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College Planning

How to save for college - 3 financial aid tips for students heading to community college

This article offers three steps for community college students, including taking advantage of FAFSA, exploring educational tax credits, and not overloading on courses.

Take Advantage of Financial Aid Offerings

According to a US News & World Report article about community college financing and financial aid, a surprising amount of community college students don't even bother to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or apply for grants and scholarships from their college of choice. Community college might be the most affordable college option, but that's no reason to take yourself out of the running for free money that you might qualify for.

The FAFSA also determines your eligibility for federally subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, which have some of the best terms of any loans out there. Don't worry, you're not under any obligation to accept them just because you fill out the FAFSA, but if you're having a hard time figuring out how to save for college, federal student loans or college savings plans, such as the 529 college savings plans, are definitely options you should consider.

Don't Overload on Courses

Community college students (especially nontraditional students) typically have other time commitments like work and family. Going to school and figuring out how to save for college while also working part or full-time and attending to your family's needs can be quite a balancing act, so be careful not to overload yourself with coursework. Community college students sometimes feel compelled to do so in order to ensure they qualify for a certain amount of financial aid, but if you end up dropping courses, this actually works against you, because you'll need to borrow more to re-take those courses in the future.

Take Advantage of Educational Tax Credits

Students get tax breaks for a variety of education-related expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and even transportation costs. (Be sure to keep track of all of your education-related receipts.) You may also be able to claim the lifetime learning credit or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. You can only claim one or the other, so you'll have to determine which one benefits you most. If your credit exceeds the amount you owe the government for that tax year, you may be entitled to a nice refund check. You can find out more about education-related tax benefits for education at the IRS website.

Need more advice on how to save for college? You can find more information about how student loans work, getting student loans with bad credit, and more at the Protective Learning Center.



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