As we’ve noted, a staggeringly large percentage of families haven’t planned adequately for their children’s college tuition. Of course, with tuition rising between 5 and 8 percent annually over the last decade, inflation certainly hasn’t kept up with one of our most crucial expenses in life.
It’s easy for a parent or a child-to feel depressed about inadequate savings for college as little as two or three years before graduation. To that, we offer three words: Get over it.
The bottom line is that it’s tough for any parent, even higher income parents, to pay full freight for their kid’s tuition these days. In truth, every dollar you save for college is one less dollar you have to borrow.
That said, the watchwords for late starters are diligence and creativity.
Financial aid, scholarship and found money
The savings to tuition gap is coming at a perilous time for federal college student assistance in general.
The current trend in federal support of college funding is toward merit funding and away from financial needs-based assistance. What does that mean? Merit-based assistance usually takes the form of scholarships, while need-based aid typically appears as grants, loans, work-study, etc. Without getting into the political and class ramifications of this, it’s important to know that today’s student looking for help needs to come to the game with a higher record of academic achievement to qualify for the maximum amount of help.
What this means for parents who have come late to the college savings party is that they need to focus on a combination of savings, loans, and scholarship/grant opportunities to close the gap. It’s important to know that every family’s situation is different, and this article will serve only as an overview of options, not a specific answer guide to fit each student and family.
For a better barometer of where you stand, consult a financial adviser such as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING professional. Some CFP professionals have specific training in college planning and can help you at any stage of the savings game. For more information, go to www.PlannerSearch.org to help you find a member of the Financial Planning Association in your area with specific skills to match your needs.
The College Board, the 106-year-old not-for-profit organization that involves colleges, secondary school districts, and higher education non-profits in providing information for prospective college students, has several calculators on its website (www.Collegelsoard.com) including a financial aid EasyPlanner (http://apps.collegeboard.com/fincalc/ep/wizard-home.jsp) that allows a visitor to see if he or she has saved enough for college, then what their options might be from direct aid, scholarships, and loans.
Home equity lines. They are among the best solutions.
Age-based funds. These funds have investments that grow more conservative as the child nears college age. Many 529 plans feature such one stop, “age-based” options.
Make sure you’re watching fees. If your investment horizon is short, you need to watch how much you’re paying to invest. Focus on stock funds that charge less than 1 percent in annual operating expenses and select bond funds with expense ratios of 0.75 percent or lower.