Although it is getting late to start saving, there is no reason to think that your son will not be able to afford college. You will not necessarily need to come up with the entire cost since all education institutions offer financial aid in the form of loans and grants. Here are some actions you should take right away:
- Start a systematic savings plan. There are several types of plans that also offer tax savings, such as a 529 or a Coverdell Plan.
- Do some research on the Web. There are numerous websites that offer advice for financing education and saving for education like 360financialliteracy.org, practicalmoneyskills.com, and money.cnn.com.
- Start inquiring about grants and scholarships. There are many scholarships and grants that do not necessarily require high grades, and there are fraternal and social organizations that you may already belong to that offer financial aid. Websites like fastweb.com, collegeanswer.com, and scholarships.com will give you leads on scholarships. Don't forget your employer—it may have a program for college financing too. Also, if your son has an idea of what he’s like to study, many associations provide scholarships, such as the PICPA Accounting Scholarships.
- Supplement your savings. Let relatives and friends know that your child is saving for college. If they usually buy something for on special occasions, perhaps they can make a contribution to a college fund instead.
- Student participation. If your child has, or will get, a job, they should save some of the earnings for college. Getting good grades also will make them eligible for more grants and scholarships.
- School participation. Contact high school advisors and financial aid offices of potential colleges to find out what is available and what you have to do to start the process.
- Consider alternatives. Community colleges and branch campuses of colleges usually have lower costs than a main campus.
- Start accumulating college credits early. Many high schools offer advanced placement classes that could qualify for college credit. Check with the school’s guidance counselor.
- Get professional help. You can always seek the advice of a financial planner or other specialist to help you.
Financing a college education is a major undertaking for most people. These suggestions will get you off to a good start!
For more resources, check out PICPA’s Money & Life Tips, Ask a CPA, or locate a CPA near you.
Answered by: Gregory J. Petyak, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in Johnstown, Pa.