Paying for College

After buying a house, paying for a child's college education is the biggest expense most parents face. Check out this information-packed checklist to figure out how much it'll cost, where to save depending on your child's age, and more. Register with ClubMom to customize this checklist by assigning due dates, adding new tasks, scheduling email reminders, and more.

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Decisions to make early:

  Decide if you're saving for public or private college.
  Get the current average annual cost of private versus public school.
  Determine what college will cost when your child is ready to attend.
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Set up a timeline for saving:

  Determine how long you have before you need to shell out cash for tuition.
  Figure out how much you have already saved and how much you still need to put away to meet that objective.
  If you don't have one already, establish an investment philosophy and determine a financial strategy that works for your family.
  Consider hiring a professional financial advisor.
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When college is more than 15 years away:

  Consider opening an Education IRA.
  Consider setting up a custodial account for minors.
  Think about investing in aggressive mutual funds.
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When college is ten to fifteen years away:

  Look into prepaid tuition plans.
  Look into state-sponsored college savings plans.
  Begin to stabilize your financial portfolio.
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When college is five to ten years away:

  Move a portion of your investments into fixed income or bonds.
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When college is five years or less away:

  Move your child's college money into more conservative investments.
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When it's college time--tax breaks:

  Look into the Hope Credit.
  Look into the Lifetime Learning Credit.
  The Hope Credit and The Lifetime Learning Credit are mutually exclusive. Parents must choose one or the other for each student; they both can't be claimed at the same time.
  See if you qualify to take a tax deduction on the interest paid on your child's student loan.
  Consider withdrawing funds early from your traditional or Roth IRA and taking a penalty waiver.
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When it's college time--parent loan:

  Look into the federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS).
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When it's college time--financial aid:
The main types of financial aid are loans, grants and scholarships, and work/study programs. The majority of financial aid comes through the U.S. Department of Education—nearly 70 percent of all money given—mostly in the form of loans. The rest comes from a combination of federal or state grants and programs, from the universities themselves, and from corporations, foundations, professional and service organizations, and community groups.

  Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
  ClubMom's checklist Helping Your High Schooler Find the Right College has helpful financial aid information.
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When it's college time--student loans:

  If your child qualifies for a Federal Stafford Loan (which gives students a break on loan interest payments), factor this into your financial planning.
  If your child qualifies for a Perkins Loan, factor this into your financial planning.
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When it's college time--grants and scholarships:

  If your student qualifies for a Federal Pell Grant, factor this into your financial planning.
  If your student qualifies for a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), factor this into your financial planning.
  Look into the Leveraging Education Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program.
  Find out about money available directly from the college and universities to which your child is applying.
  Find out about special interest groups and organizations that supply cash for college.
  Beware of scholarship search firms that promise you scholarship money for a fee.
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Work/study programs:

  If your child qualifies for a work/study program, factor this into your financial planning.
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Alternative approaches to financial aid:

  Consider reducing the cost of college by having your child start out at a community college.
  Consider having your child apply for a four-year U.S. Army ROTC scholarship.
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