FAFSA: 5 Tips When Paying for College

By Mohamud Abdi and Tubias Johnson

It is very important for future college students to understand the importance of finding ways to pay for college. College can be very expensive if students do not choose to play the game smart. Don’t end up finishing college with a huge amount of debt to pay. Understand Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and how it works.

Illustration By Najee Person

Illustration By Najee Person

                               What is FAFSA anyway?

FAFSA is used to determine the amount of money a family is expected to contribute to the price of attending a college/university. After providing necessary documents, Student Financial Aid Offices at the college/university decide how much money can be awarded to the student.

The factors in determining student costs include:

  • Pell Grants
  • Work-Study
  • Loans
  • Scholarships

What do I need to apply?

  • Social Security Card
  • Drivers Licence or Proof of Residence
  • W2 Forms
  • Income Tax Returns
  • Any Bank Statements( from either you or guardian)

What should I be aware of?

  • Third party sites: When applying online be sure to avoid third party sites. They will try to charge you complete steps in the application(Isn’t free in the name): Third party sites are screamers!  Examples: FAFSA.biz Fafsa.com
  • Giving your name: Just because someone says they can get you money does not mean it is trustworthy. Be cautious of who you give your name to, identity theft is a growing con, and can happen at any time to anyone.
  • Discovering from search engines: Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and  Bing are amazing. They have the ability to find you millions of results with just a few words. However, when attempting to get sources for FAFSA, grants, and scholarships you want your results to be limited as possible. The only guaranteed way to get credible results to resources is to find the URL. Students can be directed to fill out or complete the FAFSA application at the official FAFSA website. Once you get to the main site you will be asked to either sign up for an account or sign in and after that you can navigate your way to the form and fill it out there.

Hopefully, you are now more familiar with FAFSA. These are just a few of many tips to come but these tips will help you to get the funds for college that you need. 


How to Prep for the ACT

By Jenai Allen, Tubias Johnson, and Chris Thorp

Your score and your GPA is the most important thing colleges look for. The ACT is accepted by all colleges and universities in the United States. Your score is used to place you in classes you may need to take during your time in college. The score is added up and dived by 4 based off of what you receive in the four subjects. Math, Science, Reading, and English, also writing is optional for an extra $15.50. The scores on the ACT range from 1-36. A high score can bring tons of scholarships from universities and outside sources as well. If you don’t have that perfect score you aimed for its okay, still apply to schools and for scholarships because if your score improves you can always send in the new score.

Are you thinking about ways to get a great score on the ACT?

Here are a few preparation tips:

Eat breakfast!

It is scientifically proven that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” (Avoid taking the coffee/energy drink approach, it’s unhealthy and will result in an unexpected crash)

Sleep!

Leading up to your test date get your body in the habit of going to sleep early. The night before you should make sure you at least get eight hours of sleep.

Keep Peppermints Handy!

Since you will be sitting, staring at a book for four hours a great way to stay focus is eating peppermints. Peppermints are wonderful for improving memory, keeping you busy, and having fresh breath.

Prepare for ACT Costs and Waivers

The ACT can be costly, test fees range from $39.50(without writing) to 56.50(with writing) there are waivers that exclude high school students from paying the fee. Students must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Currently enrolled in high school in the 11th or 12th grade.

  2. Either a United States citizen or testing in the US, US territories, or Puerto Rico.

  3. Meet one or more indicators of economic need listed on the ACT Fee Waiver form.

If you meet all of the requirements, but blow it the first time, don't sweat it. Students get a total of two fee waivers. The waiver is used once you register, even if you do not test on the requested test date. This is why it is continuously emphasized that students show up on test day ON TIME and prepared.

Hopefully these tips have encouraged you and given you more confidence when its time to take the ACT! Good luck! 

