Financial Aid Do's And Don'ts
If you're college bound, don't miss out on getting financial aid. Here are do's and don'ts to get you on the right track.
Don't wait. Start filling out your FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid - promptly and no later than June 30, 2009 for the 2008-2009 cycle, with corrections due by September 22, 2009. State deadlines are earlier. The FAFSA is the first step in applying for student financial aid from the federal government, including the Academic Competitiveness Grant, Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan, and work-study programs. Find it online at www.fafsa.ed.gov or pick up an application at your school. The FAFSA is also required by all state and many school student assistance programs.
Juniors: get a head start by visiting www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov for an early estimate of your eligibility for federal financial aid.
Do your homework. Find a wealth of information on the Web. Popular sites include www.collegeboard.com, www.finaid.org, and www.aesSuccess.org.
Visit these sites for tips, advice, and useful links on grants, scholarships and loans, repayment information, test preparation, and more. At www.fastweb.com search for scholarships as well as colleges, jobs, and internships. But be leery of any sites requiring payment for information.
Don't overlook opportunities. Keep your eyes and ears open for local scholarships and grants. They may be for smaller amounts, but there's less competition for them and every dollar counts!
CESA: Not Just For College
A CESA, which stands for Coverdell Education Savings Account, (also referred to as an ESA), is a tax-advantaged way to save for school, usually for technical school or college. But did you know you can also use a CESA for certain qualified elementary and secondary school expenses? For example, according to the IRS, the purchase of computer technology, equipment, or Internet access and related services is a qualified elementary and secondary education expense if it is to be used by the beneficiary during elementary or secondary school years. (Note that this does not include expenses for software designed for sports, games, or hobbies unless the software is predominantly educational in nature.)
Anyone can contribute to your CESA, as long as certain income restrictions are met. There is a limit of $2,000 per year. That means if you saved $500 in your CESA this year, your parent or someone else could contribute $1,500.
For more information, check out Chapter 7 of IRS Publication 970.
Is College In Your Future?
According to a College Board Study entitled Education Pays, people with a bachelor's degree earn more than 60 percent than those with just a high school diploma. Calculated over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school diploma and an undergraduate degree comes to more than $800,000. But with college costs ever rising, it pays to take these three steps now to ensure you are making a wise investment:
- Talk with your high school counselor. A counselor can point you in the right direction on the Web and help you sort out the huge number of sites offering advice and information. You also can learn about how to use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid site, (www.fafsa.ed.gov), your starting point for access to federal aid.
- Use a Coverdell Education Savings Account to make your savings work harder. A CESA is a tax-advantaged way to save because the earnings accumulate tax-free, and you pay no taxes on withdrawals when the funds are used for qualified education expenses.
- Apply for as many scholarships as you can, even those that are relatively small. According to the Web site, finaid.org, the best places to look for scholarships are at www.fastweb.com, your local library, and the college financial aid office. Be wary of Web sites that require you to pay a fee for scholarship information.
Questions to Ask Before You Start Your Homework
Homework comes with the territory, but it doesn't have to consume all of your free time. Ask these questions to get into study habits that have the biggest impact.
- Are you an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner? Individual differences in learning mean it's important to understand how you process information best. Some people learn by hearing the information - auditory learners. Taping a lecture or reading aloud will help them. Others are visual learners and would rather read or see the information. Still others are kinesthetic learners, or accomplish the most through doing, for example by performing role-playing exercises.
- Do you have a time and place to study? Homework needs a home, so set up a time and place in your schedule, without fail.
- Do you take breaks? Give your brain a rest by taking a stretch break at every 30 minutes.
- Can you focus? Make sure any distractions (like a little brother or a loud television) are not interrupting your learning.
Money For College
There's no question college is expensive. And fees for tuition, room and board, books, and materials seem to go in only one direction: Up. Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and fellowships that can help you pay for your education. To sort through what is available, start by using the free scholarship search Web sites such as www.fastweb.com. But don't stop there. Even the largest online databases don't include information about all the available awards. For local awards, look for notices posted on your school's guidance office and at the public library. Also, check with the credit union for scholarships that may be available for credit union members. Another useful Web site is www.finaid.org. It offers links to scholarship databases, as well as suggestions for improving your chances at winning scholarships.
Be wary of scholarship scams and never pay for scholarship information. Follow this rule of thumb: If you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam. Watch for telltale lines such as, "You can't get this information anywhere else" or "The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back."
