Should you pay for your child’s college education?

Paying for your child’s college education shouldn’t sacrifice your future. (iStock)

The cost of a college education is growing pricier by the year.

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average student paid about $10.893 for tuition, fees, and room and board in the 1985-1986 school year. In 2017, that figure was up to $23,091 for tuition, fees, and room and board.

As tuition rates go up, many parents are struggling to decide whether they should - or even could - cover their child’s college expenses. If you’re wondering whether to spend thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars on education expenses, here are a few things to consider:

Other options your student has

Understanding the options for paying for school could make your decision a little easier. There are many grants and scholarships that could help reduce many out-of-pocket expenses your student may have.

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Undergraduate students can apply for Federal Pell Grants and scholarships to help cover education expenses. Students don’t have to pay back Federal Pell grants or scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships for students from every walk of life. Some thorough research could reduce the cost of college substantially.

Federal loans

Private loans typically require a cosigner if the applicant is under 21. If you cosign a loan and your student is unable to make payments, the lender can come after you for the money. Federal student loans don’t require a cosigner for students under the age of 21.

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Since federal loans are income-based, they don’t consider employment or credit score, which means they may be easier to get. Further, federal student loans offer flexible repayment options that you may not find with a private lender.

Private loans

Private student loans offer some benefits, especially if your student doesn’t qualify for a federal grant. There are many reliable private lenders, including:

  • Commonbond
  • Earnest
  • iHelp
  • MPower Financing
  • PNC
  • SoFi
  • Wells Fargo

If you are considering a private loan, make sure to use an online tool like Credible to review rates from multiple lenders. Make sure to discuss interest rates, APR, and fees before agreeing to work with a lender.

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Remember, your child can always apply for a loan, get a job, or take classes part-time. Paying for your child’s college shouldn’t take away from your retirement or make it difficult for you to meet your monthly obligations.

Talk with your student as soon as possible, so they can participate in saving and planning for college too.

Can you handle the responsibility?

Helping your child pay for college could be more costly than you think. Before you empty your savings accounts or head to the bank for a loan, ask yourself some questions:

  • Will paying for their college affect my retirement? You need to be able to take care of yourself. You should never take money out of your retirement account to pay for college. In addition to taxes, you may have to pay penalties for early withdrawal.
  • Can I afford to make monthly payments on a loan? If you take out a loan for your student, will you be able to make the monthly payments? Would a student loan affect your ability to qualify for other loans you may need in the future? If you're considering a private student loan, use Credible to determine what kind of rates you qualify for and determine your estimated monthly payments.
  • Do I already have money set aside for college expenses? If you already have some money set aside for college, can you provide your student with that money, and ask them to foot the bill for the rest of the expenses?
  • How else can I be supportive without paying for their education? Can you provide support by allowing them to live at home rent-free, help them apply for scholarships and grants, encourage your student to attend a less expensive school, or encourage your student to begin saving for college when they’re in high school?
  • Do I qualify for a Parent PLUS loan? A Direct Parent PLUS loan is a federal loan that allows parents to help undergraduate students pay for college expenses. Since it’s a federal loan, it offers benefits like income-based repayment and loan deferment options. Consider a student loan calculator to determine if this type of loan is an affordable option for you.