Making College Affordable – Student Loans and Beyond

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What is there besides student loans?

While college brings forth visions of beautiful campuses, study groups and weekend footballs games, it also brings up the huge question of how to pay for it and graduate with as little debt as possible. As you’re looking at your financial options, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Begin with the choice of schools you’re considering. If you haven’t already, take a look local community colleges, like Madison Area Technical College. Many of today’s graduates will complete the first year or two close to home before transferring into a local state college or university. Not only will you find a significant savings in tuition, but you’ll also save on housing by living at home. That savings can then be applied towards expenses for the last two years. By attending a state school, you’ll qualify for in-state tuition and save even more.

Once you’ve completed your final college applications, turn your attention to scholarships and grants. An app called Scholly  is a great place to start to find local and national scholarships open to everyone, not just the star of the school basketball team. The beauty of scholarships and grants is that its free money and can be applied directly to educational expenses. Since it’s not a loan there’s nothing to pay back and you’re that much further ahead of graduating with minimal debt.

Next, investigate federal student loans. The benefits of federal student loans typically include up to three years’ economic hardship deferments, repayment plans based on borrower’s income, debt consolidation options, and possible debt forgiveness if borrower has paid what they can. Look at the Stafford Loans first, and file a FAFSA or Free Application for Student Financial Aid. The PLUS loan is another federal student loan that is taken out in the name of a parent or guardian.

After looking at what you have from scholarships, grants and federal loans, your next option is a Madison credit union private student loan. The cuScholar Private Student Loan available from Dane County Credit Union can provide anywhere from $2,000 to $120,000 in undergraduate loans. Funds can be used towards tuition, housing, books, computers, or any qualifying educational expense. This personal loan has a lot to offer including no origination fees, no prepayment penalty, doesn’t require a FAFSA, and perhaps best of all, a 30-day cancellation policy should you not need the loan after all.

If a parent or guardian cosigns the loan, members are eligible for even more competitive rates, and may be eligible for rate reductions. To start with, you will get an immediate 0.25% APR* rate reduction if you set up automatic electronic ACH payments. Pay off 10% of the initial loan during the loan repayment schedule and receive another 1.00% APR rate reduction. Doesn’t sound like much at first but over the life of the loan your savings will add up and help reduce your student loan debt.

College can be an amazing, exhilarating, inspiring adventure. Taking the time now to set the groundwork and select the most fiscally responsible choices will allow you to really enjoy and appreciate the journey. And know at graduation you’ll have a substantially lighter student loan to pay. How smart does that sound?

*APR is Annual Percentage Rate

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Hillary W.

Hillary is a 2008 graduate of UW-Madison. She is a proud Badger all the way, but her strong love of travelling led her to a graduate program out in Phoenix, AZ, which she absolutely adored. Now, back in Madison, Hillary is once again connected to her Wisconsin roots. In the winter, you can find her on the ski slopes whenever she has time. In summer, she's on the bike path or enjoying a good book along any stretch of lakefront. Also a passionate Mallards fan, look for her at Warner Park whenever a game is in town!