Five Key Facts About Your Award Package

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While college acceptance letters are often exciting, the arrival of financial aid award packages can be confusing. Keep these five things in mind as you review your financial aid awards to limit stress.

1. Financial aid is not all free money. Depending on the college or university, financial aid may be presented under one large heading or broken down by type. Remember that work-study and loans, including federal and supplemental loans, are also part of financial aid packages. Work-study requires you to find and obtain work on campus, and loans must be paid back with interest after you graduate or leave college.

2. Cost of attendance varies by college. Like the types of aid offered, college costs may be grouped together under one category or split into different groupings, such as tuition; room and board, which is sometimes called housing and meals; and miscellaneous expenses. This can be tricky when comparing costs between schools. Be sure you understand what is included in each category to get a true comparison.

3. Expenses may increase and free aid may decrease after your freshman year. College tuition, on-campus housing and meal plans will likely cost more each year you’re in school. Grants and scholarships you’re offered to attend a college as a freshman, on the other hand, may decrease in future years. Find out if scholarships and grants are for one year or if they are renewable. If they can be renewed each year, be sure you understand any requirements you must meet to keep those awards. Also, be aware that federal loan amounts may increase every year you’re in college, but those funds will need to be paid back with interest in the future. Estimate total college costs using your financial aid package.

4. Work-study requires work now. If your award package includes a line for work-study, don’t assume the college will have a job waiting for you when you arrive on campus in the fall. As soon as you decide on a college, touch base with the financial aid office to determine what steps you need to take to get a job on campus. Then, apply for the job(s) you are interested in or seek out other opportunities to count on that money coming in once you start classes.

5. Outside scholarships may impact your award package. You need to report any scholarships or grants you receive from sources outside of the government or college to the financial aid office. While those outside scholarships may reduce the aid you’re eligible to receive, they can also help you borrow less if you need loans, so don’t be afraid of finding as much outside free money as possible.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Working During Spring Break

How much money can you save by working over spring break instead of going on a trip? The specific answer depends on several circumstances, but the average savings could be in the thousands of dollars. Here’s a breakdown.

Assume you make $9 an hour and work eight hours a day for six days of a nine-day break. Your earnings after taxes would be $375.

Add to that your savings for not traveling to a typical spring break destination, which could be over $1,000. See how you can apply these earnings to college expenses.

Earnings  
Hourly Wage $9
Hours Worked Over Break (9 Days) 48
Net Earnings After Taxes $375
Savings  
Average Flight + Hotel Cost (5-Night Stay) See source $1,077
Total (Net Earnings + Travel Savings) $1,452

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Dine on a Dime: Eight Budget Tips for Dining During Spring Break

Food and drinks can be among the most expensive parts of any trip, and visiting a popular destination for spring break is no different. These eight tips will help you dine on a dime over break.

1. Buy your own groceries.

If you’re traveling by car, you can do this at your favorite discount stores before you leave. Otherwise, you may need to check for local chains with sales or discounts once you arrive. Either way, having a stock of snacks, drinks and groceries will allow you to avoid purchasing marked-up items for convenience. If your lodging has a fridge and microwave, you can make some of your main meals.

2. Take advantage of hotel perks.

If your hotel offers a free breakfast or a happy hour with snacks, be there. Get at least one free meal a day, and if possible, pack a piece of fruit or granola bar in your pocket for a snack.

3. Bring a refillable water bottle.

Using your own container filled from a tap or drinking fountain will reduce the amount spent on bottles of water. Hotels usually have a free ice machine to keep your drink cold.

4. Know when to dine.

Lunch is often less expensive than dinner, and Wednesday may be cheaper than Saturday, at restaurants. If you want to try a specific place or plan to eat out for only one meal a day, choose the day and time of your meal carefully to save. Catching a sidewalk vendor or food truck at the end of the day might score some good deals on leftovers as well.

5. Know where to dine.

Ask locals for recommendations on less-expensive, out-of-the-way and authentic restaurants. Conversely, keep your eyes open for happy hours, buffets and other meal deals at the hot tourist spots.

6. Keep your extras.

If your restaurant portion is larger than you need for one meal, and you have a fridge back in your room, take the leftovers with you for another meal.

