Smarter Financial Aid For College Students

Going to college usually involves student loans and other financial aid. Here are a few tips to be smarter about it to save money in the long run.

Oh, the joys of taking out student loan after student loan, maxing out the available limits and conveniently "forgetting" that you WILL have to pay back ALL of this money in just a few years!

If the idea of weeping every time you write that repayment check doesn't strike you as a pleasant way to spend the first few years of your "real world" life, consider these suggestions to make it a little better. You should be able to save some money but still pay for school and cover basic living expenses.

* ONLY BORROW WHAT YOU NEED. Borrowing the maximum in student loans every year might be necessary for some students, but try not to make that your game plan. Experts recommend that your total repayment every month after school be less than five percent of your expected income. And, as we all know, the more you borrow, the bigger your payment. Don't fall into the "Ah, well, I'm paying it back later," trap.

* COMPARISON SHOP AT THE VARIOUS LENDERS. Some lenders offer incentives, lower interest rates, and other deals for students borrowing through them. Some even offer repayment rewards that either drop your interest rate or give you cash back after you make six repayments on time.

* GET A PART-TIME JOB. On-campus work doesn't pay much, but it DOES allow plenty of time for studying and a social life. This should help cover your non-school-related living expenses (hey, you have to go to the movies sometimes) without increasing the amount you have to borrow.

And, it'll look good on your resume` when you go out to find your first "real job."

* BUDGET and TAKE ADVANTAGE OF STUDENT SPECIALS. Don't pay full-price at the movie theater if they offer a student discount. Everywhere you go near your campus, ask if there's a student discount. Most businesses have signs stating as much, but some will give you the discount just because you asked nicely.

Also: control impulse shopping. Set up a budget and stick to it. You can have fun with your money, but a little impulse control here and there isn't a bad idea.

* GRADUATE ON TIME. The sooner you get out of there, the less you'll have to pay in tuition and fees, housing and meal plans. Some students opt to return to Mom and Dad's house over summer breaks, but take classes at their local community colleges. This saves hundreds of dollars a year while still giving you the chance to get a few more credit hours out of your way - that is, if the classes you take will transfer to your university. Check on that before you do it.

There are also a few things you can do after school to make the burden a little easier. Contact your lender about loan-forgiveness programs. Teachers, for example, can have a pretty good chunk of debt knocked off in exchange for a few years of service in a low-income school district. Ask your lender for information about other programs and incentives.

You can also consolidate loans into one payment, with a fixed interest rate. In most cases, this saves you money while making the repayment period a little less burdensome.

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