Tuition & Book Fees
There are a number of ideas to reduce tuition fees along with books, meals, and more. The first step is a conversation with your school’s Financial Aid Office. Prepare a checklist of questions to ensure you get all your answers.
Look into merit-based financial aid which is different than need-based financial aid. Merit-based aid is typically thought to be awarded based on merits such as academics and athletics. However this can also apply on the basis of other achievements, race, religion, and more. It’s possible to get both merit-based and need-based financial aid. You can only help yourself by completing the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and verifying if you qualify for either type of aid.
You may be surprised by the immense quantity and the variety scholarships that are available and the ease of applying. The best part is these do not have to be paid back. They’re offered by private and public companies, schools, employers, individuals, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations, and individuals. Often these sources have budgets and funds allocated to scholarships and they are eager to give away the money.
You don’t need to be a 4.0 student to earn a scholarship. Scholarships are often a merit-based form of academic aid but merit can be based on other criteria too. Some are designed to be awarded to a certain group or category of people. This may include those aspiring to be a certain professional or field, talent, a certain religious group, gender, level of education, organization, achieving a certain milestone, a parent’s workplace, and military family. It’s a long shot but a few schools may offer a discount or scholarship if you have family alumni with the school.
You get out of it what you put into it
The values can range from a couple hundred dollars to much more but you will have to sell yourself and earn it. It all adds up to help reduce the amount you borrow and keep those loan interest fees to a minimum.
Scholarships are available from the public, private, and government sectors. While we don’t endorse any particular site, click here to a site sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and one of many options to begin looking for scholarship opportunities. There are many others valuable sites and resources but be mindful of scams.
Partial or complete waivers may be an option if you meet a school’s policy. When this option is available it’s often available for, but not limited to, teachers, veterans, Native Americans, Peace Corps employees, and those that work in civil service positions such as police and fire departments and may extend to their children.
A waiver usually requires the student to attend a public university/school within the state. A quick search with your state and the words “tuition waiver” will likely bring up viable links to review. A few determining factors are listed below that could help get some or all of the tuition fees waived.
- Financial Hardship – related to catastrophic events
- Low Income – those in need of financial support
- Adopted/Fostered – adopted or fostered students
- Native American – legal status and tribe recognized by the US government
Loan Rate Negotiation
There is little flexibility in negotiating lower interest rates but it never hurts to ask for a reduction.
The more likely and practical option is to borrow the smallest amount you can afford and be diligent on your payments to protect your credit score. Your credit score could impact future loan obligations for purchases for items such as a vehicle or a home.
One obvious way to reduce your fees is to graduate as early as possible. While it’s easier said than done, plan your courses to take the minimum amount of credits as possible. The earlier you graduate usually means the sooner you begin earning money and paying off debt. Some courses, especially more specialized electives are only offered intermittently or have limited options of dates and hours. Consulting with an advisor will help ensure you get a seat when it fits this plan you’re trying to execute.
There are usually options to take courses in the summer or off the normal scheduled periods or semesters. These are often condensed into a tighter time frame than normal. For example, instead of 16 weeks, a course may be offered in 6 weeks.
But not all courses are available in these condensed sessions so plan carefully if you want to pursue this option. This is great way to shorten the time in school and start your professional career.
Many employers have tuition reimbursement plans or some form of financial assistance. These plans are typically controlled by the Human Resources Dept. The amount of coverage varies from some covering a small percentage to those that cover 100%.
Even if your company doesn’t have an existing plan ask your Supervisor or Business Owner to see if the company can assist. Most policies will require maintenance of a certain level of academic performance with proof (such as 3.0 GPA) and/or a commitment to stay employed for a length of time after the courses are taken.
The costs of books and supplies are more in your control. Publishers are savvy about frequently printing new revisions to keep students purchasing new books. Sometimes professors are authors, co-authors, or contributors which can benefit them financially when students buy new books.
Consider used books rather than new. Depending on condition, they can be nearly free but more often a double digit percentage less than new. There are usually student forums, chatrooms, and on-line retailers that could give you every opportunity to find used books if they exist.
Renting books from an online source is another popular way to avoid the costs of new books. In this context, these are physical book (not electronic books) and they are mailed to you and returned after you’re done.
The costs of food can exceed the costs of books. Depending on your situation you may be choosing a meal plan. This decision is important because you could pay for too much and risk the chance of losing meal credits that you never used.
Take the time to research the most economical and practical meal plan because these fees are usually non-refundable and non-negotiable.
Lifetime Learning Credit
The IRS offers a lifetime learning credit (LLC) for qualified tuition and related expenses paid for eligible students enrolled in an eligible educational institution for up to $2,000 per tax return with no limit on the number of years. The LLC can help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses including courses to acquire or improve job skills. Keep in mind your employer may cover these fees too. Visit the IRS link below to learn more about the program and qualifications.
American Opportunity Tax Credit
Another program offered by the IRS is the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit covers qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for the first four years of higher education. You can get a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per eligible student. If the credit brings the amount of tax you owe to zero, you can have 40% of any remaining amount of the credit (up to $1,000) refunded to you.
While there similarities between the AOTC and LLC, there a important differences. The IRS has a visual chart that compares the features of LLC and AOTC options.
Can you claim a Tax Education Credit?
The IRS has a 10 minute quiz to help determine whether you may be able to claim a Tax Education Credit. This will help determine if you’re eligible for certain educational credits or deductions including the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the Tuition and Fees Deduction.
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