Friday, January 30, 2015

Parents can help limit student debt

Mom and Dad have an important role to play in limiting the amount of debt their college students accrue. And it has nothing to do with their income.

While parents are often stunned by the amount of college-loan debt students amass (average $33,000), they are even more concerned about student use of credit cards to finance short-term needs (average four cards and $5,000).

This combination of debt creates an impending financial disaster. Many students are either dropping out of school or losing focus. The latter often occurs when students hit the $30,000 debt threshold, which is junior year for most students. That year, and the next, are critical. They are when the focus should be on majors and becoming heavily involved in on-campus clubs and programs and other extracurricular experiences that prepare them for life after college.

Parents, then, have a choice: Help your children manage their finances or face those dreaded "need money" phone calls, e-mails, and texts for years to come.

Even though many parents cannot help pay for a student's education, they can still help financially. By being an active participant in the funding process (going over award letters, loans, and other related issues), a parent can help a student be more accountable and, as a result, lower the debt load.

Parents can start this education process years before enrollment by learning college lingo. By learning how colleges operate, Mom and Dad become better consumers and are better equipped to guide their would-be scholars through all aspects of the process, including the financing part.

Being a college student is tough. Tests, studying, papers, and other late-night activities are a full-time job, often leaving little time to also become a good money manager. That is where an active parent can be most effective. When parents set a positive direction, students become accountable partners and develop into self-reliant young adults.


Dan Boylan is a finance instructor in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.

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