7. Get it to go.

Order a meal to go to avoid the extra costs for drinks and tips. In addition, you may also avoid the temptation to splurge on appetizers, desserts or other extras.

8. Get a discount.

Smartphone apps, online discount codes, daily deal sites, coupons and discounted gift certificates are all your friends. Search for the savings before you pick out your dining location. You may also be able to get discounts for students, AAA or other memberships, or members of fan or birthday clubs.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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10 Budget Tips for Spring Break (Infographic)

Download Infographic as a PDF.

Spring break can mean fun, sun and no worries, unless you blow your budget. Use these tips to help you stay on track during break and save your money for your education.

1. Plan ahead.

Start scouting for sales and less-expensive options early. Check out flights, hotels, destinations and activities so you don’t pay more for last-minute decisions. Read reviews of the activities or venues you want to include to see if they’re worth the cost. Also, pack everything you’re likely to need to avoid tourist prices on sunscreen, sunglasses, raingear, chargers and attire.

2. Take a cheaper flight.

Airfare is expensive, especially during high traffic times like spring break. But you can save some money by flying discount airlines, at off-peak times and days, non-direct and through alternate airports. In addition, check to see whether you can save by sitting separately from your companions and avoiding baggage fees.

3. Drive or ride instead of flying.

Buses and trains may get you where you want to go at a big savings. Or, get together with friends to share a road trip to your destination. These may take longer than flying but can be as much fun as the destination.

4. Take the road less traveled.

The beaches of the eastern seaboard are often less crowded than those of Florida, Mexico or Texas during spring break and can offer savings. Maybe this is the ideal time for you to explore the mountains or the desert and avoid the party scene.

5. Stay for less.

Apps and sites like Airbnb, VRBO and hostels.com can point you to less expensive lodging wherever you decide to go. Consider camping if you’re driving—government-owned sites are often least expensive, and you can even rent camping gear. To spend even less, stay with someone you know. Check out options for your final destination and lodging along the way.

6. Save on activities.

Look for discounts before you go through memberships like Costco and AAA, as well as apps like RoadTrippers, Groupon and Living Social. Also, an Internet search may turn up promotional codes you can use when you book. Once you arrive, some places may offer a discount if you show your student ID, and look for coupon books in the lobbies of hotels.

7. Save on food.

Depending on how you’re traveling, it may make sense to stock up on food for meals and snacks as well as beverages before you leave. If you’re flying, look for discount chains once you arrive. Preparing your own food will save on high restaurant and venue costs. See more tips for budget dining on spring break. <link to other post>

8. Avoid impulse buying.

It’s tempting to pick up a memento of your trip or to indulge yourself. Think about whether that coconut mug or t-shirt will get any use when you get back, or if the signature drink is worth the cost. Set a budget for each day and stick to it. You could even only bring the amount of cash you want to spend with you, leaving your credit card and extra cash in the hotel safe.

9. Use your legs.

Instead of renting a car, taking cabs or using Uber, consider renting a bike or simply walking where you need to go at your destination.

10. Stay out of trouble.

Avoid large fines and penalties by knowing and abiding by the laws at your destination, including those for driving, consuming alcoholic beverages and noise.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Plan for Total College Costs; Enter to Win

Use the free College Funding Forecaster online tool between March 13 and June 9 and enter for a chance at cash prizes for educational expenses.

The College Funding Forecaster helps you get a clearer picture of the total costs, aid and shortfalls over four years using freshman year financial aid award information, as well as family contributions and outside scholarships and grants.

How to Use the College Funding Forecaster
Follow these simple steps to get started:

  1. Gather up your financial aid award information from the college(s) and any information about scholarships received from schools or outside organizations.
  2. Go to IowaStudentLoan.org/Forecaster.
  3. Enter in the college’s financial information as well as information about your family’s earnings and savings and any outside awards.
  4. Review year-by-year estimates and make adjustments for your own situation. For example, living off campus after sophomore year may cost less than living on campus. Or you may be expecting to earn more after the first year of college.
  5. Review the results, as well as the informational tips on how to address funding shortfalls.
  6. Enter your information at the end of the tool to be included in the drawings.