Attention Talented Teens! Scholarships to Apply For Now
Did you know that even if you're not a high school senior, there are grants and scholarships available? From aspiring authors to community volunteers, from environmentalists to journalists, a wide range of award programs provide prizes for talented teens of all types. Here's a sampling:
Visit www.finaid.org/scholarships/age13.phtml for a list of the opportunities available to teens and even some for younger kids. Check with your teachers and counselors at school for programs they might be aware of, too. Deadlines for these programs vary, so it's never too early to learn more.
- The Davidson Fellows Scholarship awards $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 scholarships to extraordinary young people under the age of 18 who have completed a significant piece of work. Categories include mathematics, science, literature, music, technology, philosophy, and "outside the box." Go to www.davidsongifted.org/fellows/ to learn more.
- Kohl's department store awards scholarships and prizes to kids, aged 6 through 18, whose volunteer efforts have made a positive impact on their communities. Visit www.kohlskids.com for details.
- The Courage in Student Journalism Awards (www.splc.org/csjaward.asp) is presented to a student journalist who has shown determination, despite difficulty or resistance, in lawfully exercising his or her First Amendment press rights.
- Action For Nature honors "Young Eco-Heroes," between the ages of 8 and 16, who have done creative environmental projects. Go to www.actionfornature.org/eco-hero/index.html for more information.
Need Help Paying for College?
Did you know that federal financial aid is available and applying for it is easy? You can go online at www.fafsa.ed.gov to get information and a free FAFSA application form for federal student aid. If you don't have Internet access or have additional questions, you can call 1-800-433-3243. You can also obtain an application form from your school guidance counselor or at your local library. Applications are accepted beginning January 1 for the following school year. So don't wait: Get started today.
The ABC's of CESA
You may have heard the saying, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” But by opening a Coverdell Education Savings Account, also called a CESA or ESA, you can cut your costs. CESAs offer a tax-advantaged way to save. Here are the basic ABC's of CESAs:
A is for (almost) anyone. Generally, any individual (including the beneficiary) whose modified adjusted gross income for the year is less than $110,000 ($220,000 for joint returns) can contribute to a CESA.
B is for beneficiary. Up to $2,000 can be contributed annually, but the beneficiary must be under the age of 18 at the time of the contribution.
C is for contributions. Contributions accumulate tax-free and can be used to pay for expenses at any accredited school, including elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions. Qualified expenses include, but are not limited to, tuition and fees, books, supplies, and equipment. Special rules apply to computer expenses. For complete details, check out IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education at www.irs.gov or at the library.
FYI: More Hope for the College Bound
The cost of higher education seems to defy the laws of gravity - going up and never coming down. But as part of the federal economic stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), signed by President Obama in February 2009, more parents and students will qualify over the next two years for a tax credit to help pay for college expenses. Called the American Opportunity Credit, the new credit modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making the Hope Credit available to more families. A broader range of taxpayers, including many with higher incomes and those who owe no tax, are now eligible to claim an annual tax credit of up to $2,500 per student. That is a $700 increase from the previous Hope Credit.
It also expands the list of qualifying expenses. "Qualified tuition and related expenses" now includes expenditures for "course materials," defined as books, supplies and equipment needed for a course of study whether or not the materials are purchased from the educational institution as a condition of enrollment or attendance. A computer purchase may qualify for the credit if it is needed for enrollment or attendance at the school. The new law also allows the credit to be claimed for four post-secondary education years instead of two. You are not allowed to "double dip," however, by paying for the same expenses with funds from a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
For more information, review IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education at www.irs.gov or at the library.
Tips For Your First Job Interview
Looking for a job? Does a job interview make you nervous? Let your credit union help by giving you the following tips:
- Be prepared. Bring a pen, notepaper, references, and resume (if you have one). The more information you have prepared in advance, the better impression you will make.
- Be on time. Arrive a few minutes early if possible.
- Be polite. It is very important to have good manners. Shake the interviewer's hand and don't sit until you are invited to.
- Maintain proper eye contact and sit up straight in the chair. Also, don't play with your hair, clothes, etc.
- Have a positive attitude.
- Know your strong points and weak points: Be able to talk about each in a positive fashion.
- Be truthful - if you don't know something don't be afraid to say so. Let them know you are self-motivated and willing to learn.
- Know what days and hours you can work. The more flexible you are the better chances you have of landing the job.
