Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin
PREPARING your kids for college isn’t just about the money you’ve put aside for tuition, room and board. It’s about making deadlines, making the right choices and making sure your teen has the proper life and money skills to make college a success.
Consider a college-planning calendar you and your university-bound student can follow. Here are some seasonal activities to consider adding to your personal needs:
No matter how you’ve prepared financially for your teen’s college education, kick off the year with a visit to a qualified financial and tax professional.
You might also consider paying for a separate advisory session for your teen so he or she knows how to handle money before leaving for college.
January is also a good month to learn about the free application for federal student aid, better known as FAFSA, as it’s best to fill out the form right after January1 to avoid missing the deadlines for available federal and state aid going into your teen’s freshman year.
That first FAFSA filing will give you an idea of what your effective family contribution, or EFC, will be.
Consult trusted friends and family members for their advice on affording college and strategies for securing grants and scholarships. Resources like FinAid.org and Edvisors.com are good resources for ways to afford college, but it also helps to have face-to-face expertise.
Start evaluating potential schools with your teen. The US department of education’s college affordability and transparency center features a range of calculators and resources to help you narrow your school choices with the chance for your teen to secure the most scholarships and grants – money that doesn’t have to be paid back.
Springtime is a good season to start talking about summer jobs and internships that will make for a more attractive college application. Internship application periods can be year-round with many deadlines in the fall.
If you are expecting your teen to contribute some part of his or her earnings or savings for future college costs, it’s worthwhile to review earning, spending, budgeting, tax and savings fundamentals he or she will need to manage money in school.
Also, if your teens haven’t been exposed to banking on a regular basis, it’s time. Work with them to compare fees and services on various checking and savings accounts and consider whether it might be wise for you to bank with the same institution to allow for easier transfer of necessary funds from your account to theirs.
Also encourage them to find an organized way of keeping track of their finances on paper, on computer or online.
The summer months are a time not just for fun but also to research potential schools and scholarship programs and even take a quick campus tour. The US department of education’s scholarship site offers basic guidance in finding such money, while local companies and organizations – including places where your teen can work or intern – may offer local awards.
If your teen is heading into his or her senior year, the fall is going to be busy. Put admissions test dates and college admissions deadlines on your calendar as soon as possible. Also budget for college application fees as well as fees for admissions prep tests and the main SAT or ACT tests – more on that below – which could cost well in excess of $50 based on which test – or tests – your teen needs to take.
This is the season for college admissions tests but, for students with extra time before graduation, it’s also the season for test prep. Higher-scoring students on such achievement tests generally are in a better position for admissions or certain types of financial aid.
High-school sophomores take the PSAT as a primary qualification for national merit scholarships, but the exam also gives an early indication of how students might fare during their junior year on their ACT or SAT test, whichever they are encouraged to take. Advise your student to check directly with the colleges of their choice to see which tests they require.
Finally, the closer your teen gets to college-freshman year, the more specific the dates on the calendar become. For college-bound high-school seniors, fall is the time for narrowing down college choices after visits, interviews or auditions so applications can be sent. Once acceptance letters arrive, it’s time for parents and teens to evaluate financial-aid packages.
Bottom line: Creating a college-planning calendar can help you and your teen target desired schools, learn about money management and break down funding obstacles. Set it up as early as possible.
Editor’s note: You can find helpful advice online through the links included in our electronic version of this article here at thepostnewspaper.net.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.