Spring Cleaning for College Accounts

While you gather up all your financial information for tax preparation, or while it’s still organized and handy from an early filing, consider doing a spring cleanup to keep abreast of available earnings and savings for college.

1. Understand total amounts needed.
If you have a high school student, a good starting place is the net price calculator for colleges your student is interested in. To find the calculator, search online for the college name and “net price calculator.” Not all colleges treat the calculator the same, so be sure you understand what it takes into account.

If your student is already in college, you have a good idea of costs. Be sure to consider increases in tuition costs as well as changes like moving off campus or enrolling in classes with extra fees for future years.

Use the College Funding Forecaster to estimate total costs over four years.

2. Estimate your expected family contribution (EFC).
Colleges use the information you provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to calculate your EFC, or the amount your family is expected to be able to contribute to your student’s college costs, and available aid. Although each institution comes up with its own EFC based on your financial information, you can use the FAFSA4caster to estimate a number.

Important things to keep in mind:

  • Your EFC is what colleges expect you to be able to pay and may not reflect certain circumstances that will prevent you from paying that amount.
  • Many colleges do not meet full need, or provide financial aid to cover any gaps between costs and your EFC.
  • Financial aid packages often include federal or institutional student loans, as well as federal loans for parents. These amounts will need to be repaid with interest.

3. Calculate available savings and earnings.
Assess how much you and your student have already put away for college. Don’t forget about accounts or savings vehicles owned by or receiving contributions from relatives. Some typical college savings accounts include:

  • 529 plans
  • Education Savings Accounts, such as Coverdell
  • Savings accounts
  • Savings bonds
  • Trust funds or other inheritances or gifts

Now consider earnings (your own and your student’s) that will be earmarked for college. Be aware that your student’s college may also assume your student will earn a certain amount each year in school when assembling a financial aid award packet.

4. Understand how college funding works.
Be sure you understand what types of expenses each of the college savings vehicles cover. You may be able to claim only tuition expenses, or you may receive reimbursements for a variety of qualified expenses, including off-campus housing, food and technology.

You should also clear up any questions on how to claim benefits. Do you need to keep receipts and ask for reimbursement, or will amounts be paid directly to your student’s college? If your student doesn’t need the funds due to a large scholarship or another windfall, how can you transfer, redistribute or take out the money, and are there penalties for doing so?

5. Consider changes.
Depending on when you started saving for college, your college investment strategy should change with your student’s age and education goals. Now is a good time to consider your current options and possible changes.

Check savings bonds for maturity dates and current vs. expected value. It may also be time to convert funds from one vehicle to another. A financial or plan adviser can provide more information about investment options, tax implications and other considerations.

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 you don’t need to accept the full amount of all loans if you don’t want to.

If you can reduce your expenses or earn more money to offset awarded loans, you will have less debt after you graduate. When you use student loans, you’ll not only need to repay the amount of the loan, you’ll also be responsible for interest. And, it won’t matter if you don’t finish school, don’t find a job or earn less than you expected. Once you accept the loan, you (or your parents in the case of a federal PLUS Loan for parents) are responsible for repaying it.

If you are awarded more loan funds than you think you will need, it’s important to decide exactly how much you will need in loans.

Need some, but not all, of the awarded federal student loan amount? You can always accept only the loan amount you need. You may:

  • Fill in the amount you want to take out on the document you return the financial aid office if you need to sign and return a paper copy.
  • Choose the electronic option for accepting or declining each applicable loan, or for taking out a partial loan amount, if you accept your financial aid online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if you are unable to determine how to accept a partial award.

Can you forego all loans? Many students have the goal to attend college loan-free. Even if you know you will eventually need to take out some loans, declining all loans for one semester will save you capitalized interest later on. If you want to decline the offered loans:

  • Cross out the loan amount or select the “decline” option on the document you return the financial aid office if you need to sign and return a paper copy.
  • Choose the electronic option for declining each applicable loan if you accept your financial aid online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if you are unable to determine how to decline loans.

What if you change your mind? If you later decide you need more or fewer loan funds, you should follow your college’s instructions and timeline for changing your accepted award. Many online systems allow you to make this change, or you can contact your financial aid office for assistance. You may need to act before loan funds are disbursed or contact the lender after disbursement.

Considering PLUS Loans? Although PLUS Loans may appear to be part of your awarded financial aid, your parents need to request these loans. Because they will also be responsible for repayment, discuss your parents’ expectations with them.

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

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

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

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

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