Published: Sunday, February 05, 2012
Sheryl Harris, The Plain Dealer
- Complete the FAFSA online
- Get free help with the FAFSA through College Goal Sunday at locations nationwide on Feb. 12.
- Register for an Ohio College Goal Sunday event. (Or call the Ohio Board of Regents’ help line at 1-800-233-6734)
- Find the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ tips for applying for aid, including mistakes to avoid
Use net price calculators
These online calculators can give students a good estimate of how much it will cost them to attend a particular school before they spend money to apply.
Students won’t know the exact price until they’re accepted and get a financial aid letter from the school, but the calculators provide an early reality check. Calculators are still being tweaked, and some schools hide them.
- See TICAS’ tips for finding and using net price calculators
Understand financial aid letters
Students won’t know exactly how much it will cost them to attend a school until they’re accepted and get a financial aid letter from a college.
Use the draft Financial Aid Shopping Sheet as a guide for breaking down the information and comparing aid offers.
- Find Finaid.org’s helpful guide to decoding financial aid letters
Target your borrowing
Students should always exhaust their federal student loan options before taking out private student loans, which are more expensive and less flexible for borrowers who run into trouble.
Currently, undergraduate students can borrow between $5,000 and $12,500 a year in federal student loans, depending on various factors. Interest rates are reset every July.
Asher encourages parents to consider federal fixed-rate PLUS loans before a student takes on a private loan.
On any loan, borrowers should understand the interest rate, whether it’s fixed or variable, whether interest accrues while the borrower is in school, what the balance and loan payment will be when the student graduates, when payments start and under what circumstances the payment could increase.
Students loans usually don’t have to be repaid until graduation, but if interest accrues while the student is in school, borrowers can hold down the balance by making even a few payments before graduation.
Co-signers should understand they can be held liable for repaying the loan if the borrower fails to make payments.
- Find important information on federal student loans (including eligibility limits and parent loans) and how they differ from private loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Get advice for borrowers from TICAS’ Project on Student Debt.
- Find a student loan repayment calculator.
- In Cuyahoga County, get help finding local scholarships and free one-on-one financial aid counseling at the nonprofit College Now Greater Cleveland. The walk-in resource center helps Cuyahoga County students of any age. The walk-in resource center is at 200 Public Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and open on Saturdays by appointment. Call 216-241-5587, Ext. 140.
- Find similar organizations across Ohio at www.ohiocan.org/ProgramMap.aspx or contact the Ohio Board of Regents (1-800-233-6734).
- Studentaid.ed.gov — Information from the U.S. Department of Education about paying for college including links to the FAFSA form and information about eligibility. Or call 1-800-433-3243.
- CollegeNavigator.gov –– The National Center for Education Statistics site has a database of colleges searchable by price, type, location and area of study.
- NAFSAA’s tips on cutting college costs, being a smart consumer and to loan repayment tips.
- ohiohighered.org or 1-800-233-6734 – The Ohio Board of Regents’ clearinghouse for prospective students with questions about attending or paying for college http://blog.cleveland.com/consumeraffairs/print.html?entry=/2012/02/tools_to_help_understand_reduc.html