Ep. 127 – Shellee Howard – College Ready – Without Losing Your Mind or Money

Would you like to send your child or grandchild to college at a reduced cost or for free? There are ways to get a college education and remain debt-free, but we often don’t dig deep enough, or we’re too uninvolved with the college planning process.

College planning is a process you should get involved with and early to be ready to receive that college debt-free education without eating into your retirement investment. The FAFSA form is one way to go if you want to get a reduced or free education.

Listen in to learn about the strategy that helps students figure out the right careers to pursue in college 

In this episode, find out:

●     How Shellee started College Ready after successfully planning her son’s debt-free college education.

●     Why the 8th grade window is generally and financially the best time to focus on college planning. 

●     Plan for college early to get the right fit for your child academically, socially, or financially.

●     The two major mistakes that parents make when it comes to their child’s college.

●     Understanding the FAFSA form and the immense financial benefits it opens up for students.

●     The reasons why you should complete the FAFSA form regardless of your current financial status.

●     The importance of focusing on a college that is keen on valuing your student and paying for them.

Tweetable Quotes:

●     “The best time to get really focused on planning for college is when the student promotes from eighth grade.”– Shellee Howard

●     “If you want any financial opportunity ones that your student earned, you have to complete the FAFSA form.” – Shellee Howard

Get in Touch with Shellee:

●     Website: https://collegereadyplan.com/

●     Book: How to Send Your Student to College Without Losing Your Mind or Your Money


If you are in or nearing retirement and you want to gain clarity on what questions you should be asking, learn what the biggest retirement myths are, and identify what you can do to achieve peace of mind for your retirement, get started today by requesting our complimentary video course, Four Steps to Secure Your Retirement!

To access the course, simply visit POMWealth.net/podcast.

Here’s the Full Transcript:

Radon Stancil:Welcome everyone to our Monday podcast where we are always trying our best to bring experts to the table to be able to share with you information that we think is beneficial for you, but also for Murs and I. And today we have someone with us, Shellee Howard and Shellee is a pro when it comes to college planning. And we know that many of our listeners might have grandchildren that they’re trying to help to get to college. We know that some of you have your own children that you’re trying to get to college, and this can be a very, very, very daunting task.  
 So, Shellee, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us and sharing with us some of your expertise around this idea of being for college.  
Shellee Howard:Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to serving and helping in any way I can.  
Radon Stancil:Fantastic. So can we just start off, I guess, can you give us a little bit of background as to how Shellee Howard got into this thing of helping people get ready for college and planning for that? Maybe tell us a little bit of your backstory and how that all evolved and where you are today.  
Shellee Howard:Well, since we only have 20 to 30 minutes, I’m going to give you the really reduced, tight version. Basically I grew up in Orange County, California, five generations. At my public high school, they had absolutely no help. That counselor had lot of students to deal with. I did it completely crazy. I applied to two schools and got into both and it is so very different than it is now.  
 The reason I share that is because I vowed at that moment, I would not do that same thing to my own children. So College Ready actually got started when my oldest who’s now 27 came home from 8th grade and said, “Mom, I know exactly what I want to do when I grow up and I know exactly the college I want to go to. Can you help me?” Like every good parent I said, “Okay, what do you want to do?” And he goes, “I want to be a brain surgeon and go to a top tier school.” And I had the biggest eyes like I must have seen a ghost because there’s no medicine in my family. Like I was the first to go to college in my family. It was a big ask.  
 So without boring you with all the details, he actually did what I recommended. And I went back to school and I got my master’s degree from UC San Diego. I started touring 25 colleges a semester. This is my 13th application season. That’s kind of scary. And when he graduated, he had seven full ride offers, went Harvard for free. And his first job, I’ll never forget. He was making $106,000 with no college debt. Talk about a game changer. I knew that I was onto something because I ran it as a business and not an emotional attachment. And that is how College Ready was started.  
Murs Tariq:Gotcha, Shellee. That’s a nice little background story and thanks for sharing that. And yeah, I mean, it’s huge. The numbers that we see as far as kids coming out of college with student debt and the amount of debt that they come out with at times, it’s this mountain that can be very difficult to overcome. And so if we’re in a position to either prepare properly so that we come out of college debt-free and are able to just kind of jump into the working world and start saving right away. I mean, that makes people like Radon and I very happy to get started on the right foot.  
 So there’s a lot of different directions I think we could take this podcast, but like you said we’ve only got a little bit of time here. I think I’d like to dive in, because I had a conversation really about less than a month ago with a client of ours. And he’s got two kids that are ready to go into college and they’re very much looking into the Ivy League situation, but they’re a little bit on the younger side, maybe freshman in college. So my first question to you is when as a parent or maybe a grandparent that’s looking forward to helping out, when is the right time to start thinking about all this? When is the right time to start playing planning for the best, most efficient way to enter into college?  
Shellee Howard:I get that question often. And of course it’s going to depend on the maturity of the child. As grandparents, you probably see things very differently than maybe when you were in the thick of it. But speaking generally, the best time to get re you focused on planning for college is when the student promotes from 8th grade. Why? Because that’s the first moment colleges get all in your business. They want to know how did they use that summer prior to high school? Did they take the right first classes? Are they ready to take the test?  
 And financially why it’s critical is that FAFSA looks at the second semester of the sophomore year and the first semester of the junior year. So when I get clients like this morning who called and said, “I know I’m early” and I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, they’re a freshman.'” No, I’m a senior.” I’m like, “What are you early for?” Because the financial part of it is done. So it really depends on if a family is looking for any kind of free or reduced tuition, the big window is the FAFSA window.  
 And obviously year after year, that’s going to change. If they don’t care, they’re happy. I have some people call me and say, “Shellee, just get them into this school I’m happy to write them a check.” That’s fine too, but think about it like this. The student needs a really nice resume if they want to get into their dream school. If you wait and do that their junior or senior year, their resume cannot compete. So it’s all about where do they want to go? Are they looking for an academic fit, a social fit or a financial fit? And then planning properly. The worst thing they can do is not plan and hope that their 17-year-old will figure this out.  
Radon Stancil:Yeah. We were talking just a little bit prior to recording and I know that Murs and I have had a ton of conversations around this. I’ve actually talked with people who do different types of planning. And I think we tell stories all the time around mistake that are made getting ready for retirement because that’s our big thing that we help people with. And sometimes people go back all the way 20 years, 30 years, and they thought they were doing things right. And then they get all the way down and they go, “Man, if I would’ve known what I know now, I would be so better off.” And that could be something as simple as the tax sufficiency of one type of IRA versus the other. And I’m just making that illustration.  
