Anyone who pays for college tuition can understand the joy and need for celebration when you finally make that last tuition payment. It means two wonderful things – (1) your child is graduating from college next month and (hopefully) moving out into the real world and (2) you now have more available money with which to spend somewhere else – unless of course, child #2 is bringing up the rear.
Regardless, paying for a child’s college education is a big accomplishment and making that last payment is a milestone worth celebrating. But if you still have a child in college and more on the way, the thought of celebrating doesn’t even cross your mind. With college tuition payments resembling monthly mortgage payments these days, the real question becomes, how are you going to afford it?
There is plenty of information on the internet addressing this very question, but we wondered, how many of them are written by people who have actually gone through the process? In this series, ‘How to Pay for College – Real Life Edition’, we will share some of the things that have been done in real life, that have helped made paying for college a little more affordable and easier on the pocketbook.
Tip # 1 – Use a Monthly Payment Plan or MPP
If your child is currently in high school, there are obviously more important things you should be doing right now than worrying about an MPP, but at least you will now be informed. Looking back over the last four years, the MPP stands out as the one thing that made my life a lot easier.
Typically, you are sent a bill for the fall semester in the beginning of August and asked to pay an outrageously large sum of money within 30 days. Gulp. However, if you have already arranged a 10 or 12 month MPP or Monthly Payment Plan, then you don’t need to ‘gulp’ as deeply as someone who did not.
Most colleges and universities participate in this type of program and will designate an outside company as the administrator of their MPP. It is essentially an extension of credit by the school to the tuition payer, typically with no interest charges and only a small annual fee of around $65. To me, it’s a no brainer. You can even have the monthly payments automatically withdrawn from your checking or savings account.
An MPP accomplishes two things. First, this once, ambiguous and unknown amount is now a fixed expense, and second, spreading that payment out over 10 or 12 months helps in budgeting your money. You no longer need to fear that looming tuition bill in August and January, because, even though the amount hasn’t changed, paying for it (even if just psychologically) has become easier.
Be sure to inquire with the Financial Aid or Admissions Office to see if they offer an MPP. In order to use the 12-month payment plan, the first payment is typically due in April for enrollment in the fall semester. You may have to play catch-up freshman year, but by sophomore year, you will be a pro!
I’m amazed at how quickly the last four years have flown by. One minute you’re packing your kid up and sending them off to live in small cinderblock room with a complete stranger and the next minute, they are graduating with a whole new set of lifelong best friends and an educational experience that will get them started on the path towards a fulfilling life.
Don’t let the stress of paying for college over shadow the wonderful opportunity you are providing your children. With the proper planning and a realistic approach as to what your family can afford, paying for college does not have to be such a scary thing.
Be sure to check back here for the next ‘How to Pay for College – Real life Edition’.