When we tell our children they can go anywhere and do anything, maybe we should also include: if you can afford it. Otherwise, parents may be expected to foot the bill.
It’s already starting to happen, as most kids anticipate their parents paying for college regardless of how expensive the school is. According to investment group T. Rowe Price, 62 percent of kids believe their parents will pay for whatever college they want, and only one-third of parents think they’ll be able to afford it all.
“It’s surprising that most kids expect their parents to cover whatever college they want to go to,” says Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price. “[It] presents a real opportunity to discuss family finances and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
The study says about two-thirds of parents believe they will be able to contribute to college costs, but not pay for all of it. Especially since some parents are still working on their own college costs.
“Parents with their own student loans are more likely to lose sleep over college costs and are significantly more likely to have credit card debt,” the study says.
It could also come down to how much kids know about their family’s finances. More than two-thirds of kids think their parents are saving for their college costs when they really aren’t. Most parents feel guilty that they won’t be able to afford to pay for their child’s college costs — but maybe they should feel guilty they haven’t taught their kids better about money, instead.
Most parents are saving for college, though, even if it’s not exactly the right way. The study says 58 percent of parents are saving for their child’s college and started when their kid was young. But many aren’t using the recommended 529 plan specifically made for college savings. Forty-two percent of parents are using low-interest savings accounts and 27 percent are using retirement accounts, like a 401(k) or an IRA.
“Preparing for college entails more than studying for the SATs and should begin before kids have even started kindergarten,” Ward says. “It starts with saving for college in a 529 account and having regular money conversations at a young age, so they’ll later be able to conceptualize the financial trade-offs involved in selecting a college.”
The wrong type of savings could come back to haunt parents and kids alike later on. Most Americans with student loans regret the way they paid for school and one-third wouldn’t go to college at all because of how expensive it was after they graduated. Parents who shortchange their retirement plans to pay for college may not have time to catch up in their remaining earning years.
Who values college?
The T. Rowe Price study says almost 30 percent of parents are paying for student loans, whether their own or for a child. And 76 percent of parents are willing to take on debt to pay for their child’s college education. But are parents wasting their time?
While most everyone believes college is worth the cost, younger millennials are more likely to believe it isn’t. Because 18- to 25-year-olds aren’t yet dealing with the burden of retirement savings, homebuying, and other major costs, they may not understand the value of a degree over the course of their lifetime.