Stores Opening Thanksgiving and Closing Black Friday

By Najee Person

Sometimes it takes the leader to step out of tradition for a higher purpose. Stores are going in different directions this year when it comes to Black Friday. On one of the biggest days of the year companies like REI decided to step back from Black Friday. Stores depend on this day as their biggest sale day of the year and prepare months prior for the hectic stampede of people that will be ready to buy. The question people have is “Why are companies like REI making such drastic changes this year?”

For the first time in history, some stores are taking a different approach than REI. Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy are deciding to start Black Friday on Thanksgiving. Stores making people choose between family time and shopping could be seen as unwise. With major stores making such a big decision you would think the competition would follow right along with the leading brands, so they wouldn't lose out on any sales. But stores like Staples and Game Stop announced that they would remain closed on Thanksgiving. So why the rush? Normal Black Friday times usually start at two o’clock in the morning. This year stores are opening 6 pm Thanksgiving day.  The major stores like Macy’s, Wal-Mart, and Target say that previous years people have lined up on Thanksgiving night awaiting the store to open. So these stores thought, ‘Why make them wait? Let’s take advantage of this prime opportunity!’ In which they did by breaking out of the tradition of opening their doors up earlier this year.

This year with all the changes going on and so many different stores doing new things this year there is one retail store that takes the cake for most drastic change. I am talking about the company REI who is deciding to take a step back from all the craziness of this week’s festivities. This means no Black Friday sales or earlier opening! REI wants their employees to reconnect with their loved ones and spend time with the people that really matter. This is a very gutsy move for REI to do on one of the biggest sales days of the year. CEO, Jerry Stritzke, says he wants his people out on the floor working to be happy. He understands that people have lives outside of REI and sometimes it can be difficult to schedule time with family and still clock in hour at the job. Will this continue to next year and years after and become a REI tradition?


Retail has definitely changed faces traditionally this year with stores opening earlier helping the shopper and REI helping its workers by closing up shop on Black Friday to spend time with the family. Its seeming like change is happening right before our eyes and the people are not complaining. Which option are you taking advantage of?

Why You Need to Understand Credit

By Najee Person

Knowing how to check your credit report is very important. It's super important when you have a credit card. Even if you have a credit card, you need to monitor your activity as well. Not only to prevent falling behind on your payments, but also making sure everything is accurate. Falling behind can affect you credit score for a long time and can play a big role when trying to get an apartment, home, or car. We don't need any problems getting what we want in those areas, so let's get skilled on our credit score!

Where do I start?

Federal law requires each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to give you a free credit report every 12 months if you ask for it. You can do this at Annual Credit Report.com. Also, you can always call your credit card company to check your score. Sometimes talking to a person on the line maybe better for some people to talk it out. But be careful not to inquire too many times in a year... pulling your credit report too many times many negatively affect your credit score. 

What is a credit report anyway? 

 
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Your credit report is the history on your card showing things that are past due or in good standing. Your credit report also consists of personal information like current addresses/past addresses, your social security number, and employment history. Sometimes, credit companies make mistakes and forget to take negative things off when you correct them. So read it carefully. Also, make sure there are not any suspicious items on there. A credit report can indicate identity theft. 

Why is my credit score important? 

 
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Depending on how often you pay your credit card bill will determine your credit score. The best score is 850. Think of 850 as an A+ in a honors class. Imagine your dream car. You walk into the car dealership and drive off the lot in your dream car without paying a dime upfront. That's what A+ credit can allow for you! The worst score is a 300. If a 850 is equal to an A+, the last thing we want is a 300.  

Hopefully now you understand the importance of your credit and where you need to go read your credit report, how to build/improve it, and the perks of a great score!

What the Strike of East St. Louis School District 189 Cost Administrators

By Dominique Shields

The salaries of teachers have always been a topic of conversation. Some people feel they don’t get paid enough, others feel that there is nothing wrong with the salary. Often, the teachers feel like they aren’t as valued as they should be. Very recently, teachers of East St. Louis went on strike. They wanted a fair and timely paycheck. Instead of working to give teachers better pay, the Illinois State Board of Education were trying to shorten the teachers’ salaries to save money for the school district over 10 years. As the teachers union and the school board were facing off, the students of East St. Louis High had to make some very hard decisions and face that the financial complications with their teachers could cost them their future.

