The Parent Child Talk: How Will You Pay for College

Spring is in the air and so are those college acceptance letters. Now it’s time to choose. There is so much to consider; student life, available programs of study, where are friends going. While you may not want this decision to be about the money, at least part of it has to be. For many kids, the school they select will have financial consequences that will last a very long time.

Now, before your kid gets invested in a particular school choice, is a good time to have a talk with him or her about how you’ll pay for college, if you haven’t already. Since so many kids will take out student loans to pay for school, it’s important that they are clear about what they are in for before they commit.

According to an annual survey conducted by Sallie Mae, the student loan provider, only a bit more than half of Americans have saved any money at all for their kid’s education. Among those who had saved for college, in 2016, the average amount set aside by families with teenagers was almost $23,000. This will certainly be a help, but it won’t go very far. The following chart compares savings with the average annual cost of college tuition, fees, room and board based on data from the College Board. The average savings will cover just one year at a public four year school.College savings and costs 2016

Given this data, it’s no wonder the average college graduate in 2016, who had taken out student loans, left school with over $37,000 in debt. With loans like this, the standard monthly payment would be around $370 using current federal student loan interest rates. This is important information when thinking about where to go to school and how to pay for it.

Say that your daughter is a stellar student, and she is offered a scholarship to attend a small private school. The cost to attend will only be $25,000, instead of the $45,000 list price. Given that the in state school will cost $20,000, that seems like a good deal. However, if you can’t fully pay for her education, the extra $20,000 for four years at the private school will add $200 to her monthly student loan payment. If she knows this ahead of time, she might make a different choice.

Here are five things to discuss with your student before she chooses a school.

  • Tell your student how much you will be able to pay. This includes what you have saved and what you are willing to commit to out of your income. The converse of this is how much should she expect to pay. Only 70 percent of parents of teenagers have discussed their expectations with their child.
  • Outline options for raising the extra money. In addition to student loans and scholarships, your student may be able to raise some money through part-time or full-time work. Taking a gap year to work and save up for school is a reasonable approach.
  • Help your student understand the implications of their choices. Student loans may be hard to avoid, but they can certainly be minimized if you understand your trade-offs. You can calculate the monthly payments given different loan amounts on the Federal Student Aid web site.
  • Provide context for the information. Estimate the kind of monthly salary your student might earn given her career interests. Payscale’s College Salary Report is a good place to start. It wouldn’t hurt to also talk about average living expenses. Career Trends has a cost of living calculator. Don’t forget to show the impact of taxes. How much of her take home pay will be left after student loan payments?
  • Consider starting school at a community college. The average cost per year at public two year colleges is only $3,520 assuming your student can stay at home while she attends.

Parent’s everywhere fret about the cost of college and how they will afford it. If college is around the corner for your family and you haven’t saved enough, speak frankly with your son or daughter about their role in paying for their own education. Young people need to make choices about their education with all of the information available.


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