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Are you making these 6 college planning mistakes?

Many students prepare to attend college each year, but how many are ready to handle the cost? Here are some tips to help you and your student avoid the financial crunch.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 27, 2014 11:44AM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyIt's a common piece of advice students hear year after year: Study hard so you can go to college and land your dream job. But how many discussions transpire in the home about the high cost of attending college?

Student in dorm room © Digital Vision Ltd./SuperStockJust like almost everything else in life, college comes with a price tag. While parents may not want to burden their children with figuring out how the expenses will be covered, the issue must be addressed at some point. And you must have a plan.

Here are six costly college planning mistakes you want to avoid:

1. Not discussing who is responsible

Have you determined who will foot the bill for postsecondary expenditures? Instead of playing the guessing game with your children, prevent conflicts that are bound to erupt from a lack of disclosure.

Your child's expectations about your contributions may not match reality. In a recent survey, T. Rowe Price found (.pdf file), "Twenty-nine percent of parents say they expect to pay for most or all of their kids' college costs, while 53 percent of kids who were surveyed said they expect their parents to pay for most or all of their schooling."

It's completely understandable for spouses from varying backgrounds to have different viewpoints on who should foot the bill, but what matters is that the two of you get on the same page and then discuss it with the children.

2. Stashing funds in a traditional savings account

Have you been stashing away funds in a savings account with a measly interest rate of, at best, 1 percent? If so, now's the time to consult with a reputable financial adviser to evaluate and enroll in a college savings plan that will best suit your needs.

Stuart Ritter, senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price, told Forbes:

The idea that parents think a savings account is better for college than a 529 plan is akin to a retiree believing a savings plan is better than a 401k or IRA. They are missing out on financial opportunity.

Going the extra mile to set up a college savings plan may seem like a headache, but it's definitely worth the hassle and will make your money work even harder for you.

3. Ignoring inflation

Because the cost of college has been increasing at a pace far higher than the rate of inflation, you must ensure that whatever plan you choose will generate a large enough return to keep up with those inflating costs.

Unfortunately, I witnessed the looks of despair on students' faces each semester during my stint as a governmental accountant, because they couldn't understand why, even after their parents had saved up for many years, their stash still wasn’t sufficient to cover their expenses.

4. Compromising your nest egg

The power of compounding interest works well in both college savings and retirement plans, so it may be tempting to stash away any residual funds while your children are young in order to fully fund their college education.

However, you can always borrow for college, but you can’t borrow for retirement.

If you want to be working well past retirement age, put the kids' education first. (And if you happen to stumble across a scholarship program that covers the cost of living during retirement years, let me know.)

5. Delaying the process

If you're waiting on that one big break -- an inheritance, a risky investment, or a child who's a brilliant scholar or has NFL-level athletic ability -- to cover the costs of college, you may find yourself out of luck when your children reach the age of majority, and wishing that you'd used better judgment.

Remember, the power of compounding interest will be in your favor if you invest your funds wisely.

6. Not understanding how 529s work

Because 529s are among the most popular college savings plans, let's take a closer look at some of the most common mistakes that savers make, according to LearnVest:

  • Failing to read the fine print. The types of 529 plans vary by state.
  • Spending the money on expenses that aren't allowed. The money can't be used for some college-related expenses.
  • Using the plan as a piggy bank. Withdrawing funds early for emergencies will trigger taxes and a penalty.
  • Missing out on free rewards. Credit card programs like Upromise offer perks to 529 account holders in the form of cash-back deposits on select purchases.

Whether you decide to establish a 529 account or some other college savings plan, it's important that you get started sooner than later to give that investment time to grow.

