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Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Four online guides to the search for college cash

College acceptance letters are starting to arrive. Families now must figure out how to pay the tuition. These sites offer some of the best guides for navigating the world of financial aid.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: A relatively new federal agency, the CFPB, has a beta site on college finances. One of the bureau's goals is to make students' borrowing costs clearer. Near the top of the page is sort of college-prep timeline showing the steps from researching schools to repaying college debt. Along the way, one presumably gets an education. One early step is to fill out the universal application called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Say FAFSA: Here's a direct link to the FAFSA site. Students (and their parents, if the student is a financial dependent) have to complete the FAFSA application to see whether they qualify for need-based financial aid. The advantage is that you have to do it only once per year, no matter how many colleges you apply to. And the earlier, the better. As soon as you file the electronic form, you'll see what is likely to be a shocking ballpark number for the education expenses you're expected to pay out of pocket.
Things not to overlook: Part of the big U.S. News and World Report college roundup, this section on paying for an education is meant to explain some of the terminology and procedures that students and families will encounter. Take note of the "overlooked ways to pay for college," which include getting an early start on college savings accounts called 529 plans, and digging around for otherwise-overlooked community sources of scholarship money.
After the test: The College Board, which runs the dreaded SAT college-entrance examination system, also offers advice on financing your higher education. This page includes a link to the board's scholarship-search service. Many scholarships have obscure criteria, so how would you even find all the ones that might fit you? Fill out a questionnaire that can help match students to what the board says is $6 billion available in scholarships through 2,200 programs.
Story tags » CollegesPersonal Finance

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