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How to Financially Prepapre to Send Your Child Off to College

You shouldn’t have to go into debt or dole out your retirement money to send your kids to college… but it does take some planning.

Your child’s current age will obviously determine how much time you have to plan and save before you have to start writing checks for college.

The first thing to do is to try and figure out where your child will hope to attend college, will it be a state college or perhaps a local community college?  The costs for these two differ immensely and the costs associated with attending the particular school such as housing and text books vary also.

The cost for one year of tuition and fees varies widely among colleges. In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2013–2014 academic year averaged $22,826. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $44,750. But what makes up these charges? Of course, financial aid might help cover some costs, but it is good to know how they add up to a total “cost of attendance” figure provided by the college.

There are other costs associated with attending college other than tuition… there are a number of fees ranging from library access, parking, ID cards, athletic facility use, lab supplies, computer access and registration.  At some schools first year students are required to pay for orientation and administrative costs (a one-time fee).  And don’t forget graduation fees!

All of the costs can be daunting leaving a parent’s head spinning trying to figure out just how they are going to be able to pay for everything.  Below we will explore a few tips on paying for junior to attend college.

Get an early start

The more time you have, the more you can put aside for college expenses. A great form to familiarize yourself with is the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and take the time to work with calculators to predict your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The best thing you can do is to start planning right now!

Your accountant

A professional like your accountant, tax professional or financial planner can help you determine what you can afford to save, and spend, on your child’s college education all without sacrificing your future financial stability.

Include affordable schools

If your child is of the age to start making a wish list of prospective colleges, make sure that there are some affordable schools on their list.  They might want to attend an Ivy League school, but without a scholarship or your winning of the lottery, it would be best to have a few “second choice” schools on the list that are more affordable.  Look for les popular schools that offer the same programs that the popular schools do.

Apply to schools your child is overqualified for.

Schoolfamily.com has some great advice on this… “The best way to get leverage in merit aid is for your child to apply to a school that will be thrilled to have her. In other words, if your child’s test scores and grades are at the top of a particular school’s range, she’ll have a good shot at being offered an attractive financial aid package. And some private colleges with high sticker prices have more lucrative aid packages”

Look for scholarships

Does the place you or your spouse work offer scholarships? How about the local Clubs or the Kiwanis? Does your church have a program to help kids go to college? Tim Higgins, a Massachusetts-based certified financial planner and certified college planning specialist, says you won’t find these scholarships on the Internet. “They’re available inside your [child’s guidance] counselor’s office,” There is a pretty good chance that your child can get one of these local scholarships because most students never bother to ask about them.

If you have to borrow

First try for loans that are subsidized.  The FAFSA will help you figure out your eligibility. There are also unsubsidized loans that nearly any student will be eligible for. I advise against it but, if you are in a solid equity position in your house, you can obtain a HELOC (Home Equity Line Of Credit).  Have you child be the one that is the borrower if at all possible… this is not to say that you will not help them pay for school, but borrow as much as possible in your child’s name. This will help them build their credit and relieve you of the debt burden.

529 Plan

A 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. It is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created these types of savings plans in 1996.

According to SavingforCollege.com, “529 Plans can be used to meet costs of qualified colleges nationwide. In most plans, your choice of school is not affected by the state your 529 savings plan is from. You can be a CA resident, invest in a VT plan and send your student to college in NC. Check to see if your institution is eligible under 529 rules.”

No matter what route you take for saving for your kid’s college education, the key is to start as early as possible!

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