Iowa Families Can Win Cash for Educational Expenses

Iowa high school students and their families can enter weekly drawings for two $250 awards, and Iowa high school seniors can enter a grand prize drawing for two $1,500 awards by completing a free online tool that helps them estimate the total cost of a four-year undergraduate degree.

Learn more and enter the giveaway today!

Iowa high school students, and their parents or guardians, can enter their information for the drawings after completing the College Funding Forecaster until May 11. The free online tool provided by Iowa Student Loan uses information from students’ freshman year financial aid award packets, as well as outside scholarships and grants and family savings and earnings, to project estimated costs, funding gaps and potential student loan debt over four years.

“We want to help families make the connection between first-year costs and the total financial investment in a college education,” said Steve McCullough, president and CEO of Iowa Student Loan. “This tool helps them see how their costs might increase, what happens when one-year scholarship awards are exhausted, and how the family and student contributions can play a role in reducing overall costs.”

The tool allows families to customize both expenses and available funding to adjust results for changes in students’ situations over the four years. The results show yearly and total estimated costs of attendance, available funding and projected funding gaps. The tool also provides informational tips on how to reduce costs and potential debt.

After viewing their results, users have the opportunity to enter the drawings. Two names will be drawn each week to receive $250 awards for educational expenses. In a grand prize drawing, two names will also be drawn to each receive $1,500 for the students’ college expenses in fall 2017. The grand prizes will be paid directly to the students’ colleges.

For details and complete rules for the giveaway, visit Or, to begin the College Funding Forecaster and enter the giveaway, go to

By: Iowa Student Loan

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 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

Minimize Your Student Loan Debt: Declining Awarded Student Loans

Colleges sometimes include the maximum available federal student and parent loans on financial aid award letters to bring the amount of awarded financial aid closer to the total cost of attendance. It’s not always clear that students don’t need to accept the full amount of all loans.

Reducing expenses or increasing earnings to offset awarded loans will mean less debt after graduation. Not only would the amount of the student loans need to be repaid, but so will interest that accrues daily on those loans. And, it won’t matter if college doesn’t result in graduation, a job or the anticipated earnings. Once the loan has been accepted, the student (or parents in the case of a federal PLUS Loan for parents) is responsible for repaying it.

If the awarded loan amount seems like more than the student will really need, it’s important to decide exactly how much to borrow.

Need some, but not all, of the awarded federal student loan amount? Students can always accept only the loan amount they need. To take a partial loan amount:

  • Fill in the desired loan amount on the document to be returned to the financial aid office if a paper copy needs to be signed and returned.
  • Choose the electronic option for accepting or declining each applicable loan, or for taking out a partial loan amount, when accepting financial aid online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if it’s not clear how to accept a partial award.

Can all loans be declined? Many students have the goal to attend college loan-free. Even if some loans will eventually be needed, declining all loans for one semester will save capitalized interest later on. To decline the offered loans:

  • Cross out the loan amount or select the “decline” option on the document to be returned to the financial aid office.
  • Choose the electronic option for declining each applicable loan if financial aid is accepted online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if it’s not clear how to decline loans.

Considering PLUS Loans? Although PLUS Loans may appear to be part of the awarded financial aid, they are not automatically paid to the student or institution. Parents need to request these loans. Your family may wish to compare the terms and benefits of a PLUS Loan with those, like our College Family Loan, offered by private lenders. These loans may have different fees or interest rates. Be sure to discuss repayment expectations as a family if parents will be responsible for repaying the PLUS or other loan debt.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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.

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

By: Iowa Student Loan

11 Benefits of a College Saving Plan

Most states offer college saving plans, or 529 plans, that allow families to invest money that can later be used for qualified higher-education expenses. These plans offer savings and tax benefits over other ways of saving for college. Here are 11 reasons you may want to consider a 529 plan, such as a College Savings Iowa plan.

1. You can choose, and change, your investment strategy.
College saving plans offer a variety of investment tracks to allow you to decide how to invest contributions. You may choose from among recommended investment tracks based on the age of the beneficiary and your comfort level with risk. Or you may wish to choose from among individual portfolios of specific bond and stock funds.

After choosing your initial investment strategy, you can make changes over time. You may make changes to existing contributions twice a year.

2. You receive tax benefits.
Your 529 assets grow deferred from federal and state income taxes as long as the money remains in the plan. Many states also offer additional state tax advantages for in-state residents.

