Paying for college can be daunting, and navigating the world of student loans can get confusing. There are so many types of loans, as well as other kinds of financial aid, that figuring out what you might qualify for — and how to get it — can get overwhelming pretty fast. Avoid common mistakes, get expert tips, and learn how to spot scams using the trusted sites and pages in this guide.
The first steps you take are important. Make sure you do your homework before jumping in to applying for student loans. Familiarize yourself with the different types of loans that are available, and make sure you understand the application process before you submit anything. Find trustworthy – and free – information using these resources.
FAFSA — The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the document that determines what kind of financial aid you are eligible for. Always use the official FAFSA site to access your application.
Student Aid Glossary of Terms — From “Associate’s Degree” to “Work Study,” this page defines all the words and phrases you’ll encounter as you research colleges and student aid options.
U.S. Department of Education — From the Department of Education’s main page, you can access information about federal grants and loans, find out about current laws and regulations, and check out the latest education-related data.
Comparing Financial Aid Awards — If you are offered financial aid directly from schools you are considering, you can use the tips on this page to help you compare the packages offered to determine which one will best suit your needs.
Avoiding Scams and Predatory Loans
There are plenty of ways to get taken advantage of as a student seeking financial aid, or as a graduate paying back your loans. Some scams involve offering loans with unfair terms while others falsely promise loan consolidation — and even debt forgiveness. Level up your student aid street-smarts by reviewing the information contained in these pages.
Avoiding Student Loan Scams — This page has lots of great information straight from the Department of Education to help you to recognize and avoid scams.
5 Ways to Avoid Loan Scams — This blog post explores some of the common mistakes students make in terms of being taken advantage of financially. Know them and learn from them, so that you don’t end up being the next victim.
FTC Scholarship Scams Page — Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s page about scholarship scams and how to avoid them.
Top Student Loan Scams — This page, from The College Investor, looks into some common student loan scams so you can avoid falling prey to them. There’s also a link to the site’s forums, where you can ask questions and discuss possible scams with others.
Other Ways to Pay
Of course, loans aren’t the only way to finance a college education. Tuition and expenses can be offset, and in some cases covered in their entirety, by things like grants and scholarships. It’s always a good idea to find out if you qualify for any non-loan sources of financial aid before agreeing to accept any borrowed funds.
Finding Scholarships — This page comes from the Department of Education, and is filled with great information about scholarships — from where to look for them to how they affect your loan eligibility.
Scholarship Finder — Start a free account with FastWeb and you can search for scholarship opportunities by entering your information into the fields. The system will match you with scholarships for which you may be eligible. Remember, however, to always research any individual offer to avoid potential scams.
Federal Work-Study Program — This government-funded program helps students to earn money while they are going to school by providing grants to employers and organizations who agree to employ college students. You can determine your eligibility for FWS when you fill out your FAFSA.
Ways to Pay for College Without Debt — This article offers some good suggestions for students looking to avoid getting loans. While these tips might not suit everybody’s situation (for instance, it may be too late for you to take AP courses in high school), you may find some creative ways to minimize the amount you need to borrow.
Saving For College
It is always smart to reduce the amount of aid you’ll need by bringing some of your own money to the table. Paying up front for as many educational expenses as possible will pay off in the long run. If you have the means and the foresight to do it, putting away money for future college expenses is a great idea. Whether you don’t know where to start or you just want to see if you’ve chosen the best savings plan, use the resources in this section to help guide you. Even if you don’t think you can afford to save up for college, there may be options for you — and there are some pretty creative ways to save money that you may not have thought about.
The Best Ways to Save for College — This Wall Street Journal article explores some different ways that families can put aside money for college, outlining the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Saving For College — This site focuses on helping people to start and manage a 529 plan, which is a program designed to help families put money away for college education. These are generally sponsored by individual states or by educational institutions. Find out about 529 options in your state, and follow along with the latest 529 news.
Maximizing College Savings — For some insight into investing your college savings wisely, read this CNN Money article for a good rundown on ways to make your school money work for you.
10 Quirky Ways to Save Money — Did you know that shopping on a Wednesday can help you save cash? Or that you can score a great haircut for free? Check out this U.S. News & World Report slideshow for these and other unusual ways to sock away extra money — money that you can use to pad your college fund.
Repaying Student Loans
When it comes time to pay back your loans, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit overwhelmed — especially if you aren’t exactly making great money just yet. In all but a few cases, student loans must be paid back no matter what. They cannot be erased through bankruptcy, and some private student loans can’t even be cancelled upon death. The good news is that lenders tend to be very reasonable when it comes to student loans, and you can often negotiate easy repayment terms that can be adjusted as your income level changes. Use these helpful resources to help you make wise choices when it comes to repaying your student debt.
Tips for Graduates — So, you’ve graduated and it’s time to pay back your student loans. But, what if you don’t have a job yet? Use these tips to figure out what your options are, and how to exercise them.
Loan Repayment Estimator — Use the repayment estimator from the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site to help you get an idea of what kind of repayment plans you may qualify for. Log in and use your actual financial aid information for more accurate results, or use estimates to get a general idea.
The 5 Fastest Ways to Repay Your College Loans — This Bankrate.com article offers up some excellent tips and strategies for paying your loans off more quickly.
A Beginner’s Guide to Repaying Student Loans — This New York Times article discusses the ins and outs of paying down your student debt, and includes lots of links to more helpful resources.
Repayment Guide — Consult the Department of Education’s repayment help page for a good rundown of your options for payment, consolidation, deferment, and even forgiveness.