Category Archives: Money Management

Financial Aid Resources

“How will I pay for college?” That’s a question everyone considering higher education is asking. Investigating your financial aid options can seem overwhelming, especially if no one in your family has ever gone to college.

Here are a few great resources to help you discover some options available to assist you.

  • The FAFSA. The first step in applying for most types of federal and state financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as soon as it’s available! Students who will be attending college during the 2022-23 school year should complete the FAFSA at FAFSA.gov as soon as it becomes available on Oct. 1.
  • Your high school counselor. Counselors love talking about college—college preparation, choosing a college and finding financial aid options. Make an appointment with your counselor soon!
  • The financial aid office at your college(s) of interest. Each college, technology center and career school are different. Be sure to speak with someone in the Financial Aid office at each institution you’re considering to learn which types of aid you may be able to receive at their school.
  • Internet resources. 
  • Free money. Scholarships are an important resource to help you pay for college expenses. There are many scholarship search websites that allow students to set up a profile that will match them with various programs they may qualify for. Many scholarships are also available to students as young as elementary school so start your search now! These websites offer helpful information:

What’s The Big Deal About the FAFSA?

All high school students in the Class of ’22 will be hearing a lot of information about the FAFSA during the fast-approaching school year. So, just what is a FAFSA, and why is it so important?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college, vocational school or career school.

  • It’s simply a ‘snapshot’ of a family’s financial situation, and
  • It’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive to help them with the cost of college.

Now that you know what the FAFSA is, let’s talk about what it’s NOT. The FAFSA isn’t:

  • An application to college
  • A loan application
  • Any type of commitment to accept the aid you’re offered
  • A credit check
  • Available only to students with stellar grades–the application won’t even ask you about your grade point average (GPA).

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. High school seniors can submit their FAFSA on October 1 or shortly thereafter, which means you’ll be applying for financial aid almost a year before you begin college. It’s important to submit your FAFSA as early as possible, because some types of financial aid are first-come, first served. Haven’t picked your college yet? No problem! One great thing about the FAFSA is that you can have your information sent to up to 10 different schools, and none of them will be able to see the other colleges you’re interested in attending.

Even though your FAFSA won’t be ready until October, you can do a practice run by completing the FAFSA on the Web (FOTW) Worksheet, which lists most of the questions from the FAFSA, letting you know what it will be like to fill out the form online. This tool isn’t a replacement for the real FAFSA. You’ll still need to complete the actual form online after October 1 in order to apply for financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), billions of dollars in federal financial aid for college is left unclaimed each year by students who would have been qualified to receive the aid, but simply didn’t submit a FAFSA. You’ll never know what you’re eligible for unless you submit the application.

For more information about the FAFSA and the types of aid that are available, visit studentaid.gov. To learn more about borrowing smart from the start, check out ReadySetRepay.org.

Welcome Back to School!

You’re about to begin another academic year and money can be tight when you’re a student. Whether you’re a returning college student or just entering college for the first time, you may have questions about how you can cover the costs of college this year. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Check your FSA ID status. The FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification) is the username and password that you set up before filing your first FAFSA which serves as your electronic signature. If you haven’t used your FSA ID in a while, it may need to be re-enabled. This can be done at the manage my FSA ID tab at fsaid.ed.gov. Your FSA ID can’t only be used to access and sign your FAFSA, but also to sign your Master Promissory Note (MPN) if you apply for a Federal student loan, apply for a repayment plan, complete loan counseling and use the Public Service Forgiveness Loan (PSLF) tool.
  • Apply for institutional, tribal, civic and community scholarships. Students are encouraged to apply for scholarships now and throughout their college years. We suggest trying UCanGo2.org, OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2’s Scholarship Success Guide.
  • Find a part-time job. Many schools participate in the federal work-study program. If you demonstrate financial need, you may be able to work part-time on campus or at an approved site off-campus. The money you earn at a work-study job is then used to help you pay your college expenses. If you don’t qualify for work-study or your school doesn’t participate in this aid program, watch for job opportunities posted around your campus and online. Visit the campus career services office for resume building, interviewing tips and job placement opportunities.
  • Develop a budget also known as a spending plan. No matter how much or how little money you may have, learning to manage your finances is crucial to your success now and later in life. Learn more about developing a spending plan as a college student at OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

Grants, Work Study and Student Loans

As you prepare to pay college expenses, 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 2021-2022.

Federal Pell Grant: Available to undergraduate 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, 2021, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college will increase to $6,495.

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 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. If you’re interested in work-study, be sure to ask the financial aid office if would qualify for the program.

Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, the interest rate on most federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020 is currently 0%. 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 through September 30, 2021, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2021-2022, beginning October 1, 2021, after the COVID-19 relief program has ended:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (through Bachelor’s degree)3.73%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoansGraduate or professional students5.28%
Direct PLUS LoansParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students6.28%

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

Living on a College Budget

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.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

While you’re exploring the many options available to help you pay for college, keep this in mind: It’s much less expensive to save for college than it is to repay student loans–with interest. One savings option you’ll want to check out is the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). Here are a few benefits of the OCSP:

  • It’s a tax-deferred account
  • Multiple family members and friends can contribute to the account on your behalf
  • It can pay for more than just tuition (covers fees, some room and board costs, etc.)
  • It can be used at any accredited college in the U.S., and even certain colleges abroad
  • Up to $10,000 can be used annually toward K-12 tuition
  • There are several contribution options available that make adding to your OCSP easy and convenient
  • An OSCP can be opened with as little as $25, and subsequent deposits can be as little as $25
  • Contributors can deposit a maximum total of $300,000 to your account.

