By Brock Jolly
The College Funding Coach
For most high school graduates, a college education has become an expectation, rather than an option. For many families, the exorbitant cost of higher education has made paying for this rite of passage more like a PhD in microeconomics.
The good news is that there is a solution.
I see many families with varying degrees of wealth. The majority of these families have their money in two places — their home equity and their qualified retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k) plans.
When it comes time to pay for college, neither of these two resources is particularly liquid. In many cases, the family finances look great for retirement; but parents still have to get over the hurdle of paying for college education for their children at a cost of $20,000 to $40,000, and for exclusive private schools that amount can hit $60,000 per child, per year.
Little-Known Secrets of Paying for College
While it’s true that for most of us, our homes are one of our most valuable assets, we are generally given 30 years or more to pay it off. For college, though, you’ll have to pay those huge costs over a four-year period, or face a lifetime of student loan debt.
Educating people about the best approach to college savings, therefore, has been an area that I’ve focused on since 2002. That’s when I created a class for parents called, “Little-Known Secrets of Paying for College.”
It is specifically geared toward teaching parents the rules of the game when it comes to paying for higher education. It is taught through the adult education program in many counties, and the goal is to help parents understand the rules of qualifying for financial aid — and to create strategies for paying for college with minimal out-of-pocket expense.
Separating myth from reality
Many parents believe that, because of their net worth or income, there is little chance of qualifying for need-based aid. Other parents mistakenly presume that aid is plentiful, and they shouldn’t have to worry about paying for college.
The key is to have and execute a strategy.
1. First and foremost, parents need to know the formulas for determining aid to draw the proverbial “line in the sand.” Armed with this knowledge, parents can determine their likelihood of garnering need-based assistance.
2. If your chances of getting money for school are good, it’s important to develop strategies for qualifying for the maximum possible award. However, if the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) result is higher-than-anticipated, we help families develop strategies for maximizing their wealth and creating sustainable long-term strategies for paying for college.
3. Ultimately, the strategies vary depending upon the financial circumstances of the family. Keep in mind that it’s possible to legally shift assets into non-assessable accounts in order to qualify for a higher level of aid.
4. It’s also possible to implement strategies to help a family receive a tax deduction of up to $8,000 per child per year. When I am working with a business owner, one approach is to shift income from the parents’ higher tax bracket to the child’s lower bracket, ultimately giving them more liquidity to pay for college.