$25,218 of debt is a lot.
You’d have to work a minimum wage job for 3,478 hours, 20 minutes and 38 seconds to pay that off. Actually minus taxes it’s even more than that. Unfortunately, $25,218 is the average student loan debt in North Carolina.
But there’s no need to despair. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is here! Most students ignore the application and just have their parents or guardians apply. But you, or your kids, aren’t like most students. I know I took a big part in the FAFSA process, and I felt so much more comfortable with my aid negotiations because I understood the process. I’ve included some tidbits of information that will hopefully help you feel confident, too!
1. Here’s The Lowdown On The FAFSA
First, it’s pronounced like “Phaf-sah.” Second, it’s a long application that can take over an hour to complete if you put every number in line by line. You will need your income information and tax forms, and you’ll need those from your parents/guardians, too. If your family owns a business, or has investments, that information is necessary as well. There are many lists online of what you may need.
2. If You Don’t Have That Kind Of Time
You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA to automatically input most of your information on the application. You can only use this if you/your family already filed taxes for that year and the IRS has received all the documents it needs. This definitely saves time, but make sure you still double-check the data.
3. Why You Should Care
After you finish the application, you submit it and it’ll spit out an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. This EFC is super important. It’s basically the government saying it can confidently expect your family to pay that much (per year) for your college expenses.
4. Why That’s Not As Great As It Sounds
That doesn’t mean the government will cover all costs above that number. They send that number (and your FAFSA application) to a university’s financial aid office, and that office will determine your aid based on that number.
5. What Formula They Use
It changes on each university/college. But here’s an example. Let’s pretend your EFC is $10,000, and annual tuition and fees for college is $25,000. The difference is $15,000, which your institution would consider “need.” Some institutions guarantee that they will cover 100% of need, and some cover less.
6. Why That’s Still Not Great
Your “need” is not covered by aid and scholarships alone. There is no publicly known formula for what percentage of that “need coverage” is loans and how much is scholarships/aid. Even an institution that covers 100% of need could only offer you lots of loans, or an institution that covers 10% may give you a $1,500 scholarship.
7. Why You Should Still Care About The EFC
The lower your EFC, the more scholarships, aid and loans you will qualify for. You want to (legally) do what you can to minimize your EFC as much as you can. Because the formula is so complex, your EFC can be significantly impacted by a bunch of different factors. Knowing these factors can be crucial to maximizing your aid package.
8. Why You Want To Qualify For Loans
Usually, federal loans have better interest rates and more long-term benefits than private loans. Also, federal loans come in two types: unsubsidized and subsidized.
9. Your EFC Is Not Set In Stone
Fun fact: financial aid officers can adjust your FAFSA numbers if you have any new information, or corrected information. They can also adjust it to change your aid. So don’t feel like finishing the application is final and there’s nothing you can do about asking for more aid. You and a financial aid officer can talk about your situation and can adjust things, if possible.
10. Don’t Do It Alone
Just like you go to a mechanic to solve your complex car issues, you should look for help and resources to help you with your FAFSA process. You want to make sure you've input all of the information correctly and you want to make sure you've made financial choices so you'll get the most financial aid that you can get. College Funding Consultants understands the complexities of this college maze. They help families with the process to maximize any aid you can receive and pay for college as comfortably as you can.
Personally, I earned most of my financial aid through FAFSA adjustments and negotiations with the financial aid office. To me, being able to understand the FAFSA is absolutely necessary to getting as much aid as possible. I definitely recommend working with College Funding Consultants, because their team knows the formula and how it changes each year. Since you have to fill out the FAFSA each year you’re in college, you can either take the time to learn the formula yourself, or find people who can help. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to comment! I’d love to hear your FAFSA organization tips.
I have read so many articles on how to do a personal budget, and I’ve learned a lot of great (and not so great) tips on how to do it. I’ve written about how I actually do my own budget, because I don’t want to waste your time with a system or tips that are too time consuming to actually use. So here’s how I budget my money!
Slight disclaimer: This budget is my personal budget, and does not include tuition. But this is a great guide for how to organize your spending money.
