Category Archives: Money Management

Gratitude and Grants

Thanksgiving is a time to practice gratitude.

Here are some ways we can remain thankful during FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and college application season.

1. Celebrate the fact that the FAFSA is a free resource for financial aid. The FAFSA serves as your application for federal and some state financial aid for college. Whether you receive grants, scholarships, student loans or work study, all of these will help get you one step closer to your future goals.

2. Be grateful that you created your FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) before starting your FAFSA application, and kept it safe on your handy FSA ID Worksheet! The FSA ID is a username and password that you and one of your parents create to sign the FAFSA electronically.  This short task can save you time, as submitting and signing your FAFSA online will speed up the processing period for your application. Save your FSA ID worksheet so when you complete the FAFSA next year you won’t have to struggle to remember your ID; you’ll only have to reference your FSA ID worksheet for the information.

3. Remember to show your educators how much you appreciate them. Is there an administrator, teacher or counselor who’s been especially supportive as you plan for college? It’s easy to get caught up in the essays, application requirements and test scores, and educators can encourage us to persevere and answer our endless questions. Educators are an essential resource when it comes to choosing the school you want to attend.

4. Having trouble picking your top schools? The FAFSA allows you to apply for financial aid at up to 10 different schools. Ask your teacher or counselor to help you find the best-fit colleges, universities or technology centers. After you’ve narrowed down your choices and determined which schools are a good match, take the time to thank your teacher or counselor for everything they’ve done to help make your education journey successful.

5. Finally, be proud of your own perseverance. Once you’ve followed the tips in Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps and submitted your application, you can be grateful that it’s done! (Until next year, that is.)

National Scholarship Month

It’s National Scholarship Month! That means we’re raising awareness about the numerous scholarship dollars that are available to help you cover college expenses. For the 2016-2017 school year, the National Scholarship Providers Association awarded over $2 billion in scholarship funds to deserving students. That’s just one organization! There are many other companies that offer scholarships to students preparing for college. To help you put your best foot forward, here are a few tips to help you submit excellent scholarship applications:

  • Follow directions. It’s important to read all scholarship instructions carefully before starting the application. If there is a word count to abide by, be sure to meet the requirements. Also, submit all necessary documents. Ask for letters of recommendation, copies of your transcript and other documentation weeks before the scholarship deadline.
  • Be creative.  Think outside the box on scholarship questions. Be creative and original when writing your essay responses. If you’re asked why you deserve the scholarship, explain why it’s important for you to go to college. Talk about your academic and career goals, as well as the challenges you’ve overcome to reach those goals. Also, tell a story only you can tell. Discuss your involvement with a school organization or a part-time job and describe the skills you’ve gained from those opportunities. Remember that with every experience you’ve encountered, you’ve learned something. Use those learned lessons to fuel your essay responses.
  • Proofread your work. Completing a scholarship application can feel very rewarding; however, it’s only the first step. Proofreading is the next crucial stage in this process. Read your scholarship essay aloud to see if you need to make any adjustments. Also, ask a non-relative, such as a teacher or counselor, to read your essay – and be open to the constructive criticism they give you.
  • Find options that reflect your interests. Applying for scholarships can seem like a lot of work. Yet, if you find scholarships that are interesting to you, the application process can be enjoyable. Search for opportunities that align with your passions. Then writing essays and creating scholarship videos will be fun and exciting, instead of time consuming and tedious.
  • Never give up! Don’t get discouraged when you don’t receive a scholarship award; just keep applying. Your persistence will win out in the end. Keep searching for unique scholarships. Ask local businesses about scholarship opportunities, as well as your current education institution. The goal of scholarships is to assist you with covering the costs of college. The more scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to gain that extra assistance. To learn more about scholarships or to search for interesting opportunities, check out our Scholarship Success Guide or go to UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

FAFSA Now Available!