- Ask questions - you are also interviewing the owner/manager of the company just as they are interviewing you.
- If one of your parents brings you to the interview, don't bring them into the interview room with you. Go by yourself.
FYI: Good Grades Discount
Did you know that good grades in school can help lower your car insurance premiums? Usually, having a 3.0 or higher GPA will reduce your car insurance premium by 10 percent. Another factor that insurance companies look at is the type of vehicle you are driving. Steer clear of sports cars. Buying a safe car to drive, with the latest safety equipment, will also help lower your premium. Plus, it will be less of a temptation to drive fast.
Quick Study Guide For The College Bound
Heading off to your freshman year at college is something you may be looking forward to with great anticipation, with a little anxiety, and trepidation mixed in. Like most things in life, preparation can help you make the most of a new experience. Here's a quick guide:
- Check out books and Web sites that offer advice on adjusting to college life. You will likely gain insights on things that you never even considered might happen.
- Set up a monthly spending plan. Work with your parents to come up with a realistic budget and to decide if you will have use of a credit card. New federal regulations have placed restrictions on the marketing of credit cards to students. In the past, students were enticed to sign up for cards they really couldn't afford and many racked up high balances.
- If you will have a roommate you haven't previously met, get acquainted via social media. This way you also can sort out what each of you is bringing and help you avoid duplicate items.
- Expect to study harder. Even if academics came easy for you in high school, it's likely that the bar will be raised. And if you always counted on a parent to nag you into doing your homework, you'll need to start taking on that responsibility yourself.
Your first year at college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enjoy!
Online Homework Help
It's 10 p.m., the library closed hours ago, and you are only half way through your homework assignments. Fortunately, help with your homework is as close as your online connection. You'll just need to keep in mind the restrictions your teachers may have put in place. For example, for research assignments, some only allow two references from the Web. Others allow more, but only from original sources: so Wikipedia or other encyclopedia sites are out, but if you drill down through the citations you may be okay.
Keep in mind that just because it's on the Web doesn't mean it's true. Some sites are bogus and others have errors. Be wary of material from blogs, too - it's just someone's opinion, and may or may not be entirely factual. Also be sure to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. Viruses and malware problems are on the increase as hackers become increasingly sophisticated.
Financial Aid: What You Need To Do To Get Your Share
If you're planning on going on to school after you graduate from high school, there's probably one thing you have already learned: Higher education is expensive. Fortunately, there's financial help available in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans to supplement your savings. While a lucky few receive full scholarships, most students need a patchwork of aid to cover their educational expenses.
Federal student aid available through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid covers school expenses and includes grants, work-study, and loans. Grants do not have to be repaid. Work-study provides jobs, allowing you to earn money for educational expenses. Loan programs include the Federal Stafford, PLUS and Perkins loans, but check with the schools you are interested in attending to find out what's available. Not all schools participate in all of the federal student aid programs. Visit the Web site at www.fafsa.ed.gov to learn more and submit your application for federal aid. The deadline for 2010-2011 FAFSA on the Web Applications is midnight Central Daylight time, June 30, 2011.
State-level financial aid may also be available, but the deadline to apply is normally much earlier than the federal deadline. Check with your school guidance office or use the link at fafsa.ed.gov to find out when you must submit your application in order to receive consideration.
College Debt: More Is Not Better
You've probably heard the horror stories: Graduates leaving college with not only their degrees, but also a crushing load of debt. The fact is most students do need some debt to finance their education. Few families can afford to shell out all cash for college. But keep these tips in mind to keep your debt under control:
- Your completed FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is forwarded to the schools you designate, where the financial aid departments complete a more in-depth analysis to figure out how much and what type of aid you will receive. You are not required to accept the whole package, as is. You can pick and choose from what's being offered. In other words, just because you are being offered a federal loan you do not have to take it.
- Consider a less expensive school, particularly for your first two years. Some colleges and universities will accept transferred credits from community colleges.
- Put together a realistic budget. For example, don't overestimate how much you can earn from a job. Most of your time should be spent in class and studying, not working two part-time jobs.
- Use the aid for school expenses only, not weekend trips, parties or the latest electronic gadgets.
- Save money in a tax-advantaged Coverdell Education Savings Account. The more you save, the less you will need to borrow.