 So in this case, a person has either a grandchild or a child, they’re zero, they just are born or they’re pregnant and they go, “I’m going to make sure my kid has all the advantages in college.” And so maybe they read an article about a 529 plan or they figure out and they go, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” And for 18 years or 17 years or whatever it is, they start doing this. What would you say if you had to list maybe one or two, whatever major mistakes that you go, “Man, I wish I could have talked to you back there 15, 16 years ago so that you don’t have this today, or at least you would’ve thought a little bit different.” Could you give us maybe one or two of those and maybe why?  
Shellee Howard:Absolutely. And it’s interesting because they usually come from my my grandparents because they’re the ones who made this big mistake, and they don’t want their children to make the same mistake. I would say the number one thing they tell me is leaving it up to the child to do this process. They are still kicking themself that they were not more involved with preparing that student to understand money and understand loans and understand debt. They just allowed their daughter or son to pick a college based on a football team or a basketball team and then go into massive debt.  
 So that would be number one is be involved because if not, that could absolutely ruin your entire retirement. People tell me all the time, “Well, we’ll just figure it out after they get in.” Okay, that’s devastating because what’s their option? They’re going to pull from their retirement to pay for it. That’s not a good plan or they’re going to just allow the student to get loans. Well, the reality is the student can’t get loans. The parent can get loans. The student has no collateral.  
 So now all of a sudden these parents are co-signing for these big loans for a 17-year-old who is not sure why they’re going to college and now is when things happen really bad. So those two things I think would be get involved, start talking about it early and planning about it, but do not leave it up to that 17-year-old. I get calls all the time, “How do we pay for this school?” And I’m like, “That’s like buying a home and figuring out how you’re going to pay the mortgage. This doesn’t work like that.” So those are the things I would encourage in anybody listening to get clear on.  
Murs Tariq:Right, right. Yeah. We looked up what the average tuition cost is in North Carolina. And I think the number was somewhere around 25,000 a year. When you factor in tuition room and board, the books, you got to get all that stuff. And we have some really good schools here in North Carolina and some good private, some really good public, but that number kind of came to around 25,000 and that’s in today’s dollars. And so if you take that and you multiply that by a four-year college, you’re looking at $100,000 and then say you just had a kid or you just had a grandkid that you’re planning on helping. So if you take that by 18 years of inflation and I think college inflation is higher right now, and I think that’s always up for debate as to how we’re getting to control this.  
 But college inflation is higher than regular inflation. And so that 100,000 now becomes 200,000 18, 15 years from now, whatever that is. So that’s a big number. It’s very much like a mortgage that you got to plan for in the future. So I’d like to kind of get into the FAFSA form. First, if you could explain what it is and then how important it is to be thinking through how you’re filling that out and then what it actually does to help, I guess, consider someone for getting financial aid or not getting financial aid.  
 And I know there’s formulas involved and there’s parent assets and there’s children’s assets. So can you take us through what the FAFSA is, what that process is and everything like that. And then I’d like to get into the formula as well because I think that’s a huge part to it. So kind of multilayered questions there, but I’m very interested to hear what you’re going to say.  
Shellee Howard:So thank you for bringing that up. Now I just did an hour and a half webinar on just the FAFSA. So for me to be able to give this to you in five or 10 minutes, let’s go non-technical way because we don’t know the technicality of the listener. First thing I would tell you regardless … I should back up.  
 The reason why you might want to listen to this is because our students earn 10.7 million in free money that was not need-based last year. Always ask the person you’re listening to. Are you qualified to speak on this topic? Big question. So yes I am and I’m a mother of four. I’ve completed the FAFSA nine times, the CSS profile four times and I have over 300 students that we help navigate this. So those are the reasons.  
 Now the form itself, the FASFA form is free. It’s a government form that attaches to your taxes. Okay? They’re not asking for anything you haven’t already given the government. So if you feel like it’s in invasive, just know they’re going to ask for basic information and then may I connect your taxes? And you click yes, the government has it and it populates.  
 It’s not as intimidating as people think. Why it’s important. If a student wants any money, I’m talking any scholarship, merit, need-based loans, grant, anything, you have to complete the FAFSA. If you are happy to just write a check for that sticker price, that’s your prerogative. I don’t sell financial products. I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m just here to let you know you cannot be in the saving game of getting to college for reduced or debt-free if you don’t complete the FAFSA, it opens October 1st and it’s first come, first serve. The money does run out.  
 So these are things that people need to be very clear on. The second thing is there is a lot of bait and switch going out on the internet. You do not need to pay a dime to complete this form. It is a free financial aid form. So there are people that you can pay and they’ll do it for you like you have a CPA, but just know you don’t have to. So why would you do it is if you want to get a reduced or free education.  
 Now the second part, I think what you were asking is by doing this, what does it open up? It opens up the world, the whole financial world. If you don’t do it, you just have to plan on paying full price. But if you do the FAFSA, you could get need-based, you can get work-study, you can get Cal Grant, Pell Grant. I mean all the grants, you’ll be opened up to the WUE. You’ll be end up into the whole world of my student earned it and we want some of it. So not only are we helping the students be the best they can be, take the PSAT, become a National Merit Scholar.  