It’s October 1! That means the 2020-2021 FAFSA is available! All students planning to start college in the fall of 2020 can now submit their application for federal and state financial assistance. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, allows colleges to determine your eligibility to receive financial aid. Financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans, can help you pay for college expenses. To start your FAFSA, here are a few tips that will help you successfully complete the form:

  • Create Your FSA ID – If you haven’t already done so, you and your parent will need to create an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID). This username and password allow you to electronically sign the FAFSA. It will also give you access to other financial aid documents and websites. To create your FSA ID, go to fsaid.ed.gov.
  • Gather Your Documents – For the 2020-2021 FAFSA, students will need their parents’ tax return, W-2 and other financial information for the 2018 tax year. If the student filed a tax return in 2018, they will need the same information. Students should also gather their Social Security card and driver’s license, if applicable.
  • Use Your Official Name – When creating your FSA ID and completing the FAFSA, you’ll need to enter your name exactly as it’s shown on your Social Security card. No nicknames are allowed on the FAFSA. If your name has special characters include those as well.
  • Pick Your Venue – There are two electronic options for submitting your FAFSA. You can use the website format, FAFSA.gov, or you can use the mobile app, myStudentAid. These are the only two official means for submitting your application. Remember the first “F” in FAFSA stands for Free, so you should never pay for completing your FAFSA. Using one of these two methods will ensure that you aren’t charge for a free application.
  • Watch Your Inbox – Once you submit your FAFSA, you’ll begin to receive information about your application status and updates from your future school’s financial aid office. Be on the look out for these updates and follow-up with your financial aid office if they need additional documentation.

Utilizing these five tips can save time and make your FAFSA completion much easier. Don’t forget, you need to complete a FAFSA each year you need funding for college.

For more information about the FASFA, check out www.ucango2.org

Should I Apply for OTAG?

Short answer: Yes! No separate application is necessary, but you DO have to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply.

The Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant Program (OTAG) is a need-based grant program for Oklahoma residents who attend eligible colleges, universities and career technology centers in the state. Awards are approved for full-time or part-time undergraduate students. Children of military personnel from other states who currently reside in Oklahoma may also qualify for OTAG.


OTAG is a grant based on financial need, which is determined by the data students submit on their FAFSA. To apply for OTAG, a student simply has to complete a FAFSA. Typically, OTAG receives more eligible applications than can be awarded with available funds, so it’s important that your FAFSA is submitted on or shortly after October 1 each year.


Currently, the maximum annual OTAG award is the lesser of 75 percent of enrollment costs or $1,000 for students attending public colleges, universities or career technology centers, and $1,300 for students attending eligible private colleges or universities.


Another grant available from the State of Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant (OTEG). It’s a need-based grant for Oklahoma residents enrolled as full-time undergraduates at certain qualified Oklahoma not-for-profit, private/independent institutions of higher education. Students must complete a FAFSA to apply. To receive OTEG, a student must also have an annual family income of $50,000 or less. OTEG award amounts are $2,000 per academic year or $1,000 per academic semester. To see a list of schools eligible to offer OTEG awards, visit OKcollegestart.org/Financial_Aid_Planning.

Welcome Back to School

Back-to-school season is well underway! Before you let out a sigh of frustration because the summer flew by, decide how you’ll make this school year the best one yet. Will you be engaged in class? Will you intentionally make a new friend? Will you take on a new interest? The ball is in your court this month, so make a plan to seize the opportunities of a new school year.

To get you started on the right foot, think about joining a club or sports team. If you’re already involved in a certain activity, think about taking on a leadership role. You’ll gain communication skills and meet new people. You may also enjoy a school play or music recital. Attending different types of events like these could give you a greater appreciation for your school. Additionally, consider volunteering. Devoting some time to a cause that’s important to you is a good way to give back to your community, and you may discover a few interesting career options as you volunteer. Volunteer work can also be an asset when applying for scholarships.

