Two of the most popular ways for any eligible U.S. citizen to pay for a college education are federal Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. For people of any age who meet a basic set of financial requirements, Pell Grants and government loans make a college degree more accessible. Unlike Stafford Loans, Pell Grants are usually only available for an undergraduate education. To qualify for any government loan or grant, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
To qualify for a Pell Grant, which does not have to be paid back, an individual must have a family income of less than $50,000 per year. However, most grants are awarded to those students who have an annual family income of $20,000 or less. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, which accumulate interest while the student is still in school, are offered to most financial aid applicants. However, subsidized Stafford Loans, in which the government forgives any loan interest that accrues while the borrower is in college, are usually offered only to those who are low-income and would also likely to receive Pell Grants.
First-year college students still financially dependent on their parents or guardians can borrow up to $5,500 with a Stafford Loan each year. Second-year students may borrow up to $6,500, and those in their third year of college and beyond have an annual limit of $7,500. On the other hand, financially independent students in their first year of higher education may borrow $9,500 with a Stafford Loan. Second-year students may borrow $10,500, while those in their third, fourth, or fifth year of college have a $12,500 Stafford Loan borrowing limit. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year through the Stafford Loan program.
Pell Grant limits have varied widely over the years due to a fluctuating economy. By 2012, the government hopes to increase these educational grants to $5,400 per year. In recent years, the grant limit has ranged from $4,050 to $4,731.
Financial aid students must be enrolled in at least six credit hours, or half-time. This is usually is two college courses. In addition, they must be accepted in a two-year or four-year college degree-granting program to receive any financial aid.
If you are convicted of possessing or selling drugs while receiving any kind of federal educational aid, you will be disqualified for future participation in financial aid programs. In addition, those who continually fail to make acceptable progress toward a degree or do not pay back their federal loans usually cannot receive further financial aid. If you attend more than one school at a time, you can only receive a Pell Grant and/or Stafford Loan for one educational institution. Prison and jail inmates are also ineligible for federal grants and loans.