How Much Do You Spend?
I actually didn’t know how much I spent when I set out to make a budget. So I chose one month where I would put my money on checking account, and only use my debit card for purchases. This way, I could check the transaction history and I’d have a convenient log of everything I bought that month. If I had to use cash, I would write it down separately. At the end of the month, I added together how much I spent on gas, groceries, entertainment and whatever else, and figured out if that was a reasonable amount. My car gets okay mileage and my internship isn’t far away for me, so I only spend about $100 on gas a month. But when I realized I was spending too much on food, I was able to scale it back to a more reasonable budget.
What About The Next Month?
I like the debit card system, because the writing-every-single-purchase down was too much even for an organized person like me. At the beginning of the month I chose how much I would spend on the following categories:
Shopping (thrift stores are my weakness)
Car "Just In Case" (JIC)
Since I live at home in the summers, I don’t pay rent (thanks Mom) and my grocery budget is smaller because I cook with my family. The Car JIC is because I have a car from 1999, and sometimes it needs to be fixed. If I budget monthly for it and don’t need it, I’m basically saving for when it needs a $400 ignition coil replaced. The emergency is really any weird cost I may need and can’t predict: it’s been used for medicine during a cold, birthday gifts or a really good deal online. My entertainment is larger because I have a boyfriend, but we typically switch off who pays for dates or dinners. So I’ll pay one night and he’ll pay the next, so it basically evens out.
How Do You Afford It?
I work a few jobs, and I am lucky that I have some savings in case I need them for a real emergency. I looked at my debit card (I love that thing) and I could see how much I earned in one month from each of my jobs. I added it up, and could see exactly how much I made after taxes. Since my hours were regular at my jobs, I could count on that amount every month. I also like to always budget to spend less than I make, as a cushion for if any categories go over budget, and so I can hopefully add the extra in the ‘Savings’ category.
Typically I’ll aim to do a check-in on myself halfway through the month, so I can see if I’m on-track or overspending. I always try to come in under-budget because I’m basically paying myself for a job well done with any extra I save during the month.
I hope you can utilize the system I use. I’ve found it to be very helpful, and I really like using my debit card to keep track of spending without my needing to write everything down.
Feel free to comment any tips of your own or if you have any questions!
Everyone thought I was crazy.
My senior year in high school, I learned about Elon University, and how it had everything I was looking for in my college experience. Well, everything except the price tag. As a private institution, it cost about $35,000 more each year than the $5,000 my family was able to contribute to my tuition.
I called my uncle to talk about his opinion on what I should do. He told me about how awful debt can be, and how having debt after I graduate could interfere with my goals and plans. After that call, when I was about to go to sleep, I had this crazy idea. I was going to go to Elon, and I would graduate debt-free.
That is where the crazy started.
I won’t lie, I was incredibly lucky to have family who supported me. My mom drove me to countless financial aid meetings (I had to pay car insurance myself and couldn’t afford it at the time, so I didn’t get my license until I was 18). I met an amazing woman who specializes in college funding, and she was willing to mentor me and gave me the knowledge to succeed. My family and friends were there for me when I would have emotional breakdowns about how Elon would never happen for me.
But it did happen.
Looking back, I almost can’t believe it. After countless financial aid negotiations and scholarship applications and stress, I earned over $105,000 in scholarships and aid, and I will have paid off the one subsidized loan I have before my 21st birthday. I have learned so much about FAFSA and how to maximize financial aid and minimize college costs, and I want to share that knowledge with you.
I’ve already spoken to multiple Elon classes and friends about how to maximize aid. I will talk your ear off about financial aid applications and the best places to find scholarships. I’d love to use this blog to share what I’ve learned, and hopefully help other people.
If you ever have a question you want me to address in a post, send it to me on my Contact Page. I love answering questions, and I’d really love to answer yours.
Thank you for reading, and welcome to my Student Saver blog!
Hi, I'm Riley! I graduated from college in December 2016, after working to earn over $100,000 in scholarships and aid.