Paying for college in the United States

money

Choosing a college is fairly easy. Paying for it is not. Unfortunately, college is very expensive. I'm going to look into some ways that you can pay for your college education. It may not be easy but it is possible!

This won't be an option for a lot of people but I'm putting it out there anyway. There are colleges that are tuition free. Well, sort of, anyway. You don't have to put out the money for tuition yourself but it is considered a scholarship and not just a free school. In some cases, you will need to pay for room-and-board. And you almost always have to pay for books and supplies. However, without the threat of tuition debt, these are much easier to pay.

Talking about scholarships, there are a ton of them out there. You don't necessarily need to have a 4.0 grade point average in order to get them either. Do a lot of research. There are scholarships out there for minorities, veterans and their families, economically challenged individuals...you name it. There are even scholarships for various majors. I received a small theater arts scholarship in my second year of college. You could probably find a scholarship for just about anything. Keep in mind, though, that you are not the only applicant. Make sure your application is amazing so it definitely catches the eye of the board.

If your child isn't ready for college, you can still start a 529 Plan for them. A 529 Plan is a college savings fund operated by the state. (Sometimes they are operated by educational institutions as well.) These work a little like a 401K retirement plan in that they are not taxed right away. I'd recommend talking to a financial planner or accountant to see if there are any tax benefits for you if you decide to go this route.

A 529 Plan is not in your cards? Perhaps you could try some other investment strategies. Savings bonds are one way to lock away some quick cash. You buy a bond for a certain amount of money, let's say $50. After a year, the bond begins to earn interest. A bond bought today will double in value in 20 years. You can cash in it before then but you will only receive the bond amount plus the interest gained until the time it is cashed in. If you or a family member could buy a bond once a year for your child's birthday, they could amass quite a bit of money by the time they are ready to go to college. 

Finally, there are loans. Federal loans are probably the worst of the bunch but there are other private financial institutions where you may be able to borrow the money for a lower interest rate. (Trust me, it's the interest rate that gets you every time.) Make sure you shop around. Do your best to get the lowest rate possible. And make sure you get a fixed rate loan. You don't need the rate fluctuating every year!

In the end, paying for college sucks a lot. Unless you are already wealthy, chances are you'll be in debt for awhile. Maybe one day the way the United States handles college will be different. We're taking some tips from other countries for health care. Why not for college too? 

I hope this little series helped you learn that college isn't necessarily an impossibility for those who aren't rolling in dough. Good luck to all of the new college students out there. Let's get smart!