Gain Skills & Experience With An Internship
It can be a catch 22: The job you want requires experience, but how do you get experience when no one will hire you because you don't have any experience? One way out of this dilemma is an internship or apprenticeship. Interns are not expected to have all of the specific skills needed for the job. They only need to bring basic work skills, a good attitude, and a willingness to learn.
Both you and the organization where you intern can benefit. You gain work experience in a real-world setting. Many companies pay a modest stipend, although unpaid internships also can be valuable because they can bolster your resume. An internship can allow you to test drive a profession, too. For example, you may find that even though you thought you always wanted to work in the legal field, your internship reveals that it's not for you.
While there are costs to train you, organizations that hire interns gain because they get fresh talent for less than they would have to pay a full-time employee. To find an internship, check with your school's guidance office, ask around, or search online.
On Your Own: What To Expect In Your First Home Away From Home
Whether it's a box-like dorm room or a spacious apartment, you will always remember getting your own place. While it's exciting to think about, there are some practical considerations, too. First, chances are, while you'll be in your first home away from home, you won't be completely on your own. You will likely have one or more roommates.
Whether you have hand-picked your roommate or had one randomly assigned, it's important to establish ground rules up front. Talk about things like overnight guests, cleanup, and what food is up for grabs. That will help you avoid skirmishes over surprise visitors, abandoned socks or who ate the last brownie.
Talk about money, too. If you sign a lease, be sure it's clear what happens if one person stops paying his share of the rent. If there's a security deposit, discuss how you each will fund it. Decide if you will pool funds for certain items and what each person is responsible for on their own.
Finding Your Way Through The Financial Aid Maze
Getting good grades in high school and gaining acceptance into the college of your choice are tough tasks. But figuring out how to pay for higher education may be an even bigger challenge. A good place to start is online at www.fafsa.edu.gov. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid available through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid, which offers grants, work-study and loans including the Federal Stafford, PLUS and Perkins loans. Check with the schools you are interested in to find out what's available. Not all schools participate in all of the federal student aid programs. Online applications must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight Time, June 30, 2012. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight Time, September 15, 2012.
Other online resources include www.college.gov and www.finaid.org. Also look for specific information and links on the sites of colleges you would like to attend. You may be surprised to learn that a small private college may have more financial aid available than a large public institution. Keep an open mind and check with the guidance office at your high school for help in finding your way through the financial aid maze.
What Is . . . ? Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
Got school expenses? Then you'll want to become familiar with a Coverdell Education Savings Account. A Coverdell ESA is a tax-advantaged way to save for your educational expenses. The money deposited into the account is not tax deductible, but as the designated beneficiary of a Coverdell ESA, you can receive tax-free distributions to pay qualified education expenses.
As a general rule, anyone (including you as the beneficiary) can make a contribution to a Coverdell ESA. According to the IRS, there are income limits - the contributor's modified adjusted gross income for the year must be less than $110,000 or $220,000 in the case of a joint return. That means as long as the limits are met, you, your parents, your grandparents or anyone can sock money away into a Coverdell ESA. And there's no limit to how many Coverdell ESAs can be established for you. However, the total contribution to all accounts on your behalf in any year cannot exceed $2,000.
Check out Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education at www.irs.gov to learn more about the requirements, including what types of educational expenses can be paid for with Coverdell ESA funds.
Applying For A College Scholarship - Start Early
With college getting more expensive each year, wouldn't it be great if you could find a way to have some or all of your school cost paid by someone else? Scholarships aren't just handed out to anyone so having the know-how on applying for them will give you a head start.
* First things first - you will need to run a tight ship with your studies and your personal life. Maintain a high GPA - the higher the better. Be active in extracurricular activities - community services, sports, etc. Extracurricular activities should not overwhelm you - leave time for homework.
* Start early - this will give you the ability to check out as many opportunities as possible and help you in avoiding early scholarship application deadlines. The more time you can put into your scholarship search, the more options you'll have.
* Organize scholarship materials. Have a separate file for each scholarship and file them by application date. Another tip is to keep a calendar of application deadlines.
* Completely fill out the applications, paying attention to details. Double check for errors and missed areas. If you have any questions, contact the scholarship sponsors.
* Make copies of everything you submit. This makes it easier to resend your information if necessary.
* Get applications in early so you don't miss deadlines. Also, consider using certified mail or requesting a return receipt.
