What's the best way to pay for college? No secret there. Start early, invest often and let the twin engines of the stock market and compound interest deliver big returns over a long period of time. Or if you're a millionaire, walk over to your desk, pull out your checkbook and write a check. Either way, you've got it covered. But if you're not fortunate enough to be able to employ one of these strategies, fear not. Look into the options below and boost your own college-planning efforts.
Take the time to explore potential aid options and don't assume you aren't eligible. In addition to grants, scholarships and work-study programs, student and parent loans are offered at favorable rates and repayment schedules. These include the federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). Most financial aid comes through the U.S. Department of Education, and nearly 70 percent of money given comes in the form of loans. Your first step should be to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Visit the FAFSA Web site or call (800) 4-FED-AID for an application. For more information on the FAFSA, check out How to Complete the FAFSA. To read more on financial aid options, look at How Financial Aid Works. To help determine your estimated family contribution, check out our calculator to determine your expected family contribution.
Your child doesn't have to be valedictorian or quarterback to receive a scholarship. Many are based on a particular school, a field of study or career path, or even ethnic background. Many corporations, foundations, professional and service organizations, and community groups offer scholarships, too. Check out the College Board's Scholarship Search. Also, the Internet and public library are great resources for further research. Talk to your child's high school or college guidance counselor for help and start as early as possible to improve your odds. For more information on this topic, read Where the Scholarships Are.
You may be eligible for tax deductions and credits toward tuition, fees, costs and student-loan interest. Keep in mind, however, that tax credits operate more like rebates than discounts. They're made available once you've paid tuition-they're not applied directly to tuition bills. Read more in Tuition Tax Credits.
The Hope Scholarship tax credit for college tuition offers up to $1,500 a year for the first two taxable years a student is enrolled in college. Because it's a tax credit, not simply a deduction, the government will in effect match your contributions dollar-for-dollar for the first $1,000 and match 50 percent of the next $1,000 spent on tuition and fees during the first two years of school. If you no longer qualify for the Hope credit, the Lifetime Learning credit provides a maximum annual credit of $2,000 per family for tuition and fees.
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