 I mean, there’s so many things the student can do personally, but on the parent side is get your financial house in order. Take all the money out of your student’s name because that’s the first money that you’re going to get asked to provide. There’s a higher percentage that they want out of that money. So the FAFSA tells you the schools look at this and the schools don’t look at this. It’s ethical, it’s written, but nobody wants to read it. It’s a very small, ugly federal form. I don’t blame you, but if it tells you what you need to do to save money, I encourage you read the form.  
Radon Stancil:So is there a thing behind this, by the way, where I guess maybe sometimes people think, “Oh, you know what? I make a good living. I save a lot of money in my 401(k). I’m a decent saver. And so probably this whole idea of even looking in this and doing this is just not even worth it because I make a good income we’ve been responsible. And so I know this is not going to apply to me so I have to pay for college.”  
 Is that a misnomer or is like that not true? I mean, should anybody look at it even if you do make good income or would you say no? If you’re making this or you’re doing this, don’t worry about it. You’re not to get any help. You’re not going to get any assistance. It’s not worth it.  
Shellee Howard:So I can answer that very simply because that question’s asked probably every day. If you want to pay full price, don’t complete the FAFSA period. If you are happy to pay the sticker price on the school, that’s it. If you want any financial opportunity ones that your student earned, you’re not going to even know what that is if you do not play the FAFSA game. To me, it’s why would you not? I tell families, I have multimillion dollar families all the way to need-based, the whole gamut.  
 And the way I explain it to everybody is this. You could use that money to put a down payment on their first home, to pay for a wedding, to put it in your retirement, to buy yourself a new car. I don’t care what you’re going to do with it, but don’t you think it’s worth fighting for? And that’s how I help people understand, but you’re right. Most people just think, “I’ve saved or I make too much money.” And I can just tell you, I’m in Orange County, California. Our housing market is probably except for New York, one of the most expensive places to live.  
 And I tell everyone of my clients, “And did you hear my son went to Harvard for free, right?” How do I live in Orange County and pay my mortgage? It’s not because I’m on a need-based situation. So the reality is if your student is doing the hard work and being the best they can be and you’re being a good financial steward and know what the FASFA looks at and what they don’t, why would you not put it when they’re telling you where to put it? I don’t understand. And then you can lower your expected family contribution. And then you can use that money the way that you would like to see fit. So everybody just wants to jump to, I’m not going to get need-based and that’s really not the reality of what I’m seeing.  
Murs Tariq:Gotcha. Yeah. And I know there’s no one answer to every family and I assume your approach is kind of getting to understand what the family is all about, what the kids goals are and then how can we shape this to make them college ready, right?  
Shellee Howard:Correct.  
Murs Tariq:But there’s so many different things out there and you can Google one article that says put as much money into a 529 plan as you can. And there’s other articles that talk about these Coverdell accounts and then there’s other articles that they don’t do any of that, just put into a savings account or utilize life insurance. So I’m not asking for you to say which one is the best here because like I said, it’s all very situational.  
 But what are you seeing? If someone is looking and you mentioned it to get the most advantageous FAFSA and you said to get all of the numbers, all of the assets out of the kids’ name. What are you seeing people doing there if they put money into the kid’s name or they’re taking it out, but what’s the trend that’s been working as far as to make the FAFSA the most advantageous?  
Shellee Howard:Really it’s having students start with us when they’re freshman. They haven’t made any mistakes. They are on the right academic path to get into a school that … Remember, schools have the most money. Forget the FAFSA for a moment. The best scholarships, the best money come from the school’s alumni, their endowment. So getting a student into a school with a very large bank account, they give away a ton of money.  
 I tell people think about it as a business. You are the business owner, I come to you with this incredibly built out resume. Are you not going to give me a lot higher salary than somebody who brings you no resume? So you can talk about the FAFSA all day long, but that’s not where the money comes from. The money comes from having the student be the best they can be and putting them at a school that is truly going to value them and pay for them because they need diversity. Not just in skin type or ethnicity, they need businesspeople. They need liberal arts. I mean, they need all of these things and if they’re not getting them, they’re going to start giving students money to encourage them to come.  
 So yes, the FASFA is important, don’t not do that, but that’s not where the big money comes from. And so I have to be really clear because like your point. When you Google this, it’s going to say, “Oh, do this.” And then you’re going to read this and it’s going to say, “Oh, do this.” And you have a headache and it says you have a brain tumor. You have to be really careful with Google. And that’s why my mission is to help a million families get into the best fit college and graduate debt-free because that is the quickest way to have a successful future.  
 If you don’t have debt and your significant other doesn’t have debt, you can buy a house. I mean, you’re off and running in the game of life. It’s when you marry debt and you’re both strapped with all this debt, now you guys are fighting an uphill battle and that is critical. So picking the right colleges and completing the FAFSA, that is how we saved our families 10.7 million.  
