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Obama's Student Loan Plan: What's in it for you?

June 10, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you're planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options available. From Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA, the funding is out there but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. Translation: For the majority of students, loans are inevitable. But don't fret just yet because President Obama announced an executive order capping loan payments: In an attempt to ease heavy college debt, millions of student loan borrowers will soon be able to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.

According to the administration, this action will help up to 5 million more borrowers but will not be implemented until December 2015 at the earliest. And while some students taking out loans can already cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes, the president's order will extend this ability to students who took out loans before October 2007. (It’s important to note, however, that President Obama's executive order would cover only those loans from the federal government, not private financial institutions.) "The past couple of years, we've done future students, we've done current students, and now we're trying to take a step back," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Monday. Duncan went on to explain that the expansion of the payment caps would be "fantastic for the economy" by allowing young people to spend or invest that money elsewhere. (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And for more information on federal funding, visit our Financial Aid section.

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What’s in a Decimal Point?

Online FAFSA Error Makes Low-Income Filers Look Like Millionaires

July 7, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

When it comes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a decimal point could make a world of difference: An update to this year’s FAFSA has cost some low-income filers a chance at some serious federal student aid.

For the 2014-15 FAFSA, the government expanded several income and asset fields in the online form to accommodate higher incomes. Herein lies the problem: Some lower-income filers are missing the .00 outside the box and entering cents into the text field. And when the do that, an income of $28,532.79, for example, is converted into $2,853,279. Big mistake. Huge. If the error isn't caught or corrected on individual forms, the filers could lose out on Pell Grants or other need-based student aid. According to Jeff Baker, policy liaison at the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, the department has already identified 165,000 individuals who've made the mistake. He's estimated that a majority of colleges have at least one affected student, while some may have hundreds. "It's a serious problem," said Baker at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ annual meeting. "We have to fix it." (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the headaches that typically go into applying for federal aid using the FAFSA, what are your thoughts on the current roadblocks? Why not just have filers round income to the nearest whole dollar amount? For more information on the FAFSA, the importance of applying and what you'll need before you get started, check out Scholarships.com’s Federal Aid section.

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Five Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid

July 11, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely stressful. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid (aid based on a student’s attributes like (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! – so we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed and college aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off; institutions can also make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  2. Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  3. Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  4. Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have leverage when it comes to negotiating your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact your first choice institution (which one is “that institution”...first or second choice?)! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

Can you think of any tips that we might have missed? If so, please add them to our comments section! For more information on finding money for college and how to properly fund your college education, check out Scholarships.com Financial Aid section.

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LGBT Students Can Face Serious Roadblocks to Financial Aid

October 31, 2013

LGBT Students Can Face Serious Roadblocks to Financial Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you plan on paying for your college education out-of-pocket, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as the FAFSA) is essential in your quest for financial aid. For the uninitiated, the FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid for college, including the Pell Grant, federal work-student programs and federal student loans. And while most students struggle with the complicated application process, LGBT students potentially face more serious roadblocks: According to U.S. News & World Report, name changes, gender identification and strained family relationships can present unique FAFSA challenges.

In 2012, sexual orientation and gender identity were the number one reason for youth homelessness in the U.S., notes Thomas Krever, chief executive officer of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Almost 40 percent of homeless youth identified as LGBT and of those teens, 46 percent ran away because their family rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. What does this have to do with the FAFSA? Students under the age of 24 need tax returns and bank statements from their parents in order to file for financial aid and those without family support are left in limbo. Other LGBT students struggle with the fact that the FAFSA doesn’t necessarily reflect their identity. Questions about name and gender can be enough to keep transgender teens from even applying, says Eli Erlick, founder of Trans Student Equality Resources. "One thing about funding, specifically FAFSA, is that transgender students may not be able to change their name due to parents not being supportive or not having the money to do so," says Erlick. "This can lead to transgender students being nervous to apply, or not even applying at all, because they're scared for their own safety, because using these forms with their legal names may out them." (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think about the challenges LGBT students face when seeking financial aid? Can you think of something the government can do to ease this pressure?

