Last-minute ways to trim college costs

Read the fine print on your financial aid package, and consider borrowing from family or other outside sources.

The average private-school tuition tops $21,000, and many schools ask for more than $40,000 annually, according to Department of Education figures that don’t even include room and board, pizza, iPads, colorful bedding or spring break trips.

Here are some last-minute guerrilla techniques for lining up cash for class.

Start small: High-school seniors may not want to spend their first year commuting to the local community college, but when you show them the money, they may reconsider. That’s what Brian Fricke and his wife Annette did when their two sons approached the college decision. “We sat them down and said, ‘Between the two of you, you’re going to save us $60,000 by starting at community college. Down the road, we’ll be in a better position to help you out with a down payment on a house or funding a business or whatever.’”

Deconstruct the aid offer: Look at the package your child was offered. Some of it may be in the form of subsidized loans, some of it unsubsidized loans, some of it pricier private loans and some of it grants and work-study. Take the grants and think carefully about whether the loans are your best deal; you are allowed to pick and choose what you want out of the package. If your family’s financial situation has changed for the worse, you can go back to the financial aid office and ask for more money.

Pay as you go for extras: The aid package is usually designed to cover all of the costs of a year, including transportation, a computer, food and the like. Don’t borrow for all of those add-ons, says Howard Freedman, a private financial-aid adviser in Stoughton, Mass. You can probably pay for them out of current income or short-term borrowing on a credit card.

Borrow elsewhere

Private college loans (and even some unsubsidized federal loans) aren’t such a great deal, and you may have a cheaper and better source of money. Brian Martin, a wealth manager, tells his clients to consider borrowing from cash-value life-insurance policies, home equity lines or even a 401(k). Rates can be far lower than they are for private college loans. When you borrow from your own 401(k), you are really paying that interest back to yourself. The interest on a home equity line of credit can be tax-deductible.


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