Making Informed Decisions About College Costs

When reviewing college financing decisions, gather as much information as possible to make the most informed choice you can. Our office is available to answer many of your questions, but we might not be able to answer your questions about other colleges, especially private colleges. Do your homework and research financial aid options-- your college years are worth it.

Many students apply to multiple colleges and must compare financial aid packages. Be smart! Compare the value of the degree and the education you'll receive. You also need to compare the cost of attendance. Is a large scholarship hiding a larger price tag? Look at this example:

Sample Financial Aid Package
College A
College B
Total Cost of Attendance
$9,870
$21,580
Expected Family Contribution
3,659
3,659
Financial Need
$6,211
$17,921
 
Aid Package
Pell Grant
$0
$0
State Scholarship
0
1,500
Institutional Grant
2,000
7,245
Work-Study
0
2,220
Perkins Loan
0
1,000
Stafford Loan
2,625
2,625
Total Financial Aid
$4,625
$14,590
Amount Not Covered
$1,586

     $3,331

Even though College B has a more impressive award notification-- $14,590 is a lot of money!-- it also has a bigger price tag. The family will have more out of pocket expenses.

You should also do your scholarship homework! We have listed many links for scholarship searches. Don't forget to continue to apply for scholarships throughout your college years. 

Some families may have other options. If you have considerable home equity, your parents may want to consider a home equity loan. Only your family can determine if this is the best option.

Some times, affording college means thinking creatively. Make a financial plan for college. Research scholarships, explore financing options, work every summer, and compare college costs.

Being Scam Savvy

College is an expensive venture for most families. Not surprisingly, everyone is intrigued by offers for financial aid. But are some of those offers too good to be true? Sadly, many of them are.

If you're a high school junior or senior, you've probably noticed you get a lot of stuff about college in the mail.  Some of the information is about college choices. Some of it may be offers to search for scholarships. Your parents might be getting information on financial aid "seminars". Be very careful when you review this information-- some places might be offering things they can't deliver.

The first key to remember about financial aid is this-- there is only one application used by the Department of Education. It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some schools might have institutional applications-- which are legitimate-- but there is no other federal form. On-line, this form is available only one place:  http://www.fafsa.ed.govBE CAREFUL! There are other websites which may have "FAFSA" in the domain name, but they are not official Department of Education sites. Remember, it's called the FAFSA for a reason-- it's FREE! 

Other scams are likely to involve scholarships. If you are asked to put a deposit before receiving a scholarship, be wary-- it might be a scam. Also, remember that no one can guarantee you money. 

There are some wonderful websites which offer 100% free searches. Funding your college education does require some effort on your part. Research scholarship opportunities. Be scam savvy.

For more information on scams, including where to report them to, visit FinAid. While you're there, check out their scholarship search, FastWeb-- it's considered by many to be the best on the web.

Debt Management

Be a responsible borrower! Manage your debt-- don't let it manage you!

Remember, your student loan is your responsibility. You will be required to repay it.  When you sign your promissory note, you are making a promise to repay your loan, as well as capitalized interest and deducted fees.  Read the note before you sign it, too. Your lender will expect that you are familiar with the terms.

Keep a record of everything you sign. Know your lender. Track your student loan debt, and only borrow what you need. These are all common sense things to do, but in the excitement of college, many students fail to do them-- and pay the consequences when they graduate.

Be realistic about what you can afford to repay when you graduate. Although college will put you on the right track to earn money, most students don't make six figures right out of college! Don't take on more than you can handle when you graduate. If you're curious, our office has sample repayment charts available for you to see what you're monthly payment will be when you graduate.

Budget carefully while you're in college. This is a great way to make a plan for the student loan debt you will incur. Plus, careful budgeting also helps you to keep from spending too much on unnecessary expenses.

Personal Finance

Credit Cards
Credit cards are a convenient way to carry money without carrying cash. Plus, having a credit card is a good way to establish credit history-- if you manage your debt and make timely monthly payments.  People get in trouble with credit cards when they overspend. Their outstanding debt gets too large to pay off quickly, and interest quickly adds up. A credit card isn't extra money, it's an extra loan. 

Use your credit cards wisely. Don't charge more than you can afford. Pay the balance each month. If you must carry a balance, be sure to make more than the minimum payment to pay it off quicker, and with fewer financing charges. Make your payments in a timely manner. Always review your bill to look for erroneous charges, and to learn your spending habits.

Credit Reports
A credit report is a record of your credit history. Your credit history includes whether you have paid your bills on time, as well as your monthly credit card and loan payments. Your credit report also shows who has inquired about your report. 

Employers, landlords, banks, major stores, courts and credit card companies can all access your credit report. That's why maintaining good credit is important-- it affects all areas of your life. 

Fraud Prevention
Credit cards and ATM cards are ways to access your money. Keeping these safe and secure are important. Don't give your account numbers to anyone-- especially over the phone or on unsecured web sites. Save your receipts and compare them to your monthly statements. Choose your PINs wisely-- don't make it easy for others to guess them. If you think your information has been compromised, contact your bank as soon as possible. Contacting financial institutions early may help you to limit your losses.