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President Obama Encourages More Students to Fill Out FAFSA

March 13, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

While the road to a college degree may include countless detours, it’s essential to understand the importance of financial aid and filling out the FAFSA. But don’t just take my word for it – President Obama agrees: Last week, the President announced an initiative that would encourage more students to apply for federal student aid.

Under the FAFSA Completion Initiative, the Department of Education will work with states to identify students who have not completed the form and employ new outreach efforts to help more students through the process. The White House said the effort would build on earlier steps by the Obama administration to simplify the form and make it easier for parents and student to use information from their tax returns to complete the paperwork. "We made it simple. It doesn't cost anything. It does not take a long time to fill out. Once you do, you're putting yourself in the running for all kinds of financial support for college," said President Obama.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) acts as a gateway between graduating seniors and almost $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds that the federal government has available. Funds do run out, though, so we recommend filling out the FAFSA as early as possible. Have you filled out the FAFSA? Let us know how it went in the comments section. If you haven’t done so yet, review our financial aid section for some tips.

Comments

President Obama Encourages More Students to Fill Out FAFSA

March 13, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

While the road to a college degree may include countless detours, it’s essential to understand the importance of financial aid and filling out the FAFSA. But don’t just take my word for it – President Obama agrees: Last week, the President announced an initiative that would encourage more students to apply for federal student aid.

Under the FAFSA Completion Initiative, the Department of Education will work with states to identify students who have not completed the form and employ new outreach efforts to help more students through the process. The White House said the effort would build on earlier steps by the Obama administration to simplify the form and make it easier for parents and student to use information from their tax returns to complete the paperwork. "We made it simple. It doesn't cost anything. It does not take a long time to fill out. Once you do, you're putting yourself in the running for all kinds of financial support for college," said President Obama.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) acts as a gateway between graduating seniors and almost $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds that the federal government has available. Funds do run out, though, so we recommend filling out the FAFSA as early as possible. Have you filled out the FAFSA? Let us know how it went in the comments section. If you haven’t done so yet, review our financial aid section for some tips.

Comments

The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

January 1, 2014

The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Alexis Mattera

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2012 for the 2013-2014 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
Comments

Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

February 7, 2014

Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be daunting. And while no one would argue that filling out the FAFSA is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, it seems that some colleges might be making the process more complicated...and costly.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland alleged this week that more than 100 universities – including dozens of elite and Ivy League institutions – may be violating the law by telling potential applicants that they have to spend money filling out an unnecessary form. In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Cummings said 111 universities required a financial aid form developed by the College Board to be considered for any financial aid. Fifty-eight of the schools told applicants that they had to submit the $25 PROFILE form "in order to secure any type of financial aid, including federal student aid," Cummings wrote. The other 53 directed applicants to "submit both the FAFSA and the PROFILE to obtain federal financial aid, although they do not clarify what each form is used to assess." And while Cummings insists that these schools appear to be in violation of the Higher Education Act, some college officials have defended their use of PROFILE, stating that because it takes into account factors the FAFSA doesn't — like home equity and some business income — it allows universities to make fairer decisions on who needs aid the most. Meanwhile, Cummings has requested a meeting with Duncan to figure out what steps need to be taken to ensure that colleges are not creating unnecessary barriers to federal assistance. (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the outrageous fees students already must endure, what do you think of universities adding an additional one? Are you for filling out a form that costs you $25 if there is a chance you might get additional aid or against forking up more money than necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Comments

How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

February 13, 2014

How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!
Comments

The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

January 6, 2015

by Alexis Mattera

Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2013 for the 2014-2015 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)

For more information on FAFSA and other daunting financial aid acronyms, head over to our Federal Aid section. And while you’re there, don’t forget to create a free Scholarships.com profile to help you fund your college education.

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