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How can I finance college when I'm disabled?

May 15, 2014

By Richard Barrington | MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

college savings

Q: What options are available if you have become disabled and do not have funds saved for college needs?

A: Financial aid options depend on each person's circumstances and resources, and your best bet for finding out what your options are is to go to the federal government's financial aid website at fafsa.gov. Prioritize grants and scholarships first, since these do not have to be paid back. Once you have established what grants and scholarships are available to you, then you can assess whether it is worth borrowing to make up any remaining amount needed.

Beyond that, here are some general guidelines about financing college:

  1. Early savings are the key. This may not be an option for your situation, but it does illustrate the importance of people starting their college savings as early as possible. A year of college is too expensive for most people to finance with just a year of savings. In your case, since you did not start early, delaying college to save up some money first may be worth considering.
  2. Working a couple years first can help. Not only can this be a good way to beef up college savings accounts, but it can also be an opportunity for young people to learn a little bit about what kind of work they do and do not like. In your case, if your disability limits your work options, this could be an opportunity to find out what types of careers might be practical in your situation.
  3. Choose a major with solid employment prospects. The website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics at bls.gov is a good place to research which jobs are in demand, and what degrees can qualify you for those jobs.
  4. Look at a repayment schedule before you borrow. If you are thinking of financing college with a student loan, take a look at the repayment schedule first. Then look at the projected earnings for your chosen career, and see how much of a burden repaying the loan would put on your budget.

Education for its own sake can be worthwhile, but given the extremely high costs involved, most people have to look at it more pragmatically. From a pragmatic standpoint, education should be looked at as an investment for which you can foresee a reasonable return. This means knowing what type of career is available to you, what type of qualifications are necessary for that career, and what is the most cost-effective way of obtaining those qualifications.

A disability may create additional challenges, but your main goal should remain the same as everyone other prospective student's: getting a good return from the investment you make in your education.

Got a question about saving, investing or banking? MoneyRates.com invites you to submit your questions to its "Ask the Expert" feature. Just go to the MoneyRates.com home page and look for the "Ask the Expert" box on the lower left.

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