Why did the teachers decide to go on strike?

On Thursday, October 1st, the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers rejected a suggested deal between their representatives and East St. Louis School District 189. The deal was for the district to save $10 million for the school district in 10 years by teachers being paid “a one-time payment of $2,000 and modest raises, but the amount of time it would take to reach top salary scale would have nearly doubled to 21 years.” The main reason teachers immediately rejected the deal was the time span it would take for them to reach their top salary, which is the most they can get paid over time. Before the strike, it took teachers 11 years, or 11 steps to achieve their top salary. If the deal was to be put in motion, it would take new teachers 21 years to get to their top salary. That poses a great problem with the current teachers and members of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers. They believe that the deal would drive away new and current teachers from the town because of the small pay and huge time frame to reach their top salary..

How the students were affected...

While the teachers stood outside the school, fighting for their rights and what they believe in, the students of East St. Louis High had to sit out of school for almost a month. There was no school because of the strike, which means there was no learning for the students. The seniors of East St. Louis High were affected the most. Students had to prepare for the ACT tests on their own, without any help, direction, or instruction from their teachers. Some students decided to leave town, like their star basketball player, Jeremiah Tilmon, who attends high school in Indiana now. But the other students who stayed around are in fear that their college dreams are over before they began. The likely to be valedictorian, Asia Stennis, weighed in on the subject stating that it was unfair to the students who have been working hard to get to that point.

How the strike ended...

The strike is over now, and everyone is happy that students can get back into school. On Friday, October 30th the teachers union and the school officials agreed on a contract that will take teachers 19 years to achieve their top salary, instead of the 11 years or the 21 years. It will take time to fully measure how much the strike affected the students, but it’s important that they are back in school and learning again.

Beware of Buy Here, Pay Here!!

Beware people!!! I know you have heard of the “Buy here, Pay here” car sales places throughout St. Louis. Even though their deals might sound nice, don’t be fooled by the glitter thinking it’s gold. Because it’s not people! Falling for this trap could put any financial situation in a void that you don’t want to be yours. If you don’t know exactly what I am talking about right now, I am happy you let you know.

 
 

 

You hear the ads on the radio all the time. You may even know a commercial by heart because you hear it so much. Not ringing a bell yet? Some places I’m talking about are InstaCredit AutoMart, CarHop, and OK Used Cars. Oh yes, those places. There are some things you should look out for when you visit these car lots. The red flags are:

NO FINANCIAL HISTORY? DOESN’T MATTER!

If you hear “We don’t care about your credit” it’s time to run for the hills because you are about to get duped. You shouldn’t be approved for a car so easily if you don’t have credit. Sure, some people don’t have credit for reasons like never having a credit card, but you have to wonder what this car lot is doing so differently that other lots aren’t to be able to offer cars to clients with no credit.

 
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Car lots like these line the main roads of main low-income neighborhoods in St. Louis. 

 

CRAPPY CARS/NO WARRANTIES

Most times, these lots will be filled with very unlikely contenders. You probably won’t get an eye sore for a car. You’ve got a cool looking ride. That’s great! But then the check engine light comes on. Now you’ve got to take it to a mechanic and pay to find out what’s wrong with your car.Now you have to deal with car troubles that will cost you a nice amount because you have no warranty for your lovely car you just got from the buy-here-pay-here car lot.

QUESTIONABLE LEGAL PAPERWORK

In a previous article, I mention everything you need to buy a used car. There is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done for a car to be sold to someone. If the right paperwork is not with the owner, there will be many problems to come, both legally and financially. These buy-here-pay-here car lots can have some dubious paperwork for you to sign when it comes time for you to actually get the car. Read over everything carefully before you sign anything. You don’t want to face legal issues down the road because of something you signed.

