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Informative Articles On Financial Aid

The money pits

By Matthew Benjamin
College is the first time most students start assuming some financial responsibility. They open checking accounts, sign up for credit cards, and take out student loans. The problem: "Students think that what happens on campus stays on campus," says Dorothy Bagwell, assistant professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University. In fact, long after the diploma is on the wall, bad credit, debt, and other consequences of poor financial decisions made during college will still be hanging around. Bagwell should know. She runs Texas Tech's Red to Black Financial Counseling center, established two years ago as administrators discovered students increasingly were being forced to drop out of school because of too much debt.

Bagwell says it's most important for students to shop around for financial services like credit cards and bank accounts. Look for a checking account with a low minimum balance and overdraft protection. Consider trying an Internet bank, many of which tout perks that traditional banks reserve for the wealthy. Look beyond banks, too. Many schools have credit unions with lower interest rates on loans and better returns on the average checking account.

An urge to splurge. To make that summer job money last through the semester, Larry Christopherson, a credit counselor at Ohio State University, recommends students keep a spending diary. They might find out that they're paying $200 for coffee and snacks each month–and that's above the money they spend on their meal plans. A simple envelope and some old-fashioned cash can help: If you budget $100 for eating out each month, put that money in an envelope. When it's empty, it's full-time cafeteria food until the next month. And don't forget to prioritize your needs. It's nice to have a car, but you can always bum a ride instead. Take a look at your cellphone plan. Reducing your monthly minutes might save you a few bucks–money you can put in your spring break fund.

Finally, be aware of the rising incidence of identity theft on campus. Students tend to be vulnerable because they move frequently, leaving a trail of unforwarded mail that includes credit card statements and medical records. Some tips: Change your mailing address with the post office promptly to keep your bills coming to you–not the next tenant. And don't leave transcripts or sales receipts with your credit card or Social Security numbers on them lying around the dorm lounge or frat house. Those old bills can wreak financial havoc in the wrong hands.

How to find the money!

1. Learn the lingo
There are a lot of rules, terms, and acronyms to learn when you're applying for financial aid.

2. Always apply for aid
Even if you don't think you'll qualify, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a sketch of your family's financial situation.

3. Don't forget about scholarships
Scholarship applications often consist of little more than some basic personal information and a brief essay. Not too shabby for free money!

4. Compare aid packages
Come April, you'll receive an aid award letter from each school where you're admitted. Comparing these letters can be an important step in deciding which school you'll ultimately attend.




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