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Mar 5, 2021

Right now, millions of high school seniors are receiving acceptance letters and financial aid offers from colleges and universities. These offers usually include a combination of merit-based scholarships and grants, student loans, work study grants, and private parent loans. In past years, it was challenging to convince many schools to increase this aid. But according to author and college planning expert Ron Lieber, with the COVID-19 crisis reducing the number of applicants to most schools, parents are now in a better position to diplomatically ask for better offers. But this can be a confusing process. Parents need to negotiate scholarships and grants with the Admissions office, and loans and work study grants with the Financial Aid office. When meeting with these officials, parents should feel free to ask them to match or exceed the more generous financial aid offers their children have received from other schools. Even after students have accepted an offer, they should seek additional money by applying online for a share of the billions of dollars available through thousands of private grants and scholarships. Even with all this aid, parents’ share of their children’s annual college costs will still be significant. They should try to borrow as little as possible, particularly through private parent loans whose payback periods could last a decade or more. This is particularly important for parents who are approaching retirement age, since some of their Social Security benefits may be garnished if they’re unable to make monthly payments on their own. For parents with younger children, contributing to a 529 College Savings Plan as early as possible can give them a head start on building a reserve to help pay for future educational costs. Grandparents, too, can help by contributing to these plans or giving up to $15,000 a year per child without gift tax implications. The most important thing is to not let your fear about your children’s future or your guilt about what you’re able to afford keep you from making the right financial decisions.