Article: 4 expert tips on paying for college in 2021 and beyond

4 expert tips on paying for college in 2021 and beyond

Financial planner Jeff Rose shares his expert advice on paying for college in 2021

Sage Salvo
for College Ave Student Loans
Here’s what families looking to send their students off to college in 2021 and beyond should know about paying for school.

Figuring out how to pay for college can be a perplexing affair, especially if you haven’t put in the time, at the right time, to understand the process.

“Many people have no idea how much college costs or how they’re going to pay for it, they just figure they’ll work it out when it gets closer,” said Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner and founder of “There’s so much people miss out on by leaving arrangements to the last minute.”

Of course, Rose is the first to admit that he used to be one of those ill-advised procrastinators. But parents can fall into this rut as well by failing to help their kids navigate the process when – and where – it counts.

“I remember when I was a student, I would meet people who had received funding and ask how they got it,” he recalled. “Turns out they applied. Go figure, right?”

But those experiences (and a decades-long career in financial advising) have made Rose a wholehearted proponent of making smart financial decisions ahead of time. 

“There’s a quote I like — ‘A goal without a plan is just a dream,’” Rose said. “That’s the one silver lining that appeared in the uncertainty of 2020; families had more time and reason to hold financial conversations.”

But what should those conversations consist of, exactly? What will families, looking to send their students off to college in 2021 and beyond, need to know and do?

Rose offers these tips.

Don’t procrastinate

There are countless grants and scholarships available to students, which families should begin exploring by sophomore or junior year of high school.

Procrastination might be a common, if ill-advised, strategy during finals week, but Rose doesn’t recommend trying it when planning for your child’s education. According to Rose, parents should ideally start putting savings into a 529 savings plan as soon as their child is born.

“My alarms go off when parents come into my office and say they started saving when their kid turned 16,” he said. “They don’t want an advisor — they want a magician to add a decimal or comma to their account. But it just doesn’t work that way.”

Students can’t afford to be late, either. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be proactive in the final lead-up to college — even and especially in the final year of high school. It’s critical, for instance, to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) on time to qualify for financial aid that may bring overall costs down significantly. In fact, those who file FASFA on the early side are more likely to qualify for federal, state and college-offered grants.

Beyond FASFA, there are plenty of grants and scholarships available to students who proactively seek them out. Some, like College Ave Student Loans’ monthly $1,000 scholarship sweepstakes, are even open to applications year-round.

Families need to have candid conversations about college financing

Talking about money can be awkward for both parents and their kids.  

“I never had these conversations with my parents,” Rose admitted. “I applied without thinking about who was going to pay for it or what it would take to cover the room and board.”

Like many teenagers, he also made a faulty assumption about how much his parents would help with tuition.

“My parents couldn’t have possibly covered everything,” he said. “And I wasn’t prepared to work 30 hours per week to pick up the tab while studying.”

Rose’s story isn’t unusual. In June 2020, a USA TODAY Twitter poll for College Ave Student Loans found that of 67,961 respondents, nearly three-quarters (71.1%) said they either “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement, “I feel confident about my family’s ability to pay for college.”

To avoid damaging misassumptions, Rose suggests that parents sit down with their children and have an honest conversation about how much college costs, what they are prepared to pay for and how. Use a student loan calculator to make sure you know what the total monthly student loan payment will be upon graduation. Knowing that dollar amount will help you and your child plan ahead.

Having conversations about what parents can and can’t cover financially will help families set realistic expectations.

“Let’s say your high schooler wants to go to an Ivy League school. Parents need to ask — OK, how are you going to do that?” Rose said. “How much [will your student loan payments] take out of your monthly pay once you get your first job?”

Having these conversations helps families do their research and set realistic expectations.

“It’s uncomfortable, but worth it,” Rose said.

Parents need to think about their financial health, too

Parents shouldn’t sacrifice their financial security to lower their child’s student loan debt. According to Rose, one of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is borrowing against their retirement funds.

“Let’s say you’re pulling money out of your IRA and you’re not retirement age,” Rose said. “You’re going to pay income tax on that money – plus a 10% early withdrawal fee. So, if you’re hoping to contribute $50,000 toward your kid’s education, you’re actually going to need to withdraw around $70,000 to account for taxes and fees.”

Rose also pointed out that this approach can cause more problems than it solves, long-term.

“If you shell out money to cover their education but can’t pay for your retirement, who’s going to help you? Without retirement savings, you’ll become a financial burden to your kids down the road,” he said. “Taking on student loans isn’t the worst thing — having no money in retirement is.”

Discussing financial expectations also give parents more opportunity to select loans that suit them. For example, College Ave Student Loans provides financial options that allow parents to be as involved – or hands-off – in their child’s repayment as they want. Some loans, such as parent loans, give parents full responsibility; others allow student borrowers to request the release of their co-signers after satisfying certain conditions.

Encouraging students to invest in themselves

Taking out loans is an important strategy in college financing — but it’s not the only one.

Students can take a more active role in paying for college, too.

“The average full-time student isn’t studying 40 hours a week,” Rose said. “You can work 15-20 hours per week. It might not always be fun, but you can do it.”

The extra income can help students cover college costs for must-have items like books as well as personal expenses, generating some financial freedom during school. Those with jobs should also consider beginning to pay down their loans. Putting even $25 per month toward their debt before graduating can go a long way.

Rose pointed out that students today have more opportunity than ever before to invest in their future through work-study opportunities. A part-time job can a student get a head start on paying off college loans, certainly, but its value is more than just monetary.

“Investing in yourself doesn’t necessarily mean buying stocks,” he clarified. “It’s about developing your resume.”

He noted that opportunities to engage in remote work have increased significantly over the past year, as social distancing made teleworking a norm.

“So many platforms allow you to make money with your smartphone or laptop, if you take the initiative,” he said. “Of course, with those opportunities comes distractions — instead of making money, you could be binging out on videos and wasting time.”

But those who stay focused and organized, he said, have almost infinite opportunities. For rising college students, success is a matter of hard work, dedication and (of course) good financial planning. With the right guidance from parents and advisors, the sky is the limit.  

For more advice on how to finance your education, check out College Ave Student Loans’ resources at

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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