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It is often said that they biggest expenses most people encounter in their livers is their home and their car. Well, it’s not necessarily so anymore. Depending upon how many children you have and what college or university they attend, paying for their education can cost not only more than a new car it can cost more than an average house. So when’s the best time to start planning for college expenses? You guessed it. As soon as you find out a child is on the way.
Before we get started talking about 529 Plans and scholarships, grants, and loans let’s remember the concept of good debt and bad debt. Well bad debt we don’t really need to talk about but let’s keep in mind that taking on debt to pay for higher education is considered good debt but, only if certain criteria are met.
First there must be a good sense of why the student wants to go to school and what they think they will accomplish by doing so. We know that kids won’t always know what they want to do and they may change their minds several times before graduation. But at least they should be serious enough about their education to have their major goal be something other than getting out of the house and partying for four, five or six years.
They should choose an institution that matches their level of maturity, their educational goals and their academic achievement. Then there must be a sincere effort to exhaust all other means of financing. Yes there are student loans available and they make a great source of last resort funding. But they shouldn’t be taken just because they are easy to get.
But now, let’s go back to the beginning.
Congratulations, Now Start Planing for College
Sure you're thinking, "I've got eighteen years before I need to think about paying for college." But you've been wrong before. Yes there are doctor and hospital bills to pay and clothes and food and, um, diapers. But before you spend too many sleepless nights consider this, you can go along way towards paying for college if you just start, even in a small way, now.
Yes, you need to readjust your insurance policies and you’ll need to find a pediatrician but you should also start learning about 529 plans as well as private prepaid tuition plans and Coverdell accounts.
Now even if your young one is approaching adolescence its not too late to start saving. But staring early is always the best bet.
It’s Time to Start Thinking about College
When the pre-teen cuteness turns to full-blown teenage hormones, it’s time to start talking about responsibility. The responsibility of college is joint one. It requires teamwork. When your child is old enough to start working and earning money, it’s time to learn about saving for future expenses. No, you can’t expect your teenager to save enough to pay for college completely but getting them started on a savings plan is a must.
They must understand that their actions will play a large role in determining where they go to college and the experience they will have there. By far the best thing the can do is to get good grades. It’s also important that they demonstrate good character. The can do this by being involved in school and community activities. They must also know that for most students the choice of which college they attend is based on a variety of factors, including money. And that paying for college can include parental and student savings, scholarships, and, dare we say it, loans. Loans that must be repaid.
Now we don’t want to overwhelm a fourteen year old with the thought of thousands of dollars of debt and scare them away from college altogether. We just want to introduce the idea and get them started thinking about the process. And get them involved including earning and saving money.
It’s Almost Time – The Final Preparations
Now it’s time to deal with choosing a college, filling out the applications and actually paying the bills. You’re going to need to file the FAFSA, and find out if you’re eligible for grants, including the Pell grant, scholarships and loans. Now unless you’ve already defaulted on a government backed student loan you will almost certainly be eligible for one. The student will be able to get a small one and the parents will be able to get a huge one. But again, loans, while the may be necessary, should only be considered as a last resort.
Don't pay for college unless you've fully investigated how to get free money to pay for it. I'm talking about scholarships. And here's the good news, you don't have to be an athlete or an "A" student to get one. Ok, it might help but it's not necessary. There are hundreds of scholarships with very specific and varied requirements. So if you don't apply because you didn't bother to look because you didn't think you'd qualify, shame on you.
My guarantee! If you don't apply for a scholarship you won't get one. If you do apply you might get one, or more. And scholarships are free money, you don't have it pay it back. So why wouldn't you look for free money? I don't know.
Here's more information on paying for college.
Paying the Bill
Congratulations! You’ve made it through college into the real world. Now it's time to pay the bill. Most college loans have repayment terms that allows you some flexibility when it's time to pay. You may be able to defer payments for a while and you may be able to save a considerable amount of interest by consolidating multiple loans into one payment.
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