Pay for your child’s college? 3 times to think twice

By Cecilia Clark | Nerdwallet

The student debt debate often overlooks an important group: parents.

About 1 in 3 dollars the federal government loaned for undergraduate education last year was in the name of a parent. In total, federal parental debt stands at more than $ 103 billion for more than 3.6 million borrowers, according to the Office of Federal Student Aid.

But parents who want to help their children pay for their college education often fail to do the math. The Department of Education suggests that 9% of PLUS parent loan borrowers default within two years of leaving school.

“They don’t think about the cost and return on investment and whether they’ll be able to manage the cost after the fact,” says Jan Miller, president of Miller Student Loan Consulting. “You have to make the tough decisions now so that you don’t end up in an irrecoverable position later. “

Here’s when you might be hesitant to pay for your child’s college, and why it’s OK.

Payments will be too high

If you borrow $ 17,500, roughly the average amount paid to each borrowing parent last year, at the current interest rate of 6.28%, expect monthly payments of around $ 197 and repayment. total of $ 23,611 over 10 years.

If you borrow this amount each year for four years of college, the payments become around $ 788 with a total repayment of over $ 94,000, assuming the interest rate stays the same and you make your payments. payments on time.

Kristen Holt, CEO of Greenpath Financial Wellness, a nonprofit financial company offering free student loan advice, says some people need to borrow just to make payments.

“Look at the budget and what you can afford,” she says. “If you don’t, you’re going to be in that perfect storm where you have to [debt] payments on debt, ”she said.

If you’re feeling guilty, consider Holt’s philosophy: Parents can’t help their children understand options without first knowing their own limits.

Tuition fees were not part of your retirement plan

According to a 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, people over 60 with student loans struggle to cover basic expenses and are more likely to have Social Security seized for unpaid debt.

Additionally, a 2021 NerdWallet survey conducted online by The Harris Poll found that 26% of PLUS parent borrowers say they won’t be able to retire as planned due to their loan debt.

Calvin Williams, CEO and founder of Freeman Capital, says he understands wanting to give your child the best. “But if you don’t plan and take care of your retirement, then you might want to ask your child to take care of you later. So in many ways paying for your own retirement puts your child first, ”he says.

Consider this: Paying that $ 788 a month for college for 10 years instead of investing for retirement could leave you $ 128,000 less, given a 6% return.

You didn’t set any limits

Miller says many of his clients expected their child to help with payments – but that didn’t happen.

The NerdWallet survey found that 22% of Americans with PLUS parent loan debt thought their child would take over the payments, but they haven’t yet.

“It is important for parents and students to discuss how the cost of college education is distributed in a way that is realistic and comfortable for all involved,” said Manny Chagas, vice president of Discover Student Loans, in A press release. He suggested using free online budgeting calculators to start the conversation.

Families should discuss what’s important and be open about money, says Elizabeth Sterbenz, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in financial therapy. “You want to give your kid the moon, but being really realistic about what’s going on really gives a lot of clarity,” she says. “We all do the best we can with what we have. “

Are you considering parent loans?

Before committing, ask yourself:

Are you risking your retirement? Although your child can borrow for school, you cannot borrow for retirement.

Are you struggling with other debt? Having a credit card balance or other high interest debt is a red flag.

Can you afford payments? Do the math. Budget the tuition loan payments to make sure they match.

Do you have an emergency fund? Don’t force yourself to choose between a medical emergency and a student loan repayment.

Already taken the plunge?

If your income is lower, explore income-based repayment, which caps monthly bills at 20% of your discretionary income and extends the repayment term to 25 years.

If your child is financially stable, consider refinancing on their behalf. They will likely need a credit score in the range of 600 and a stable income to qualify. You can also refinance in your own name.

If a disability prevents you from working, find out about the exit from the disability. This is available for federal loans and some private loans.

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Cecilia Clark writes for NerdWallet. E-mail: [email protected].

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