Smart About Money: Paying for College in 2017 … What I Learned

Every parent who has kids planning to go to college thinks about the cost. How could you not? When we’re starting to see the $70,000 a year mark regularly surpassed at private colleges (for tuition, room & board), the idea of coming up with that kind of money by an August due-date four years running is daunting.

Sure – for a fee – most colleges will let you set up a monthly payment plan. But who has thousands of extra dollars (per student in college!) just lying around every month?

Walking through the experience of paying for college for the first time since I went to college myself was eye-opening, to say the least.

Families try to save for college … and it often seems overwhelming thinking about actually being able to accumulate anything close to the entire amount, especially for families who are in the middle of actually raising their kids.

It can even feel like having savings will just count against you when applying for financial aid. But save as much as you can anyway. Having that money will be a huge help if you learn that your college-bound student does not qualify for much in the way of needs-based scholarship programs – which unfortunately is often the case for families with two working parents.

The Wall Street Journal recently had a Journal Report special section article entitled, “Mistakes to Avoid With a Key College Financial-Aid Form.”

They were referring to the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. “Getting it wrong,” they said, “can cost a lot of money.”

Filling out the other financial aid form – the Free Application For Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form – was a challenge, and I say that as someone who has spent a career as a bank examiner with the FDIC and as a banker.

At the Bank, we often tell customers to feel free to come talk to us when they’re considering a significant financial move. There are a lot of situations we see all the time, so we have ideas of what has worked well for other people. Also – since we’re not personally involved with a customer’s finances – we can offer an objectivity people tell us they value and appreciate.

Short of buying a house, there’s no more significant financial event for most families than paying for college. For many, college will end up costing as much – or more! – than their house!

I did not consult with an independent college planner this year. But having gone through the process once, I am seriously considering it now.

Having an independent, objective college planning expert on the team – helping to sort colleges, fill out confusing and complicated financial aid forms, evaluate loan options and deal with the very natural emotions involved – could definitely be a time-saver for any family. Possibly a money-saver too. Since most college planners seem to offer a free initial consultation, there’s nothing to lose by exploring that option.

One other option to consider if it’s right for your child: Joining the military. Having had the honor myself of serving as a Captain in the Army National Guard, I can speak to the life-long benefits of being in the military. The practical leadership development and team-building training I had in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) was by far the best educational experience of my college years. For a young person genuinely interested in military service, the excellent ROTC scholarship program and GI Bill educational benefits are a very nice added plus.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to


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