By Jessica Sommerfield
Great you were accepted into college, but can you afford it? From getting married to being a dorm sitter, people are getting more and more creative in order to cut their tuition costs. Here are the top 5 ways to hack school financial aid.
1. Fake (or Real) Marriages Improve Financial Aid
Did you know fake marriages can help you receive more financial aid? Most college students are considered “dependents” of their parents. Parental income and savings counts towards determining how much aid you’re eligible to receive. However, if you are married you are automatically considered “independent.” Since most students have very low (or no) income and little savings compared to their parents, you will receive more financial aid.
2. Find the Free Money
Grants (financial awards that are like scholarships) don’t have to be paid back, so take advantage of them first. The key is to apply as early as possible since money is distributed on a on a first-come, first-served basis.
$2.7 billion in federal grant money went unclaimed during the 2013-14 academic school year simply because students failed to file the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out the FAFSA helps students qualify for federal grants and is used by many schools to determine overall financial aid packages.
Don’t just rely on what a school is willing to offer you. Apply for scholarships as well! UniGo Hispanic Scholarships lists over 22,000 scholarships worth $105 million dedicated to Latino students. Sign up for free and receive custom scholarships suggestions.
3. “Grandparent” Your 529 Account
The more savings a student and parents have (which are considered “assets”) the less financially “needy” you are, and the less financial aid you will receive. 529 Education Savings Plans are a great way to save for college. Who owns the account can make a huge difference in the financial aid offered:
Percentage Value of 529 Plan That Counts Against Financial Aid
Grandparent’s Control 529 plan: 0% of value
Parent’s Control 529 plan: 5.64% of value
Student Controlled 529 plan: 20% of value
Simply putting the 529 account under a grandparent’s name will ensure that none of the money saved will count against a financial aid package offered. Don’t let the 529 College Plan hurt financial aid. Time to call the abuelos and ask them to open a 529 college savings plan that’s available in your state.
BONUS TIP: Money withdrawn from 529 accounts to pay for tuition costs (disbursement) have to be reported on your taxes. Most experts advise waiting until the last two years of college to take out the 529 funds. For more help, use the FAFSA4Caster to calculate how a 529 disbursement will affect financial aid eligibility.
4. Be a Dorm Sitter and Get Free Housing
Cutting your school housing costs can save you thousands of dollars in tuition bills. So why not work for your school? Most school dorms are staffed by Resident Assistants (RA). Being an RA is a great opportunity to live rent free after freshman year in exchange for overseeing a college dorm. Most schools have a minimum GPA requirement (usually a 3.0) to apply. Look into the qualifications your freshman year and live rent free your last three years of college.
5. Pick a Career Move that Pays (literally)
While still in school, The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program allows low-income students to work their way through college while providing community service and gaining career-field experience on or off-campus. Award packages are based on student need, and you can only work the hours assigned.
Did you know the job your get out of college can help pay off your debt? From joining AmeriCorps which gives you $4,725 or getting paid to move to a new state. Learn the 7 career moves that help pay off student debt.
Jessica Sommerfield is a freelance writing student who enjoys taking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and living simply. She’s especially enthusiastic about running, fitness, and finding new ways to eat healthy on a budget. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaLSommer