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7 Ways You Can Afford to Go Back to School

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You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to go back to school. If you know where to look, financial assistance is available for any level of involvement, whether it's online or in the classroom, for credit or just for the enjoyment.

Here's how you can afford it. 

1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA).

To find out about grants, federal student loans, and work-study jobs. Visit fafsa.gov or call 800-433-3243 to request a paper FAFSA;

2. Take advantage of tax breaks. 

Investigate the annual $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit or the $2,000 Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. If you're not eligible for a tax credit, check out government tuition and fees deductions for up to $4,000 in student expenses. Visit the IRS Tax Benefits for Education Information Center or call 800-829-3676 and request a copy of IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education;

3. Open a 529 college-savings plan. 

College savings plans allow you to save for college tax free, and are available in every state. Learn more at savingforcollege.com. In many states you can even deduct part or all of your contribution on your state tax return;

4. Look for nontraditional scholarships. 

A number of national and local scholarships are specific to nontraditional students. Try fastweb.com and scholarships.com;

5. Call your financial aid office. 

The college or university that you plan to attend might offer financial aid options, tuition waivers, or discounts for students 50 and older. If you aren’t concerned with getting a degree, try a community college or a local four-year college. Many allow older students to audit courses for free;

6. Take a free or low-cost course online. 

Massively Open Online Courses offer thousands of certificate and no-certificate courses by the best universities around the world. They are a free or cheap way to learn from their instructors anytime, anywhere. To learn more, visit mooc-list.com; and

7. Take an in-person college course. 

Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs) are usually affiliated with colleges and universities and offer more than 500 noncredit educational programs nationwide. These programs are designed for retirees--no tests, no grades. Call your closest college or search Osher and Road Scholar, the two organizations that support and facilitate LLI programs.

If you need a low-interest loan to afford the classes or program you're interested in, visit CES Credit Union.

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