Article originally on Money Mix by Claudia
We all know that going to college is expensive. And it becomes ever more difficult if you aren’t “just” going to college (maybe you also have a full-time job, or a family, or both). But there’s one aspect of the hurdle of getting an education that doesn’t have to be so out of reach. For many of us younger people, getting assistance to attend school isn’t that difficult (with the assumption of membership in the lower income brackets).
For people in the military it’s a bit easier still, even for spouses.
Free money! If you qualify, you can get free money in the form of a Pell Grant. Fill out the FAFSA to find out if, and how much, you qualify for. If you think you need to make next-to-nothing to qualify, think again. There’s a lot more to consider than just your income. You lose nothing by applying.
TA (tuition assistance) is a great benefit the military offers its members. You get reimbursed for the cost of your class, up to a certain amount. You can use TA in addition to any amount of Pell Grants you qualify for. If you end up getting a refund, you can use that to help offset the cost of your textbooks or other educational expenses (or save it to buy the books for next term).
MyCAA. Sometimes this is referred to as Spouse Tuition Assistance. It’s basically a fund for qualifying spouses (depending on rank, including E1-E5, W1-W2, and O1-O2). You can use it toward an associate’s degree plan, but not toward a bachelor’s degree. You also can apply it to a licensure program. Tuition assistance has to be approved beforehand, and it’s best to apply before the money for that program term runs out. I used this in conjunction with my Pell Grant to complete my associate’s degree last year.
Stafford Loans: These loans are offered in both subsidized and unsubsidized formats, which means a very low interest rate for you and friendlier terms than some other types of education loans. I have only one, which I applied for before knowing about all of the other resources available to pursue an education as a military spouse (and I didn’t qualify for a Pell Grant then because we had just stopped being a two-income household). Stafford loans are a good option if you absolutely need to borrow money for school—since their interest rates are fairly competitive and if you opt and qualify for the subsidized option, the government pays your interest rate while you still are enrolled in school.
Borrowing money to go to school sometimes is a necessity. If you don’t qualify for Pell Grants, or the money isn’t enough, be smart about borrowing the rest of the money. Don’t borrow more than you need, even if you think the interest is great and you could simply use the money. Those types of decisions tend to backfire in the long run (speaking from experience here). Use all of the resources available to you before taking money you will have to repay later. The less money you borrow, the faster you will reap the rewards of that college education once you’re employed.
Don’t forget about your credit union. After you’ve exhausted all free money sources, look into a private student loan from your credit union. The professionals there are eager to help and have your best interests at heart. Find a credit union you are eligible to join at asmarterchoice.org