For many students starting or returning to school this fall, the experience may be far different from what they envisioned last year. In response to COVID-19, a number of colleges and universities are temporarily moving to virtual learning models. At the same time, there are colleges and universities planning to reopen with new social distancing measures-some still determining exactly how to best proceed.
Not only has COVID-19 been an obstacle for how you'll physically go to college, but also a setback for how students and parents plan to pay for their education. So, what are some strategies to help you stay on track with your financial plan for college?
1. Tally up all the costs of attendance.
"Education costs will increasingly play a central role in a student's decision of when or where they attend school," said Aaron Aggerwal, senior vice president of credit cards and education lending at Navy Federal Credit Union. "As you solidify how much space is in your budget to pay for school, be sure to consider expenses beyond tuition, such as room and board, transportation, a computer, and textbooks. This will help you create a reasonable and realistic financial plan."
2. Talk to your school's financial aid office.
If you previously submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and need to alter it, contact your financial aid office. You may qualify for more assistance or ask them to reassess your financial aid package in order to help you afford the cost of school. This may be especially beneficial if your finances have changed since you first applied.
3. Explore private student loans for bridging any funding gap.
Given the rising expenses for education, there's a chance the financial assistance you received from the federal student loan program, grants or scholarships isn't enough to entirely cover your college costs. Thus, private student loans can help fill this funding gap.
"When you're researching private student loans, find the best rate with features that meet your individual needs," added Aggerwal. "For example, we offer a 0.25% interest rate reduction for setting up automatic payments; a benefit like this simplifies making payments and helps you save money. We also offer payment options to lower your monthly payment while you're in school."
If you're worried about getting approved for a private student loan, a co-signer could increase your chances. Lenders, like Navy Federal, may allow a co-signer to be released from the loan once a qualifying borrower has entered full repayment or graduated, and has made a total of 24 consecutive, on-time payments.
4. Stay instate or take classes at a community college.
In-state tuition is considerably less expensive than out-of-state tuition. You may also save on tuition and related costs by taking classes at a local community college before school begins or during school breaks. Just be sure to confirm before enrolling that the credits will transfer to the college or university of your choice.
5. Already have student loans? Consider refinancing or consolidating them.
Many lenders will allow you to refinance and consolidate federal and private student loans together. Also if you're graduating this fall or have parent PLUS loans, this strategy could help you save on interest and get a lower monthly payment.