Category Archives: Financial need

Federal Financial Aid in 2020: What Can I Expect for the Coming Academic Year?

When gathering the money you need to pay for college, it’s important to know the amount of federal financial aid that may be available to you. Each year, grant amounts and student loan interest rates are subject to change. Here’s what you can expect for Academic Year 2020-2021.

  • The Federal Pell Grant: Available to students who qualify based on the level of their financial need as determined by Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning July 1, 2020, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college is $6,345, which is an increase over the maximum of $6,195 for Academic Year 2019-2020.
  • The Federal Work-Study Program: If your campus administers work-study funds, you may be able to sign up for a part-time job, either on-campus or an approved site off-campus, enabling you to earn money to pay for some of your college expenses. The maximum amount you can earn in the work-study program will be determined by your level of financial need.
  • Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, interest is being temporarily set at 0% on federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020. In addition, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payments. This 0% interest and suspension of payments will last from March 13, 2020, through September 30, 2020, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2020-2021, which show a decrease from last year’s rates:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (up to Bachelor’s degree)2.75%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoanGraduate or professional students4.30%
Direct PLUS LoanParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students5.30%

Be sure to visit StudentAid.gov for up-to-date information regarding interest rates and special allowances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budgeting While in College

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

Have You Applied for Oklahoma’s Promise?

The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program offers qualified Oklahoma students an opportunity to earn a scholarship for college tuition. To qualify for enrollment:

  • You must be an Oklahoma resident.
  • You must enroll for the scholarship in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade

(at the age of 13, 14 or 15 for homeschool students).

  • Your parent(s)’ federal adjusted gross income (AGI) must not exceed $55K per year. –  Special income provisions apply to legal guardians and certain adoptive parents.

If you have just completed 10th grade, you must submit your application for Oklahoma’s Promise by June 30, 2020 in order to be considered for the scholarship. Students who just completed 8th or 9th grade and miss the June 30 deadline will be able to complete the 2020-21 application in the fall.

Prior to receiving the scholarship in college, the federal adjusted gross income (AGI) of the student’s parents (or the income of the student if the student is officially determined to be financially independent of their parents) may not exceed $100,000. Each year in college Oklahoma’s Promise students will be required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will be used to determine whether the federal adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000. To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and to explore other federal and state financial aid opportunities, visit:

529 Savings Plan

“Save, spend, invest, give,” is a popular approach to basic personal finances. There are ways to use this method to your advantage when preparing and planning for your child’s educational future. Parents and families have an opportunity to help their children avoid the burden of student loan debt by saving money, so their child or grandchild doesn’t have to spend an overwhelming amount of money on tuition. By investing in your child’s future, you’ll give them the means to reach their education goals.

 An Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a specialized savings account that’s used to pay college and K-12 tuition expenses. The money in these accounts can grow tax-free and isn’t taxed when withdrawn. In other words, no matter how much your investment grows in an OCSP (Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan) account, you’ll never have to pay taxes on it as long as it’s used for educational expenses.

A 529 account is quick and easy to open, it can be managed online or by mail. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account. Some employers also support these accounts and can set up payroll deductions directly to your savings account.

There are a variety of professionally managed investments to choose from to help grow your account in addition to providing direct contributions. These funds can be used at any accredited university, college or vocational school in the nation. Many international schools are also qualified to receive these funds. Additionally, up to $10,000 annually can be used toward K-12 school tuition.

OCSP can be used for certain room and board costs, computers, fees, books, supplies and other equipment that a student may require.

A common question is, “will these funds negatively affect my child’s eligibility for financial aid?” As long as the parent or grandparent is the account owner, funds are treated as belonging to the guardian and not the child. This will minimize the impact on the child’s financial aid. The direct impact on financial aid will vary by school.

If your child does not need all of the money for their education goals, you can designate a new beneficiary penalty-free as long as they’re an eligible member of your family.

So how to you start? You can open an account with as little as $100 per investment. There’s no application, sales or maintenance fee and you don’t have to contribute all on your own. Grandparents, other family members, friends and even the student can make gifts and contributions to the account.

It’s not too early to start investing in your child’s future. Learn more about the benefits of an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan here.

Summer Scholarships

Summer break is closing in! This is the time when many students jump back into their summer jobs to earn a few extra bucks. While a summer job is a great first step to easing the financial responsibility of college, there are also opportunities available all summer long to find scholarship money.

