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9% of Teens Expect a Free Ride for College

Christine DiGangi

Most kids don’t seem to be under any illusion they’ll get to go to school for free, but there are a few that are expecting mom and dad to foot the whole bill.

A survey commissioned by Private College 529 Plan says 91% of teens surveyed expect to be at least partly responsible for their college costs. On average, they think they’ll pay for nearly half (44%) of their education. As for parents, a 2013 survey from Discover Student Loans says 81% plan to contribute to their child’s education (let’s hope those 9% of kids and 19% of parents who don’t plan on paying don’t overlap with each other).

CARAVAN-Youth Omnibus Service conducted the survey for Private College 529 Plan. It polled 1,000 13- to 18-year-olds from across the U.S. who volunteered to participate, from March 11 to 19.

Financial Responsibility

Most children probably don’t know how much money their parents make, but no matter mom and dad’s salaries, it’s probably safe to assume the family doesn’t have an extra $20,000 to $40,000 in disposable income each year.

Paying for college out of pocket can cost that much. Even at a public university, the average tuition and fees for in-state students was $18,391 this past academic year, according to the College Board, and most people don’t have that kind of money lying around. Out-of-state and private university costs can be much higher.

That’s why planning is so important — without years of savings, college-bound students face tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt upon graduation.

Everyone knows college is expensive, but there’s no consensus on who should foot the bill for higher education. Many financial experts say parents should start saving for college as soon as their children are born, but few do, and it’s difficult to make up for lost saving time.

How to Pay

Not only do a lot of teens plan on paying for part of their degrees, they have a lot of ideas for how to do it. At the same time, 62% said they need to learn more about how to save for college.

The survey shows a bit of a disconnect between these students’ ambitions and reality: Considering 91% or respondents plan to pay for some of their education and only 61% expect to take out student loans, it’s possible they could be underestimating the cost of college or overestimating their parents’ contributions.

Teenagers have only a few years to work, likely making close to the minimum wage, and that may not make much of a dent in tuition bills.

Preparing for college is a money-saving lesson in itself. Students can (and many of the survey respondents plan to) reduce the cost of education by taking courses online (44%), working a part-time job while in school (77%), applying for scholarships (65%), contributing to a savings account before starting college (63%) and living at home while in school (25%).

A 529 plan is one of the savings methods students and parents can use to set aside money for college, but only 13% of the teenagers surveyed said they knew what it is. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle to which anyone can contribute toward a designated beneficiary’s education expenses — you can learn how a 529 plan works here.

For the students planning on taking out loans, there are a few things to consider: Federal loans are easy to get, but dependent students can borrow only $31,000 for four years of college. Federal parent loans and private loans are an option, but they require the parent to have good credit. If you don’t have great credit (you can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com), the interest rates on private loans can drive up education costs in the long run.

It’s good to see a high percentage of cost-conscious teens, but intentions are only part of the equation. You need to follow through on money-saving plans to reach your goals.

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