Ed note: Saving up a large sum of money over the course of 10 or 20 years may just not be an option for you or your family. No matter whether you are financing your own college education, or trying to save for your child’s, these tips from Laura Adams will provide some unconventional ways to ease the burden of saving.
A college degree can open the door to a world of opportunity. But the average cost of college tuition at a four-year public university has increased 17% over the past five years, and is likely to continue to rise.
Though you may be able to qualify for student loans, finding other ways to pay for college allows you to borrow less and pay less interest. You might be surprised that there are easy ways to pay for college that won’t put a crimp on your lifestyle.
Option #1: Sign up for Upromise
Upromise is a free loyalty program that allows you to earn cash back for college when you spend money on everyday items you’re already buying. There are no additional costs other than what you choose to purchase.
The cash back comes from partners in the network, such as grocery stores, drug stores, online stores and restaurants. They give a percentage of your purchases back to you, with no limit on how much you can earn.
After you register your credit cards, your cash back earnings go into your Upromise account. From there you can use them to make contributions to a 529 savings plan, pay down eligible student loans or request a check.
Option #2: Request contributions to a 529 savings plan
A 529 savings plan allows you to invest contributions for postsecondary education expenses in a tax-deferred account. They’re offed by states, but your funds can be used at any accredited school in the country and even at some foreign institutions.
As long as 529 funds are used to pay for qualified education expenses, such as tuition and room and board, the earnings in the account are not subject to federal or, in most cases, state tax.
Most 529 plans accept “third-party” contributions. So consider asking family and friends to make 529 contributions in lieu of traditional gifts for events such as birthdays, bar mitzvahs, or graduation.
Option #3: Use employer education benefits
Many companies pay some or all of workers’ education expenses. But even if your employer doesn’t offer an education benefit, don’t let that stop you from trying to negotiate one.
To get the most funding, make a proposal that outlines how getting a degree will benefit your employer. Also, make sure to include a commitment to remain with the employer for a certain period of time after you complete your degree.
Option #4: Try College-Level Examination Programs
Since every college class costs money, one strategy is to eliminate as many as possible by passing course exams and earning credit for what you already know.
Find out which schools you want to attend have college-level examination programs (CLEPs) and how they apply credits. For instance, some may treat them as transfer credits.
Other schools may not award CLEP credits, but allow you to test of out of a prerequisite class. Or they may give credits for electives only, and not for courses required for your major.
Option #5: Consider studying abroad
While the cost of U.S. colleges continues to rise, the price to attend school overseas may be going down, or be completely free for Americans. For instance, Germany fully funds education for its citizens and for foreigners.
Don’t speak the language? No problem. Many schools offer programs exclusively in English.
You’ll need to pay for your everyday living expenses. However, depending on where you study and the exchange rate, the cost of living may be much lower than studying in the U.S.
The key to attending college for as little as possible is to research your options carefully, be open-minded to non-traditional alternatives, and to begin saving early. Even setting aside small amounts consistently can make a big difference in being financially prepared to send yourself or a child to college.