As Americans we tend to take for granted the notion that a college education is the path to a financially secure adulthood. Recently I read a statistic that indicates that that may no longer be the case: the rate of homeownership among young (30-year-old) student loan holders—the most educated segment of the population, in that all have attended college—has for the first time dipped below the homeownership rate for non-borrowers, who as a group have lower educational attainment[i]. Similar data are beginning to appear for car ownership as well. In the last 10 years, the amount of debt that students graduate with has almost doubled from an average debt of just over $10,000 in 2003 to nearly $30,000 in 2013.

If home- and car ownership—two of the hallmarks of the American Dream—are now lower for a large segment of college graduates than for the population as a whole, it points to a disturbing notion: a college education has become for many a path to financial instability, not to the financially secure adulthood that most of us expect a college education to ensure. While it’s true that some of that debt accrues to students majoring in low-paying fields at high-priced schools, there are plenty of accounting and engineering majors graduating with significant debt burdens too. The high price of college makes attending a risky proposition.

But it’s also true that the cost of not attending college is high: On average, bachelor’s degree holders earn $1 million more over their lifetime than do those with just a high school diploma. And setting aside the data, many of us as parents believe that college is among the most formative experiences of our lives—for reasons well beyond the economic benefits we have received or seen others receive as college graduates—and we are adamant that our children should have that experience.

All this makes it sound like the stakes are pretty high for college. The purpose of this blog is to ensure that your child can get a great education at a price that doesn’t compromise her future or your retirement. It’s vital for parents and students to understand how to manage college costs, how to pay for college, and how to get financial assistance.

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  1. Numbers for earlier post – tuition is 13,337, we used 6615 from 529, 2750 federal student loan , 3600 cash , 500 scholarship & over 400 in books . I previously thought American Opportunity tax credit 4000 had to be paid in cash but now I have read federal loans count towards the 4000.

    1. That is correct– any money that hasn’t received another tax benefit is eligible for the tax credit. Which is a confusing way of saying that any money that wasn’t in a tax-advantaged savings plan (529 or Coverdell) is eligible, including loans.

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