college

20 ways to get federal money for college

a graduation cap and a pile of money
Highlights
  • Get personal in financial-aid office.
  • Coordinate with college-bound siblings.
  • Apply for financial aid, no matter what.

Scrounging for college cash? Let Uncle Sam foot the bill.

Paying for college

If your college savings aren't as flush as you'd like, check out these tips to get your slice of the free money.

20 ways to get federal money
1.Assess your assets11.Spend, spend, spend
2.Apply, no matter what12.Get personal in financial-aid office
3.Meet the deadlines13.Keep up the course load
4.Save in parents' names14.Work it
5.Ditch your debt15.Reduce capital gains
6.Count your babies16.Test yourself
7.Coordinate your college students17.Perk up
8.Serve your country18.Report the support
9.Maximize IRAs, 401(k)s19.Use the grandparents
10.Buy a house20.Be honest

1. Assess your assets
Knowing is half the battle. Finaid.org offers free online financial-aid calculators that can help you determine what sort of award your family might qualify for, how much you'll need, and, most importantly, what fiscal assets could potentially reduce your aid package. Having a clearer picture of your financial prospects will help you maximize your child's aid eligibility.

2. Apply, no matter what
According to the American Council on Education, every year, more than 1.5 million students who qualify for Pell grants miss out on the free government cash simply because they don't fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, paperwork. In fact, regardless of assets or household income, all dependent students qualify for Stafford loans. But you can only get them if you file your FAFSA.

3. Meet the deadlines
Turning in your FAFSA late can significantly decrease your chance of banking big. Keep in mind your state's deadline, too. "We encourage students to complete the FAFSA as early as possible and in advance of state deadlines, so that they can get all of the free money that they are entitled to," says Martha Holler, vice president of corporate communications at Sallie Mae. Cathy Thomas, director of financial aid for the University of Southern California, reports that missed deadlines are the No. 1 mistake students make when applying for federal aid. "If they don't miss them the first year, they miss them the second or the third or the fourth," she says. To make sure your student qualifies for all first-come, first-serve aid, estimate your annual income and turn in your FAFSA as early in the year as possible.

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4. Save in parents' names
No mortgage payment, no electric bill, no insurance premium -- the life of a student is fiscally sweet. But the government does expect students to contribute financially to their own education. Dependent students are expected to put 35 percent of all income, savings and trust fund cash toward college, while parents are expected to use only 5.6 percent of their assets for this purpose. Instead of stockpiling money in your child's account, keep it in your own or stick it in a 529 plan.

5. Ditch your debt
While aid officers will consider what you've got, they won't consider what you owe. Consider liquidating funds that could count against you by paying off loans or credit card debt. Beyond simply increasing your child's eligibility for federal grants and scholarships, eliminating debt will also help your family qualify for larger, lower-interest loans.

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