Get Into Debt Fast: Tips for Last-Minute Student Loans

OK, so you got into college, but then there was a gnarly homework assignment: The 103- question Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You put it off; now it's overdue. And so's your tuition. But there's still hope.

Assume it's too late. Your school may have had a "priority filing deadline" for the FAFSA in March, April, or even February. The deadline at both City College and Columbia, for example, is April 1. Getting in close to that date is especially important if you're attending a pricey private school, where most of the financial help comes from the college itself. Those who file late may miss out on some of the first-come, first-served funds like school scholarships, Perkins loans, and work-study gigs. But you can get Pell Grants, FFEL loans, or Direct Loans year-round, as long as you send in that FAFSA. The fastest way to get the form in is to apply online at Your school should receive it in three to five days.

Work with your financial aid office. Thelma Mason, the financial aid director at City College, says August is her busiest month. If a student files a FAFSA in August and the loan money hasn't arrived, her office often helps them out. "We will let the bursar know this student will probably get this $5,000, and they will get the bill taken care of"—even if you apply for loans the day before classes start.

Turn to private loans first. Private lenders often advertise their wares online as "no hassle" or "last minute." While the turnaround time for these loans can be as fast as 24 hours , they come with higher interest rates and fewer repayment options.

Ask for a second opinion. Let's say you're looking for last-minute aid, not because you were late but because your college of choice offered a financial aid package that just doesn't work for you and your family. Option One is to write a letter to your financial aid office asking for a "professional judgment review." If there's any recent and outstanding factor that makes your current outlook very different from the one represented on financial aid forms, there's a chance your aid officer could come up with a better package for you. Option Two: Enroll in a cheaper school. Over at City College, Ms. Mason says she gets plenty of August applicants for this very reason.

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