With the rising costs of college tuition, getting to and through college is as much about finances as it is about academics. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is participating in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s annual Money Smart Week® by highlighting free resources and tools to help students make smart money choices about college, financial aid, and more. Students and their families can utilize ISAC’s online tools, participate in free college and financial aid workshops, or get one-on-one help to help reduce college costs and student loan debt.
“Money Smart Week® provides a great opportunity for students and families to take advantage of a host of workshops and resources to learn how to build healthy financial habits and manage education costs and debt,” said Eric Zarnikow, executive director of ISAC. “By understanding college costs and being able to assess their individual financial circumstances, students can better identify affordable, high-quality college options that will meet their interests, skills, and financial means,” continued Zarnikow.
ISAC offers the following tips and resources to help students reduce college costs and limit student debt:
• Compare financial aid awards. Use ISAC’s online Financial Aid Comparison Worksheet to compare financial aid award offers you have received from colleges to help you determine which college will be more affordable for you. Check out this video to learn about this easy to use tool.
• Consider a community college. Tuition at community colleges is typically lower than public colleges and universities. There are many Illinois community colleges that offer a range of affordable degrees, certificates and training programs. Moreover, if you are interested in a 4-year degree but the costs are too high, consider taking a year or two of your degree requirements at a local community college. Be sure to work with a counselor to ensure that the community college credits you take will be transferrable to the 4-year college of your choice in your planned major.
• Look for scholarships. College Greenlight is a free resource with a huge database of scholarships, grants and merit-aid opportunities. Also be sure to check for institutional scholarships offered by the colleges to which you have been admitted.
• Rent or borrow college textbooks rather than buying new or even used. You can save money by renting textbooks, or by borrowing your books from an I-Share Library, which is a consortium of Illinois colleges, universities and libraries that allow you to borrow their books and resources. Check out this short video for more information.
• Understand how much you will actually owe in student loans. If you are planning to take out loans, make sure you understand how much they will cost you to pay back, because you will be paying not only the cost of the loan but interest on it over time. Check out the Loan Repayment Calculator on the ISAC website and other student debt calculators so you have a real sense of the total cost of your potential debt.
• Learn about student loan repayment options. If you already have student loans, understand your options for paying them back, including income-based repayment. Visit studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans for information. The ISAC Call Center can also answer general questions about student loans at 800-899-ISAC (4722). And beware of student loan debt relief scams. If a company charges an upfront fee to help you manage your loans or promises to reduce your debt, it is likely a scam. If you feel you have been the victim of fraud or a scam, call the Attorney General’s Student Loan Helpline, at 800-455-2456 (TTY – 800.964.3013), to file a complaint.
• Attend a Money Smart Week® event! For information on Money Smart Week® events and resources to help you better manage your personal finances, visit moneysmartweek.org. ISAC offers college and financial aid workshops during Money Smart Week® and throughout the year in locations all over the state, so check out the calendar of events in your area at studentportal.isac.org/events.