Off to College

Going off to college can be both exciting and daunting – whether the school is in your home town or thousands of miles away. I remember when I left home to travel to an out-of-state university, I was more excited than nervous. We didn’t have to worry about identity theft or Craigslist rental housing scams. The college application process seemed so much simpler and less dramatic. You sent in a paper application with a check, took the SAT’s just once with no prep classes, and in many cases, went off to a college campus you had never seen before. On the other hand, what I wouldn’t have given for a laptop computer and the internet instead of my graduation-present Smith Corona electric typewriter (with a box of carbon paper and correction tape) and the hours upon hours spent at my school library’s using the microfiche machines to look for hard copy reference material for term papers.

These days, there are a lot more things to consider if you or a family member is starting college. With various scams so much in the news today, it’s prudent to be cautious.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants

According to Saving for College, the average cost of tuition for four years of college is between $39,000 for a public university and $134,000 at a private college. Most students have to rely on financial aid.

If you are applying for aid, be diligent about doing your research:

  • Be wary of any companies that want to charge a fee for a scholarship application or a grant. You should never have to pay a fee.
  • Don’t pay money to any company which offers to find scholarships for you. This information is readily available online, free of charge.
  • Shady companies will promise an unusually low interest rate for a student loan but have large fees attached. Instead, research loans that are offered through federal programs and local banks.
  • Delete any emails you receive that announce you’ve won a scholarship that you never applied for. This is a phishing attempt to garner personal and financial information.

Health Insurance

College students have several options for medical coverage. Most can stay on their parent’s health insurance policy until age 26. Be sure to check with your insurance company if you are going to college in another area as there may be out-of-network charges. A second option may be health plans for students offered by the college at an affordable rate. Coverages may be more limited than a parent’s group health insurance, so be sure to compare plans. A third option is to buy an individual health insurance policy through an insurance broker or the state’s insurance exchange.

Insuring Personal Belongings Dorms or Student Apartments

With students now overloaded with expensive tech devices such as computers, iPads, cell phones, digital music players, and bicycles (not including their clothes and books!), it’s important to properly insure these items. Most parent’s homeowner’s policies will cover their child’s contents in a dorm room, but the policy deductible (often $500) will apply. Coverages will include losses such as theft and fire, but not for lost items.

If living off-campus, a parent’s homeowners policy may still cover, but only up to a certain percentage. It may be best to buy an inexpensive renters policy. Note that if there are roommates sharing an apartment, each person should obtain their own policy. Check with your insurance agent to see what options work best for your family. Be sure to inventory all possessions by taking photos and writing down serial numbers.

For students venturing to college out-of-state who have a car, they may need to buy a separate auto insurance policy. Check with your insurance company to see if the vehicle can stay on your policy while away at college. Ask about any resident student discounts if they are away at school with no vehicle. As they are driving your vehicles less, the rates may go down but still keep them insured for their visits home as well as for the possibility that they may occasionally drive a roommate’s vehicle.

Off-Campus Student Housing

Craigslist scams for rental housing have become more and more prevalent countrywide. Scammers hijack existing rental and for-sale home listings and offer them as rentals for a really low price.  This is the number one red flag that the ad is a scam.

Other red flags to beware of:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. It probably is.
  • The landlord is not in the area and only communicates through email.
  • The landlord wants the deposit wired. Remember – wiring money is the same as sending cash. If it ends up being a scam, you won’t get your money back.

It’s best to deal with local realty companies and word-of-mouth from friends. Ask for advice at the student assistance office on campus. And, visit the rental unit in-person.

Better Business Bureau urges parents and students to be wary of possible scams. Do your research at bbb.org and then invest in a bright future.

#BBBinRipCity: Why the Trail Blazers/BBB Partnership Works

bbb_trailblazers_sponsor_headerIt’s game time! As the Portland Trail Blazers enter the NBA playoffs as a No. 4 seed, capping off what has been an exhilarating 2015 season, many wonder just how far they will go. But for Better Business Bureau, who is a proud sponsor of the Blazers, it can’t get much better than this.

BBB and the Blazers entered into a partnership last year sharing a common interest in educating, community support and consumer protection. And with the help of BBB’s Accredited Businesses, the Blazer/BBB partnership has come to fruition.

