6 Financial Aid Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask

While many colleges will soon send bills for this fall’s tuition, most won’t expect payment until late summer. That gives college-bound students and their families time to finalize financial aid details. Here are six basic, but crucial, things to know about using student loans, scholarships and more to pay for college.

1. When I take out a student loan, where does the money go?

Student-loan dollars go directly to your school and are typically applied to outstanding tuition and fees first. If there’s money left over, the bursar’s office will issue you a refund of the remaining balance through a check, debit card or electronic bank account transfer.

Tip: Don’t panic if you get the tuition bill before your financial aid disbursement. Colleges cannot credit federal aid to students’ accounts sooner than 10 days before classes start.

2. Can I use my student loans to cover living expenses?

Yes, if there’s money left after tuition and fees. If you’re living on campus, the school will apply that money toward room and board costs. Students living off campus will receive a loan refund and they should plan to use it for necessities like rent, food and transportation.

Tip: Just because you can take out loans for living expenses, doesn’t mean you should if you can cover those costs another way. Remember, you’ll have to repay anything you borrow, plus interest.

3. How do I get money out of my 529 account?

Simply contact your plan provider — you can make a withdrawal online or you can make a request via phone or mail. The complicated part is figuring out how and when to use 529 savings — that’s a topic worth consulting a financial advisor or tax professional about.

Tip: Money you withdraw from a 529 plan is tax-free if used for qualified higher education expenses. You’ll owe federal income taxes and a 10% penalty on earnings from the withdrawn amount if you use the money for nonqualified expenses like transportation, and fraternity or sorority dues.

4. What should I do if I didn't get enough financial aid to cover my college costs?

First, appeal your aid award letter with your college if your financial situation has significantly changed since filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If your situation is largely the same but you need more college funds, contact the school’s financial aid office to ensure you’re aware of all options. Some colleges may offer more financial help if you show proof of a better aid package from another institution.

Beyond that, be creative when pooling college funds. For example, apply for scholarships and plan to work part-time during school. As a last resort, you may need private student loans. If you go this route, teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.

This article was originally published on NerdWallet.

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