Are You Ready to Pay for College?

On April 1st President Obama announced April as National Financial Capability Month with a focus on ensuring all Americans have the tools they need to navigate the financial world and gain economic freedom. In today’s economy, financial capability is essential for managing through some of life’s biggest transitions, including paying for college. A solid understanding of money management basics makes it easier to avoid scams, spot misleading information, and make sound financial decisions on financing your education and avoiding unmanageable debt when you graduate.

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The first step in paying for college is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at www.fafsa.gov. Federal Student Aid has over $150 billion in financial aid available for college and it all starts with the FAFSA. The FAFSA is FREE, so you should never have to pay to have someone submit it for you. In addition, many states also have state aid available to help finance your education. You’ll want to make sure to complete your FAFSA by the priority deadline for your state to be eligible for those additional funds.  You should also spend time looking for scholarships. Many are based on your interests, community service, organization affiliations, etc. and not just your grades. StudentAid.gov has lots of great information and resources on planning and paying for college including how to search for scholarships.

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you won’t get a check in the mail from the government. There’s a little more to it than that. Once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice, they will send you a financial aid award letter listing all the financial aid you are eligible for. The timing of the aid offer varies from school to school, and you could receive an aid offer as early as spring (awarding for the fall). You’ll want to be an informed consumer and make sure to closely review your aid offer. You can also compare offers from different schools to see which might be best for you. And you don’t have to accept everything that’s offered.  The rule is free money first (scholarships and grants), then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans). Check out this handy chart that illustrates the order in which you should accept financial aid.

If you do have to take out student loans make sure to borrow only what you need and try and limit borrowing to federal student loans. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexibility when it comes time to pay them back. Federal Student Aid also has a Repayment Estimator which can help you get an idea of what your monthly student loan payment may be when you graduate. This tool will help you see what impact the loans you are about to get can have on your future finances. Don’t wait until you’re ready to graduate to find out what those student loan payments might be and wonder if you can afford them!

Education is an important step in getting a good paying job and can lay the foundation for your financial future. Plan ahead and make smart decisions about how you finance it.

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

3 Comments

  1. I believe there need to be a cap on repaying student loans. I have a student loan that was around $7,000 when I took it out now I owe about $38,000 on that same loan and this was only for a certificate. Even if you take, out a government student loan and realize the repayments for your loan amount are, increasing once you began studies it makes it hard to change your loan or schooling. In addition, I cannot believe the monthly payments students have to make on their loans and many do not have jobs with great pay nor benefits

  2. I believe there need to be a cap on repaying student loans. I have a student loan that was around $7,000 when I took it out now I owe about $38,000 on that same loan and this was only for a certificate. Even if you take, out a government student loan and realize the repayments for your loan amount are, increasing once you began studies it makes it hard to change your loan or schooling. In addition, I cannot believe the monthly payments students have to make on their loans and many do not have jobs with great pay nor benefits.

  3. I hope saving for college is evenly addressed. I see so many parents spending foolishly with no college funds for their children. Get responsible America!!

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