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Estimate your college financial needs with these tips

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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to funding your college education. Learn the ins and outs of all the options available, and prepare for funding applications with these tips and tricks.

Look for free funds first

The first step in funding your education is to explore all your free financial aid options. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an online form required by most colleges and universities in the United States to determine a student's eligibility for need-based financial aid. Submitting the FAFSA is how you apply for funds from the federal government and your state. Some schools also require you to fill out the FAFSA to be eligible for their scholarships (including academic scholarships). There's no income cutoff to qualify for federal student aid. Eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents' income or your savings alone.

Prepare for applications

Gather these documents to complete the FAFSA and other financial aid application forms:

  • The student's driver's license and Social Security card.
  • The student's income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1099 forms for the previous year. If the student is married, you'll need these same documents for the student's spouse.
  • The parents' income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1099 forms for the previous year.
  • Current bank statements and mortgage information.
  • Records relating to stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments.
  • Documentation of nontaxable income, such as Social Security income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and veterans benefits.
  • Business and farm records.
  • Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as medical and dental expenses not covered by health insurance, tuition expenses at elementary or secondary schools, unusually high child care costs, death, divorce and loss of employment.

Fill the gap with student loan options

If you need to borrow, compare federal and private student loans and choose the loan that best fits your needs. Both private student loans and student tuition lines of credit have flexible features that can serve your needs, depending on your year in school and how much you need to borrow.