Fall is the time of year when high-school seniors apply to the colleges they want to attend, and my nerves are getting a workout. How should we pay the college bills and deal with the complexities of the financial-aid process?
Here are several ways you can be equipped to better assist with your children’s college plans and minimize the negative impact of debt:
Make use of solid college-guide resources such as the Register’s annual “Catholic Identity College Guide” to help you understand the “Catholic” identity of the colleges you are considering. (See “Resources” online at NCRegister.com.)
Familiarize yourself with the financial-aid options available to you and your child. Helpful websites include FAFSA.ed.gov and FinAid.org. Remember that there are many scholarships and grants available in addition to student or parent loans.
For those with younger children, start a regular college-saving-and-investment program. Benefit from the power of compound earnings, especially tax-free earnings using a 529 plan.
Keep your housing costs at a level that will allow you to own your home free and clear by the time your oldest enters college. Being able to shift resources from housing to education at that time is a big help.
Expect your children to work a reasonable amount during the school year and full time during the summer to help offset college expenses.
Depending on the circumstances, borrowing for a portion of college expenses may be productive. The prudent amount will depend on many factors, including the child’s expected earning capacity. A good rule of thumb would be to borrow no more than can reasonably be expected to be paid off within five years of graduation.
College is an important time in the life of young people, and a good experience will prepare them well spiritually, intellectually and vocationally for their future life. Such an education is worth sacrificing for. Applying the above steps will help you make prudent decisions. God love you.
Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV). Register for “My Veritas Plan” at VeritasFinancialMinistries.com.