I have tried to return to graduate school five times (count 'em, five). On the fifth try, I got in, got my loans, registered, attended the mandatory new student orientation and was actually en route to pick up my textbooks when it suddenly hit me…I'm about to shell out $42 thousand that I’m going to have to start paying back in just two years from now! Needless to say, I still haven't made it back to graduate school and it doesn't ease my anxiety any to know that, according to Forbes, Americans currently owe more than $1 trillion in student loans as of 2013—yikes!

The truth is, finding funding—and paying it back—is becoming more challenging for motivated, educationally-minded folks every day. Whether you’re seeking funding for your own education or for someone else's, it can seriously pay to be informed not just about ways to find the funds you need, but how to save on the fees you pay.

1. Transfer fees

If you’re thinking about transferring schools, be aware you may pay handsomely for the privilege. There are several ways you can end up paying.

  • Your credits may not transfer: This means you may have to retake coursework to comply with the graduation requirements of your new university, incurring costly additional tuition charges.
  • You may lose financial aid opportunities: The earlier you apply, the more likely you’re to be awarded financial aid, including scholarships, work-study and grants.
  • Transferring schools can delay entry into the work force: If you transfer, statistics indicate you may require an extra six to 12 months of classes before you can graduate. This can not just add to your financial burden, but delay your ability to earn income to pay back what you owe.

2. Financial aid scams

The U.S. Federal Student Aid website has a prominent message about avoiding financial aid scams: the only true sources of financial aid for education are always free. Instead of paying out of pocket to try to score financial aid, the U.S. government recommends these resources:

  • FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): Entities are offering to help applicants fill out the form in exchange for a fee. Don't pay—filling out the FAFSA is free!
  • Campus financial aid office: Contact your institution for details.
  • Federal student aid: Includes military aid, grants, work-study, scholarships and loans.
  • ED.gov : A listing of state-sponsored grant agencies.
  • Free scholarship search: Sponsored by the U.S. Federal government.
  • Research your unique affiliations. If you belong to a club or association (or your parents do), have a specific ethnic background or specialized field of study, or other unique affiliation, there’s likely an organization you can apply to for scholarship or grant funding.

 3. Non-applicable fees

Just like with all fees, if you don't ask what the fees are for and if they apply to you, you’re likely to be charged. So review your education bill each semester with a magnifying glass. While you may not be able to get exempted from required fees (for instance, some institutions require that all students have some type of health insurance coverage), you may be able to find lower prices somewhere else that will fulfill the requirement. Or at least you’ll know what benefits come with the price tag so you can take full advantage of them!

Here’s a list of the most common fees assessed at higher education institutions. Sometimes high fees can literally negate a "good deal" on tuition.  So be sure to do a side-by-side evaluation of tuition versus fees before you decide which school to attend!

  • Activities fee: This fee represents institution-sponsored social and educational activities that are campus-wide.
  • Parking fee: This fee tends to be higher at commuter schools.
  • Technology fee: This fee is for technological help, including IT resources.
  • Laboratory fee: Some fields of study will have higher lab fees than others.
  • Green fee: A newer fee designed to combat higher costs of energy and on-campus recycling programs.
  • Enrollment fee: This fee covers the overhead associated with class registration.
  • Health fee: This fee covers basic healthcare services, such as a student emergency clinic and required vaccinations.
  • Counseling fee: This fee covers career and personal guidance counseling, and can also cover job search and placement services.

4. Deductions at tax time

Finally, too many students fail to take advantage of the many options for education deductions and credits available to them through the IRS.

  • Interest expense deduction: You can also deduct the interest expense of paying back your student loans (for more, read this helpful Forbes article). You can reduce your up-front income by as much as $2,500 annually just by taking this deduction!
  • Education credits: The IRS provides for additional ways that you can take an education credit against any funds paid out for tuition. Generally speaking, you can only select one credit or deduction out of those you’re eligible for, so be sure you choose so that you maximize your savings!

Here are the details on education credits. For more detailed instructions on how to claim these credits, read this helpful IRS article.

  • American Opportunity Credit: Credit is up to $2,500 per student/taxpayer.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit: This credit is capped at $2,000 per student/taxpayer—sometimes more if the student lives in a national disaster area.
  • 529 Savings Plan: If you needed to purchase technology (such as a laptop) for your education, the expense may be eligible for a tax credit.
  • Tuition and fees deduction: You can deduct up to $4,000 annually as an adjustment to income (a reduction to what you owe in taxes overall).


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