How to Pay For College in the Time of the Financial Crisis

Even if you’ve made it through the mortgage foreclosure storm, the skies aren’t sunny and clear for your financial future quite yet. You have kids who need to get an education, and paying for college is no easy task. Many adults are retirement financial planners, and before they know it their kids are almost of university age and there is not as much money in that college savings plan as they’d hoped.

It’s not too late, yet! Though the cost of college is growing (average for tuition, room and board in 2009 was $18,659), there are still many steps you can take to save for your children’s future.

Start saving today tax-free with a 529 Savings Plan. The money saved in a 529 needs to go to education and the related expenses, but it can be used for books, rent, food, even a new computer for students. There are no income limits on the funds, but if your child is above 17 you should play the market conservatively by putting no more than 15% of the holdings into stocks. If you have questions about the 529 plan, speak with a financial adviser.

Ultimately, most universities know that a majority of Americans can’t pay for college without aid. But make sure your family is not overlooked when university aid is given out by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will put you in the large pool of families eligible for grants and loans.

Look for local, state, organizational and community scholarships. Millions of groups offer small scholarships to qualified individuals. $500 may not seem big enough to make a difference, but it’s enough to buy books, and if you get more than one scholarship, even better. Scholarships aren’t just for the poor and underprivileged- anyone can get them!

And finally: tax credits. The Hope Scholarship Tax Credit gives families $2,500 towards tuition, fees, books and supplies for school (for those eligible).