It probably isn’t realistic to ask teenagers to bear the entire cost of a four-year college education. But neither is a parent-financed free ticket. Talk with your teens to give them the facts about college costs and how they are expected to help pay for them.

College is important for your children, but parents should also protect their own finances and retirement plans. Having an open and honest discussion about what you can help with and what your teenager may need to contribute can help them with one of the biggest decisions of their young lives, where to go to college.

Gather the facts. For students living on campus, the four-year cost of an in-state public institution is $103,456. Average out-of-state public colleges and private universities cost $174,885 and $215,796, respectively, for four years. The average cost of community college is $7,460 in total, or $1,865 per semester. Trade school tuition ranges from $3,600 to $14,500 per year.

Explain why your teen should contribute. Many families prioritize their savings goals, and most parents don’t have the extra cash to pay all college costs. In addition, taking partial responsibility for college expenses can help students learn vital life skills, including the value of work and intelligent money management. Ultimately, it boils down to questions of fairness, equity, and responsibility.

Enlist useful tools. Parents should utilize valuable tools to help make the facts transparent to their children. For example, you can use the Federal Student Aid Estimator to estimate your eligibility for financial aid and your expected family contribution. The U.S. Department of Education Net Price Calculator Center has powerful tools to help you estimate how much colleges will cost after subtracting grants and scholarships.

Discuss options for scholarships and grants. Many private and public colleges offer some type of merit scholarship, while Ivy League colleges offer none. In addition, most colleges distribute scholarship money based upon financial need. You can use the CareerOneStop Scholarship Finder to identify more than 8,000 scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other financial aid award opportunities.

Skin in the game. Whether out of principle or necessity, students should be prepared to share the costs of their college educations. Because this can be a tricky topic, I urge you to contact me for a family consultation about the realities of college, the cost and financial benefits, and your options for managing those. By starting early, I can help you plan this important life event for your children while protecting your future finances.

Charity begins at home. Your primary obligation is to ensure a comfortable retirement and provide for your family. Temper your generosity by intelligently donating to charities in ways and amounts that fit your unique circumstance. Please get in touch with me at your convenience to discuss a charitable giving plan that works with, not against, your retirement goals.

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