TEACH YOUR TEENS ABOUT COLLEGE COSTS LONG BEFORE THEY APPLY By Liz Weston Many families struggle to pay college expenses for one or two kids. Certified financial planner Sarah Carlson, mother of two sets of twins, will soon have all four of her children in college at the same time. The older twins are already there, to be joined soon by the younger two. But years ago, Carlson started teaching her children how to get an affordable education. One of the first steps was making clear what she would contribute. “I let them know early on what I was comfortable spending and what I wasn’t,” says Carlson, who’s based in Spokane, Washington. The time to spell out exactly how much education you can afford is long before the first application essay is written. This summer could be a great time to talk with younger teens about the reality of college costs, how much they can expect you to help and affordable alternatives that can keep your family from drowning in debt. Start with the sticker prices A good way to start “the talk” is to have your kids research prices for a variety of colleges — public and private, in state and out, large and small. Sites such as CollegeData show total cost of attendance figures that include tuition, fees, room and board, books and other expenses. That should be an eye-opener for your kids, and perhaps for you. Few people pay the sticker price, but the actual cost can vary dramatically based on your family’s resources and the school’s aid package. Next, use each college’s net price calculator to see how much your family might pay. These calculators, required by federal law, vary in their complexity and accuracy but can give you a rough idea of the bill after possible financial aid is deducted. You may find, as Carlson did, that some private colleges could be less expensive for your family than some public ones. Assess your resources Families spent an average $19,100 last year on an undergraduate education after scholarships and grants were deducted, according to education lender Sallie Mae. Parents shouldered most of the burden, with $5,109 paid from their current incomes, $3,782 from savings and $2,648 from loans, on average. Students borrowed $3,833, on average, and contributed $3,339 from their own income and savings.
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