So you have a student going to college, maybe they have already made the all-important decision of which college to attend, and even chosen a major. And, lucky you, the tuition bill just came in the mail. So now what?
Your eyes may have glazed over at the initial award letter you received (if that’s really the case, I’d encourage you to check out my other blog posts on the EFC and Financial Aid Awards, or sign up for our online courses and videos). But now the college has attached an out-of-pocket dollar amount to your letter and you are expected to pay up.
Don’t panic! Here are some tips for studying your tuition bill and contemplating your payment options:
1. Know what you are actually paying for, and when it’s due.
a. Double-check all of the fees listed. Typically colleges provide detailed line items for each cost that goes into your total amount due. Accidentally sign-up for campus healthcare? That’s generally a large additional cost that many families don’t need to pay (if your student is on your employer’s/family plan). What about the meal plan? There are typically several options available depending on how much students plan to eat in their dining hall throughout the week.It’s also good to note that additional costs may apply that are not listed, like books and supplies, or bedding and toiletries.
b. Double-check the semesters and due dates. Often, colleges will list fees for an entire year for you, but then break it down by semester as well. Typically, the college is only requiring payment for that first semester, which brings me to my next point.
2. Consider a College Payment Plan. Typically, colleges ask for payment for an entire semester, due the week or day before classes begin. However, there is generally some wiggle-room with that amount if you need it to be broken up into monthly or bi-weekly payments going forward. Many colleges even offer formal “payment plan” options just for that reason. And no extra fees! This can certainly help to provide an alternative to spread out your costs, especially if you were considering private loans.
3. Consider your other funding options.
a. Always check with your College Funding Advisor or trusted Financial Advisor to make sure your tuition payment plan fits within your budget, and that you are using all of the funds and/or income options available to you. You probably don’t want to ruin your retirement plans, or your current cash flow, for your student’s debt.
b. Consider federal loans. You can typically take advantage of any federal loans at any point in the school year, even if you had written-off that option previously. Haven’t filed a FAFSA? It’s not too late! Contact us to help you through the process.
c. Consider other loan options. See my latest blog post on loans and our current recommended lenders.
4. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact the college. If you are really struggling with why your student has a $500 lab fee or $200 “misc.” charge, don’t hesitate to ask questions until you feel confident about writing that check. Your concerns are valuable, and at the end of the day, you should be the one in control of your own money and your family’s future.