What does it cost?
The cost of medical coding school can vary tremendously. Both the AAPC (American Association of Professional Coders) and AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association) offer a package of courses for a basic coding certificate for about $2,000. An associate’s degree (generally a two year program,) through a community college averages $6,000 for two years, but will give you better credentials than a certificate program.
Of course, programs accredited through the AHIMA will cost more, and this is one area you don’t want to skimp on. Spend the extra bucks to attend courses from an accredited program. A bargain is no bargain if you don’t pass the exam, or if a potential employer is not impressed by your resume.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
If you attend a college or university, you will have more options for scholarship assistance than if you train online. Additionally, scholarships are often available for people seeking degrees, as opposed to a certificate program.
However, getting an associate’s degree in Health Information management or other related field is a practical way to get started in your career. Contact your college’s financial aid office for an appointment to see what programs you may qualify for.
There are lots of unclaimed scholarships available from sources you may not have thought of as well. Some insurance companies offer scholarships to pay for books each semester, or perhaps you may approach a current employer about a scholarship if you are working for someone who needs your coding services in the future. Many hospitals will pay a percentage of school loans if you agree to continue to work for them after graduation.
All you have to do is apply–with no interest rates or promises to pay it back, ask your college financial aide counselor for more information.
If you are enrolling in a college or university program, you may have the option of getting a low-cost federal student loan. Schools may offer their own financing programs, but beware of the fine print. The interest rates are often pretty steep.
Colleges may however, use a program that offers students the chance to shop and compare loans from several lenders, and then choose the best fit for their needs. Typically an easy online process, answer a few personal questions and gain access to a list of potential lenders. You may apply for loans as soon as you get the results if you choose to.
If you are interested in applying for aid, you must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to determine the amount of money you will eligible to receive. However, you do have to plan ahead of time as it must be received by March 10 before the fall you wish to enroll. FAFSA is a detailed form and it may take several days to complete all the required information, so give yourself plenty of time.
Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA)
If you are the spouse of a member of the US military, your education may be provided for through the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. MyCAA funds are available from the Department of Defense and can be used for military spouses to cover a significant portion of the cost of tuition and fees. However, the program changes often, so contact your local military base to find out more.
If a home equity loan, school loan, or other low-interest loan isn’t available, consider asking for a loan from a family member. Draw up a contract and consider it as binding as if it were from a bank. Avoid credit card debt if you can. If you must use a credit card, choose one with a low interest rate, and pay on it as quickly as you can.
Rachel Ballard, RNC, BSN is a registered nurse with almost a decade of clinical experience in both acute care and public health settings.