THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Finding last-minute tuition money

There's still time to find funds for this semester's college tuition. But you'll have to move quickly.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- It's only a couple of weeks or even days until school begins. And if you don't think you'll be able to get a handle on your college tuition bill, here with your guide to last minute money.

1. You still have time

If you haven't filled out your FAFSA form -- that's the application for federal student loan aid -- you still have time to get it in. But make sure you don't wait too much longer. Ideally you can get this form in before the fall semester starts, or shortly thereafter says Mark Kantrowitz of

If you qualify for the Stafford loan or a PLUS loan, you'll still get your money, although you may not be able to get a Perkins loan or state money since those funds are likely depleted by now.

Most scholarships are probably gone for this year, but start looking now for scholarships and grants so you can get a jump start on next years financial aid.

And don't forget to ask your employer about tuition assistance programs. Some companies have these programs in place for employees and their dependents.

2. Get on an installment plan

An increasing number of colleges are allowing folks to pay their tuition bill in installments, rather than all at one time.

For a fee of $50 to $100, you can spread your payments out without having to pay interest. For example, if you owe $9,000, you could pay $1,000 every month. This is a great way of preventing debt from piling up. Ask the bursar's office if this option is available to you.

3. Ask for a review

If your family endured an unusual hardship since filing your taxes, let's say you lost your job, or your salary was cut, you can apply for a professional judgment review. In a PJ -- as it's known in the industry -- your FAFSA can be changed to reflect the hardship and you could qualify for more government aid.

Keep in mind it's tough to get a professional judgment review if you've sustained losses in your 529 plan or 401(k). Foreclosures generally have no impact on getting more aid according to Kantrowitz.

4) Be wary of peer-to-peer lending

Peer-to-Peer lending, where a stranger lends you money and you pay them (with interest) without going to a bank, is getting more popular. But this industry is really in its infancy. In fact, less than 10% of borrowers get any amount of their needs fulfilled.

You're better off trying to land yourself a job to help defray the costs of college -- if you're a dependent undergrad, you can earn up to $3,500 and that will have no impact on your aid package says Kantrowitz.

And don't forget that it's never too late to save for college. In fact, if your state allows a state income tax deduction for your 529, it's worth it to keep saving. We're talking about a 3-10% discount on the tuition.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions.

Talkback: Are you concerned about not making the college tuition bill? Tell us what you did about it and share your comments below. To top of page

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