After a late release of the 2024-25 FAFSA, students will soon receive their financial aid offers. Here are three steps to help you prepare to pay the bill and set your student up for success.
Step 1 – Find the Net Price and Reduce Costs
The financial aid offer itemizes the aid for which your student qualifies for the entire academic year. Use the financial aid offer to determine the out-of-pocket cost to attend that school, often called the net price. Direct costs billed by the school include tuition, mandatory fees, required equipment and on-campus housing. You can reduce costs by applying for a waiver for things the student might not need, such as health insurance or optional fees.
Step 2 – Amount Owed for the Year and for Each Term
Once you have the net price for the year, calculate the net price for each term. Tip: Don’t include federal work-study since this aid must be earned throughout the year.
Step 3 – Make a Plan to Pay the Bill
Accepted students receive the bill a few weeks before the start of the term. However, now is the time to start planning how you will pay the amount owed to get payments in by the required date. Many families use a piecemeal approach, pulling from various sources, to pay the bill.
Private or outside scholarships are a great way to close the gap. Not all scholarships can be used in the first term. Subtract the scholarship only for the term(s) when funds will be received.
Look at your 529 account. Determine how much you want to use for each term in year one and for all subsequent years. A few weeks before the bill is due, schedule your withdrawal request. The servicer needs ample time to get the funds to the school.
529 Withdrawals – Tips for Success:
- Always request your withdrawal during the same tax year that it will be used.
- Add any wire transfer fees to the requested amount if you plan to wire funds.
- Don’t withdraw more than you need. Any withdrawal not used for qualified expenses (as defined by the IRS) may be subject to taxes and/or penalties.
- Coordinate expenses with the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit for a tax-free withdrawal. Consult a tax professional for advice or assistance.
If you have savings besides the 529 account, determine the amount you want to dedicate to the bill each term. You’ll also need to plan for indirect expenses such as books, supplies, and incidentals like laundry. Student earnings can be a big help with these expenses.
Many schools offer payment plans to help manage payments as part of a family’s budget. Most plans are interest-free but may charge a fee.
Families may also consider borrowing a Federal Plus Loan or other private education loans. Tip: Be sure to use full-year amounts when setting up a payment plan or applying for student loans.
For more information about paying for school and other resources, visit the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) at collegesavings.org.
About the author:
Eva Giles is the College Savings Program Manager for the Finance Authority of Maine, administrator of NextGen 529®. NextGen 529 is Maine’s section 529 plan which many families use to save for higher education. Outside of work, Eva and her family spend time hiking and enjoying the natural beauty Maine has to offer.