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So many college options are available these days that you'll be able to find a college offering courses you need at prices you can afford. Really. And help is available if you and your family can't pay the total cost and you qualify for student financial aid.

Today, more than half of college students get financial aid. A great deal of financial help is available from colleges, states and especially the U.S. Department of Education.

If you want to go to college and are willing to work hard, the money to pay for your college education will be there.

Here are ways you and your family can pay for college

  • Savings—you and your parents should start setting aside money for college now, if at all possible. The more you and your family save, the easier it will be to pay for college later.  ?One way to save is to set up a tax-free Education Savings Account or Section 529.  State governments have created these and other programs to make it easier for families to save for the education of their children. Visit www.collegesavings.org for more information about 529 plans.
  • Federal Income Tax Credits—The American Opportunity Tax Credit, or AOTC, helps cover college tuition by reducing the amount of federal income tax for low and moderate–income families. Unlike a scholarship or tax deduction, the AOTC is a tax credit up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition, certain required fees and course materials needed for attendance and paid during the tax year.  This credit is subtracted directly from the total federal tax on a tax return. You can claim a tax credit for expenses for the first four years of post-secondary education.
  • ?The Lifetime Learning Credit, or LLC, is available to help low and moderate–income families pay for tuition and fees.  It provides a tax credit of 20% of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students (a $2.000 credit). This amount may be reduced based on your MAGI. LLC is for qualified tuition and related expenses paid, and it can help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses — including courses to acquire or improve job skills. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the credit.  Tax filers may not claim both the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit on their tax returns for the same student in the same tax year. 

    For more information on the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit and other tax benefits for postsecondary students, visit the IRS web site at www.irs.gov.  IRS Publication 970,Tax Benefits for Higher Education, explains these credits and other tax benefits. Or, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. TTY callers can call 1-800-829-4059.
  • Student Financial Aid—the U.S. Department of Education offers students three major types of aid to help pay for college:

    • Grants—money that does not have to be paid back. The Federal Pell Grant is one example.  It is awarded to undergraduate students based on financial need.  

    • Work-study—a job during college to help you earn the money you need
    • Loans—money available to students and their parents which, like a car loan, must be paid back
  • Serving Our Country—providing service to our country during or after college is another way to pay for all or part of a college education. Opportunities include:

    • AmeriCorps, a community-service program that helps students earn grants or repay loans; The AmeriCorps Program provides full-time educational awards in return for work in community service. You can work before, during, or after your postsecondary education, and you can use the funds either to pay current educational expenses or to repay federal student loans. For more information on the availability of these awards, call 1-800-942-2677. The TTY number is 1-800-833-3722. Information is also available at www.americorps.gov.

    • Military Academies—the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Merchant Marines, and U.S. Navy offer no-cost education in exchange for a commitment to serve for a period of time. For more information on recruitment incentives, visit the U.S. Department of Defense Web site at www.todaysmilitary.com 

    • Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which offers scholarships in varying sizes to students interested in serving in the military after college.

    • Veterans Benefits - Your local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office offers assistance. If you (or your spouse) are a veteran or the dependent of a veteran, veterans’ educational benefits may be available. Information is also available through the Internet at www.gibill.va.gov or call 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551).

  • Other Financial Aid—help with college finances is also available from a number of other sources:
    • Many states and colleges offer financial assistance directly to individual students who need help paying for college.

    • A number of civic groups, foundations, businesses, and community organizations also provide scholarships to students who meet special requirements or achievement levels—such as doing well in high school or displaying artistic or athletic ability.

The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $40 billion in aid for college students each year. Being from a low– or middle–income family should never keep anyone from going to college. 

When you are ready to apply for college as a senior in high school, you and your parents must fill out an application for federal financial aid called the FAFSA to be considered for most financial aid and scholarships.  You can complete the FAFSA on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at: www.fafsa.ed.gov.

For the most up-to-date information about federal financial aid, contact the U.S. Department of Education at: 1-800-USA-LEARN, or 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).