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After you've tapped out all other options, borrowing money to pay for college is your last resort. Your student should exhaust her borrowing options before you consider taking on any debt to pay for her college education. Putting yourself into debt to pay for your child's college education may have disastrous effects on your financial future — after all, there is no such thing as financial aid for your retirement.
The best way to fund college costs, if borrowing is necessary, is to have your child borrow the money herself. Through federal student loan programs and financing programs available through various institutions, students have a number of attractive options available to them to finance college costs. Help your student apply for financial aid and exhaust all other resources and options prior to going into debt to pay for her college education.
Your child can participate in work-study programs; do part-time work; acquire student loans, grants, and scholarships; attend college part-time while working full-time; or join AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, or the military, all of which offer financial benefits for education.
Tuition borrowing options
If you borrow money for your child's college education, consider the list of primary resources:
- Federal PLUS loan: This loan is the best of all these options. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) is a popular, accessible, and reasonably priced loan where parents (with decent credit) can borrow up to the full cost of a dependent student's education minus any other financial aid for which the student qualifies. Repayment must begin within 60 days of receipt, and you may have up to ten years to repay the loan plus interest. For additional information visit the College Board online or call toll-free at 800-891-1253.
- Home equity line of credit: The interest rate on the loan will be high, and borrowing against your home equity can put your home at risk of foreclosure.
- 401(k) plan loan: If your 401(k) plan has a loan feature, the maximum amount you can borrow is the lesser of $50,000 or 50 percent of your vested account balance. Contact your 401(k) administrator for details.When you borrow money from your 401(k), that money is no longer invested. Even if you repay interest on this loan, you aren't getting the full benefit of your 401(k) plan investments. Also, the money you pull out of the 401(k) plan as a loan is pre-tax dollars, but the money you repay the loan with is after-tax. Wham! If you change employers while the loan is still outstanding and don't pay the loan in full, it's subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty and taxation. Double wham!
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