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Guidelines for accepting college financial aid
By Laurie Hempen, Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation Board Member
Feb. 14, 2023 1:32 pm
If a student in your household applied for college financial aid for the 2023-2024 year, financial aid offers should arrive soon. You may receive a standardized College Financial Plan, which can help your family understand the different types of aid offered.
Use the tips below to make sense of financial aid offers.
1. Understand exactly what makes up the cost of attendance.
You will generally see combined or separated costs listed for tuition, fees, housing, meals and other direct costs charged by the college. You may see estimated costs for materials, transportation, personal and miscellaneous expenses that will not be paid to the institution. To compare financial aid offers from multiple institutions, line up similar costs and calculate what you will need to pay for expenses that are estimated, depending on each program and the institution's location.
2. Know how to count grants and scholarships.
Grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid. Know which grants and scholarships are for one year only, which are automatically renewed for multiple years, and which require action or qualification to receive in future years.
3. Review the expected family contribution.
Each institution determines an expected family contribution from the information reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or other financial aid application. While this amount may be reviewed under certain circumstances, such as dramatically changed income, your family is generally expected to contribute the listed amount toward expenses. This may not fit your family's circumstances, and the actual amount you contribute will affect the net cost to attend the institution.
4. Consider work options carefully.
Work options, like federal work-study programs, require the student to obtain a qualifying job and work a certain number of hours to earn the money, which will be paid to the student instead of the college. It may be to the student's benefit to pursue these options and apply the earnings to their expenses. Alternatively, a student may prefer to find other employment.
5. Know the difference between the types of loans offered.
When earnings, savings, scholarships and grants don't cover the total expected cost of attendance, the financial aid offer includes federal loans for students and may include federal loans for parents and institutional or private student loans. The federal student loans are the best option if your student will need to borrow. Carefully review terms and conditions of other loans to determine which work for your family or if you prefer to borrow from a lender not listed.
6. Decline unneeded loans.
A financial aid offer may include the maximum amount of federal student and parent loans available. Remember that any type of loan will need to be repaid, with interest, over time. A student may decline an offered loan or decide to accept only some of the loan amount. If expenses can be lowered without debt, it is a smart move to decline some or all of the offered loans.
7. Explore payment options.
The college or university may offer payment plans or other financing options. Be aware of any fees for using this type of plan and consider the flexibility gained by delaying part of a bill payment.
As you review the terms of education loans, also consider the options for paying principal or interest while the student is still in school. Paying interest as it accrues can prevent capitalization, where unpaid accrued interest is added to the loan's balance and begins to also accrue interest.
8. Meet deadlines.
Review any deadlines to accept the financial aid offer or individual components, apply for a payment plan, or make payment. Be sure contact information is up to date so you or your student receives notifications about approaching deadlines or payment dates.
9. Ask for clarification.
If you have any questions about the financial aid offer, contact the college's financial aid office.
Visit the Articles tab on the Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation website for additional college financing information. Go to www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Articles/Parents to start.