is supposed to be inferior to other MBE specific resources). ($100 off craigslist for all the above, ~$325 new)
  2. Strategies & Tactics for the MBEby Walton and Emanuel - recommended by many online and by John Holtz (see below). $56

Courses, seminars, tutors: (not all recommended, some just listed for convenience)
  1. John Holtz - PT and Essays, seminar and tutoring. 3 day course on the PT for $450 (reviews range from mixed to very positive, more on the positive end). Based in LA but teaches PT course in SF also. May be available to tutor for a similar price. Tutoring is over the phone and fax. Free study plan by email. You work off materials you already have or can get on the cheap (PMBR big books, Bar/bri stuff, the Walton book above, Bar Breakers, etc). I'll be using him personally, but below are some other options I researched.
  2. The Bar Code - $1200 for the "intensive" program, $3000 for the "complete program." Mixed reviews, some really like their materials, two of my friends recommended it. (I might use it with Holtz's program/help).
  3. Essay Advantage - Essays only, substantive review and essay feedback.
    1. $1500, taught by Jeff Adachi in SF, operated by Bar/bri. Supposed to be similar to the bar/bri experience but with sole focus on essays which get a bit more feedback than in the regular course (this apparently varies, but the same person has been grading them in SF for a while now and gives a respectable level of feedback).
    2. 12 classes, 6 graded essays. Classes during weekdays so incompatible with work.
  4. PT advantage - same as above, but for PT only, $450 for "alumni" of bar/bri.
  5. Emerson's tutorial bar review - Recommended by a friend of mine, but costs $4950.
  6. Barpassers - $2000, see chart, also recommended by a friend. Commonly used, slick presentation materials, on the affordable side but less personalized than most others.
  7. MicroMash - $900 for MBE's, $1600 for MBE's + State specific materials (for California at least). This is a computer program that is sold by Thompson-West. Supposed to be good help with MBE's. VERY similar to the Smart Study program Bar/bri students are familiar with.
  8. The Writing Edge - some people seem to like Vivian Dempsey, but her course is $5500, high even for a private tutor.
  9. CalBar Tutorial - many random recommendations, some negative though. Paul Pfau is behind this - some love him, some really hate him. Serious spite.
  10. Hugh Reed / passyourbar.com - good reviews out there, though few. Hugely expensive! Small classes for $4,400, private on-on-one tutoring for $14000 (and some options in between).
  11. Fleming’s - covers essays, performance exam, and MBE
  12. National Bar Review - private tutoring, they advertise heavily
  13. PASS - online course — covers essays and performance test
  14. Adaptibar - online MBE course.
  15. Bar Graders - private tutoring for essays
  16. Bar None Review - essays, MBE, performance exam
  17. Bar Perfect - private tutoring on essays, performance exam
  18. Shari Karney - too EXPENSIVE ($6,000 for limited help, $12,000 for the "platinum package" which I think includes hypnotherapy. Not a good choice in my opinion, few independent reviews. On the plus side, she includes her prices on the website (most other private tutors do not because it forces you to call and then they can personally sell you their brand of snake oil).
  19. There are others, post your recommendations, reviews, additions, or thoughts in the comments!

06 May 2009

That kangaroo's an asshole!

Legos ... wait ... can they do that? (and bullying the cyberbully)

Legofesto's blog and flickr page.
3 years for "cyber" bully ... prosecutor's reasoning: "let that be a lesson to the rest of ya!" Probation's recommendation: $5,000 fine and felony probation.

“A probationary sentence might embolden others to use the Internet to torment and exploit children.” ... because adults who post mean messages to kids on MySpace follow the news and case law so closely that their decision to post or not will be influenced by someone (who the probably agree is stupid or worse) convicted of a felony went to prison rather than being fined and put on probation ... right.

Most prosecutors have a much more reasonable view of the impact of sentencing on those other than the criminal defendant, i.e., next to nothing because crimes are committed while people are upset or under the influence -- so the sentence (which they probably never heard about) of someone they probably never heard of has no impact on their decisions.

And yes, it's silly that Oprah is helping KFC in their current bullshit promotion to sell non-fried chicken ... it's just a lure to get people into the store, get hooked on the secret recipe, then draw them back for fried goodness. Maybe not, but it's certainly not part of any sane weight management plan. It'd be better to give away wiffle ball bats to your friends and tell them to wack you if they saw you reach for cake ... like the left over cake from my office potluck ... that I managed not to eat today ... and that I'm not going to eat tomorrow ... no. No!

05 May 2009

The Jonas Brothers - great rant about pretending not to be selling sexuality

In a nutshell:
Disney is selling sex to kids, pretending they're not, and making a fortune while forcing their audience into cultural bankruptcy.
Via kottke.org (via a.wholelottanothing)