There are many ways to make the dream of a college education come true. Take the time to review your options to make the most of the options available.

Financing Higher Education

Free Money

The best form of financial aid is money you don't have to pay back. This comes in several forms. Many schools offer free money (such as merit and/or need based scholarships), as do different associations, nonprofits, and businesses. They typically range from a few hundred dollars to covering your full tuition plus a stipend.

With some research, you may find many other free money opportunities. Check out the site, which lists U.S. government fellowships and grants, as well as sites like FastWeb or BrokeScholar, for additional aid opportunity listings. Your local library and school guidance office may also be a good resource for information.

Federal Loans

  • Stafford Loans: The most popular and widely disbursed student loan is the Stafford Loan. It comes in two versions: subsidized and unsubsidized. If you have financial need, as determined by the government, you could qualify for a subsidized Stafford. What makes this different from an unsubsidized Stafford is that the Federal Government pays the loan interest while you’re in school and for the six-month grace period between graduation and loan repayment. Apply for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans when you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Parent PLUS Loans: Your parents may be able to get a low interest, long-term PLUS Loan for Parents. applications for the Parent PLUS Loans are available through your college financial aid department. Repayment begins 60 days following loan approval.
  • Perkins Loans: Federal Perkins Loans are less common than the Stafford Loans, but are some of the most affordable. Perkins Loans are campus-based aid; if the federal government determines you have extraordinary financial need, your college may approve you for a Perkins Loan. How much you receive is completely dependent on available funds at the time of your loan approval. To improve your chances of a Perkins Loan, apply as early as possible. You can apply for a Perkins Loan when you file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can complete the form online or print a copy and mail it to the Department of Education. Repayment of the Perkins Loan does not begin until 9 months following your graduation.
  • Visit Federal Student Aid on the Web for complete details on all Federal programs.

Private Student Loans

There is a right way and a wrong way to use private student loans: your best student loan strategy is to first exhaust all avenues for FREE money and Federal loans before taking the next step to private loans. Calculate how much you still need to finance. Then armed with the balance you owe for college, evaluate lenders.

Heartland FCU partners with CU Student Help Smart Option Student Loans By Sallie Mae. This is a great resource for student loans at a low interest rate. You can apply online or call 877-458-8285.

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Your Finances While in College

When you're in college, you are caught up in a busy lifestyle. Between classes, studying, friends, extra activities, and work, it's easy to overlook a very important aspect of life — your finances.

If you’ve never lived on your own before, paying rent and utilities (if you don’t live in student housing), buying groceries, balancing a checkbook, and building good credit can seem like overwhelming tasks. These tips will point you in the right direction.

Develop a Savings Plan and Live on a Budget

Figure out where your cash is coming from. Make a list of your income from parents, your student loan(s), and/or your job. Then figure out what your expenses will be. Expenses would include things like, food, books, and other activities. Make sure that your expenses don’t exceed your income. Also, allow a little extra for emergencies. Once you have a budget, be disciplined and stay with it!
  • Save on Food: This is an expense you probably didn’t have to worry about when you were living at home, but now you’re in college and it’s something to pay attention to. Campus meal plans are great ways to go. It will provide added convenience and can be less expensive per meal. Minimize eating out and fast food, since they can quickly ruin your budget and your waist. Pack your lunch and plan meals as often as possible.
  • Take Advantage of Student Discounts: You can use your student ID for discounts in many places and the savings can really add up over time.
  • Buy Used Books: Usually or has better prices than the college book store, even on used books. Another option is to rent books or use e-Books. Research the price and convenience of each option to make the right choice for you.
  • Make Your Savings Work Harder: If you have a little money hidden away, open a higher yield savings or investment account. Your Heartland FCU offers Share Certificates of Deposits and higher interest Money Market Checking Accounts that are great for making the most of your money.
  • Remind Yourself Why You Are There & Keep Yourself Busy: You are there for an education first and foremost. Don’t blow the opportunity by neglecting your studies from over socializing or getting into financial trouble.
  • Get a Part Time Job: Many schools offer work-study programs, and some employers have tuition reimbursement programs. Look into both options to see which fits your needs best. But be sure it doesn’t interfere with your studies. As an added bonus, if you have earned income, you can start a Roth IRA.
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Your Finances and the Real World
Examining how you make and spend money now will help you develop reasonable expectations and plans for your future. Take these steps toward a realistic and attainable financial plan.