Cash Awards for Educational Expenses
Iowa high school students and their parents and guardians can enter the weekly drawings for a chance at one of two $250 awards to offset education expenses.

Iowa high school seniors and their parents and guardians will also be entered into a grand prize drawing for two $1,500 awards to be paid to the winning students’ colleges in fall 2017 to offset college expenses.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Get a Clearer Picture of Total College Costs

Are you wondering if the financial aid award letters from colleges show the complete picture? It may be a fuzzy or incomplete snapshot when you’re looking for a clear portrayal of a complicated subject.

Iowa Student Loan is ready to help you get a clearer picture of the total costs, aid and shortfalls over four years in one-on-one sessions at open houses across the state in March and April. Each student who attends a College Financial Aid Award Letter Night will be entered into a drawing for a $100 door prize at each event.

Bring your financial aid award information, and our experts will help you experience the College Funding Forecaster, a free online tool that allows you to better understand how expected costs and aid will add up over four undergraduate years.

How to Participate
Participating is easy. Here’s how:

  1. Gather up your financial aid award information from the college(s) and any information about scholarships received from schools or outside organizations.
  2. Arrive between the start and end times at an event in your area. To see dates, times and locations of all events, visit IowaStudentLoan.org/AwardLetter.
  3. An Iowa Student Loan representative will provide one-on-one assistance as you complete the College Funding Forecaster.
  4. Ask your questions about paying for college, financial aid and student loans.
  5. See if your name is drawn for the $100 door prize.
  6. Leave with a better picture of total college costs, financial aid and potential student loan debt.

Note: All personal and financial information will remain private and will not be retained. You will not be asked to purchase or commit to anything.

To learn more or if you have questions, contact us.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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5 Things Parents Should Know About Award Letters

Your student filed the FAFSA and just received the first financial aid award letter from a college. Your student may be happy as this is yet another step in the process taking them ever closer to move-in day. But before accepting admission, it’s important you take a look and ensure the offered financial aid is right for your family’s situation. Here are a few things to consider when reviewing your student’s award letter.

  1. Award letters can come in a variety of formats and if your student receives an award letter from multiple colleges, they may not look the same. This can make comparing costs and awarded aid a bit tricky and confusing but there are ways to get an accurate comparison.

It’s important to compare like costs and like awarded aid. Consider additional listed costs or aid separately. If you get confused, using a spreadsheet or table that breaks down amounts might help. The U.S. Department of Education offers a shopping sheet that can provide a template.

  1. Colleges often include the maximum available federal student and parent loans on the award letter. If you have other means to pay, such as newly anticipated income, savings, gifts or a 529 college savings plan, you can decline the offered loans entirely or update the awarded loan amounts to a lesser value. You don’t have to accept the full amount of awarded loans.
  1. Loans listed on the award letter could include federal PLUS loans for parents. These loans allow parents to supplement the student’s awarded aid to better cover the cost of attendance. These loans enter repayment immediately and are entirely the responsibility of the parent — not the student. Be sure to review your student’s award letter carefully and discuss loan options and responsibilities.
  1. You may notice awarded aid doesn’t fully cover all costs. You have some options when it comes to covering the remaining costs. First, contact the school’s financial aid office and inform them of your situation. They may be able to offer monthly payment plans or suggest other options such as private student loans.
  1. When reviewing your student’s award letter, keep in mind that other costs will come up during the course of your student’s college career. Award letters often do not take into consideration additional or extra costs. Other costs that may not be included in the award letter are spending money if your student chooses to attend concerts, sporting events or other activities. Organizations your student chooses to join may also come with membership fees not detailed in the award letter. So be sure you or your student have some extra money set aside for these situations.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Replacing Non-Renewable Scholarships

As the academic year comes to a close, many college students face a harsh financial reality: Scholarships and grants that made the current year affordable will soon come to an end. Some awards are only intended to be applied to the first year of college; others carry renewal requirements, such as a minimum GPA or a specific major, that go unmet.

If fewer scholarship and grant funds will be available to you or your student next year, start planning now to make up the shortfall. Here are three ways students may replace non-renewable scholarships.

