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College Financing 101

College Financing 101

College tuitions have been rising almost 6 percent above the rate of inflation for years, and it appears as if those costs are not slowing anytime soon.

According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a public university for the 2016-2017 school year was $9,650 for an in-state student and $22,930 for out-of-state students. The average cost of a private university was much higher at $33,480 for the same period.

Still, millions of American students and their families believe college is worth the expense, and many experts concur, pointing out that college graduates, on average, do still make considerably more than those with just a high school diploma. 

So what’s a family to do?             

With the big price tag of a college education, the best gift you can give yourself is time to save. If you have a young child—even an infant—start by socking away funds. Any amount adds up, and as the newborn and childcare expenses wane, you can bump up your savings with time. A 529 plan enables parents, guardians or extended family to put away savings into a tax-advantaged savings plan. Some states offer you additional tax benefits if you invest in a 529 plan offered by your home state.

As your child ages, be transparent with him or her about the money you have saved – or have not saved. Communicate to them about how much you can help, and how much they will need to cover on their own. Having these conversations frequently can help a child understand the huge expenses associated with college, and also help them form ideas about where they would like to apply, and how the bill will ultimately get paid.

There are many financial aid options out there for college freshmen—from grants and scholarships to parent and student loans—that can help lower tuition costs and make college more affordable. How much financial aid you need will depend on a variety of factors. If your student is planning on living at home and attending a state university or a community college, you will probably not need as much assistance as if they were living away from home or at a private institution. 

During your child’s senior year, you’ll want to be mindful of several key dates.

  • November: Apply for your PIN (Personal Identification Number) for your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most schools require this form to determine how much financial aid you will need. The FAFSA financial aid form can be accessed at
  • January: Start filling out your FAFSA aid form. After January 1, students and parents/guardians can submit their information. Check with your colleges to see if they require any additional forms.
  • March: Review your SAR (Student Aid Report), a report of all the data submitted through your FAFSA, for accuracy. Be sure to update any current tax information.
  • April: Watch the mail for your acceptance and financial aid award letters. Compare your award letters, and then choose the best option for you and your family. Remember that college scholarships and grants are free money, while college loans have to be paid back.
  • May: Sign and return your financial aid award letter. Don’t forget to decline the award letters from the colleges and universities that you will not be attending. If your award does not cover all your costs, you may need to apply for an educational loan through your local bank. Call your college’s financial aid office for more details.

Once your student enters the college ranks, be mindful of the expenses and spend smartly. If they have an opportunity to secure work on campus, a paid internship, or a part-time job outside of school, use those funds wisely to pay down loans, buy books and pay for housing.

In the end, obtaining a college degree sets your student on the path to better job opportunities and opens his or her mind to new ideas and experiences. Still, be wary of the potential hefty price tag and choose a school wisely.

Did you know UNIFY Financial Credit Union partners with Sallie Mae to provide access to Student Loans?  For more information, visit

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