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5 Ways to Save Money on Online Education

by Amy Hinz Horn

Making more money with an advanced degree through online education sounds good; saving some money in the process sounds even better. Many students are aware of the advantages associated with eLearning like flexible schedules, accessible professors, and quality classes. However, not everyone knows that distance education provides opportunities for students to save money on everything from tuition to technology to taxes. Consider the following five ways to save money on online courses and you'll see...they really make cents.

1. Take full-time credit loads. When students have to travel to campus to take classes, oftentimes they are only able to fit one or two of these traditional classes into their busy schedules. However, the flexibility that online courses provide students makes it easier for them to enroll in school full time. And full-time credit loads can mean big time savings.

According to Dan Dement, public relations manager at DeVry University, students can end up saving thousands of dollars by taking full-time credit loads, anywhere between 14 and 19 credits per semester, at DeVry University. For instance, DeVry students who are enrolled in 13 credit hours or less pay $525 per credit hour while the standard full-time semester tuition—which enables students to take up to 19 credit hours—costs $7,160. Dement does the math and explains, “If taken separately on a part-time basis, those 19 credit hours would cost $9,975 (19 X $525). By taking a full-time 14 credit load, a student could save $190 each semester. If that same student takes a full-time 19 credit load, he/she saves $2,815 each semester.”

2. Transfer credits. With countless colleges and universities streamlining the transfer process, taking online courses at other institutions and having the credits transfer is a very viable option.

Gina Bolotinsky began her college career on the campus of Boston University. While taking a leave of absence from the university, Bolotinsky discovered she could continue earning her degree by taking online courses through the State University of New York (SUNY) online network. Bolotinsky jumped at the chance. With high-quality courses offered at affordable prices—generally $200-$500 each—Bolotinsky saw it as a win-win situation. Her adviser ensured that all of Bolotinsky’s online courses transferred seamlessly, helping Bolotinsky to earn her B.S. in Communications from Boston University and save money in the process. (Should you decide to go the transfer credit route, be sure to check with your school regarding rules and requirements.)

3. Stay home. Home is where the heart is, but it can also be where the money is for students enrolled in online programs. By living at home and taking online courses to complete a degree, students save thousands of dollars in expenses.
Obvious costs, such as room and board, which averages about $10,000 a year, are eliminated completely for distance education students as well as some not-so-obvious costs, usually hidden “student fees” like health care, bus service, recreation center, technology surcharges, and materials fees. Although students enrolled in online classes sometimes pay a technology fee directly related to their classes, they don’t end up paying all the extraneous fees that campus-bound students do.

Even students who live off campus and would otherwise commute for classes save on gas money, parking stickers (and tickets!), and raised insurance rates.  All in all, Bolotinsky estimates that she saved $20,000, if not more, by taking online classes as opposed to traditional courses on campus.

4. Use the local library. Libraries can be an online student’s best friend, especially since they most likely don’t have access to the same research facilities a student on campus does. From providing Internet access to tutorial services to locating books, articles, and other resources around the world, libraries nowadays can meet the needs of students—for free!

And while libraries can save students lots of money, librarians can save students lots of time. Instead of buying textbooks at the bookstore or searching several websites for the best buy, librarians can locate textbooks through their global network and get them in students’ hands in no time and at no cost to them. Library staff members can also find those elusive journal articles, provide past editions and out-of-print books, and even guide students in MLA formatting. Often, their assistance can be provided completely online, which suits many online students just fine.

Distance education students can also use computers and other resources in the library for free instead of paying service provider fees and other costs associated with having Internet access at home. Or, online learners can get a wireless connection for their laptop and hit the library—or any other local jaunt—that allows wireless access at no cost.

5. Study Tax Breaks. There are three key tax breaks that all college students should investigate: the tuition and fees deduction, the Hope credit, and the lifetime learning credit. The tuition and fees deduction reduces the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000. The Hope credit is a tax credit of up 100 percent of qualified tuition and expenses, a maximum of $1,650 for students enrolled at least part-time. The lifetime learning credit is a tax credit of up to 20 percent of the first $10,000 paid for qualified expenses, and does not have an enrollment requirement.

However, experts at H&R Block point out that other tax deductions might be available for students who itemize on their tax return. As Patty Dattilo, a tax preparer for H&R Block, explains, “Individuals are often unaware of the tax breaks and deductions they are afforded as students, especially if they itemize. Students should keep bills and receipts for anything and everything associated with their higher education and then consult a professional come tax time.” It is quite possible that supplies, utilities and other expenses incurred as a college student enrolled in online courses can parlay into tax deductions. Although the specifics of such deductions vary according to each individual’s situation, many higher education students do qualify for some, if not several, tax breaks according to Dattilo. Tax professionals can provide distance education students with the best options available to them.

Online learners should look into all the opportunities to save money that are available to traditional students as well. Scholarships, grants, loans, work-study programs and fast-track classes can save all students—including distance education students—thousands of dollars. In fact, many distance learning institutions are providing more and more of these money-saving opportunities as the popularity of online education continues to grow.

Students look forward to earning more money as a return on their investment in education. Why shouldn’t they look forward to saving more money as they pursue that valuable education?