Own your education this year. Challenge yourself to maintain good grades and if you’re struggling in a specific subject area, ask questions. Find resources that can help you understand difficult concepts. Conversely, if you’re excelling in a certain course that others may find tough, contemplate tutoring a few classmates. Doing this will show your concern for others and increase your own knowledge. Practice time management skills, as well. Make it a goal to turn in all assignments on time and keep the lines of communication open with your instructors. Let them know if you’ll miss a deadline.

Finally, prepare for what’s next. High school students can take FREE practice tests for the ACT and SAT to increase their scores. Free test prep material can be found at OKcollegestart.org. Seniors and college students who will need financial aid next year should complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon after Oct. 1 as possible. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for various types of financial aid – resources to help you cover college expenses. College students can start developing their resumes. Visit your campus Career Services department to learn about all available opportunities. And all students should apply for scholarships! Whether you’re a junior in high school or a sophomore in college, it’s never too early or too late to take advantage of these opportunities. You can find numerous scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

There are plenty of things to look forward to as you begin a new school year. So instead of dragging your feet on your first day of class, decide that you’ll make this school year the best yet! Welcome back and have a great year!

Grants, Loans & Work Study

By now you probably know that it’s important to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but do you know what you’re actually submitting? This application allows colleges to see which types of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Financial aid can help you cover educational expenses and comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans.

Grants, sometimes referred to as gift aid, are need-based aid that usually don’t have to be repaid. The most common federal grant is the Pell Grant. This form of financial aid is available for undergraduate students (those who haven’t received their first bachelor’s degree). The maximum amount of Pell Grant a student can receive is $6,195 for the 2019-2020 school year. Financial aid offices will determine students’ financial need and inform them of their Pell eligibility. Another federal grant that’s available is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG. Only students who have extreme financial need are eligible to receive this grant. Other grants require students to meet certain criteria. The TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant is an example of aid that has conditions attached to it, as it requires students to take certain courses and work specific jobs. There is also the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant that’s available for students who lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. Eligible students should contact their school if they have any questions. Some states offer grants to their residents as well. Oklahoma has the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant, or OTAG, for eligible state residents who will be attending an Oklahoma public or private institution.

Work-study is also a type of financial aid that can help with the costs of college. Eligible students who receive this aid will have the chance to work a part-time job and earn money for educational expenses. Undergraduates and graduates with financial need are able to receive a work-study opportunity. Talk with your financial aid office to learn about potential places, on or off campus, that are hiring.

Student loans are another type of financial assistance. Different than other aid, student loans must be repaid with interest. There are various federal loans available for students. One type is the Direct Subsidized Loan for undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The maximum amount for freshmen in the 2019-2020 school year is $5,500, with a fixed interest rate of 5.05 percent. A fixed interest rate means that the interest won’t change over time. The federal government will pay the interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. In contrast, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are not based on financial need and are given to undergraduates and graduates. Students are responsible for the interest on this loan during all periods. The interest rate on an unsubsidized loan is 5.05 percent for undergraduates and 6.6 percent for graduate students. Other borrowed aid that isn’t based on financial need is the Parent PLUS Loan. This is available for parents of dependent students who need extra assistance with college expenses. In addition, parents must also be credit worthy to qualify for this type of aid. PLUS Loans have a 7.6 percent fixed interest rate. Speak with your financial aid office to learn more details.

There are a variety of resources available to help you pay for college. Not all schools offer each program, so be sure to contact your financial aid office with any questions. For more information about grants, student loans and work-study go to studentaid.ed.gov.

Oklahoma 529 Savings Plan

May 29 is Oklahoma 529 Savings Day! The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a program that allows families to deposit funds into an interest earning savings account and use the funds to help pay for their child’s higher education expenses. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online and users can choose from a variety of low-cost investment options. When adding to the account the funds can be electronically deposited or mailed in.

