Sharing the Financial Responsibility of College with Your Child

July 26, 2017

In the face of skyrocketing tuition costs, families may be overwhelmed by the financial requirements they are facing.  With the rising costs, it is important parents know that they should not feel obligated to entirely fund a child’s higher education. While it is certainly a worthy investment, it is important to assess your individual financial situation and goals to see if this investment strategy is feasible and healthy for your overall financial future.

Long before the start of college approaches, it is important to discuss with your future freshman the role they will play in helping finance their higher education.  Setting funding expectations ahead of time will reduce the stress on the entire family and ensure there is a proper understanding of dedicated responsibilities.

Here are three recommended steps to take to help your child or grandchild play a role in funding their future.

1.) Have Candid College Financial Conversations with Your Child

These should start in middle school. Yes, middle school.  Provide them with all of the information – the true cost of college and additional expenses such as books, boarding, etc. Don’t shy away from sharing those financial realities. Giving them an opportunity to have a voice, ask questions and understand their options is an integral part to a healthy path of sharing costs and understanding fiscal responsibility. You may actually be surprised at how having some skin in the game drives them further to understand how even their high school grades can have an impact on the bottom line. A good way to kick off their role is to have them research the cost of each school they are interested in.

2.) Know Your Funding Options

There are a multitude of options when it comes to funding higher education. This often makes it difficult to sort out what might work best for you, given your situation and time frame. Research all options including 529 plans, federal loans, scholarships, grants, etc. Gifting is another viable option as a way for grandparents or other family and friends to contribute. 

Give your child the task of researching the scholarships and grants available while you look at investments and loan options.  Have them create a list of scholarships that they believe may be a good fit along with deadlines and requirements. It is important to recognize the time frame left to research scholarships and grants before your child enters his or her freshman year of college. If it is rapidly approaching, this may automatically eliminate some of your funding options.

3.) Assign Responsibilities and Commit to the Plan

There are a multitude of ways to share the costs of higher education. You can pay for two years and they can pay for two.  Or, you can agree to pay for a certain percentage of the cost and communicate that they are responsible for the rest. Even if you plan to cover your child’s tuition in full, you may want to set some debt limits and consequences or make them responsible for paying for particular expenditures while they are away at school.  Throughout any conversation and research conducted, be sure to take good notes and start documenting a plan. Divide specific responsibilities and make sure everyone clearly understands their roles. Treat the commitment as a contract with each other. Having shared financial responsibility is a great way to keep the financial foundation of your family intact.