Interview: Natasha McMillion helping parents & teens break financial barriers to enter college

For years, college has been a priority for many teens and their parents; however it remains difficult for parents and teens to obtain the necessary information to gain access to it. The lack of knowledge that most teens have concerning FAFSA and other grants and/or scholarships is very concerning for parents. Which leads to parents researching information for them. If there was ever a time that they needed this information, it’s now. With COVID going on and families experiencing financial setbacks from it, there are many teens and parents who believe college may not be an option without some type of financial assistance.

Natesha McMillion, CEO of a business she calls, “The H.E.L.P” saw this problem and set out to provide help. She is a Higher Education Literacy Provider who provides information for teens and parents which gives them the necessary education to help them fill out their FAFSA. Natesha also offers advice on choosing the route that will be best for the teen and their parent(s). WTP Lifestyle Magazine had the opportunity to speak with her and gather more information to help parents who wish to further their child’s education, without breaking the bank.

Tell us about your program.

The H.E.L.P is an acronym that stands for Higher Education Literacy Provider. I provide free financial literacy and guidance to federal loan borrowers related to FAFSA, financial aid, student loan repayment, loan forgiveness, consolidation, cancellation, discharge, and default. I am a Higher Education Professional who has worked in this industry for 18+ years. This is my area of expertise. I host free financial literacy events where students and parents (especially first generation) complete the FAFSA for those interested in applying for college. I advise borrowers of their rights and responsibilities as it relates to their student loan indebtedness. The goal is to make the borrower aware of any option(s) they have and possibly assist them with this process. I also collaborate and partner with various organizations and industries to help their clientele who have questions, issues, or concerns with their loan debt. My goal is to be a resource to the community and help stop the spread of misinformation regarding the financial aid process.

Being in this field for 18+ years, what are some of the changes that you have experienced/seen?

Higher Education is constantly changing. The rules and regulations don’t necessarily vary as much as processes. I attribute a lot of the changes we have seen and are seeing in the last few years to the impact of COVID. COVID changed many things, students, parents, and borrowers were able to benefit from some of those changes. One example is the moratorium on student loans where Trump suspended payment and interest on all federal student loans. That was good. This change allowed ED’s collection agency to stop the tax offset and garnishment of wages of borrowers who defaulted on their loans. ED also made some changes to the financial aid process, making it easier for parents and students to secure funding. An example of this is that schools didn’t have to complete FAFSA verification for some students.

What would you say are some of the pros and cons of obtaining FAFSA loans?

The FAFSA application awards student’s federal student aid. Federal student aid includes Pell Grant, work-study, and student loans. Most forget that student loans are a part of the financial aid package. It is a loan that borrowers must repay. Federal loans have two repayment methods: voluntarily or involuntarily, because they will be paid. So, for those who borrow, make sure you are borrowing responsibly. If a student doesn’t have any other means to pay their tuition, loans will be their only option. If a student doesn’t want to take loans out and has no savings or college savings plan, they should consider going to a community college. Community colleges are cheaper, and if the student qualifies for need-based aid, they can use their need-based aid to pay their tuition. Therefore, they may not need their loans. If they do, they won’t need as much.

With today being a world filled with student loan debt, what is the best advice you would give a high school graduate?

The best advice I can give to a high school student is to make sure college is something you want to do. Not every student wants to go to college, and that is OK. I work in this industry, and I am saying it is OK. College is not for everyone. However, you do need a skillset or trade. Some students don’t want to go to school for another four years; however, they are willing to do two or less to learn a trade or get a certification. I don’t think we push for trades and community colleges as much as we should. This impact is significant on our community because we are the greatest defaulters of student loan debt. Of course, there are many reasons why we default, but we also must borrow more than others. Therefore, when we graduate, if we graduate, we are overloaded with student loan debt. So, my best advice is to make sure you have the desire and heart to go to college. If you do, borrow responsibly. If you don’t or are unsure, start at a community college. Don’t overlook trades or certifications. Follow your heart.