3.Qualified withdrawals are not subject to taxes.
Withdrawals used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses are also tax-free. This means any growth from your principal investments in a 529 plan used for qualified expenses will never be included in your income tax.

4. The assets are less impactful on financial aid.
The formula used to calculate financial aid treats 529 plan assets more favorably than it treats savings or investments owned by the student. According to, a maximum of 5.64% of all parental assets, including 529 plans owned by a parent or a dependent student, is counted toward the expected family contribution for college by the federal financial aid formula, compared to 20% of student assets.

5. Anyone can start or contribute to a plan.
You don’t need to be related to the student you name as the beneficiary of a 529 plan you open. This means you can be a parent, grandparent or friend of the student who will use the money, or you can be the student. There are no income limits, age limits or annual contribution limits for account owners.

Someone who would like to make a gift to the student can also make one-time contributions to an existing account.

6. Minimum investments are small.
College Savings Iowa allows initial investments or contributions of $25 or more and a minimum of $15 for employers that offer payroll deduction. Investments in 529 plans can be as large or small as comfortable for families.

7. You are not limited to your state’s plan.
You may choose to use any state’s 529 plan even if you don’t live there or the student doesn’t intend to attend college in that state.

8. The money can be used for attendance and other expenses at a wide variety of institutions.
The student beneficiary can use the money to attend any eligible two- or four-year college, postgraduate program, trade or vocational school, online college and university programs and even some international institutions or study-abroad programs.

Besides tuition, money can be applied to other qualified higher-education expenses like fees, books, housing, meals, supplies, computers and printers, software and internet access.

9. Plans are transferable.
If the student beneficiary named on the plan doesn’t need the money, it can be transferred to an eligible family member of the student, like a sibling, child, parent or spouse.

10. You can always withdraw the money if needed.
If the student earns a scholarship or enrolls in a military academy, you can withdraw up to the amount of the scholarship or the value of the education tax-free. If the student passes away or becomes disabled and is unable to attend college, there is also no penalty for withdrawals.

If you withdraw money for any other reason than these circumstances and the withdrawal is not used for a qualified higher-education expense, a 10% federal tax penalty will may apply to any earnings. (You would receive the full value of your contributions minus any administration fees.) A tax adviser can help you understand tax consequences of non-qualified withdrawals from a 529 plan.

11. A 529 plan may encourage college attendance and graduation.
Researchers have found that when money is set aside for college, families save more. Even when budgets are tight, families with even relatively small amounts of money earmarked for college find creative ways to save more. Additionally, the perceived value of higher education increased and a high percentage of parents felt their children would finish college.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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

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

Situation What to Do
Contact information is incorrect. Contact the financial aid office with updated information. The student should also log in to the FAFSA portal to update information.
Financial information has changed since you submitted your FAFSA. Contact the financial aid office about drastic financial changes due to loss of a parent’s job or other circumstances.
The student wants to be considered independent for financial aid purposes due to a severed relationship or abusive situation. Students with extenuating circumstances in regard to their relationship with their parents may contact the financial aid office to clarify the situation and determine the dependency appeal process.
An expected federal or state award is not listed. If the student qualifies 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 an automatic award wasn’t received, contact the agency responsible for administering it and notify the 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.
An expected institutional award is not listed. Not all awards are automatically granted to all eligible students. If the FAFSA was filed by 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 the financial aid office and the financial aid office at the other institution of the mistake.
An unexpected award is listed. Many colleges consider an application for admission to also be an application for other institutional awards. If the student doesn’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. Tell the college about all grants and scholarships received. If an award is missing, contact the financial aid office.
A work-study award is listed. This award may be dependent on the student 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.
Not enough aid was awarded to cover costs of attendance. If there is a large difference between aid and costs, some options to consider are:

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

By: Iowa Student Loan

Student Loan Pro Tip: Credit Card Use (Video)

Using credit cards too much in college could equal debt to repay later.

Interest on credit cards adds up fast and can quickly make payments unmanageable. Smart use of credit cards now will pay off in the future by reducing your debt.

To learn more about student loans and avoiding debt, check out our Smart Borrowing resources:

By: Iowa Student Loan

Scholarship Tips for Parents

Many families find they need additional funds to pay for college. Especially if your family does not qualify for a lot of need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships can help fill the gap.

While your student will be the one qualifying for scholarships, filling out applications and writing essays, parents can assist in several ways. Here are some steps you can take.

