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Over half of parents willing to go into debt to pay children’s college tuition

Parents paying for their children’s expenses, like rent and health insurance post-graduation, is nothing new anymore.

But as college tuitions continue rising, parents are digging deep into their own pockets to pay for their children’s college tuition: Over half of American parents are willing to go into debt to finance their children’s education after high school.

According to a new report from Country Financial, 56% of parents are ready to go into debt to pay for college tuition – and willing to take on $31,000 in debt. Meanwhile, 10% of parents already have gone into debt to pay for their child’s higher education.

“It’s such an emotionally charged subject,” said Doyle Williams, executive vice president at Country Financial. “If that’s going to help them you’re going to do anything. Your emotions are telling you ‘yes.’ But you need to step back objectively and ask what is the right thing to do for you.”

“The reality is, retirement is a necessity,” he said. “Paying for your child’s education is a luxury.”

Old Main on the Penn State University main campus in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

And it’s a luxury men are willing to pay more for, compared to women. The survey found men were willing to take on more than $35,000 in debt, compared to about $27,000 for women. Men were also twice as likely to cut back on retirement savings in order to increase their child’s chances of success.

Rising tuition costs

As most people know, the cost of college in the United States is expensive — and getting costlier each year. In the past decade, the price of a four-year college degree from a private institution has jumped from $28,440 to $35,830. When including room and board, that number rises to $48,510, according to data from CollegeBoard. Public tuition has also been on the rise, increasing from roughly $7,500 to more than $10,000. That number doubles when considering room and board.

The staggering cost of higher education is fueling a $1.5 trillion student loan crisis, that sees over 45 million Americans carrying the burden of student loan debt repayment. It’s a crisis that isn’t just impacting borrowers — parents and grandparents find themselves trying to make up the difference.

Despite attempts to save for college tuition, parents are realizing it isn’t enough. Only 18% of parents were able to cover most of their children’s college expenses, according to the Country Financial report. Instead, 60% of parents estimate they can cover 60% or less of tuition. “Parents are saving up as early as possible,” the report noted, “with 36% of Americans saving for their child’s college education when the child is the age of five years or younger.”

(Graphic by David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“However, 30% of parents have not been able to save anything for their child’s education, with 4 in 10 parents admitting that having a child is more expensive than they anticipated,” the report says.

Setting expectations

In order to pay for college tuition and extracurricular activities like SAT or ACT prep classes, parents were willing to make both rational and irrational financial decisions, according to Williams. Nearly 30% were willing to cut back on vacations, while just under 20% would take on part-time jobs.

But a quarter of parents were willing to pull from their savings accounts, while nearly a fifth said they would take out a loan.

Williams says that parents need to make saving for college part of their overall financial plan, in addition to saving for retirement. Many parents are still paying off their own student loan debt, which could compound their financial issues if they also take on paying for a child’s education. And with college becoming prohibitively expensive, it’s important parents start to take a “broader view” of education, he says (like considering community college), and “set expectations with your children” about the financial burden you’re willing to take on.

“We talk about the boomerang generation — children coming back and living with their parents,” Williams says. “Well, you don’t want to be a boomerang senior coming back to live with your children.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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