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When Should You Start Thinking About Your Child's College?

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As a parent, you want the very best for your child. And that goes for everything from the neighborhood you live in, to the meals you eat, and definitely their education. And if higher education is something you see in your child’s future, when should you start thinking about your child’s college?

It’s a great question, but there isn’t one, easy answer. So, we’ve rounded up several to help you decide how to go about preparing for your child’s college.

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  1. Should you even worry about your child’s college?

Going to college is a huge decision, especially with rising tuition costs. What’s more, a degree is often necessary to help a young individual advance their career and develop important skills. Combine that with social expectations and peer pressure, and parents can easily feel worried about their child’s college decision.

According to this report from Sally Mae, parents feel a slew of negative emotions when it comes to saving for their child’s college education. They feel overwhelmed, annoyed, frustrated, scared, and some just prefer to not think about it at all.

But one thing to remember is that planning too soon can actually hold your child back, rather than allow them to grow. Here’s the thing. For some teenagers, it can be very difficult to know exactly what they want to study, let alone what they want to do with their lives.

And until they’re sure, going to college is an expensive way to figure it all out. So, one way to look at it is to simply encourage your child to explore their own interests, and see whether these interests can be adequately met with a college degree. If so, then you can start to look at programs, tuitions, financial aid, and housing.

  1. When should you start saving for your child’s college?

According to Scott Vance, an investment advisor, the perfect time to start saving for your child’s college is right now. With tuition costs going up, it’s never too soon to save for this expensive endeavor.

But Vance reminds you that there are simple ways to do this without putting yourself in financial jeopardy. So, before you think about re-mortgaging your house, consider doing these things:

  • Ask family and friends to give financial gifts for baby showers, birthday presents and religious milestones, such as First Communion, etc. Then, you can invest this money into a college fund and over the course of many years, you end up with a nice sum to buffer the costs of your child’s college degree.
  • Open a 529 college savings plan, where your contribution is taken out of your paycheck automatically. What’s more, many 529 accounts are tax deductible.
  • About 43 percent of parents surveyed in this report were saving for their child’s college using general savings and CD’s, while 23 percent were choosing investments to prepare for tuition costs, etc.
  1. How much should you save?

There’s no definitive answer to this question since college tuitions vary greatly. However, if you follow what is called the “2K rule”, it’s likely that you’ll be able to save half the cost of a four-year degree from an in-state public university, according to Fidelity’s vice president of retirement and college products, Keith Bernhardt.

What is the 2K rule? Just multiply the age of your child by $2,000. That can keep you on track with college savings. According to this plan, you will have $12,00 put away for your child when he or she is 6 years old.

  1. Is it a parent’s responsibility to pay for their child’s education?

The truth is only 36 percent of American middle-income families set aside money for their child’s college. And this may be because parents don’t believe it is their responsibility to cover the cost of their child’s college. And for many, that might not just be a belief, but the truth.

Between mortgage payments, retirement plans, home maintenance and repair, your own student loans, car payments and all the other costs of living, it’s no surprise that there’s not much left to save for your child’s college.

If you’re looking at your current financial situation and don’t see many opportunities to save, but would still like to, consider assessing your spending habits.

Are there weekly and monthly expenses that you can cut back on, or do away with entirely? Daily coffee runs, dining out, the latest car models, magazine subscriptions and so many other expenses are commonplace. But you might find that you can do without them and save quite a lot, too.

Because it’s difficult for some couples to save, they figure that their child can borrow loans when the time comes to start college. But according to the senior vice president of Edvisors, Mark Kantrowitz, borrowing is usually more expensive than saving.

  1. You don’t have to put all the pressure on yourself to cover your child’s college costs

Depending on the age of your child, you might not have enough time or money to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it’s encouraging to remember that scholarships and work-study programs can help to assuage the sting of tuition bills.

And don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to encourage your child to contribute to their college expenses. As studies show, students do better in school if they pay their own way.

Of course, that’s not to say that taking responsibility for your child’s college will make them a poor student. It’s just a good reminder that if they have to pay (some or all of their tuition), it may not be such a terrible thing after all.

  1. How to get the conversation started around your child’s college

If your son or daughter is a high school student and considering going to college, it’s important that you have open conversations about what this will entail.

It’s an exciting and wonderful time of their life, but it’s also an expensive one, and having an honest conversation about money, debt, savings accounts and student loans is a must for both parents and child.

As in every healthy relationship, communication is key, and it’s important that if your child is expected to pay for either a portion or all of their tuition, that they’re aware of what this actually means.

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