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College Affordability: A Family Discussion

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

College is the beginning of your child’s transition from the protected world of home and family to independent living and the responsibilities of adulthood. How do we best prepare our children for this transition? In a word, communicate. As parents we are good at communicating our values, beliefs and expectations but we sometimes fall short in the area of financial literacy.   Start the communication early and try to include the financial aspects of paying for college in every discussion related to this transition.

Money: whether considering if there is enough or how best to allocate it, often creates anxiety for parents and kids alike. I suggest first managing your own parental anxiety by deciding what you want your child to learn about financial literacy related to paying for college.  It’s a good opportunity for you to teach your child money management skills. Be patient, be honest, and don’t be afraid to hire a professional financial advisor to determine how to make the best financial decisions.

The ultimate goal for you and your child is finding the right balance between a perfect college match and what you can reasonably afford to pay without leaving you or your student with too much debt. Frequent communication and clarifying expectations is the best place to start.

Parent Communication Tips:

  • Begin the college financing discussion early, no later than 9th grade, and continually talk about finances as a family.

  • Be as transparent as possible about your family’s financial realities. Help them understand that limitations to pay for college do not mean that you do not love them.

  • Make the challenge of paying for college a family one; be clear that you are all on the same team and as parents you will support your child’s education in whatever ways you can.

  •  Encourage and perhaps even help your child to apply for every single grant and  scholarship available.

  •  Teach your child that one should borrow money only when necessary and preferably for things that will appreciate in value. Will their prospective career path match the cost of the degree?

  • Teach your child how interest works. Many students don’t realize that the amount they borrow is not the amount they must repay when college is over.

  • Learn as much as you can with your child about the financial aid process.

  • Estimate the total amount of student loan debt and the monthly loan payments your student will have with various college choices. Talk about how college loan repayment will affect your student’s post-college career choices.

  • Estimate the total amount of additional parent debt needed to completely pay for various college choices. Discuss how this choice will impact other family choices in the long-term.

  • Prepare teens for managing money before they leave home.

  • Teach teens about the importance of protecting their identity.

The more parents do to prepare a student for understanding the financial realities of college, the more prepared their student will be to understand the realities of achieving financial independence. If parents wait until their child has chosen a college before having the conversation about paying for college, the process becomes one of stress and anxiety instead of information, education and celebration.

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