The cost of college has increased at twice the rate of inflation. In 2016, the cost to attend a public college will exceed $100,000, and exceed $200,000 for a private college. How are you going to pay for it? Take out loans? Forfeit your retirement? Refinance the house? What are going to do if you have more than one child?

Now that we’ve addressed the scary part, I’ve got good news for you! There are very good solutions to avoid taking out loans or stealing money from your retirement & home equity.

1) Get yourself a scholarship! I know what you might be thinking, “Scholarships are only available for the really smart and athletic kids.” Well I’m here to tell you, that’s not necessarily true. Some schools start their scholarship options at a 24 ACT score or an 1180 SAT score. Let’s talk about what “scholarships” are. Scholarships are also known as merit money, meaning you have to have a certain level of merit to obtain them. These are awarded for academic, athletic, artistic, or activities that colleges are willing to pay students to come to their colleges. Most colleges offer some form of academic scholarship to attract top students. Likewise, top athletes are heavily recruited by colleges. Colleges also want artistic talent for music, theater, dance, ballet, and visual arts. Activities such as cheerleading, band, campus newspaper, and the debate team provide scholarships at many colleges. Remember, scholarships have nothing to do with your family’s income. If the college wants a student, they will entice them with a scholarship.

2) Work for your keep! Opportunity money is money you have to pursue or work for. These programs are not for everyone but they are a great way to earn money to help pay for educational expenses. They include private scholarships, ROTC, work-study, campus employment, and employer benefits. Consider one of these options, even getting campus job – which in many cases provides you reduced or even free tuition. They are a much better option than loans!

3) Allow the government & college to help! Most families do not understand that “need-based” does not mean “needy.” Thousands of families forgo opportunities to reduce their cost for college because they believe they make too much money and don’t submit forms that could help them save thousands of dollars. “Need” is a simple math equation of the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). COA – EFC = Need. There is more to this equation, but suffice to say there have been families with incomes over $200,000 who have qualified for “Need-Based Money.” It all depends on their circumstance.

4) Find out what you are entitled to! I know this is going to sound extremely vague but every US citizen and legal resident is entitled to some measure of government aid! That’s right, you read this correctly. This can range from state and federal grants and loans to paying reduced tuition for in-district or in-state tuition. It can also extend to qualifying for in-state tuition for a college in another state. In addition, GI Bill, State Militia Membership, tuition guarantees, and having a military veteran parent are among the thousands of entitlements that are awarded to students. You can even get money if your parents graduated from certain colleges! There are thousands of entitlements out there for college, you just have to be willing to get creative and find them!

5) Writing the check yourself! Colleges will gladly take your check, cash, credit card, or …money you borrowed, to pay for college. There are many simple strategies to significantly reduce or even eliminate your “out of pocket” expense for college! Don’t get stuck in the “College Debt” trap. Find alternative ways such as scholarships, opportunity money, need based aid, or entitlement money before you take out your checkbook OR apply for a loan. Colleges make it easy to get student loans. The easy way may not always be the best way. There are many other options to borrow money for college than the easy way the colleges hove it under your nose. If you are going to take out loans, make sure you do your research and talk with a financial advisor who has your best interest in mind.

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