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Back to school good time to refocus on planning for college

Posted: August 27, 2014 - 1:20pm

Many of today’s college-bound students are grappling with rising tuition costs, books, materials and living expenses. Some students, especially those who are the first in their family to consider attending college, find themselves asking, “Can I even afford to attend college?” 

Part of that answer rests in planning early and heading back to school after summer break could be the motivation to refocus on college planning.

Since 2004, America’s student debt has tripled from $364 billion to an estimated $1.2 trillion partly because tuition costs have risen at a rate 2.5 times the rate of inflation according to recent federal data. 

A study released in May 2014 from the New York Fed found that 25-year-olds have an average of $21,000 in student loan debt. 

In Alaska, the average student loan debt is more than $28,000 with 49 percent of students graduating with debt. That ranks Alaska 11th-highest in average student loan debt in the nation.  

On the flip-side, in 2012, students who earned a bachelor’s degree were making, on average, nearly twice as much as their peers with only a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This doesn’t change the fact that it’s still important to be sensible about paying for college.

Going to college is very emotional, but the decision on how to pay for it shouldn’t be emotional. Families should consider coming together this fall to discuss the projected costs of seeking higher education. Students should understand the cost of education, and the possible return on that investment. 

With many academic institutions costing more than $30,000 per year, coupled with other associated and unknown costs, students may need additional financing to pay for their education. If a combination of federal loans, grants and scholarships doesn’t cover the full cost, private student loans are available to help fill the gap. 

Some of the advantages of private student loans include a grace period of six months after completing school before repayment of the loan begins, no application fees, no origination fees and having the option of paying your loan off early without the fear of early repayment penalties. 

Despite the research value of the Internet, there still remains a lot of confusion about the financial aid process. 

In response, Wells Fargo developed free planning and financial tools, information and resources available to better prepare students on how to pay for college, which include the “Student LoanDown” blog (http://blogs.wellsfargo.com/studentloandown/) and CollegeSTEPS (www.wellsfargo.com/collegesteps). Both resources provide comprehensive strategies and tactics to prepare for college.

Next time the family comes together over dinner, a favorite television show or homework, consider starting a conversation on the game-plan for how to pay for college. 

Let us not lose sight that college is an exciting time in a person’s life. Students heading back to school may only want to share summer vacation stories with friends, but a testimonial on how they began working with their family and high school guidance counselor to develop a plan for how to pay for college just might kick-start an invaluable trend amongst their peers. 

Robert Green is a personal banker for Wells Fargo in Homer. He can be reached at 235-8151 or robert.s.green@wellsfargo.com. 

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