The FAFSA: Federal Financial Aid
Everyone should complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). There is a free form online that the federal government provides to enable you to apply for federal financial aid quickly. You will need to have your taxes. If under the age of 23 you will also need your parents' taxes (unless you are married, have a child, or are in the military).
Did you know that you can qualify for a Pell Grant of up to $5,730 per year for each year of your bachelor's degree?
CSS Financial Aid Profile: Nonfederal Financial Grants and Aid
The College Board offers a way to apply for nonfederal financial grants and aid through their PROFILE program. The College Board's PROFILE program allows you to fill out one form that goes to over 400 colleges. The College Board is a not-for-profit organization.
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One benefit of the CSS Financial Aid Profile is the ability to add your own special circumstance of why you need money.
According to The College Board, it takes most people 45 to 2 hours to complete and as soon as you register, your application available for you to start. You will need your current and previous year's W-2 Forms (or your parents), and any bank statements and investiment information you may have (stocks, bonds, savings etc).
The College Board provides an easy walk-through interactive that will help you accurately complete the application. You can start your CSS Financial Aid Profile at: student.collegeboard.org.
Education Tax Incentives (Credits)
There are a few ways to recoup some money spent on higher education come tax time through education tax incentives.
One such way is the American Opportunity Tax Credit (or AOTC). The maximum annual credit you can receive is $2,500 per student.
To qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, it can only count toward the first 4 years of college. The individual trying to qualify cannot have a modified adjusted gross income of more than $80,000 or $160,000 if married filing a joint return.
If you don't qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (perhaps you are pursuing a master's degree), you still qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit. This credit will help pay for those graduate classes or courses to improve job skills. If eligible, you can qualify for up to $2,000.
You cannot claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifelong Learning Credit (or any other) for the same student for the same year. Also, per the IRS: "To qualify for an education credit, you must pay post-secondary tuition and certain related expenses for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The credit may be claimed by the parent or the student, but not by both. Students who are claimed as a dependent cannot claim the credit."
This information and more can be found at: irs.gov/Individuals/Education-Credits.
AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and the Military
AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, though they may not pay much, cover living expenses and are very rewarding opportunities. They also provide scholarships and tuition assistance along with invaluable experience.
You can receive numerous educational benefits when serving in the military. You can serve on a part-time or full-time basis and receive benefits — benefits even extend to dependents such as a spouse or children. Learn more in our Military or College? article.
AmeriCorps is funded by the U.S. Federal Government and focuses on education and public service. At the end of your service, you can receive either an education award or a end-of-service stipend. They accept over 70,000 individuals annually to serve with local and national nonprofit groups.
The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program but has a more global reach. The type of work volunteers do is based on the needs of their host country. Volunteers serve in over 70 countries and their term of service is 27 months. Upon completion volunteers receive $7,425 pre-tax. Travel to and from the country you will be serving is paid for and you will receive a monthly stipend to cover your living expenses. PeaceCorps.gov offers more information.