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Dear Liz: I’m a 19-year-old student who will be transferring to a four-year college from community college in the fall. My parents don’t really play a part in paying for college or determining where I go or where to apply; I do all that myself.

I’m seriously considering a university that costs about $46,000 a year and has offered me $39,200 in financial aid (the majority of which is grants, not loans).

However, I have no idea how I’ll be able to pay for the $6,800 gap. My parents don’t have much savings, and I’ve never asked them to pay for anything college-related.

I was planning to get a summer job, and I’m applying for scholarships, but what if that’s not enough?

Do you have any advice for me as to the best way of going about this?

Answer: You’re getting a substantial discount on an expensive education. You should investigate whether you can get a better deal at a public school, but the gap between the cost and the aid you’re being offered might wind up being about the same.

If that’s the case, talk to your parents about whether they can help. If they can’t, consider filling at least some of the gap with federal student loans. The loans in your aid package may be need-based, but you probably qualify for additional federal loan money that doesn’t require you to demonstrate need.

Those loans, plus your earnings, should allow you to pay for this education.

Winning scholarships may not get you much further ahead, since colleges typically compensate by reducing the grants you’re given.

You want to use federal student loans before you turn to the private student-loan market, since private loans are more expensive and less flexible.

If you follow those guidelines, you should be able to comfortably afford your payments once you’re out of school.

You can find out more about student loans and paying for college at FinAid.org.

Dear Liz: I’ve had a Bank of America Visa card for years. My interest rate was lowered from 7.9 percent to 5.4 percent a few months ago, but I recently got a letter saying that if I did not agree to a 12 percent rate, I could "opt out" but no longer use the card. I never carry a balance but use the card extensively. It just seems unfair that they can do this. Can I report them to some agency?

Answer: Like other issuers, Bank of America has been raising interest rates across the board, but what’s mystifying is why you care. If you never carry a balance, you don’t pay interest, so the rate is irrelevant.

If you object to card issuers raising rates on principle, contact your congressional representatives, who are contemplating changes that would make it tougher for credit card companies to alter rates and terms.

Otherwise, simply accept the new rate and use the card as you always have.

Liz Pulliam Weston is the author of the book "Your Credit Score: Your Money and What’s at Stake." Questions for possible inclusion in her column may be sent to 3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd., No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or via the "Contact Liz" form at www.asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.

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