When I think of paying for college, I’m reminded of the opening lines from the original “Star Trek” TV series.
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
I shiver every time I hear that opening. Yes, I’m a Trekkie.
Now let me put my own spin on it. Paying for college: a scary frontier. This is a voyage that drives families mad. The mission: to explore college possibilities, to seek out free money, to boldly send their children where many have gone before so they won’t come back home.”
So how do you navigate through this space? Read the Color of Money Book Club pick for September, “Twisdoms about Paying for College,” by Mark Kantrowitz.
Kantrowitz is publisher of Edvisors, a Web site about planning and paying for college. He is the go-to guy for insight into scholarships, grants and student loans. He’s now condensed his expertise into 400 “twisdoms” — tweetable wisdoms. Despite the brevity of the advice, there’s a lot of meat in this 112-page paperback.
Packed with the tweets are slightly expanded month-by-month tips, cautions and resources for parents and students. In a time when people have increasingly short attention spans, I love this book’s concept. Kantrowitz takes a complicated and often frustrating process and breaks it down to essential information.
Kantrowitz has organized the book by month and starts with September, which is National College Savings Month. In this chapter, he covers applying to college and how to search for and win scholarships. He only needs five twisdoms to warn people about scholarship swindles because it comes down to this: “If you have to pay money to get money, it is probably a scam.”
Then, from October through August, you’ll find the things you should be doing or should know about to help in the college-planning process.
Here are my favorite twisdoms:
● On the chance of winning a scholarship: “Only about 1 in 8 students in bachelor’s degree programs have won private scholarships, on average about $4,000 per year.”
Oh, and Kantrowitz offers this follow-up: “Less than 1 percent of students in bachelor’s degree programs win a complete free ride.”
He adds, “Parents have a tendency to overestimate their child’s eligibility for merit-based aid and to underestimate their child’s eligibility for need-based aid.”
● On consolidating student loans: “Federal consolidation loans do not save the borrower money, as the interest rates on federal education loans are already fixed.”
● A tweet that should scare you to save: “College costs triple in the 17 years from birth to college enrollment.”
● Thinking of co-signing? “A co-signer is a co-borrower, equally obligated to repay the debt. Co-signing a student loan may be hazardous to your wealth.”
● Are you pushing your child to work full time through college, so he or she has “skin” in the game? “Students who work 40 or more hours a week during the academic year are half as likely to graduate as students who work 12 hours or less a week.”
● Worried that your 529 college-savings plan money will work against your child receiving financial aid? Don’t. “If you save in the parent’s name or in a student or parent-owned 529 college savings plan, the penalty for saving is minimal.”
Kantrowitz adds that for every $10,000 in a parent’s account, financial-aid eligibility is reduced by only $564.
● How early to begin saving for college: “If you start saving for college at birth, about a third of your college savings goal will come from the earnings.”
● Planning is key: “For a baby born this year, save $250 a month if the baby will enroll in an in-state college, $400 a month for an out-of-state public college and $500 a month for a private non-profit college.”
● On student loans: “Don’t treat loan limits as targets. Borrow as little as you need, not as much as you can.”
This frontier may be fraught with financial issues, but Kantrowitz makes the journey less turbulent, one twisdom at a time. I’ll be hosting a live online chat on “Twisdoms about Paying for College” at noon Eastern time Oct. 1 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Kantrowitz will join me to answer your questions.
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. Comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.