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Terry Savage: Off to college

Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency on

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 RootCollegeAdvising.com helps families start preparing for college well in advance, with advice on everything from getting financial aid and finding affordable schools to 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, such as changes in income or sudden medical bills or other new expenses. And demonstrate how much money you need to fill the gap.

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 the college has 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 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-19 pandemic.

—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, it may come as a shock, but once your student is age 18, you have no right 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 reloadable 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: You might be considering a home equity loan as 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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(Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including “The Savage Truth on Money.” Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.)

©2022 Terry Savage. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

 

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