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Paying for college during tough times: if your cash flow has gotten tighter, you might be able to get a better financial aid package.

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AS THE OWNER OF A SMALL TRANscription company, 42-year-old Linda Giles does not have an extra $17,000 per year lying around to pay for her 20-year-old son, Santwon Hines, to attend Pennsylvania State University. So the Washington, D.C., resident applied for financial aid from as many sources as she could. Their hard work paid off, as she and Hines applied for and received two need-based grants for D.C. residents to attend college (one for $5,500 and the other for $1,500), a Federal Pelf Grant for $2,290, a competitive-based grant of $1,300 due to good grades, and a $1,500 university scholarship that Hines applied for on his own. The two found even more financial help this year with Hines, who is a sophomore, becoming a resident assistant, which resulted in about $7,180 in room and board fees being shaved off of his school costs plus an additional $450 book stipend. In total, the mother and son saved about $19,720 this school year alone.

More students will likely be seeking financial aid since 529 college savings plans have suffered losses. "The median 529 portfolio with 60% in stocks lost 25.6% in 2008," says Joe Hurley, founder of the Pittsford, New York-based financial advice site SavingforCollege.com. To make matters worse, with the unemployment rate nearing 8% and many companies cutting back workers' salaries and hours, parents are finding that the financial aid packages their children have been awarded are no longer sufficient.

Here's how to increase your chances of getting a better financial aid package:

1 Ask for a professional judgment review. The good news is you can appeal a financial aid decision. "If any circumstances changed to a family's financial situation, they should ask for a professional judgment review," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, an online clearinghouse of financial aid information. Through that process, a school's financial aid administrator can add to a financial aid package based on extenuating circumstances that have impacted a family's finances since they initially applied for aid.

2 Know what constitutes hardship. Loss of income is the type of change that's most likely to lead to a financial aid adjustment. A large outlay of money such as unexpected medical expenses could also be grounds for an appeal. However, if your main reason for appealing is because your child's 529 plan has lost money, your chances of a successful appeal are minimal, Kantrowitz says.

3 Don't haggle unnecessarily. Colleges aren't looking to negotiate, says Kalman Chany, a New York-based financial aid consultant and author of Paying for College Without Going Broke (Princeton Review; $20). If there has been no change to your financial status, the amount awarded wilt not change, says Palmira Wakhisi, assistant director of financial aid for Morehouse College in Atlanta.

4 Seek other options. If the school's financial aid administrator refuses your appeal, there is no other recourse, since he or she is the final authority. However, sites such as www.scholarships.com and www.fastweb.com let parents and students search for other types of funding such as scholarships. Also look into low-cost federal loans such as the Perkins (www.ed.gov/programs/fpl/index.html) and Stafford loan programs (www.staffordloan.com), Chany advises.

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Title Annotation:CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT
Author:Holmes, Tamara E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:547
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