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You got into college and made the big decision about where to go. The next crucial step? Paying for college tuition by the due date.

There are consequences for missing a bill or paying late, such as dropped classes or late fees, so paying your tuition bill on time should be a priority. Here are seven tips to help you navigate the process:

1. Check the E-Bill Account Information

Your billing statement may be sent electronically so it important to update your online billing account information and include an email address you check regularly. Opting to receive a paper bill is an added protection.

Also, check to see if your account allows you to add an authorized user, so your parent can also have access to the online billing system to make payments.

2. Look for Notification of Disbursement

The school is required to notify the student in writing each time loan money is disbursed into the student's online billing account. This notice includes the loan amounts and exactly how and when the loan will be received. It is important to ensure you receive this information each time you are expecting loan disbursements and also check that the information sent is correct. Otherwise the money may not be deposited on time, or you may end up falling short of funds.

3. Review the Tuition Billing Statement

Once you receive the billing statement, go through it with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors. Check to make sure all of the amounts for tuition, fees and room and board are correct. This should be done right away. If not, it could result in costly snags, which means extra calls and paperwork with the bursar's or financial aid office.

4. Line Up Your Funds

The funds to pay your tuition will most likely come from several sources including financial aid, student loans, and savings. It's important to understand your school’s payment schedule so you can make sure your funding arrives before the payment deadline.

This is especially important if you are using private student loans to fund your education costs, where you will need enough time to apply for the loan and go through the application process so the loan will disburse on time. You can read more about the private student loan application process here.

If you are enrolled in a work-study program, those paychecks will be sent once a month, so plan accordingly if you are using these funds toward tuition.

5. Mind the Rules for First-Time Borrowers

If you are a first-time, first-year undergraduate borrower of Federal Direct Loans, you may have to wait 30 days from the first day of the enrollment period to receive your first student loan disbursement. You can contact the school's financial aid office to see if this applies.

Students who are first-time borrowers of Federal Direct Loans are also required to go through entrance counseling before their funds are disbursed. This is a 20 to 30 minute online session that helps you understand what taking out a federal loan entails. You'll also want to make sure to review and sign your Master Promissory Note (MPN), which is a legal document that contains the terms and conditions of your loans.

6. Make Sure Requirements are Fulfilled

To qualify for federal student aid, you must meet the credit-hour requirements and register for the adequate number of classes. You will also need to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which is defined by the school. If you are not making payments (aka deferring payments) on your federal student loans until after graduation, then you must be enrolled at least half-time. To prevent potential hiccups, any issues should be addressed well before the first disbursement is scheduled to hit your account.

7. Know Your Payment Options

The school may have several tuition payment options you can choose from. In some cases, you can opt to make monthly payments that are spread out over the course of 12 months. While this may be easiest on your finances, some schools charge a fee. You may also have the choice to defer part or all of your payment. Contact the bursar's office to find out what payment arrangements are available.

For information specific to your school, contact the following offices with your respective questions.

Office When to Contact
Financial Aid Office Questions about your financial aid award or fund availability
Bursar’s Office Administrative questions, such as when to expect billing statements from the college, payment options, loan disbursement amounts and timing, or when to expect money to deposit into your account

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