Many scholarships have deadlines from May-August and the awards can be applied to the upcoming school year. The more scholarships a student applies for, the greater their chance of being selected a winner. We suggest that students apply for at least 1-2 scholarships per week. There are plenty of scholarships that only require a simple application and/or a short essay. A little effort can reap great financial benefits, so while you’re catching some rays, pull up your favorite lawn chair, grab an iced tea and check out these fun summer scholarships:

Flavor of the Month Scholarship

“Summer and ice cream go hand-in hand. In fact, July is National Ice Cream Month, and that’s the inspiration behind this award. We think people are very similar to ice cream…so if you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why?”

Deadline: July 31, 2020

Amount: $1,500

Check out this scholarship and more!

Solar Action Alliance Scholarship

It’s summertime and the sun is shining. Solar Action Alliance wants to spread the word about the most clean, reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun. They are offering a scholarship to a motivated student who can answer the question: “What excites you most about the future of solar power?” Students must submit their answer in the form of a 500-1000-word essay.

Deadline: July 1, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Slumber Search Scholarship

Summer is a good time to catch up on sleep. It’s also a good time to apply for scholarships! Slumber Search wants to assist students as they start their entrepreneurial endeavors. To apply, students must create a short video answering the following questions:

“If you were to create a product or business to disrupt a current industry, what would you do and what would it be?”

Deadline: June 30, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2!

When you’re submitting your scholarship applications, be sure to remember these tips:

  • Check your eligibility: Some (not all) scholarships have age, grade level or GPA requirements. Be sure you are eligible before investing your time in an application.
  • Check the requirements: Do you have all of the documentation required for your scholarship? Do you need letters of recommendation? Be sure to double check that you’re prepared to submit a complete application.
  • Proofread: Verify that your contact information is correct on scholarship applications. Also, make sure you review your essay, if one is required. Represent yourself well with professional and clear writing.

Summer Prep for Incoming College freshmen

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone. Before you finalize your summer plans though, consider adding a few activities to your list. Implementing these tips will help you prepare for your college freshman year as you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.  

Read and review. High school may be over, but the concepts you’ve learned will appear again in upcoming classes. Since college courses typically don’t review previous material, prepare by studying subjects that gave you trouble in high school. Mastering these academic areas can aid in your college success. Reading often will help with future comprehension and critical thinking assignments.

Develop a routine. It’ll take discipline to balance coursework, other responsibilities and time with friends when you begin college. Therefore, develop a summer routine to practice designating specific times for certain activities. While your schedule will probably change when classes start, you’ll gain great time-management skills that’ll assist with meeting new academic expectations.

Gather supplies. Get an early start on back-to-school shopping. Already have your college schedule? Great! Use it as a guide to purchase supplies. Compare prices when buying course textbooks and technology. If you don’t have your schedule yet, consider purchasing the common necessities – notebooks, writing instruments, folders, backpacks, planners, etc.

Connect with others. Use social media to connect with future roommates or other students who will also be attending your campus in the fall. Converse with those who have similar interests. Not only could these connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Explore careers. Summer is a good time to explore career interests. If you’ve already decided on your college major, research popular jobs in that field of study. Even if you’re undecided, take time to discover which industries pique your curiosity. Researching different professions allows you to see which career field could be a great fit for you. To learn about various occupations and to view over 400 videos detailing possible careers, visit OKcollegestart.org.

Military Benefits and the FAFSA

When it comes to reporting military benefits on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, families aren’t always sure what to include. Three questions on the application relate to military benefits; they request information about combat pay, housing allowance and noneducational veteran benefits. Let’s break them down here.

  • The first question concerning military benefits asks about the service member’s total combat pay. Depending on the military member’s rank, this benefit may not need to be reported. If the person is an enlisted member or a warrant officer, they don’t have to provide this information. However, if they are a commissioned officer, they will need to report their combat pay. This amount can be found on the service member’s W-2 form in box 12.
  • The next inquiry about military benefits concerns the service member’s housing allowance. Reporting this information is dependent on other factors. If the member receives a subsidy for on-base military housing or a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), then the member doesn’t need to report the benefit. Those who receive housing allowances other than the ones mentioned above must include that information on the FAFSA.
  • The last question regarding military benefits asks service members to report their noneducational veteran benefits. Those who receive the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, Dependents Education Assistance Program or Vocational Rehabilitation Program don’t need to provide this data. Those who receive other noneducational assistance, such as benefits including Disability, Death Pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and VA Educational Work-Study allowance, must report that information. Noneducational veteran benefits can be found on the service member’s monthly VA benefit statement.

Knowing which types of military benefit information to include on the FAFSA and gathering the right documents can make the process easier. The service member should collect the appropriate year’s tax return, W-2 forms and benefit statements to answer these three questions accurately. For more information about military benefits and the FAFSA, please visit MilitaryBenefits.info.  

