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Study all options for funding a college education

Aside from scholarships, consider financial aid, two-year colleges and in-state schools during a hunt for an affordable education.

November 20, 2011|Liz Weston | Money Talk

Dear Liz: I have some very important questions regarding my son who is going to be attending a private university next year. He is going to be a student athlete (he golfs), which does not help very much financially. We're shocked at the cost and do not have enough saved. We were counting on selling our home and downsizing to pay for his education, but got caught up in the real estate downturn. We need some help and advice on how we can get access to the free money that I know is out there. We also have two other boys, 13 and 6. We will start immediately saving for their college.

Answer: The "free money" you know is out there may not be the answer to your problems.

Yes, there are scholarships your boy might get to help pay for his education. But if he receives any financial aid from the university, those scholarships may reduce the amount he gets in grants — another form of financial aid that doesn't have to be paid back.

If, on the other hand, he doesn't get any grants, the scholarships could reduce the amount of loans he'd otherwise need to take out. He can start his search for scholarships at FastWeb.com.

You definitely should apply for financial aid from the university, if you haven't already. (FinAid.org's estimated family contribution calculator can give you a rough idea of how much you'll be expected to chip in, although the school's actual package may differ somewhat.)

Then take a hard look at what this education is going to cost you. You may not be able to afford it. If you would have to stint on your retirement, or your son would have to borrow more than the federal student loan limits ($5,500 for his freshman year), you probably need to look for other alternatives.

One option is for your son to live at home and attend a two-year college to get some of his requirements out of the way. Another is an in-state school, or one with a golf team that wants him badly enough to offer a better merit-based package of aid. FinAid.org offers resources and ideas for getting an affordable education, as does college expert Lynn O'Shaughnessy's workbook, "Shrinking the Cost of College," available on her website, TheCollegeSolution.com.

What you don't want to do is bankrupt yourself, or consign yourself or your son to huge student loan debts. No education is worth a lifetime of debt, particularly when other options are available (and you have two other kids to educate).

HUD counselors offer loan modification advice

Dear Liz: We applied for a loan modification a year ago and submitted all the paperwork requested on time. Our lender claims we were denied because of missing papers. I had everything documented, so the denial was appealed, but as of now we're still waiting to hear whether we were approved or not. What can we do? We haven't made a payment since last March. We have the money on hand to make three trial payments, as we were originally instructed, but I'm so worried.

Answer: Unfortunately, your experience is all too common — and too often people waiting for an answer from their lender wind up losing their homes to foreclosure. Lenders' poorly trained and poorly staffed loan modification departments have created endless nightmares for homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure.

You should immediately enlist the help of a counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can get referrals from http://www.hud.gov or by calling (800) 569-4287. The advice is free or low-cost. A counselor can help assess your situation, offer alternatives and guide you through the modification process — if a modification is still an option.

You also should read attorney Stephen Elias' excellent book "The Foreclosure Survival Guide: Keep Your House or Walk Away With Money in Your Pocket."

What you shouldn't do is expect the lender to do the "right" thing, including honoring any promises or commitments made to you. The people who get loan modifications have to be tenacious, persistent and savvy about the process.

Liz Weston is the author of "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy." Questions for possible inclusion in her column may be sent to 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604 or submitted through her Web site http://www.asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.

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