More from Money Talks News

Jun 30, 2014 9:28AM

1) Choosing a major that is not in demand at a compensation level you are not willing to live with

2) Choosing a college that you can not afford without debt

3) Choosing a college who does not have a positive reputation in your area of study

4) Choosing a social life over an academic life while in school

5) Leaving high school without being prepared for the major you wish to pursue

6) Leaving college without a skill that is in demand, debt, and non-competitive academic record

Jun 27, 2014 4:28PM
I had to pay for my own college and so cant my kids.  Sure I will help out where ever I can but if they can not get scholarships then that is on them.  There are plenty of people who went to the school of hard knocks and did well.  I know work with people who went to some top notch schools and I make more money then they do.  I guess what I am saying is unless you want to be a Doctor, Lawyer or professional sports peson don't go to a big school. Find a school you can afford and start from there.  If your parents have to mortgage the house to send you to school it is not worth it.
Jul 5, 2014 8:17AM

The article's financial concerns are valid.  But they're only part of the story.


Don't go to college to "find yourself".  A lot of kids in the 1960s and 1970s found that didn't work very well.  Today it's much too expensive.  "Find yourself" while you're in high school, or get a menial job after high school and "find yourself" then.


Don't believe the school's hype about job opportunities after graduating from their programs.  Spend time to research those job markets to verify real job opportunities first.  And consider that if too many people flock to that same career then it will saturate and those jobs / pay won't materialize.


If you'll pursue a technical degree, first research what skills and tools the industry expects you to know before they hire.  Then make prospective schools show you that they can provide appropriate training.  For example, if you want electrical engineering / chip design find if industry expects you to be able to use certain CAD programs - then check that the school has and gives you experience with those programs.  All schools can teach the basics, but today industry expects more.


If your degree will not be in business, use your electives to take business courses.  Companies expect you to be fluent in business-speak even if your job duties will not include management.  And you may be thrust into management some day anyway, and will fare better if you understand at least the basics of business.



Jul 5, 2014 11:32AM
Don't expect someone else to foot the bill.
Jun 27, 2014 3:00PM

certain majors can pay back pretty well. others, not so much.


but we need writers, artists and historians just as much as scientists and doctors.


in the end all you can do is what you're good at.


it may not pay off financially, but hopefully the student loan debt load will be managable.


my only other advice to young people is you can never get out of a federal student loan under our current laws, to tread with care. tread with care. there's little political traction right now to cut students with unreasonable student loan debt any slack. 'you signed, you pay' is the general consensus.

Jul 5, 2014 8:05AM
I remember when college was relatively reasonably priced.  Now you have to make a lifelong commitment to debt to pay for it.
Most of the graduates I know got their sheepskin and went right back to the jobs they already had:  waiters/waitresses,  shop mechanics,  salespeople,  phone mill slaves.
That's because they can't get a job in their chosen field,  degree or not.  Many would-be jobs are filled with H-1B visa foreign workers paid half the old 'going rate'.
So what's the point of an education?  If it wasn't for those pesky,  expensive classes,  it's a lot of fun on the parent's tab I guess.

Jul 5, 2014 1:05PM

If you borrow money for liberal arts you might as well flush that money down the toilet.


Oh yeah, and if you want to "work with whales and dolphins" you are pipe dreaming.


Grow up.

Jul 5, 2014 2:55PM
knock knock
who's there?
diploma who?
diploma is here to fix the sink.

dad,i'm going to a party.would you do my homework for me?
    i'm sorry,kid,but it just wouldn't be right.
    well maybe not.give it a try anyway.
Jul 5, 2014 1:58PM
Students take out loans to pay for a party life-style. Work part-time or live at home!
Jul 5, 2014 8:55AM
No matter your interest, you have to be a good sales person to promote it.
Jul 5, 2014 2:43PM
The children should be raised with the thought that they should pay for their own college.  Mom and Dad should TEACH them PROPERLY.  God says so.  You can't just breed and breed and breed.  Responsibilities come with marriage.  Then agan there are those that are NOT married, bringing in all of the bastard children and expecting the rest of society to take of them.  Scheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesch.
Jul 5, 2014 5:45PM
Jul 5, 2014 1:17PM

White LA Cop beats black woman senseless on video--


On paid leave.


Wheres big Al Sharptounge and Jisim Jackson?

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