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Paying for College

8 FAQs About Financial Aid and Paying for College

Learn who is unable to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, how to find private scholarships, and how a payment plan works.

We receive a lot of questions this time of year asking for details on the different components of financial aid offers, or requesting help in creating a college payment strategy. We've highlighted some of our most common questions below. Read through each one to get the facts on paying for college.

Q: I'm not able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Why is that?

A: There are certain categories of individuals who are unable to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

They are:

  • parents or students who filed an amended or foreign tax return
  • married individuals who filed with a head of household or married filing separately tax status
  • anyone who lists a different home address on the FAFSA® than on the tax return
  • anyone who has been a victim of identity theft on his or her tax return (within 3 years)
  • anyone who had a change of marital status after the end of the tax year

Q: Can I ask for a work-study award if I didn't receive it?

A: Colleges have a limited amount of work-study funding, and students must have a certain level of financial need to qualify for it, but if you received other need-based financial aid, you can certainly contact the financial aid office and ask if there is a surplus of work-study funding that could be offered to you.

Q: What is the fee associated with the Federal Direct Student Loan?

A: The Federal Direct Student Loan, the main student loan offerd in the financial aid package, comes with a small fee. That fee is deducted from the loan amount, so a student offerd a $5,500 loan will receive a bit less than that in loan funds credited to the bill. You can view the current Federal Direct Student Loan fee here.

Q: Are there private scholarships available to help pay for college costs?

A: Yes. Our Private Scholarships page includes links to many different scholarship search engines.

Q: How does a payment plan work?

A: Almost every college offers a payment plan that families may use to pay for college costs, either managed by the school itself or a third-party vendor. You'll need to contact the college to find out how to sign up for the plan. Plans usually begin before the academic year, in May, June, or July, and can last anywhere from 9 to 12 months. You don't pay interest when on a payment plan, but there is usually a small enrollment fee (somewhere around $35 - $70)

Q: My child is attending college out of state. Can we apply for a MEFA loan?

A: Yes, any student in the U.S. can apply for a loan from MEFA to pay for expenses at any college or university in the country.  The MEFA loan application is available online.

Q: How much should we budget for non-billed costs, such as travel, extra food, books, and other living expenses?

A: Each college should provide an estimate of what the average student spends in indirect costs – those additional expenses that don't appear on the college bill. Check the college's financial aid or student accounting website for those details, or do a quick search for the term Cost of Attendance on the college's homepage to find a breakdown of direct and indirect costs.

Q: Will the financial aid offer remain the same for four years?

A: This is a question that can best be answered by each college's financial aid office. However if your household size, number of children in college, and family financial situation remain relatively constant from year to year, colleges generally do their best to offer the same amount of financial aid. Keep in mind that the student must meet all other eligibility criteria, including academic, enrollment, and housing requirements.

Do you have additional questions about paying for college? We're happy to help. Reach out to us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or collegeplanning@mefa.org.







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