529 Savings Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Funds will typically cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board expenses, and some technology equipment required for certain courses. If your student doesn’t need all the funds that go into the account, you can transfer the remaining savings to an eligible family member for their college expenses.

Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. If you’re contemplating opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, here are a few things to consider:
1. Contributions made to the 529 Plan grow as tax-free earnings in the account and can be deducted from your Oklahoma taxable income.
2. Regular contributions, even if they start as small amounts, add up over time. Consider making small automatic contributions or direct deposits into the account every pay period.
3. Don’t wait to start contributing to your account. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for your higher education expenses today.
4. A 529 savings account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan. Encourage family members to make a donation to the fund for children’s birthday and holiday gifts.

For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.

Oklahoma’s Promise Day

Oklahoma’s Promise Day at the State Capitol is today, April 9! On Oklahoma’s Promise Day many students, faculty and supporters of Oklahoma’s Promise gather at the Capitol to show their appreciation for the Governor and legislature’s ongoing support of this program. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship pays tuition at Oklahoma public colleges or universities and pays a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private colleges and for certain programs at Oklahoma public technology centers. Approximately 17,000 college students are currently benefiting from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, allowing more students to have a better chance of reaching their educational goals in our state.

If you’re an Oklahoma’s Promise student, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you’re in college. The information from the FAFSA will be used to determine whether or not your parent’s federal adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000.  For any year that the income exceeds $100,000, you will not be eligible to receive the program benefits. Students must also remain in good academic standing based on the guidelines set by your institution. As the financial aid office reviews your FAFSA, they will determine your eligibility for financial aid such as  Oklahoma’s Promise,   grants, federal work-study and student loans. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year and contact the financial aid office if you have questions about your Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.  Also, take some time to celebrate today by thanking your state legislators and encouraging them to keep the promise!

To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and its requirements, visit okpromise.org.

We are OK Promise round logo

529 Plan on the FAFSA

A 529 Plan can be a huge benefit in paying college expenses. However, this college savings account can be tricky to report on the FAFSA. If the account is in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name, then the 529 Plan should be reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA. If the student is independent, meaning s/he doesn’t have to report parental information, then the plan should be reported as a student asset. The plan doesn’t have to be reported as an asset if someone other than the student or custodial parent owns the account, such as a grandparent or family friend.

Another aspect of the 529 Plan that can be challenging is distributions from the account. Distributions are funds taken from the 529 Plan for any reason. Students and parents only have to report a distribution from the account if the plan wasn’t reported on the FAFSA as an asset. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you accurately report any 529 Plan distributions:

  1. A non-qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for non-educational expenses – will be included in the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of the student’s federal income tax return. The AGI will be a part of the student’s total income, so the student will just need to report his or her income on the FAFSA.
  2. A qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for educational expenses – should be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA.
  3. A distribution made from an account that the student or the custodial parent does not own must be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA, as well.

The best option for reporting a 529 Savings Plan is to leave the account in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name. By doing this, the Plan will be reported as an asset and the family won’t have to report distributions made from the account. For more information on how to report the 529 Plan on the FAFSA, visit Edvisors.com/plan-for-college.

Submit Your FAFSA ASAP, OK?

It’s FAFSA time, so make it a priority to submit yours ASAP. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2019-20 academic year became available October 1. The fall semester of 2019 seems far away, so why should you submit your FAFSA this early? Here are three good reasons:

  • Some forms of financial aid are first-come, first-served. When this type of aid is gone, you may have to wait for the next school year to apply for it again. Examples of this type of aid are the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG) and scholarships offered by the college or university where you’re enrolling (institutional aid).
  • More and more colleges and universities are setting early enrollment and institutional scholarship deadlines in November and December. During the application process, they’ll want to know if you’ve submitted your FAFSA.
  • It’s not uncommon for a scholarship committee to ask for a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you receive after you submit your FAFSA. Completing your FAFSA early ensures that you won’t miss important deadlines.

For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.