Are you a student who tackles homework as soon as possible in order to have plenty of time to finish it? Or do you procrastinate, assuring yourself that you will meet the deadline? If you're the former, congratulations! If you're the latter, you're not alone. Many students think feeding the dog, watching television, playing a video game and talking to or texting with friends first will make doing their homework easier later.
In fact, the opposite is true. By doing something fun first, it just makes getting to your homework even more difficult. Instead, work on your studies for a designated time, and only then give yourself a reward. Here are some additional tips:
- Designate a study area in your home. Do you need quiet and no interruptions? Or do you like to listen to music? Figure out what kind of space matches your personal learning style; then make sure it's stocked with the school supplies you need to avoid last-minute distractions such as running to the store for printer paper or an ink cartridge.
- Use a planner (paper or electronic) and note when projects are due, what exams are coming up and so on.
- Have healthy snacks and water available. Your brain and body both need fuel.
- If you're stuck, ask for help from a friend, family member, librarian, or go online with sites such as thebeehive.org.
Tips For Landing A Good Job
The past few years have been tough on job hunters. That doesn't mean it's impossible to land a good job. It does mean it may seem as though it is harder to get the job than to actually do it. Here are some tips:
- Ask family and friends if they know of any suitable jobs. Also, ask if friends of friends may know of any positions, for example, have they seen any "help wanted" signs at their places of business or where they shop or eat out?
- Pay attention to news reports of businesses that are opening in your area or expanding. Contact the human resources departments to find out what jobs might be available.
- Check online job boards and classified ads.
- Practice printing neatly. Prospective employers need to be able to read your application. Make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Spelling counts.
- Neatness counts at interviews as well. Being well groomed and in pressed clothing shows you care about your appearance. This sends a signal to the employer that you will care about your work.
- After an interview, send a hand-written or typed thank you note. Express your appreciation for the interview and state why you believe you would be a good fit for the position.
- Volunteer. Volunteering will reap many benefits: You will meet new people (some of who may know of a job opening), you will gain experience, and you will feel good about helping those in need.
Is College In Your Future?
Are you a student currently preparing for your upcoming venture to college? Whether you're a recent high school grad heading off to the dorms or local community college this fall, or a younger student thinking ahead, there are all sorts of planning (financial and otherwise) at every stage of the college prep game.
As any college student or parent knows, attaining higher education is a costly endeavor. In addition to the high price of tuition, there are the associated expenses of college life, such as room and board, dorm furnishings, books, school supplies, a laptop, and more.
Some ways to prepare financially for college include:
1. Adding a little money to your Savings Account whenever you can.
2. Before purchasing your textbooks from your school's bookstore, consider renting or ordering them on Amazon.com.
3. Consider applying for a low limit credit card to start responsibly building your credit now.
In addition to saving money, other important steps to take as a future college student include:
1. Taking the PSAT/ACT/SAT
2. Getting to know your high school counselor who can help with your goals
4. Visiting colleges
5. Exploring careers
6. Locating scholarship opportunities
Be sure to check out sites like www.collegeprep101.com, which offer comprehensive college planning checklists to help you every step of the way.
Financial Aid Know-How
As a young person attending college or on the verge of the college experience, you know that the benefits and opportunities provided by higher education doesn't come cheap. With the already high price of a college education growing every year, it's important that students and their parents are aware of, and take advantage of, every opportunity to more affordably fund their education.
Although the process of seeking and applying for financial aid can seem daunting at first, have no fear. With the right guidance, a little bit of effort, and some organization, you can find some valuable rewards that could make a world of difference when it comes to your bottom-line college costs.
Below are some helpful tips to help you on the road to becoming a financial aid whiz:
- Know the basics. Essentially, there are 3 types of financial aid: loans, scholarships and grants, and employment programs. Remember, loans must be paid back.
- Don't procrastinate. The earlier you complete your FAFSA form, the better. The Free Application for Student Aid can be submitted by high school seniors or college students any time after January 1. For assistance, call 1-800-4-fed-aid, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov, or consult your guidance counselor.
- Scholarship search. Scholarship opportunities are out there and you can find them. Utilize resources like the Internet at www.scholarshipexperts.com and your guidance counselor. Be aware of deadlines.
- Be on the SAR lookout. Once you've completed the FAFSA, keep an eye out for your Student Aid Report.
- Compare and select. Stay organized as the financial aid packages start arriving and choose the school that works best for you.
Keep in mind, the more aid you can find, the less you'll have to pay.