Terry’s Columns Off to College

Off to College

By Terry Savage on August 05, 2022

If you’re one of the millions who will head off to college in the next few weeks, here’s some practical financial advice to make sure you get off to the right start.

Eva Dodds is an accredited and experienced college adviser. Her company www.RootCollegeAdvising.com helps families start preparing for college well in advance, with advice on everything from getting financial aid, finding affordable schools, writing all those applications, and even negotiating for more money.

Even at this late stage, Dodds says the right approach could make all the difference between affording college and having to take a pass. She calls these summer months “the meltdown season” – when families of accepted students suddenly confront the affordability issue and may even decide their child can’t attend.

Dodds says the schools don’t want to lose the students they have already admitted, so financial aid offices are willing to listen to your requests. But, she cautions, you must be specific about what has suddenly changed in your family finances — changes in family income or sudden new expenses, such as medical bills. And demonstrate how much money you need to fill the gap.

Last Minute Financial Aid
Some other suggestions:
• Ask if you can delay your start, until mid-winter or even next year, so you can work and save money for school.
• Ask if they have online courses you could take, while living at home and cutting the cost of attendance.
• And as a worst-case ask if you can defer admissions while attending a community college – but check to make sure those credits will be accepted at the school of your choice.

And Dodds has some other important money-saving college tips:

• Consider applying now for a job on campus or in the immediate neighborhood. Don’t wait until everyone arrives seeking work!
• Use the website www.Handshake.com, where paid college internships are posted and matched.
• Search for off-campus housing to save money on room and board. Fewer colleges require dorm living since the Covid era.
• Buy used textbooks and plan to sell them back to pay for next year’s books.
• Wait to buy technology until you arrive on campus and check out the student discounts, which can be far better than your local stores.

Parents and Money
It may come as a shock, but once your student is age 18, you have no rights to learn about their grades, or to request any medical information, or any disciplinary records – even if you are paying their tuition and student loans!
Suggestion: Have your suddenly-adult child sign both a medical and business power of attorney. You can easily find the forms with an internet search of “power of attorney for college students”.

Even if you have the financial plan in place to pay for college, have you worked with your child to discuss a budget and how you will handle/distribute money for living expenses, beyond what is paid to the school? Expenses for books and fees, as well as dining out and the inevitable purchases at the school bookstore, can really add up.

You could start with a re-loadable debit card, depositing an “allowance” every month. This card won’t build a credit rating but will teach money management. Search for a reloadable debit card with no ATM fees at CardRates.com.

Or start with a “secured” credit card in the student’s name – a card that doesn’t require a credit history. The credit limit is the amount deposited into a savings account, and parents can add to the balance monthly. Prompt payment will build a credit score for the student. One example is the “Discover It” secured card at Discover.com.

One other reminder for parents: A home equity loan might look like a last desperate resort for making the dream of college happen. But rates on home equity loans float – likely higher. Many are interest-only, with a balloon at the end – just when your child is graduating and student loan payments come due. Even worse, interest on money for college borrowed on a home equity loan is not deductible.

This year the last-minute college financial crunch is made more difficult by the surge in inflation. Everything costs more than you had budgeted or even imagined. You’d better plan for it now. And that’s The Savage Truth.



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