1. Find new scholarships. Although many scholarships are available to freshmen, you may be able to find scholarships for upperclassmen with a little effort.

  • If you have settled on a major, start with your academic department or college. Search the department website, visit the departmental office and talk to your academic adviser.
  • Stop in the campus financial aid office and see what scholarships are offered to students who have your academic and extracurricular interests.
  • Check with professional and pre-professional organizations about programs to help students in your intended career field.
  • Search online databases for upperclassmen scholarships. Certain scholarships like those offered by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Morris K. Udall Foundation are only for upperclassmen, while others allow applicants of any undergraduate level.
  • Look for local and small scholarships. A lot of students tend to compete for national and large scholarships. You may have better luck standing out among applicants for smaller and local awards.

2. Increase earnings. If you are unable to earn new scholarships, you may want to consider adding work hours.

  • During the school year, you may be able to find positions on or near campus that allow you to prepare for your intended career while earning money. Look for jobs as a teaching assistant, tutor or research assistant.
  • Resident Assistants in the dorms may qualify for reduced room and board costs, while other campus positions may allow you to study during slow times. Businesses near campus often hire college students during the academic year as well. Even part-time positions can pay well over time.
  • Over breaks, you can work more hours to increase income. Summer research on campus or for private, nonprofit and government organizations can help you create career connections.
  • If you need an internship to meet graduation requirements, look for paid positions that will offset your tuition, housing and transportation costs. Some colleges and organizations also offer stipends to help students who have an unpaid internship or co-op.

3. Lower costs. Especially in combination with increased earnings, lower costs can help you make up for the loss of non-renewed scholarships.

  • Consider living off campus. Carefully weigh the cost for paying rent (most leases run a full year instead of the 10-month academic term), furnishings, utilities, groceries and transportation against room and board rates to determine if moving will save you money.
  • Even small changes can help you save a large amount of money if you are consistent and diligent.
  • Plan ahead when purchasing furnishings, supplies and books to save. Make sure you take advantage of the least expensive option that will allow you to succeed.
  • Stick to a budget to cut costs year-round. Know where you can save the most money with a little effort.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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What Your Award Letter Doesn’t Tell You

The daily life of a college student brings along associated costs. Many of these are detailed in the financial aid award letters and packets colleges send out, but still others also add up. Use this list of 14 expenses not normally included in most cost of attendance information to help you budget better.

1. Class- or major-specific materials and fees. Your award package probably provides an average cost for books and materials, but depending on specific classes, you may need to budget more. For example, you may need to purchase specialty art supplies, specific software or even tickets to local performances for certain classes.

2. Social and pre-professional dues and fees. Fraternities, sororities, pre-professional societies, clubs and student organizations often have membership fees, as well as costs associated with special events, trips, conferences and clothing.

3. Printing and photocopy fees. While the world of academics is progressively moving toward electronic communication, students often need to print materials, signs, resumes and portfolios for presentations, interviews and other occasions. Students may have a number of printed pages included in the cost of attendance, but watch especially for limits on color, 3-D and other special printing.

4. Clothing. Besides an initial outlay for clothes appropriate for the weather and fashions at a specific school, students often buy new clothes for theme days or holidays, special events, interviews and jobs. Don’t forget to budget spirit wear for game days.

5. Extra travel. Many college award packets include an average amount for transportation. This may not cover your specific costs for travel to and from a faraway home or travel expenses for study abroad, internships or co-ops, conferences, service trips or even trips over breaks. Students with cars may have parking, insurance and maintenance costs on and off campus, and those without may end up paying for cabs, Uber, trains or buses.

6. Bank and financial fees. If your financial institution doesn’t have a branch on or near campus, you may be responsible for extra fees for using the ATM. Colleges may also charge fees if you choose to use a payment plan or to pay your tuition bill by certain methods.

7. Health and fitness expenses. If a college doesn’t include membership to a campus fitness center in its fees, students may need to budget for that expense. In addition, physical therapy or personal training services may be available only at an extra charge.

8. Health insurance. On a related note, consider whether there are extra fees for using your family health insurance in the college area. Many colleges offer their own insurance plans and automatically enroll students. Check with the college to determine if you are being charged for health insurance and how you can avoid paying for double coverage.

