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5 steps toward financial planning for college

5 steps toward financial planning for college

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For the 2015-16 school year, the average cost for in-state residents at a public university is $9,410. That cost increases significantly for private institutions and out-of-state residents.

College costs include a plethora of expenses, such as tuition, meals, books, supplies, transportation and housing.

Looking to save money on higher education? Many graduates from community colleges find they can save money on their postsecondary education by earning a two-year degree before transferring to a four-year university for their bachelor’s degree.

The following steps can also help in making college more affordable or can at least prepare you for the expense.

1. Savings and borrowing options

If you’re a parent, consider researching college savings options that include tax-free 529 savings plans (rules and fees vary by each state), prepaid tuition plans and individual retirement accounts. Other savings options include tax breaks like the American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning credits and the student loan interest deduction.

Loan options that make it easier to pay for college (although not reducing the cost) include federally subsidized loans and state-supported low-interest loans with payments deferred until graduation without accumulating interest.

2. Financial aid

For those already at the doorstep of a higher education, you might consider applying for one or more of many different scholarship opportunities. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out which scholarships are worth more and what their requirements are to maintain eligibility.

You might also consider applying for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which could put you in line for a Federal Pell Grant. Some colleges also have funds to help students cover the cost of tuition and fees.

3. Think outside of the box

Savvy investors might choose to put money into riskier, high-growth funds when their children are young, but it’s best to reduce that risk by the time your child reaches 14. And, be careful, investing under the child’s name can result in higher tax rates.

Other methods of funding a college education can include the Coverdell Education Savings Account (earnings can be withdrawn tax-free when the student begins college), an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), savings bonds, a custodial account, a variable life insurance policy and the good old bank savings account.

4. Pay attention

Seek out online resources like College Data, The College Board and the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid page to help you financially plan for college. These and other sites can help you with creating a budget (for both students and parents of students), balancing jobs and school, applying for aid, loans and scholarships (even the “unusual” ones, like scholarships for bowlers, knitters, feminists, tall women and water skiers, to name a few) and researching affordable institutions.

5. Tuition assistance programs

You can find tuition assistance through employers and institutions in which you might be interested. A growing number of employers have recognized the value of incorporating tuition assistance for their employees. Companies realize that, by helping their employees pay for college, they benefit when workers improve their skills and education, which often adds to their income and company loyalty.

Four– and two-year institutions are increasingly offering tuition assistance programs, such as SLCC Promise at Salt Lake Community College, guided by the belief that everyone, regardless of income level, deserves affordable access to a higher education. Promise programs throughout the country “have proven to be the single most effective education reform initiative communities or states can undertake to simultaneously improve high school and college performance for their students, families and economy,” the Campaign for Free College Tuition reports on the website www.freecollegenow.org.

Salt Lake Community College

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