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Financial Literacy - College funding
13 financial aid traps
Don't get caught by these common pitfalls as you plot your college payment strategies.
Smart ways to pay for college

13 financial aid traps

12. Solicit gifts.
Hitting up Grandpa or your rich uncle (no relation to the Web site) for as much money upfront as possible might seem like a great way to find free money for school, but there are three options that might be better: delay payment, uncle can give the gifted money to your parents or have them pay your debt directly to your school.

While you shouldn't deny your favorite aunt the joy of contributing to your education, it might work out better from a financial aid standpoint to ask relatives to delay gifts so you won't be penalized for their generosity in financial aid determinations.

If Grammy won't wait until after you graduate to make her contribution to your education, have her give the money to your parents instead so it won't count as heavily against you in financial aid decisions.

The absolute best strategy would be for her to pay the college directly for your studies without impacting your student aid. Kantrowitz adds that she could also contribute to your 529 plan. Under the accelerated five-year gifting option, each grandparent can give up to $60,000 per grandchild without incurring any gift tax.

13. Apply for scholarships through one megasite or not at all.
Megasites are great. They collect scholarships from all over, saving you time. Ben Kaplan, founder of ScholarshipCoach.com and author of "How to Go to College Almost For Free," cautions that megasite offerings are by no means exhaustive and limiting your search to these will limit your chances of winning. "The scholarship has to be well-organized to end up in the database. Smaller scholarships often are underrepresented," he says.

The more obscure the scholarship, the fewer the contenders. And don't assume that your grades aren't good enough to compete. Kaplan says: "There are tens of thousands of scholarships every year that all want to reward different things. The Arts Recognition and Talent Search or project-based scholarships are not based on grades."

-- Posted: Sept. 17, 2007
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