9. Parent travel. If a student doesn’t attend college close to home, parents may find themselves paying to travel to and stay in the college community several times a year, either for visits, special events or college functions like orientation and family day.

10. Renter or dorm insurance. Parents may need to pay for an additional policy or increase current insurance coverage in case of loss or theft of personal items at college. Insurance may cover contents of a dorm room or off-campus housing, bikes and computers, as well as other items.

11. Storage or shipping for breaks. If a student attends college far from home, items that can’t be reasonably carted home will need to be either shipped or stored when the dorm closes for the year or if the student is between leases.

12. Legal fees. Colleges may provide free legal assistance to students, but some cases may require outside counsel. Although student legal situations could involve drugs or alcohol, other situations include car accidents, personal injury, landlord-tenant conflict, theft and more. In addition, students who are over the legal age may want to provide power of attorney or other legal documents to their parents or other parties.

13. Entertainment costs. Sporting events, concerts, movies and other entertainment options can add up for students. In addition, students may need to pay for cable or another TV subscription service, dining outside of a meal plan, snacks, beverages and more.

14. Student loan interest. All student loans begin accruing daily interest from the moment they are disbursed to the school or the student. The federal government will pay interest on subsidized federal loans while the student is in school at least half-time, but all other student loans have that interest added to the total repayment amount. You can choose to pay interest during the school years to offset the accrual; otherwise, include anticipated interest in financial plans for the future.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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What to Do If Your Financial Aid Award Is Inaccurate or Incomplete

FA-Award-Incomplete

When you receive your financial aid award notification, check it carefully. Here are some circumstances you may run into and what you can do.

Situation What to Do
Your contact information is incorrect. Contact the financial aid office with your updated information. You also need to log in to the FAFSA portal to update your information.
Your tax or other financial information has changed since you submitted your FAFSA. Contact the financial aid office if your financial situation has changed drastically due to loss of a parent’s job or other circumstances. You will need to log in to the FAFSA portal and update anything that has changed due to estimating or amendments made to your tax returns.
You want to be considered independent of your parents for financial aid purposes due to a severed relationship or abusive situation. If you have extenuating circumstances in regard to your relationship with your parents, contact your financial aid office to clarify the situation and determine the dependency appeal process.
You didn’t receive a federal or state award you expected. If you believe you qualify for but didn’t receive a federal or state grant or scholarship, first determine if the award is automatically granted to all eligible applicants.

  • If you didn’t receive an automatic award, contact the agency responsible for administering it and notify your financial aid office.
  • If the award is not automatic, funds may not be available for all applicants. You may try contacting the agency administering the award to see if any remaining funds will be awarded later.
You didn’t receive an institutional award you expected. Not all awards are automatically granted to all eligible students. If you met the college’s priority deadline, contact the financial aid office to determine if any institutional awards are still available. If the award was offered by a specific department, ask a financial aid representative if the office has been made aware of the award.
A state or federal award was submitted to the wrong college. Contact the agency responsible for administering the award. Also notify your financial aid office and the financial aid office at the other institution of the mistake.
You received an award you didn’t expect. Many colleges consider your application for admission to also be your application for other institutional awards. If you feel you didn’t meet the qualifications for an award, contact the financial aid office to clarify.
A grant or scholarship awarded by an outside entity isn’t shown in your award packet. You need to tell your college about all grants and scholarships you receive. If an award is missing, contact the financial aid office.
You received a work-study award. This award may be dependent on you finding a work-study position and earning a paycheck based on hours actually worked. Start with the financial aid section on the college’s website. If that doesn’t contain information about how to locate and apply for work-study positions, contact the financial aid office.
You didn’t receive enough aid to pay for your costs of attendance. If you are significantly short of aid, you may need to consider:

  • Contacting the financial aid office to inform them of your situation and see if you qualify for any additional aid.
  • Working more to earn income to pay for your shortfall.
  • Asking about monthly payment plans.
  • Exploring less expensive education options, such as a public university or community college.
  • Relying on family to help with the cost of your education through gifts or federal PLUS Loans for parents.
  • Taking out private student loans to cover the remaining expenses.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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