Obtaining financial assistance to help pay for flight training tuition and program fees is common, as most students aren't in a position to pay every expense upfront. Considering the rewarding salaries earned by commercial pilots, it makes sense to seek out loans and other types of aid to invest in an education at a school like Parkland College. However, there are several ways that prospective student pilots can lose large sums of money if they aren't careful when seeking financial assistance. Below are ways you can protect yourself during the search process and keep your budding career as a pilot from being grounded before it even begins:

Don't pay for help when applying for federal financial assistance

One of the primary avenues for students seeking loans and grants is to apply for financial aid directly from the United States Department of Education. This process commences when students fill out a document known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As indicated in the title, there is no charge to apply for these opportunities, and that's why you should never be coerced into paying for assistance. Here are a few hints that can help you avoid being taken during the process of applying:

  • Know that the official website for applying for federal aid is www.fafsa.gov - Only government agencies are permitted to use the .gov domain suffix, and if you encounter any other similar websites with different suffixes, such as .com or .net, beware before completing any information, especially if they charge a fee for their services.
  • Use free information resources available to all individuals - If you have questions during the financial aid application process, the good news is there are numerous avenues for assistance that don't cost a dime. Your first resource should be the college itself; all flight programs that participate in federal assistance for students will have an office to help facilitate your application and award. In addition, you may also contact the Department of Education directly to obtain answers to your questions; they maintain an active, comprehensive website with tons of information about questions commonly asked by students.

Be cautious when applying for private student loans

In some circumstances, flight school students will need to consider private financing of their educational expenses. For example, federal aid may not be available for a given program or there may be additional expenses that will not be covered by the amount of federal aid awarded. While a private loan is a legitimate pursuit, especially when all other means have been exhausted, be aware of several factors that can make a private loan very costly for unwary students:

  • Interest rate - while federal student loans are set at a fixed rate of interest, some student loans may have variable rate terms. In addition, the interest rates of private loans is often higher than federal loans.
  • Credit history - federal student loan eligibility is not usually tied to credit-related criteria, except for prior default on loans, so they are available to students from all walks of life. However, private loans are often limited to students with good credit histories. Though you may still be able to obtain a student loan with limited credit, chances are high you will be required to present a cosigner to the loan to ensure repayment.
  • Interest subsidies - for certain students, federal loan interest is partially paid by the federal government. These subsidies help keep the overall loan balance lower than if the interest accumulates in its entirety. Private loans, on the other hand, do not provide interest payment assistance for borrowers, and you can expect to be responsible for the entire amount.

Protect your financial information from theft

Information theft is a serious problem in America; the cost of identity theft to its victims is estimated to be nearly $25 billion per year. That's why you must take measures to guard your personal information when seeking financial aid, particularly when looking online. Below are several ways you can keep yourself safe:

  • Use a secure connection to the Internet - When transmitting sensitive data online, be sure the connection is secured from hackers and others who may attempt to intercept your information. In the browser's web address bar, look for the prefix "https" before entering information on a page. Pages with the prefix "http" are not secure and are highly vulnerable to online thieves.
  • Keep financial aid log-in and passwords private - Any user log-in information you create during the financial aid search process should be kept completely secret. Do not share passwords, even if requested by those who purportedly work for a college, government agency, bank or other financial aid provider. In addition, be suspicious of email requests for information and verify the legitimacy of any such requests by telephone.
  • Get immediate assistance if your information is compromised - If you have reason to suspect your financial information has been stolen, immediately contact the financial aid office at the institution at which you are applying or other lenders who may be assisting you. They may instruct you to file a credit alert with the credit bureaus; this will help prevent someone else from using your information to open new accounts under your name.