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Discount Options for Retirees Headed Back to School
published Aug 8, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior
Are there any financial resources available to retirees who are interested in going back to college? Since I retired, I’ve been thinking about going back to school to study some topics of interest to me, but living on a fixed income I could use some financial help.
College-Bound Senior
 
Dear Senior
There are actually numerous discounts, tuition waivers, tax credits and other deals that can help retirees go back to school a little cheaper. Here’s what you should know.
 
Back to School
From continuing education and enrichment classes to graduate school, more and more retirees are heading back to the classroom looking to pursue their interest, connect with other people or retool for a new career. But with the high cost of college these days, paying tuition, fees and books can be a big strain for many older adults living on a fixed income. Here are some tips that can help you save.  
 
Discounted Tuition
Your first step is to contact your nearby college to find out what, if any, deals they offer retirees. Many community colleges and some four-year colleges for example, allow senior citizens to audit classes for free and many offer significantly discounted tuition rates for those who take them for credit. In fact, according to Fastweb, a college financial aid resource, 21 states and Washington, D.C., offer free tuition for senior citizens at some or all of their public colleges. (Textbook costs and sometimes fees are however not covered.)
 
Credits and Deductions
Uncle Sam can offer some assistance too in the form of tax credits and deductions. For credits, check out the Lifetime Learning tax credit that allows students of any age to claim up to a $2,000 credit each year for college or other post-secondary school expenses. And the American Opportunity credit, which allows an annual tax credit up to $2,500. The government also provides tuition and fees deductions for students that can cover up to $4,000 in expenses. But, you can choose only one of these three tax breaks – Lifetime Learning credit, American Opportunity credit, or the tuition and fees deduction. To learn more about these benefits, visit the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education Information Center, which you can access at TaxBenefitsForEducation.info.
 
Scholarships
While most scholarships are aimed at traditional undergraduates, there are a number of scholarships offered specifically to adult and non-traditional students. Two good websites to help you find them are fastweb.com and scholarships.com, both of which offer huge scholarship databases and easy-to-use search tools.
 
Lifelong Learning
Beyond college classes, another popular and inexpensive option for retirees is Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs). These are noncredit educational programs that involve no tests or grades, just learning for the pure joy of it.
 
Usually affiliated with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array of academic courses in such areas as literature, history, religion, philosophy, science, art and architecture, economics, finance, computers, lifestyle issues and more.
 
To find an LLI, call your closest college or search the websites of the two organizations that support and facilitate them – Osher (osher.net) and Elderhostel (www.roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp). Together they support more than 500 LLI programs nationwide.
 
If you don’t find an LLI in your area, depending on where you live, there are other organizations that offer non-credit older adult education courses like Oasis (oasisnet.org, 314-862-2933), Shepherd’s Centers of America (shepherdcenters.org, 816-960-2022), and SeniorNet (seniornet.org, 571-203-7100), which offers computer courses at learning centers around the country. Also, be sure to contact your local public library to see if it offers any programs for seniors. 

Savvy Senior is written by Jim Miller. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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