Before You Borrow

Most families need help covering the costs of a college degree or training program. Personal savings and free aid like grants and scholarships (money you don’t have to pay back) can go a long way. But you may still need more financing to cover all your costs—including tuition, fees, housing, food, books, transportation, a computer, and other expenses.

Here’s the key: Loans are borrowed money that must be paid back with interest. This means that the amount you repay will always be more than the amount you borrow.

Consider these cost-saving steps before you borrow:

  1. It's worth repeating: Take advantage of free aid first. Apply for all available grants and scholarships. This “gift aid” doesn’t have to be paid back.
  2. Use savings and current income. Explore tuition payment plans, which spread payments out over the academic year.
  3. Accept a work-study job if it's in your financial aid offer. These part-time jobs allow you to earn money toward college expenses. Or consider a part-time job while in school. Studies show that working up to 20 hours a week may actually improve your grades, since you’ll become pretty adept at time management.
  4. Cut expenses and economize while in school. The cardinal rule? Live like a student in school so you don't have to live like one for 10 years after graduation.
  5. Understand how the interest rate and the repayment plan you choose will impact your cost of borrowing.
  6. Borrow only what you need. Your goal should be to minimize loans as much as possible. You can choose to decline a loan or borrow less than what is offered, reducing what you’ll need to pay back.

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