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Every day, there’s a story or headline in the news media about college. From new college campus experiences and virtual learning to affordability, many students and parents are facing a lot of changes in the area of education.

If you have student loans, you might also be asking yourself, “Will my student loans ever be forgiven?” I know that’s a big question on my mind, too. We make it our mission to look out for our members’ best interests in this changing environment.

Conversations about college and student loans are also happening in my own household as my son will be heading off to college in a few years. I recently joined host Emily Bigham on the Navy Federal MakingCents Podcast to share my top pieces of advice for students and parents. Here are some key takeaways.


Prioritize Saving for College

I frequently travel with my son for football games, and from these experiences, he’s expressed interest in going to college out-of-state. According to the College Board, average tuition and fees for out-of-state students at four-year public colleges was over $27,000 for the 2020-21 academic year. Average tuition and fees at four year-private institutions reached more than $37,000. He may get a scholarship, or he may not, but I want to be prepared no matter what.

The sooner you start putting money aside for college, the more funds you’ll have available when the application process begins. It’s a similar idea to the purpose of building a personal emergency fund. Having college savings also helps reduce your debt during school and post-graduation.

Navy Federal offers a number of options to help members reach their education savings goals, including Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESA) and Education Money Market Savings Accounts.

Consider All Available Financial Aid Options

First things first: make a list of your top schools and take note of their key deadlines, from application deadlines to financial aid deadlines. You’ll also want to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as you can, which opens each year on October 1. FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal student aid, including federal loans, grants, federal work study or scholarships. Once processed, the school’s financial aid office will send you a financial aid package or an award letter that details how much aid you’ll receive and your remaining expected costs for the year. If you’re applying to multiple schools, compare offers to see what works best for your financial situation.

Keep in mind, your financial aid award through federal student loans, grants, scholarships or the Post-9/11 GI Bill (if you have access to it) doesn’t always cover all your education-related expenses. If there’s a gap, explore private student loans. These are offered through financial institutions like your bank or credit union. Unlike federal loans, your lender will decide if you qualify for the amount requested based on your creditworthiness. Pro tip: Having a creditworthy co-signer can also help improve your chances of loan approval.

Create Healthy Financial Habits While In-school

Choosing an in-school repayment plan that requires you to make loan payments before graduation can have benefits in the long run, such as helping you build your credit history now rather than waiting until you’re in the real world. For example, Navy Federal offers members the option to make a low monthly payment of $25 or to make interest-only payments, which is an easy way to reduce the overall cost of your loan, too.

Finally, getting a student loan and managing your monthly payment can be overwhelming. So, remember to care for yourself—whether through meditating, connecting or taking advantage of the resources available from your school. Keeping your mind healthy is also an important part of financial success.

Talk with one of our student loan experts at 1-877-304-9302 (M-F, 8 am – 8 pm, ET) to learn more about how we can help with funding your education.

Author Bio: Brittany Mills is Assistant Manager of Education Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.