Track where and how you get and spend your money. Make sure to include:

  • Monthly income from all sources including jobs, gifts, dividends, etc.
  • Monthly obligations like housing, insurance, transportation, food, basic c lothing needs.
  • Optional spending like entertainment, dining out, electronics, trendy purchases, gifts.
  • Future spending like saving for a car, retirement, down-payment on a home.
  • Emergency savings.

Establish your goals. What do you see for your life?

  • Shorter-term goals like furniture, vacation, sports equipment.
  • Mid-term goals like a car, a wedding, a house.
  • Long-term goals like retirement, second home, your children’s college education.

Set Your Budget

With all the information you’ve gathered, you can now sit down and establish your budget. Estimate how much money you’ll need to meet each of your goals, and determine how much you need to save each month to reach that goal within your timeframe. You may even want to start thinking about the different ways you can invest your money to reach each of the different goals. A Share Certificate of Deposit or Money Market Fund Checking Account are good investments for your short term goals and the stock market may be a good investment choice for your medium and long term goals.

Think Before You Buy
Do I need it? Do I love it? Can I afford it? In the beginning, especially if you don’t have a steady paycheck, you probably won’t be able to afford to live in a big apartment, buy a house, buy a new car, and buy fancy things for your home. It’s important to know that it takes time and a lot of saving before you can own and do everything you want to. In the meantime, you can find roommates, look for deals on things you really do want, prioritize, and earn a little money on the side with part-time or weekend jobs to help make ends meet.

Get Health Insurance

It’s important have health insurance whether it’s through your employer or on your own. Don’t go without just to save a little money. Affordable alternatives are available, while the financial consequences of going without can be catastrophic. Here are some other affordable options:
  • Short-Term Health Plans: These major medical policies usually don’t require an extensive medical history check, and you can get a policy within 24 hours. Keep in mind that short term plans generally don’t cover preexisting conditions or preventative care, and are designed for recent college grads, employees waiting for group coverage to begin, or anyone between jobs. Policies can be extended up to 18 months and are often nonrenewable.
  • High Deductable Individual Health Insurance: This option offers low premiums but high deductibles toward coverage for major injuries or illnesses. That means you’ll pay less each month, but you’ll have higher out of pocket expenses if you need care.
  • Group Discounts with Professional or Affinity Groups: Bar associations, automobile associations, medical associations, and other professional organizations may provide cost-effective policies.
  • New Individual Policy: These plans typically cost more than short term or high deductible coverage, but they can provide more comprehensive benefits, including wellness care.

Start an Emergency Fund

No matter how much you owe in student loans or credit card debt, it’s wise to find some amount — any amount — of money in your monthly budget to save for an emergency fund. Experts will tell you to have 3-6 months of living expenses saved for an emergency, but putting away any amount is a good start. Having money in savings to use for emergencies can really keep you out of trouble financially. Plus, if you get in the habit of saving money, pretty soon you’ll have more than just an emergency fund saved up – you’ll have retirement money, vacation money, and even money for a house down payment. You never know when the unexpected will happen, so saving to protect yourself in case it does is very smart.

An emergency fund helps you avoid expensive alternatives like withdrawing 401(k) money before you’re eligible, living off credit cards, postponing monthly payments, or selling stocks or mutual funds.

Save for Retirement

If you’re looking for your first job, odds are you won’t be retiring for another 40+ years. That doesn’t mean you should put it off. Even if you don’t have a company match, put something away. If your earnings are low, then this might be a good time to look into a Roth IRA. Because of the way compound interest works, the sooner you start saving, the more you’ll end up with over time — even with a lesser amount.

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