UNETHICAL AND HIGH INTEREST RATES

These car lot salesmen will approve you for a loan for your car, and you think it’s great because no one else will. It’s more than likely that you haven’t gotten approved because you can’t really afford to pay back a loan at this point in your life. So ask yourself, “What makes this time different?”

 
 

The answer is: you were sold a high interest loan. You could end up paying $22,000 on a car that was only worth $5,000 just off the high interest of the loan, that probably no one told you about. That is a dreadful difference in the amount of money coming from you. To think, you came to this kind of car lot because your financial situation isn’t the best and you just wanted a little help.

I know, sometimes we can’t help but grab that shiny object dangling in our face. Even though you might think it’s a good idea to check out these “buy-here-pay-here” car lots, it will not pay off in the long run. Take some time to get your financial situation in a better place. Research the topic a little more, and ask family and friends for advice. When you know you’re ready to buy a car, try going to a car lot that isn’t a “buy-here-pay-here” lot.

5 Reasons to Ignore That Too Good to Be True Craigslist Deal

Craigslist is a popular place to buy a used car and you can sometimes get a really good deal. But you have to be careful. It can also be a place where people get scammed. Here's our top five list of things to beware of when looking to buy that car you want.  

 
 

Too Good To Be True

That sports car you've always wanted selling for half the price it should be? Beware. 

Have you ever heard or seen a deal that was just too good to be true? Well, people selling cars on Craigslist will probably set you up for failure in this way. If you see the car of your dreams for the price of your dreams, think twice before believing it’s actually the price that the owner says it is. Cars that are priced on Craigslist far below current market value may be a good indication that it's a scam.

 
 

The Impostor

Is the seller really who they say they are?

We know that there are all types of people out in the world who pose as someone else. Whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, or other places, you see people telling you things that are too good to be true. In this case, Craigslist scammers often claim to be in the military currently stationed overseas to try and get you to send money overseas. Also, if you're going to meet someone to buy something, make sure you are extremely careful. Speak to the person on the phone, make sure the details check out, and TAKE A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER WITH YOU TO A SAFE, PUBLIC SPACE. 

 
 

The Duck And Dodger 

Are you speaking with the actual seller? 

This can happen when you're trying to get in contact with the seller for your purchase and you are connected with an unknown line. This is referred to as a “Pick up agent,” and it’s a dead giveaway that the deal or sale may be a scam. So be on the lookout for anything that doesn’t sound right. 
 

 
 

Money On The Wire

Where is your money really going?

If the seller is trying to get you wire the payment to or from another country, beware. Your payment can easily be “lost” this way, making it very easy for the scam artist to potentially get more money from you and disappear. Western Union is often the form of wiring requested. Most positive Craigslist transactions happen in person in a safe, public place with trusted friends and family with you. Don't wire your money to some unknown person just to get the deal. Know where your cash is going. 

 
 

Ready To Get A Sell

Are you being pressured? 

Another dead giveaway that something may be fishy is when the buyer or seller is very anxious to conclude the transaction. If they seem to rush the transaction, or give you a very short time to make a decision, there is usually a bad reason why. At this point, it would be time to back out and save yourself the hassle. Make sure you are completely comfortable with the pace of the transaction. 

On the Money does not endorse the use of Craigslist in transactions, nor did we receive money or advertising dollars to run this article. PLEASE USE CAUTION AND BE SAFE IF YOU DO DECIDE TO USE CRAIGSLIST! 

SAFETY DISCLAIMER FROM CRAIGSLIST: 

Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.

  • Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person.
  • Beware offers involving shipping - deal with locals you can meet in person.
  • Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union) - anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
  • Don't accept cashier/certified checks or money orders - banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
  • Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a "guarantee".
  • Never give out financial info (bank account, social security, paypal account, etc).
  • Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing "deal" may not exist.
  • Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.