So, was it worth it?

You better believe it.

Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation.
Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation in March 2015.

I was in awe last month when I watched 18-year-old Spencer Mitton of Anchorage, Alaska, accept a $10,000 scholarship check from BBB CEO Tyler Andrew in front of 20,000 cheering fans during the Portland Trail Blazers halftime show. It was a huge moment for this young man, BBB and the Blazers because it reinforced the commitment that both organizations made to improve the lives of young consumers.

Like the Blazers, BBB strives to stay relevant—which has been increasingly difficult in today’s digital world. A partnership with the Blazers put BBB back into the mix.

During the 2014-15 season, the Blazers partnership connected BBB with 950,000 fans across the Northwest. With the support of our Accredited Business partners, BBB’s brand and mission was showcased in front of fans during every home game, in the community, at an exclusive watch party, during the first-ever Blazers/BBB Business Summit at the Moda Center and now in the playoffs.

This is a partnership that works—for everyone.

BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.
BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.

“We have already had the pleasure of working successfully with BBB,” said Steve Scott, Trail Blazers Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Marketing & Sales. “Based on our experience with BBB during Secure Your ID Day, we know this partnership will provide security to many deserving members of our community.”

Now with the NBA playoffs in motion, BBB and our participating Accredited Businesses have an even bigger opportunity to leave our mark. As thousands of fans pile into the Moda Center, they’ll see BBB’s seal on the LED board, hear about our mission over the radio and read about us in the Rip City Magazine. This connection drives trust and connects consumers with an added resource to help improve their lives.

Just ask Spencer Mitton, who created this 90-second video about BBB:

His video entry on how BBB protects people from identity theft earned him a scholarship to BYU so he could pursue a career in engineering.

So the next time you’re at a Blazers game, or when you’re watching them on TV during the playoffs, look for the seal and be reassured that the Blazers/BBB partnership is not only working, but making a difference to the people we serve.

Alaska Student Wins BBB Scholarship Contest

This year, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offered one $10,000 scholarship for a student (or up to three students on a team) in our three-state region. High school seniors applied for the scholarship by creating a 90-second video demonstrating how BBB helps people become smarter consumers. Judges evaluated the applications based on BBB branding, effort and creativity, content and total website views.

Spencer Mitton (center)
Spencer Mitton (center)

Spencer Mitton, a student at South Anchorage High School in Alaska, won this year’s contest from a pool of 16 finalists (individuals and teams). His video offers consumer tips on preventing identity fraud, garnering more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Spencer grew up in Anchorage and plans to attend Brigham Young University this fall to study engineering. He has always been strong in math and science but found that he also enjoys creative projects. He has been studying graphic design on his own since middle school—a talent that is evident by his winning video. Spencer would eventually like to combine innovation with math and science in the technology industry.

Currently the captain of his high school cross-country running team, Spencer would like to continue competitive running while attending college. During the summer months, Spencer runs his own business mowing lawns and teaching piano for clientele that he has built over the past few years.

Spencer is also the winner of the Anchorage School District’s Spirit of Youth Award and has earned the Eagle Scout award for community service.

What You Need to Know about Scholarships and Financial Aid

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money

Millions of students depend on grants and scholarships to pay for college, and applying for financial aid can be confusing.

Some companies claim they can help, but they often end up charging fees for information and assistance that students could have gotten for free elsewhere!

Before paying a company to find financial aid for college, do your research and listen for the following red flags:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” No one can guarantee they will get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees usually have so many conditions or strings attached that it is almost impossible for consumers to get their money back.
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” Scholarship information is widely available in books, at libraries, at financial aid offices and on the Internet.
  • “We’ll do all the work.” Only students and parents can determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms.
  • “You’ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship.” If you have not entered a competition sponsored by the foundation, this claim is highly unlikely.
  • “May I have your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship?” This is never a requirement for a legitimate scholarship offer.
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.” Legitimate scholarship offers never require payment of any kind.

In 2015, your Better Business Bureau is offering a $10,000 scholarship to one lucky high school senior in Western Washington, Oregon or Alaska. It is 100% free to enter–all it takes is a little creativity! Click here for details.

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