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What to do if you haven’t saved enough for college

Step one: Don't panic.

Having an honest conversation about what a family can afford is critical.

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Soaring college costs mean many families will not be able to save enough to pay for a typical undergraduate education. If you haven’t been saving since your child’s birth, or you have, but it’s not nearly enough here’s what to do now.

Think about costs. College consultants recommend applying for at least one financial “safety school” — one whose costs you know you can handle — in addition to “target” schools that you can pay for with a stretch of your resources and “reach” schools that may be out of your range but could surprise you with generous financial aid.

Consider your alternatives. Having your child attend a nearby school so he or she can live at home, at least for the first year or two, can dramatically cut the cost of college. The average net price for room and board was $9,800 at public schools and $11,190 at private colleges.

Cut your spending. Paying as much of the bill as possible out of your current income will help you minimize the debt that you or your student need to take on. That means employing the usual budgeting hacks: eating out less and curtailing vacations.

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Craft a strategy. Parents should limit their borrowing to what they expect to pay off within 10 years, say experts.

 
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