Radon Stancil:That’s great. Now I got one here that I’d like to just hit on a little bit. It’s possible I’m sure to be talking to a 15, 16-year-old and say, “What do you think you want to do when you grow up?” And they say, “I want to be this. I want this to happen.” I would say though the vast majority, we were just having a conversation the other day with a client. They said, “My son’s a freshman in college.” And I said, “Oh, what do they want to do?” And they said, “They have no idea either. They’re just trying to figure it out. So right now they’re just going to school and they’re going to figure it out later.”  
 So if you’re thinking through this idea of I want to go to school, but I really have a son or a daughter or a granddaughter or grandson, they really don’t know what they want to do, which is legit, by the way. There’s no way on this earth at 15, 16, I would know what I wanted to do. So they say, “Hey, I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to do.” How do you help somebody in that scenario kind of think through college?  
 Because it goes back to what you said. I think if I’m in that state with a young person, they’re kind of going with, “I like this football team or I like this basketball team.” And they’re kind of looking at it that way versus what’s the most economical thing for me to do? So how do you help families in that situation when you’ve got a kid who’s good kid, just don’t know what they want to do?  
Shellee Howard:Very common. I would say at least 50% of the people who come to me, their kid is they don’t know. The challenging part is it’s usually because the student is really good at a lot of things. And you wouldn’t think that that’s a problem, but that’s a problem. If you’re only good at math, that takes out half of the potential careers you’re going to do. So how we do it is a very unique strategy and it started with my son who said he wanted be a brain surgeon. I didn’t believe it as much as I wanted to think, “Oh, that’s so cool. He wants to do that.” I’m like, “But why?”  
 And so what we do is called Passion with Purpose. And every student who works with us is signing up to do at least 200 community service hours. Why? Well, community service is good and can you imagine our world if all 18-year-olds had completed 200 hours of service? We would be in a very different position. But on top of that to answer your question, when you’re serving somebody else you’re not worried about, “Do I like to leave or follow? Am I good at math or finances? Do I want social media? Do I want to be in the workforce? Do I want to do a research project?” You’re just happy. You’re just like, “Yeah, I’ll try that.” I mean, how bad can it be? They’re no worse off.  
 And so by giving these students the opportunity to walk the talk and learn, “Do I want a desk job? Do I want to be committed to this for the rest of my life?” These are the things nobody’s talking about to these kids. There’s nothing in high school for them. And if a parent’s not doing this work, how would they know if they don’t want to do your job? So we actually reverse engineer it and we talk with students first. What are they passionate about? It’s a lot more fun to do community service when you love what you’re doing.  
 Then we ask them, “What would you love to see changed in the world if I gave you all of the time in the money?” And then all of the sudden, reality hits they’ve been living in this bubble because we’re so scared to the outside world that they have no idea what they would want to change. So then we help them understand that. Then we teach them how to lead others to create change. Well, when you lead others, it’s like teaching something. You learn it twice as well because now you’re having to get really clear on what you want it.  
 So when students start with us in 9th grade, they have four years with us nurturing them and bringing them along. And then when they say, “Shellee, I want to go into women’s studies.” And I say, “What job will you do when you graduate?” And they said, “Oh.” The light bulb goes on way before they pick a college. That’s a beautiful minor, but can you make a living doing that? So we help students.  
 They don’t have a clue how much $100,000 in a loan is until I say, “How long do you want to work for free?” And they’re like, “No, no, no, Shellee, I don’t want to work for free. That’s why I’m going to college.” And I simply say, “That’s called a student loan. And if you don’t choose wisely, you will be working for free.” And then of course we’ll hear, “No, my parents will.” And that’s always terrifying for me. So to answer your question, we address that first and not last.  
Murs Tariq:Gotcha. Shellee, that is great and thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us today. Obviously you have a very clear, defined process when it comes to helping these kids and parents and grandparents figure out this big journey that is college and universities.  
 So if you could, if someone’s listening right now and they’re like, “Yeah, I really need help with this.” Could you point them in the right direction to getting in touch with you?  
Shellee Howard:Absolutely. So my gift to any of your listeners is a free discovery call with myself where I get on with the student, and I help them understand is test optional really optional and so on and so forth. That is my gift. The way you can sign up is on my website, which is www.collegereadyplan, because you need plan .com. Sign up there, hop on a discovery call.  
 Otherwise, if you don’t want to make that commitment, you can get my best-selling book How To Send Your Student To College Without Losing Your Mind or Your Money on Amazon. So we’re on every social media channel, including LinkedIn. And I’m here to serve. Whatever I can do to help you navigate this process would be my honor.  
Radon Stancil:Yeah. I’m going to say that if you’re listening to this and you just think, “Hey, is it worth, I guess, a discovery call?” I would say absolutely. I wish we could sit here for an hour and a half and talk about all these things, but I think we’re just trying to give a basis here. If you need help, go check in with Shellee and at least get the understanding, get a thought process around how you’re going to deal with college either for your child or your grandchild.  
 So Shellee, thank you so very much for coming on and chatting with us today. It’s been a privilege and I know this is going to be helpful to a lot of people.  
Shellee Howard:It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much.