I Didn’t File A Tax Return for The 2019 Tax Year, Should I keep my W-2’s?

Quite simply, yes.

If you had income (earned and/or unearned) in 2019 and you are a single dependent who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you may still be required to file your own return. The amount of your 2019 income will determine whether or not you need to file. See the instructions at the beginning of the 2019 IRS 1040 form, and look for page 10, Chart B.

Now that you’ve determined whether or not you should file a tax return, let’s just say you didn’t have to file because you didn’t make enough money. If this describes your situation, it’s still very important that you save the W-2(s) you received this year. You should have received one from each employer who reported your earnings and withholding tax to the IRS.

Why is it so important that you hold on to your W-2s? Think FAFSA! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will ask you to report your income from two years prior to the year that you’ll attend college. So, if you plan to go to college in the fall of 2020, you’ll need your 2018 income information. For the fall of 2021, you’ll need to supply the information from 2019.

Also, you’re still required to report your wage, salary and tip income even if you didn’t receive a W-2 from an employer. If you’re not sure what your income was in 2019, use the Income Estimator that’s available on your FAFSA.

Keep those W-2’s! You’ll need them when you’re applying for federal financial aid.

Resources for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Higher education can be a promising path out of poverty. However, students who experience homelessness or an unstable home life often have to overcome barriers to access financial aid. Some students have difficulty applying for school and scholarships, while others are unable to complete their secondary education. Despite these challenges, there are many resources for students experiencing homelessness to succeed and achieve their goals.

For students who are on track to graduate high school and are preparing to attend college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step they should take. When they complete the form, they will be asked if they’re homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or an unaccompanied youth. If they answer “yes” to being at risk of homelessness, they won’t need to provide parental financial information. The student will be then be labeled “independent” on the FAFSA. After the application has been submitted, most financial aid offices will require documentation proving that the student has been declared an unaccompanied or homeless youth.

It’s important to note that students should secure a reliable mailing address in order to receive financial aid and college information. This can be a family member’s or friend’s address, if needed. For additional information on filling out the FAFSA as an unaccompanied youth, click visit StudentAid.gov

Students who are unsure if they are classified as an unaccompanied youth can contact their high school counselor, their college financial aid office or the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) Higher Education Helpline at 855.446.2673. NAEHCY is a good resource for students in special circumstances to find educational and personal support in their state. Students can visit the NAEHCY website to find their state’s coordinator, learn about specific opportunities that can help them reach their goals, and access additional scholarships and academic resources. Additionally, most high schools have a homeless liaison that will work directly with students. If you aren’t sure who your district’s homeless liaison is, ask a teacher or counselor to help.

Often, a student’s basic needs should be met before they can pursue higher education. Programs like Pivot in Oklahoma City provide services that help young people find security by giving them access to basic necessities and housing solutions. Pivot also provides education and job assistance, prevention and intervention, and therapeutic care. For more information on Pivot’s resources visit www.pivotok.org.

Happy “Pack Your Lunch” Day!

If you’ve taken a look at the Financial Aid Offer from your college of choice, you may have been surprised by the cost of room and board for one year of school. Your ‘room and board’ estimate covers two necessities that can’t be overlooked—a roof over your head and the food you’ll need to keep you going. Consider these tips to keep room and board costs low.

Where to live

  • Have you considered how much money you could save by living at home for another year or two? Nearby community colleges usually charge lower tuition, and they offer the same general education courses required at four-year universities. Add in your savings on room and board, and you’ve got a significantly lower total cost of attendance.
  • Living on campus? Consider this: a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board quite a bit.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, you’ll find that apartments and houses located close to the campus will charge higher rent than those located farther away. Consider having two or three roommates if you have the space.

Where to eat

  • Colleges and universities offer various meal plans to their students, and meal plans are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (less meals every week) and plan to prepare more meals in your dorm room, apartment, or off-campus rental. Maybe your roommate would agree to split the cost of non-perishable bulk foods that you both use frequently. Clip coupons for even more savings.
  • Limit eating out. Consider asking friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Check out all available options for financial aid. Apply for scholarships every semester, not just your freshman year. New options are added each year and qualifications change. Don’t miss out on free money that you may be qualified to receive.
  • Is it absolutely necessary for you to have a car on campus? Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have free or low-cost transit systems.
  • Graduate on time to reduce the total cost of completing your program.
  • Earn some money. Check on work-study jobs or find a part-time job in town.
  • Limit use of credit cards to true emergencies. You’ll likely spend less if you use cash, and you won’t risk paying interest on your purchases.

For more ideas on cutting the costs of college, be sure to read OKMM’s money management article, Getting Through College on Less.