To see the huge difference between saving and borrowing to help you pay for college, read Saving vs. Borrowing at OK4Saving.org.

Visit OK4Saving.org to learn more about the 529 plan or to open an account.

How does the CARES Act affect the grace period on federal student loans?

One of the advantages of a federal student loan is the six-month grace period. Borrowers usually aren’t required to make a payment on their loans until six months after they graduate, withdraw or drop their number of classroom hours to below half-time status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets for loan repayment.

Currently, the federal student loan program is operating under the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. On March 20, 2020, federal student loan payments were suspended, interest rates were reduced to 0% and collections on defaulted loans were stopped. These provisions have applied to federally owned* student loans since that date, and will be in effect through at least September 30, 2021. On March 30, 2021, these emergency relief measures were also applied to defaulted loans originated through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.

How does all of this affect the grace period on a student loan? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Grace periods still apply as they normally would. However, if a loan is scheduled to enter repayment before the COVID-19 emergency relief period ends, borrowers will instead automatically enter payment suspension and receive the temporary 0% interest rate.” This means a borrower whose grace period ends before September 30, 2021 will not be required to make payments on their federally owned student loan(s) until the emergency measures have been lifted. The September end date is subject to change, but if it does, it will be extended to a later date.

Here’s something else you need to know: A borrower may have more than one grace period to monitor after they’ve gone below half-time status at their institution for any reason. This happens when borrowers have loans from multiple institutions, or if at any time they previously dropped to below half-time status at any college they attended. It’s important that borrowers talk to the campus financial aid office to ask about the repayment start dates on each of their loans.

More information about successful loan repayment can be found at ReadySetRepay.org.

*See the FAQ section of the coronavirus announcement at StudentAid.gov (Which loans does the 0% rate apply to?) for guidance on how borrowers can determine whether their loans are federally or privately owned.

Summer Prep for Incoming College Freshmen

Congratulations high school graduates! After this exciting accomplishment it’s easy to go into vacation mode. With your first semester of college approaching, it’s important to keep your head in the game. We have some items to keep in mind over the summer so you’ll be prepared for your next academic adventure!

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.

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.

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 those connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Apply for scholarships. You may have already received your financial aid award letter. If so, you know how much money you and your family might have to pay out of pocket for college. Keep looking for free money and apply for scholarships through the summer and even during your freshman year of college! Check out our publication, Are You Looking for Money?, to get tips on submitting successful scholarship applications. Find current scholarship opportunities at UCanGo2.org!

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.

Keep up the momentum. Did exploring careers give you some inspiration? Seek out current summer opportunities in your field to boost your resume. Sometimes these can be paid or un-paid internships or even volunteer opportunities. No experience is too small!

Need more college prep tips? Be sure to check out our publication Your Transition to College to understand the differences between high school and college. You’ll find tips for success as well as a summer of “to-do” items you can complete during the summer!

Room and Board – How Can I Cut the Cost?

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 includes the cost of living in your choice of housing and the cost of food during that year.

Check out these tips to cutting costs on room and board.

Housing

  • Consider 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 total cost of attendance that looks a lot more manageable.
  • Living on campus? Living with a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board significantly. Pay close attention to deadlines for submitting your housing application each year, and then turn it in ASAP—before the deadline. It’s not unusual for lower-priced housing to get snatched up more quickly.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, 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 types of meal plans to their students and are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (fewer meals every week) and try 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 inviting friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Submit a FAFSA each year to see how much financial aid you may receive.
  • Don’t miss out on free money. There are scholarships available every semester, so don’t forget to search for them in the fall and in the spring. UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are two great places to start your scholarship search.
  • Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have their own low-cost transit systems. Many college students leave their cars at home.
  • 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.
  • Stay away from credit cards. The interest is high, and they make it much too easy to overspend.

For more ideas on reducing college costs, be sure to read the Getting Through College on Less section on OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

¿Habla usted español?

In our continuing efforts to ensure that all Oklahoma students and their families have access to valuable college planning information, the Oklahoma College Assistance Program is offering helpful publications and tools in Spanish. We’ve also included information about Oklahoma’s Promise, an amazing scholarship opportunity that covers college tuition or students who qualify.

College Planning
¿Estás planeando ir a la Universidad?
(Are You Planning to Go to College? – flyer)

FSA ID
Instrucciones para sacar una FSA ID
(FSA ID worksheet – flyer)

  • Guides students and parents through the process of creating the FSA ID, a username and password used to sign, submit and edit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Space is provided to write down the answers given in each field.
  • FSA ID worksheet, Spanish

FAFSA Video
La FAFSA en 5
(The FAFSA in 5 – video)

Oklahoma’s Promise Resources
La Promesa de Oklahoma

Did you know that the FAFSA is also available in Spanish? Simply click Español in the top right corner of the home page at fafsa.gov to begin your application.