5 Tools to Help You Make Smart College Money Decisions

  10/29/2014 by    in Avoiding Student Loan Debt   2 Comments

smart moneyNext to purchasing a home, college will probably be one of the biggest financial investments you will ever make. It can be scary thinking about spending $10,000, $20,000 or even more money each year you are in school (yikes!). That’s why it’s so important to understand how the financial decisions you make now can affect your future. Sure, you could plunge blindly into the college waters and hope that you stay afloat, but why should you when there are so many free online tools available to help?  Before you make any decisions regarding your future, check out these five tools that can help you make smart college money decisions and put you on the path to a healthy financial future.

1. Federal Student Aid

There is a plethora of information on this website, including: how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), eligibility guidelines for federal grants and student loans, and even a budgeting section. You can learn how to track your income and expenses, save for necessary items, and even budget for those unplanned expenses that always seem to creep up at the most inopportune moment. Once you graduate from college, there’s even a section to help you determine which student loan website plan is best for you.

2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

You may think that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) only helps those who are having trouble with their credit or lenders, but it’s also a great tool for deciding which colleges are offering you the best financial aid packages. The CFPB website hosts a nifty tool (it’s free!) that allows you to compare up to three school financial aid offers side-by-side. The tool will calculate your debt at graduation and your anticipated monthly payment, allowing you to compare the financial impact of your decision before you even make one.

3. Adventures in Education

Not sure if you should work while you are in college to help keep down your overall student loan debt?  You may want to check out Adventures in Education’s “Work More or Borrow for College” section. Studies have shown that students who work get burned out and may graduate later than those who do not, so the amount of money you may save may not be worth it in the end. Do the math and see which path is right for you.

5. CashCourse

This free tool from the National Endowment for Financial Education has a ton of resources to help you make smart money decisions. You can learn how to choose the right bank account, make smart choices about credit cards, and even get tips about budgeting for a study abroad trip – just to a name a few. Pretty much everything you need is here to get you from high school to your first paying job as a college graduate. By the way, you also have a chance to win a $1,500 scholarship!

6. Unigo

College is expensive, so you really shouldn’t make a decision before you understand your return on education™, otherwise known as MyROE™. That’s where Unigo comes in handy. Not only can this free college planning tool help you find the perfect college based on your goals, anticipated college major, and other personal preferences, but it can also help you find the college that will give you the best return on your investment. If you don’t want to graduate drowning in student loan debt, visit Unigo.com before making any commitments. Oh, and while you are there, be sure to check out their $10,000 Get Up and GO! Scholarship, too.

If you do have to borrow money for college, be sure to check out the free student loan comparison tool and student loan payment calculator fromeStudentLoan.com; both will help you make smart decisions when it comes to private student loans.

About Tamara Krause

Tamara is the Social Media Coordinator and a regular writer for eStudentLoan.com, ScholarshipExperts.com, and CampusDiscovery.com. She enjoys helping students prepare for college. As a mother of four, Tamara has first-hand experience with many areas of education, including special needs (autism), the International Baccalaureate program and post-secondary education. She enjoys speaking at schools and mentoring others online. In her free time, Tamara enjoys volunteering and supporting her favorite football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  1. Gramercy

    I am a teacher and I have witnessed a lot of kids go off to college too soon and fail out! Here is some advice for graduating seniors and their parents based on 15 years of observations. 
    1. Make them work and pay for some of it.( they have to have some skin in the game)
    2. If they are immature and not self- reliant don’t let them go to a far off University.
    3. Have them talk to recent graduates to get advice/tips; they are much more likely to listen to them than you.
    4. A community college is a great place to save money and usually has professors who are teachers 1st unlike the research focused professors at Universities
    5. Don’t be frivolous with your cash. Consider things like $25/month car insurance (from 4AutoInsuranceQuote), $20/month mobile phone (TMobile), $15/month gym membership (Planet Fitness), and use apps like GasBussy to save money in other ways. College is expensive – save for it!
    6. Speaking of which – Don’t try to “Keep up with the Jones”. This dooms kids and forces them into the student debt trap.
    7. Don’t be afraid to let them fail. If you constantly bail them out you will be doing it for the rest of their lives and they will never grow as a person.
    8. Make them aware of the differences in earning power/job availability of different majors.
    9. The military, tech school, and apprenticeships are all viable alternatives to college.
    10. Do a cost/ benefit analysis if you are going to take on significant debt make sure it’s for a valuable degree. 60k debt for a chemistry degree is ok, 60k for Art History is not.