College · May 13, 2020

4 Proven Ways of Paying for College

As your mailbox fills with college and university brochures, you might start flipping through these catalogs with your child and get excited to hear them talk about their dreams for the future. After all, you're looking at more than a list of classes and highlights from campus—this may be the place where your child spends four years that will shape their professional and personal life.

Of course, these exciting times come with challenges, too. One of these is the task of paying for college. As you help your young adult decide what school to attend, discussing the financial realities with them may be a useful exercise.

1 Choosing a public versus private college

One of the biggest impacts on the cost of a degree are the payment options for college and choices between a public or private institution. It may help to weigh the different offerings of each. Help your child make a list of what's most important to them in a college or university, and then compare their top choices. For example, a state university may be more affordable than a private liberal-arts college.

If your child's heart is set on a private institution, you can still save money without compromising choices. Many private colleges and universities have generous transfer policies and allow incoming students to transfer up to two years' worth of general education credits.

Attending community college is often the most affordable option, as these institutions typically cost less than $5,000 per year. Opting for this route may allow your child to complete their first two years of higher education at a lower cost. If they attend a community college close to home, they could also continue living with you and save money on room and board. Community college may also be an ideal choice if your student isn't sure what field they want to major in. They can try out different classes at a more affordable rate to better understand their passions and goals.

2 Save early and often

It's never too late to start putting away money for college. The sooner you begin, the better. Saving $100 per month from the time your child is born until they're 18 will help you save $21,600, plus interest if you save your money in an interest-bearing account.

But don't panic if you're late to the savings game. Any money saved can help, regardless of what age your child is when you start. Try setting up a savings account that automatically takes $25 to $50 out of your checking account per week or per month—you may be surprised by just how far that amount goes over time. Our saving for college calculator can assist you with understanding how much you need to save for college.

3 Get the grandparents involved

If a grandparent or another family member wants to help your child pay for a college education, there are two smart ways to do so.

The first, a 529 plan, allows individuals to invest in a college savings plan that will provide their chosen recipient with funds for tuition, books and rent. The downside is that this contribution will count as your child's income when they apply for financial aid, which may result in less overall assistance being offered.

The second option is for grandparents to help out with paying the tuition bill directly to the college. With this method, the grandparents' payments aren't considered income and therefore don't factor into any financial aid calculations. However, the grandparent also wouldn't be able to write off the tuition cost as charitable giving like they would with a 529 plan.

4 Seek out financial aid opportunities

The common scholarship search sites are a great place to start when looking for help paying for college, but there's typically a lot of competition for these funds. You might consider broadening your search to include scholarship and grant opportunities within your community. Your place of business might also have scholarships available for children of employees or tuition discounts to select universities. Your child may also be able to secure a part-time position at their college or university of choice, which could help pay for their schooling.

If you still need help after looking into these resources, student loans are a viable option for many students and families. Subsidized loans tend to offer the best interest rates among the federal student loan options, and there may be flexible, income-based repayment plans available through the federal government after your child graduates. By borrowing only what you need for schooling and helping your child stick to a budget for their living expenses, you may be able to help them keep their loan amounts manageable while also teaching them valuable financial lessons.

The prospect of paying for college doesn't have to hang heavy over this important time of your family's life. Start saving early, and research all the funding options out there—any amount could play a big role in your child's future.


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