Financial Aid

Loan payments too high to handle? These repayment plans can help

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Do you need a lower monthly payment on your federal student loans? Does your outstanding federal student loan debt represent a significant portion of your annual income? Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by reducing your monthly payment amount.

Some of the following income-driven plans may be right for you:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)

You cannot use this tool if you are in default on your federal student loans. Only the ICR plan is available for Parent PLUS Loans.

Note: There is no application fee to complete an Income-Driven Repayment Request. You may be contacted by private companies that offer to help you apply for Income-Driven Repayment, for a fee. These companies have no affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or ED’s Federal Loan Servicers. Learn more here.

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Hey, high school sophomores! Set your goals for next year

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If you’re looking ahead to your second-to-last year of high school, here’s a to-do list for you. Check these items off during your junior year, and you’ll be squarely on track to get to college.

  • Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
  • Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
  • Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
  • Attend college fairs and go on campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
  • Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
  • Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
  • Fill out the FAFSA4caster at ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.

4 myths and 4 facts about student loans

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After you exhaust other financial aid and employment opportunities, student loans can be a good option to cover educational expenses. When borrowing, remember that unlike grants or scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, student loans must be repaid with interest. You should always be 100 percent clear about what you are signing up for.

Myth #1: I don’t need to worry about my student loans while I’m in school.

Truth #1: You need to think ahead. Don’t blindly take out student loans without considering your major or future career—or without finding ways to minimize your debt while in school.

Myth #2: I should borrow as much as I can.

Truth #2: You should borrow the minimum you need. Loans are a helpful way to get an education that might seem out of reach, but be informed before you borrow. Your future self will thank you!

Myth #3: I have to pay back 100 percent of my student loans.

Truth #3: Maybe not. Depending on the type of loan and your profession, forgiveness programs can help you pay back a portion or all of your student loans.

Myth #4: I need to pay someone to help me with my student loans.

Truth #4: You should never have to pay someone to help you with your student loans. Contact the financial aid office at your college for assistance.

Find more information about student loans here.

Spring checkup on your college plans

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Winter is on its way out, and we’re not sorry to see it go! We’re ready for melting snow and rising temps. As you welcome signs of spring, now is also a great time to do a status check on your college plans:

If you’re a junior in high school …

  • Sign up to take a college entrance exam. The SAT registration deadline is tomorrow (February 28) to test on March 10. The ACT registration deadline is March 9 to test on April 14. Taking these tests in your junior year leaves you plenty of time to retake them if you want to try to boost your score.
  • Narrow down your list of possible colleges, and schedule campus visits. If you’re traveling over spring break, think about adding a visit to your itinerary.
  • Look up “priority deadlines” for schools where you plan to apply, and start a list. You don’t want to miss these deadlines during your senior year. Filing late can actually decrease your chances of getting financial aid. “Your Course to College” includes priority deadlines for every college and university in Iowa, and it’s free.

If you’re a senior in high school …

  • File your FAFSA! Priority deadlines vary for different schools and different financial aid programs, but March 1 is a very common date. Filing before a priority deadline will increase your chances of getting financial aid.
  • By now, you should have applied to the school(s) of your choice. If not, don’t panic. Some schools have rolling deadlines, which means the admissions office considers applications as they come in instead of setting a single deadline. Check with any schools where you plan to apply to see if your window is still open.
  • Get ready for acceptance and award letters! These will start landing in late March and early April. Most schools will expect you to make a commitment around May 1.
  • Don’t slack off in your studies, even after you’re accepted. Your college will ask for a final transcript that includes all your high school grades.

What’s the Iowa Financial Aid Application?

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If you’re a senior in high school, you’re probably hearing a lot about the FAFSA. But there’s another application that should be on your radar, too.

By completing the FAFSA, you’re applying for most forms of federal and state financial aid. When you finish the FAFSA, you’ll see a prompt asking if you want to complete the Iowa Financial Aid application as well. Say yes.

That prompt actually leads to something called the “Eligibility Wizard,” a short series of simple questions to determine whether you might be eligible for additional state aid. If you’re not eligible, you’re done. If you meet initial eligibility requirements, you’ll see instructions to continue the application process for those additional grants and scholarships.

Did you already say no to the Iowa Financial Aid Application? You can find it here. It’s worth the few minutes it takes.

How to spot a scholarship scam

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Fraudulent organizations sometimes pose as legitimate agencies willing to help with scholarship searches. They often guarantee you a scholarship or promise to do all the work for you for a fee. The Federal Trade Commission advises students to be cautious of these red flags for scholarship and FAFSA scams:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “We just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship.”

Busting scholarship myths

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“I won’t qualify.”

That’s the No. 1 reason students don’t apply for scholarships—and they’re often very wrong. Today we’re going to bust some common myths.

MYTH: I’d have to be a genius or a star athlete to get any money.
REALITY: Academics and athletics are just two among many criteria that could earn you a scholarship. Some awards are based or service or leadership. Others go to students who take part in certain organizations or activities. (Iowa has a scholarship just for participants in the Iowa State Fair.) Some companies offer scholarships to the children of employees. Many scholarships are downright quirky. Do a search on Unigo and you’ll find awards for students who answer questions like “What flavor ice cream would you like to be?”

MYTH: I’ll have to write dozens of different essays.
REALITY: You can’t turn in the exact same essay for every scholarship application, but you’re likely to see some common themes in the questions, like accepting challenges or embracing new ways of thinking. Save each essay that you submit, then look for sections that can be repurposed. Just make sure you do enough reworking to answer the question being asked.

MYTH: No one with any pull will give me a recommendation.
REALITY: Your recommendations don’t have to come from “big names.” In fact, choosing someone well-known can backfire if that person doesn’t really know you. You need a recommendation from someone who understands your strengths and can offer specific examples that illustrate them. Talk to the teacher of a class you enjoyed or the advisor for an activity you took part in. What a person can say about you is much more important than his or her name recognition.

MYTH: There’s so little money available, it’s a waste of time.
REALITY: There are billions of dollars available every year. Some of that money actually goes unclaimed because not enough people apply for it. Check with your high school counselor and your college financial aid office. Do a Web search for scholarships that might suit you, whether you’re a bassoon player or a comic artist or an aspiring funeral director. The money is out there.