By Ruth Ann Monti
Unless you never take your earbuds out, you’ve no doubt heard the horror stories about student loan debt. The average college graduate left school in 2012 with $29,400 in student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. That’s a lot of debt for people just starting out. If you’re entering college or considering it, think about how you will pay for tuition without going into (much) debt. It is possible, but you need to research and plan.
Talk to Your Parents
If you haven’t talked to your parents about how you’re going to pay for college, do it now. Lots of parents have invested in 529 education savings accounts for their kids, so find out if they’ve gone this route and whether they’ve saved enough to pay for four years. When it’s time to dip into the 529 account to pay for tuition, room and board, books, supplies and other expenses, they won’t pay any federal taxes—but they may pay state taxes. That depends on your individual state.
If you or your parents receive regular payments from an annuity or structured settlement, you may be able to sell all or a portion of the future payments for a lump sum of cash now. You could then use this money to help pay for college.
You may also be able to get a small scholarship through your parents’ workplace. Many companies, particularly big ones, award scholarships to the children of employees. Ask them to talk to Human Resources about this.
Research Grant & Scholarship Opportunities
You don’t have to pay grants and scholarships back, making them the perfect way to pay for college. Grants are awarded to those demonstrating financial need, while scholarships are based on merit (academic achievement, athletic ability or other eligibility requirements). Search for these opportunities:
- at sites like Fastweb, Scholarships.com and the U.S. Department of Labor
- with your state’s department of education
- at the financial aid office of the college of your choice
Various nonprofit organizations offer scholarships and grants, too. Ask your guidance counselor about local opportunities he or she may be familiar with, and check with your church and local civic organizations as well.
Apply for a Work-Study Job
The Federal Work-Study Program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need to help them pay for college expenses. The program is administered by participating schools, so inquire with your school’s financial aid office.
Join the Military
Every branch of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves) offers military tuition assistance up to 100 percent. You don’t have to pay this money back; the military considers it money you have earned by serving. Eligibility and service requirements vary, so talk to a recruiter or visit Military.com.
Finally… If You Need to Borrow
If you still need to take out a loan after investigating all of the above, start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. As you begin making decisions about your career, keep the public service loan forgiveness program in mind. Under the program, the federal government may forgive a portion of your Direct Loan. To qualify, you must have made 120 qualifying payments while working full-time in a public service career.
About the author: Ruth Ann Monti is the founder of TimeStorm Communications, which provides original content, copywriting, social media and marketing services for entrepreneurs and small businesses. She lives with her son and two dogs in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona.
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