EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The cost of college can be daunting and according to a recent survey, many parents and students aren’t talking about the issue in time to make a plan and save.
Citizens Bank’s annual student lending survey revealed most parents and students wish they spent more time planning for college expenses.
“Only 30% of the parents that we spoke to actually talked to their kids starting in 8th grade,” said Christine Roberts, the head of student lending at Citizens Bank. “That means starting these conversations with kids who are going to be heavily laden in debt aren’t happening until probably two, three, four years maximum before they’re taking on the debt.”
The lack of communication about finances can lead to confusion after college. The survey shows 66% of students and parents said paying off student loans takes longer than they expected.
“That’s scary,” Roberts added. “We want kids to be prepared—not surprised—and able to handle the debts that they’re taking on without it being overwhelming to them.”
That’s why financial experts say it’s important to talk early and often with your children.
Roberts recommends starting the discussion in middle school.
“We actually call it the ‘other talk’ you have to have with your kids,” she said. “If you don’t want to get into the very specific details of how much money you make, at least sit down and talk to them about what you’ve been able to save.”
Questions to discuss:
- Will your child apply for scholarships?
- Will your child take out federal loans?
- Will you co-sign loans with your child?
- Will you take out your own loans?
“It’s not just about, ‘here’s what my salary is,'” Roberts said. “It’s really about looking at the whole picture the same way you would look at buying a house.”
It’s also critical to fill out the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the path to federal loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.
“Even if you don’t think you need any money, fill it out,” Roberts said. “Why leave free money on the table?”
“The whole point is to bring down the cost of going to college,” she added. “If you qualify for free money, you should be getting it.”
According to the personal finance website NerdWallet.com, the high school class of 2018 missed out on $2.6 billion in federal grants for college.