Blue Suit Mom

Are You a Single Mom? Yes, You Can Afford to Send Your Kids to College

Outdoor portrait of a smiling studentAs a single mom, sometimes it’s hard enough just getting everyone through the week in one piece. Homework, laundry, shopping, cleaning, extracurricular activities — you’re worried about getting tomorrow’s lunches made, not how you’re going to put your kids through college, right? Besides, it’s all so… overwhelming. And then some.

We understand your worry, for college is more expensive than ever before. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of going to college (tuition, room and board) in the 2011-12 school year was $14,300 a year at public institutions, $37,800 at private nonprofit institutions and $23,300 at private for-profit institutions.

That’s the not-so-hot news. The good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help you start planning for your kids’ college education, and they’re not so terribly tough to understand. Let’s take a look.

Scholarships & Grants

The great thing about scholarships and grants is that they don’t need to be paid back. Generally, you’ll start looking into these during your child’s junior year in high school. Grants are based on need, while scholarships are based on academics, athletics or other eligibility requirements (which may include need).

Grants and scholarships can come from a variety of sources, including the federal government, your state government, the financial aid office of the college your child is going to and a variety of nonprofit groups, including churches and civics groups. Start your search on the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website and at Scholarships.com.

Loans

Loans can come from the federal government or private banks. Federal loans usually have better interest rates and better terms than loans from a bank. The federal government offers two types of loans:

  • Direct Loans, including loans that are based on need and those that are not; these are paid directly to you.
  • Perkins Loans, for which the college serves as the lender.

Bank loans can be paid directly to you or to your school. The best place to start looking for a loan? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You’ll find comprehensive information about the FAFSA on FinAid.org.

A word of caution about loans: Many students and their parents wind up with a crushing amount of debt after their four years are up. The average graduate left school in 2012 with $29,400 in student loan debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. If you must take out loans to pay for your kids’ education — and let’s face it, if you didn’t need the money, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article — try to keep the principal as low as possible.

Look for ways to raise money yourself, so you can borrow less. Consider borrowing against your 401(k), taking out a home equity loan (interest rates on these are generally lower than on education loans) or selling any stocks and bonds you may hold. If you receive regular payments from a structured settlement or annuity, you may be able to sell your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now. This money can be used to help pay tuition out of pocket.

Start Saving Now

Talk to a banker or financial adviser about starting a special tax-advantaged savings account. There are two main types:

Don’t Forget the Work-Study Program

When it comes time for your child to go off to school, ask the financial aid office about its work-study program. The Federal Work-Study Program offers part-time jobs for students with financial need to help them pay for school.

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