If not able to earn FAFSA loans, what are some other options to retain funds?

Every student qualifies for financial aid. Remember, financial aid includes Pell Grant, work-study, and loans. Unfortunately, not every student qualifies for need-based aid. Need-based aid is Pell Grant, work-study, Federal State Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), etc. With that said, every student will receive some form of aid from FAFSA. Some students may only be eligible for federal student loans. If that is the case and the student needs more funding, they will need to review and apply for scholarships. The school they are interested in will have scholarships on their website. Also, the parent can apply for a federal Parent PLUS loan or a private loan. For those parents, I advise applying for the federal before the private. The reason is, you have more repayment options.

What mistakes have seen high school graduates and others who are attending college make while filing for FAFSA?

There are a lot of common mistakes that both students and parents make while completing the FAFSA. Hopefully, this will change with all the new changes being implemented with FAFSA and the form changing from 108 questions to 36, which may help with some of the errors we commonly see. Most of the errors include the student entering their ssn incorrectly or their parent’s information (misspelling of the name, wrong date of birth, incorrect ssn). Also, the parent doesn’t sign the FAFSA. Most students are dependent, and their FAFSA will not process without their parent’s signatures. These issues can be easily corrected. I would advise the student and parent to read, read, and read. Once the FAFSA is submitted, the student will receive an email stating they have introduced a FAFSA.

The second email they receive says the FAFSA was processed successfully OR that some issues need to be corrected. Most students and parents don’t read those emails. Lastly, students forget to put their school’s school code on their FAFSA. They will complete it early, but as time goes by, they are applying to more schools but not updating their FAFSA to reflect this. Every school a student has applied to should be listed on their FAFSA. That is the only way the student is going to receive an aid notification letter from the school. The aid notification letter shows students and parents how much federal, state, and institutional aid a student can receive if they attend.

So what should parents and students look out for when filing their FAFSA?

FAFSA has skip logic. Therefore, the next question you answer is based on your answer to the previous questions. A parent and student need only read the questions and click on the help button for assistance. Those buttons explain what information is needed in the field being reviewed. Or they can call Federal Student Aid (FSA) or perhaps their school’s financial aid office for assistance.

Although FAFSA can be a headache, Natesha gives us a few “hidden gems” that maybe you weren’t aware of. If you complete your FAFSA early, you have a better chance of receiving more financial aid. The reason being, most schools award need-based aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, and once that money is gone, it is gone. If you wait too long to complete your FAFSA, you run the risk of missing out on some of this aid. Therefore, to receive the maximum amount from your FAFSA, you must apply early.

Complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships. The FAFSA is where everything starts because the EFC determines eligibility for other aid, such as state aid. The state of NC subsidizes the cost of tuition for students whose permanent legal residence is NC through the NC Residency Grant, which is need-based. Therefore, you must qualify for it, and eligibility is based on the EFC, which can only be calculated upon completing a FAFSA. Residency determines if a student qualifies for in-state or out-of-state tuition for schools that have two separate tuition costs for their students. This grant can be used to help students pay their tuition. I advise NC students to consider attending a college or university in NC. We have a lot of great schools in the state. Also, don’t be afraid of attending a community college either. They offer lots of trades and certifications for those unsure of the collegiate path they want to take.

What advice would you give parents who are helping their children with their FAFSA?

My advice is to help your students with it; don’t do it for them. They need to be involved in the process. Read everything. Read everything. A student cannot complete a FAFSA without parental information. Entering your information in their FAFSA doesn’t give a parent debt. The federal government uses this information to determine how much need-based aid a student is eligible to receive. Read the emails that you receive after the student’s FAFSA is submitted; they won’t. With these emails, a student or parent can catch any mistakes that may require corrective action for the FAFSA to process.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for H.E.L.P. Natesha McMillion is an incredible provider and can answer any further questions that you or your teen may have concerning the process of finding the right educational benefit for them.

You can book her services by connecting to her Facebook page @TeshaIsTheH.E.L.P or by emailing her at [email protected].