Encourage your child to participate in appealing extracurricular activities. Many scholarship committees are looking for well-rounded applicants who have accomplishments, leadership and involvement outside the classroom. Extracurriculars can include school, religious and community groups, volunteer efforts, sports, fine arts, employment and a variety of other activities. The specific activities—or the number or variety of them—should reflect your student’s interests and situation.

Frame the conversation by setting a budget. Many teenagers don’t have an accurate idea of how much college costs or how much their families are able or willing to spend on their education. Have an honest conversation about true current and estimated future costs for the types of colleges your student is considering and how much you can contribute. Then, you can discuss ways your student can contribute financially, including through scholarships.

Search early and often. Use free online search sites beginning as early as your student’s sophomore year to get an idea of the types of scholarships your student may qualify for. You can gather ideas about test scores, grades, activities or other specific requirements that your student may be approaching or considering. Your student should continue the search as he or she approaches senior year and throughout college because new opportunities arise at different stages.

Work together to brainstorm scholarship sources. Besides online scholarship searches, your family should consider additional sources of scholarships. Employers (yours, your student’s and those of other family members, as well as local employers), churches and nonprofit organizations, community and civic groups, local companies and high schools all may offer awards in varying amounts and for a variety of qualifications. Encourage your student to apply to both smaller and less selective scholarships as well as any more competitive awards he or she may qualify for. Don’t forget to investigate scholarships offered by the colleges and academic departments your child is considering; these are often the largest awards.

Set aside a specific time to devote to scholarships. As their senior year becomes more hectic with college applications, classwork and other activities, students may struggle to find the time to devote to a quality application. Help your child by designating a specific time to search for scholarships and manage applications and essays. The schedule may change in frequency as your student nears deadlines.

Help with ideas, editing and proofreading. Help your student come up with ideas for essay responses that fit the prompt while conveying what’s most important to your child. You may recall events or activities from earlier in high school that your student has now forgotten or considers unimportant. You can also provide a fresh eye to catch errors and other problems with essays and applications. Just remember that scholarship committees are used to reading student work and will recognize an overly involved parental hand.

Consider financial aid consequences. If your student will be eligible for need-based aid, like grants or work-study, investigate how each college treats merit awards. Some colleges will offset need-based aid with any outside scholarships; others allow a student to “stack” awards to maximize aid. If this information is not readily available in the financial aid, costs or admissions pages of the college website, contact the admissions office directly for details.

Recognize the accomplishment. If your child earns one or more large scholarships or many smaller ones, your family may be able to significantly reduce the amount spent on college. You may want to reward your student by matching a portion of the earnings. The match money could be designated for books or other expenses not covered by the awards or you may leave its disposal up to your student. Regardless of the final outcome, remember that your student has put at least some and possibly a great deal of time and effort into the scholarship process. Recognize that with sincere words, a tangible reward or other gesture.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Tips for Landing a Scholarship (Infographic)

As you enter your last few months of high school, the pressure’s on to figure out how to pay for the next stage of your education. Improve your chances of landing scholarship funds with these tips.


Download a PDF of this infographic.

Beef up your qualifications. Try a new extracurricular activity, volunteer and bump up your GPA to qualify for more scholarship funds and increase your chances of earning those scholarships.

Update your information. As you accomplish more, update your qualifications listed for your accounts on scholarship search sites, such as, bigfuture and Fastweb, to find more results.

Keep searching for new opportunities. Perform new searches through free scholarship sites on a regular basis. Remember, many non-academic entities offer scholarships and make information available at different times of the year.

Touch base with your support crew. Let teachers, coaches and family friends who have agreed to write letters of recommendation or proofread essays know when you will need help. Allow them enough time to help you while still meeting all their other commitments, and offer to help any way you can.

Stay on top of deadlines. Plan your priorities to ensure you submit applications and supporting materials before their due dates.

Reread all your upcoming scholarship submissions. Check for any typos, make sure you’ve followed all instructions and submit everything required.

File for financial aid. If you haven’t yet, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a primary tool to qualify for scholarships awarded by colleges. If you need help completing your FAFSA, contact the Iowa College Access Network or attend a free Iowa College Goal Sunday event near you.

Contact your college. If your FAFSA doesn’t accurately reflect your financial situation or if you have questions about scholarships available at your college, contact the college’s admissions or financial aid office. Also let the admissions office know if the final price tag will make the difference in your college choice; the school may have some flexibility in scholarship awards.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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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