How to Pay for College - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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How to Pay for College

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    How to Pay for College

    We're giving one family a money makeover and this week NBC 5 is focusing on saving for college. (Published Monday, Feb. 22, 2016)

    Nothing strikes more fear in the heart of parents than talking about how much it's going to cost to send your kid to college.

    Just to refresh your memory, in Texas, that's about $22,000 per year for public schools and $35,000-45,000 for private. But don't have a panic attack just yet. We have help in terms of how to save and how you can cut costs.

    We're giving one family a money makeover and this week, NBC5 is focusing on saving for college. Our family has not one, but two teenage boys. Both of Deanna Smith's boys are interested in cars, so we arranged for a tour at Tarrant County College.

    Like many Americans, the Smiths haven't saved much for college. Financial advisor Wes Shannon says that's OK. First focus on what you can squirrel away.

    "I've run these calculations for clients, and you sit there and say, 'OK, it's going to be $160,000 for junior to go to college,'" he said. "I'd rather take the approach of, what can we squeeze out of your budget? Can we start saving $50?" Then increase the amount as your finances allow.

    If your child is young, start saving, even if it's a little. 529 plans can offer tax advantages, but shop around, they are not all equal. There are also pre-paid tuition plans, including one for Texas. If you put your savings into stocks and bonds, treat it like your retirement and get more conservative with your investments as your child gets closer to college.

    File your Free Application for Financial Student Aid, even if you don't think you'll qualify. It's FAFSA time right now and the earlier you file, the better.

    "It's a standardized form for financial aid and then you designate what school it should go to," said Shannon. "I always encourage first-time students to send it to 10 different schools. Shop around, there are a lot of opportunities out there."

    Starting your degree at a community college can also save you big bucks. Tuition is generally half the cost of a four-year college.

    "The price is crazy," said Deana Smith. "I'm thinking my tax return might be able to pay that. I might not have to borrow any money. That's great."

    Even better, some high school students can go to Tarrant County and other community colleges for free while earning dual credit. For other students, high school advanced placement classes can also help cut down costs.

    Whatever you do, don't touch your 401k to finance your child's education.

    "The government will help loan you money to educate your child, but they won't help loan you money when you retire," Shannon said. "So don't touch that. Leave it alone."

    Finally, Shannon told us, make sure your child has what he called "skin in the game," meaning make them pay for something. That could be happening soon for at least one of Deanna Smith's teenagers. Cole Smith, 18, said the tour at Tarrant County's program was an eye opener.

    "It was fun to get to know how TCC is and works," said Cole Smith. "I will talk to my mom to see if I can come here."


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