[caption id="attachment_43253" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Financial aid letters don't always distinguish between grants and loans."][/caption]

Financial aid award letters can be misleading.

In one common practice, for example, colleges highlight the total "out of pocket'' cost for attending. The figure is intended to give students an estimate of how much they'd have to pay after outright awards, such as grants and scholarships are factored in.

But in calculating the "out of pocket'' figure, some schools also reduce the total bill by the amount students would have to borrow even though loans accrue interest and ultimately push...

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