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Published: May 01, 2024 8 min read
Chess piece sitting on top of a stack of money
Lixia Guo / Money; Getty Images

Out of the way, April showers and tax season — May and its flowers have entered the chat.

Like always, there’s still work to be done on the personal finance front, no matter how sunny the weather gets. Normally, prospective college students should have received their financial aid awards by now — but that’s a lot more complicated this year thanks to the botched rollout of the new FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

That’s why we’re here with information to help college-bound students and their families understand their financial aid letters and make an enrollment decision. We also have some insight into how homebuyers can navigate the spring season amid high mortgage rates; and even though tax season is over, now is the perfect time to set yourself up for success next year.

Keep reading for the best money moves to make this May.

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1. Read your financial aid offers carefully

Congratulations are in order for all the undergraduates-to-be who got into their colleges of choice; good going to you all. That said, anyone who has gone through the stressful college application process knows it was even more difficult this year thanks to the chaotic overhaul of the federal financial aid application.

Usually by this time of year, most students would have already received their financial aid offers, made an enrollment decision and put down a deposit. Instead, millions of students are only just now getting their financial aid offers for the 2024-25 school year because of the snafu-riddled rollout of the new FAFSA form.

Despite the delays, you should take the time to ensure you actually understand the ins and outs of your financial aid letters before committing to a school. The letters are packed with confusing information and terms that can make it difficult for families to get a true idea of what they’ll actually pay out of pocket. To make things even more complicated, there’s no uniform format required by the U.S. Department of Education that dictates how colleges should share financial aid information, making it difficult to compare costs between schools.

According to a 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office, 41% of colleges don’t include the price a student will have to pay after accounting for student aid in their offer letters. Half of schools understate the actual cost of matriculation by leaving out key expenses.

There are a few numbers that you should pay close attention to when reviewing your offers. First, make sure you understand the actual total cost of attendance, which is more than just tuition and fees. You also have to account for dorm fees or other housing expenses, meal plans, books, transportation and miscellaneous living costs.

You’ll also want to carefully review grants and scholarships, often referred to as gift aid. Your net price of attendance is the total cost minus that gift aid. The amount that's left will have to be covered with student loans, parent loans, savings or current income. Money has a detailed breakdown of what all these numbers mean, and for terms you don’t understand, you can also check out StudentAid.gov’s searchable glossary or this dictionary from the nonprofit Uaspire.

Money also has more guidance on decoding financial aid letters and what to do about the common ways financial aid letters aid can confuse families.

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2. Don’t panic about high mortgage rates

It’s not news that high mortgage rates — which recently blew past 7% for the first time this year — have made the housing market even more challenging for homebuyers. While experts had hoped inflation would cool and prompt the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in 2024, it’s not looking like that’s going to happen in the near future.

In fact, mortgage rates might even continue to rise, according to Freddie Mac deputy chief economist Len Kiefer.

“Given the current [economic] trajectory we’re on, it’s looking like there’s still some upward momentum,” Kiefer tells Money. “In the very near term, we’ll probably see these rates be at the current level or a little bit higher.”

Even so, plenty of people will need to move and buy homes this year. Rather than stress out about market forces, homebuyers can instead focus on what they can control to make the shopping process a little easier. Making sure your credit score is in tip-top shape is one way to potentially tap into lower mortgage rates. If possible, reducing any existing debt you have can also make you more attractive to lenders.

While you may want to get the buying process over with as quickly as possible, homebuyers should exercise patience. Take your time, and be sure to inspect the property you want to buy to make sure it’s the best fit for the best price.

You can find out more about what experts expect for this year’s spring homebuying season, and how to navigate it, by reading our latest story.

3. Adjust your tax withholding

We know that taxes are probably the last thing you want to think about now that the federal filing deadline has come and gone. But with your tax refund (or tax bill) fresh in your mind, now is the perfect time to update your W-4 for 2025, especially if you’ve had any major life changes that could affect what you owe in taxes.

While it may seem exciting to get a large tax refund, you could be getting that money sooner. If you’re overpaying, you’re essentially giving the federal government an interest-free loan with every paycheck. On the flip side, not paying enough can result in an unexpectedly big tax bill.

Adjusting your tax withholding ensures that you don’t have too much or too little of your income withheld throughout the year. You can check your withholding with the IRS’s handy calculator to avoid any surprises around tax time. You’ll definitely want to make an adjustment if you’ve gotten married or divorced, had a child, or lost or changed your job.

To change your federal tax withholding, complete and submit a new Form W-4 to your employer, as well as your form W-4P.

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