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If the money’s not readily available for funding all of your college education, leave no stone unturned.
There are so many sources of money that often it’s just a question of finding them. Even if they come in small amounts, they all add up.
Here are yet more places to continue your search:
Roth IRA: You can withdraw up to 100 percent of the original value of contributions to a Roth IRA both penalty and tax free to fund higher education expenses. You can also withdraw your earnings penalty free — but not tax free — if you’re younger than 59 ½. It may seem like a good deal, but keep in mind you’re forgoing a great deal of compounding. Try to exhaust your other options first.
Get your job to work for you: This works best in cases of employees of large companies who want to continue their educations and is offered as a tuition assistance program (TAP) as a company benefit. Look into this perk by contacting an HR professional at your job to see what you need to do to qualify. Despite the availability of funds, only a small percentage of employees take advantage of them. As an added bonus, if you get tuition assistance from your employer, you may also be eligible for a tax exemption of up to $5,250 a year. For younger students just starting out, other employers, such as supermarkets and fast-food chains, often provide scholarships for their employees who go on to a higher education. And many larger companies offer scholarships or tuition assistance to children of employees.
ROTC scholarships: More than 1,000 colleges offer Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. If you’re in the top 25 percent of your high school class and had good SAT scores, you may qualify for a ROTC scholarship. The scholarship will provide up to full tuition as well as a monthly stipend and an allowance for books and fees. In return, students take part in military courses during school and agree to serve for a specified amount of time after they graduate. Also, some of the military services offer health-related and nursing ROTC programs. You can find full details on Army, Navy/Marines and Air Force ROTC scholarships online.
Military service: Serving in the U.S. military for three years or more can entitle you to substantial financial assistance for a college education, and other programs are offered for National Guardsmen and Reservists. To check on the many programs, visit the GI bill website.
Custodial accounts: If you want to give money to your child for college but want to manage the money until he or she is ready to make that decision, consider a trust or custodial account. The child will accumulate the money at a lower tax liability. One drawback is that the value of the account will be considered an asset of the student, not the parent, and thus will be subtracted dollar-for-dollar from any determination of financial aid. Another thing to keep in mind: Once your child is 18, he or she can use it to fund college expenses or lottery tickets, windsurfing lessons or multiple tattoos. You get the point: Once the money has been transferred, you can’t control what your child does with it.
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Community-service options: Loan-forgiveness programs are available to everyone from teachers to nurses to young doctors and lawyers to Peace Corps volunteers.
Teachers who work in low-income elementary or secondary schools, for example, may be able to cancel as much as $5,000 of their federal Stafford loan debt.
The National Health Service Corps offers loan-forgiveness programs to physicians, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, midwives, dentists, dental hygienists, psychologists and therapists who work for two years in communities in great need of health professionals.
Similar programs are available to attorneys who pursue public interest careers. About 50 law schools offer loan-forgiveness or loan-repayment assistance programs.
Several volunteer organizations also provide assistance with student loan debt: Peace Corps volunteers who complete a two-year term can wipe out 30 percent of the balance of a Perkins loan. Student loan payments may also be deferred while serving in AmeriCorps. Volunteers who commit to 10 months of volunteer service are eligible for a $4,725 credit that participants can use to pay off loans or to pay for graduate school. Volunteers also receive a stipend to cover living expenses.
Hope Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit: These two tax credits offset higher-education costs by reducing the amount of your income tax. Unlike deductions, which reduce the amount of your income that can be taxed, a credit reduces the tax directly. Check with the IRS for more details.
Hope credits are up to $1,500 per year per student, and Lifetime Learning Credits are up to $2,000 per tax return. These credits begin to phase out once your modified adjusted gross income reaches $42,000 (single) or $83,000 (joint). The credit is eliminated at $52,000 (single) and $103,000 (joint). There are other subtle differences between the two, including how many years each is available and how many courses you need to be taking. If education expenses total less than $7,500, the Hope credit is probably your best bet.