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11 Talks About Money to Have With Your College-Bound Kid

mom talking to teenage daughter

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

What happens when your high schooler walks into any college and career counselor’s office?

He gets a laundry list of tasks—like apply for scholarships, visit colleges, writer the admissions essay and on and on.

But does the school counselor ever add, “Have a conversation with your parents about money”?

Not likely.

If he or she does, that deserves a hug. 

It’s a great idea to have several crucial money conversations each year in high school. 

But why is it so important to talk about money with your college student?

Your life experience means a lot, and even if you don’t consider yourself a money aficionado, your child can learn from you.

Don’t shy away from these conversations, even if you’ve made money mistakes before.

Convo 1: Talk about how much you plan to contribute toward college. 

You might not plan to pay anything toward college. You might pay $5,000. You might pay the whole bill.

No matter what, it’s best to have a conversation with your child before senior year. There’s nothing worse than not being on the same page.

If your child assumes you’ll pay the whole bill, when, in reality, you can’t pay anything (and he doesn’t apply for scholarships or work to save for it) he might find himself in a pickle later on. Have those conversations early and often for best results.

Note: If you haven’t been able to save any money at all, it’s OK. Just talk about it with your child. Now’s the time to make sure your student has an idea of what to expect, including how much he or she will be required to contribute toward college costs.

Convo 2: Chat about your kid’s earning potential.

Your child doesn’t have to roll over and go back to sleep on Saturday mornings. Why not start earning some money toward college?

It’s amazing how much your child can earn for college if he or she puts in the effort.

Sure, it’s hard work, but put it this way: If your child can earn $3,000 over the course of a summer over the course of four summers, that’s close to $10,000 your child can put toward college—not an amount to sneeze at!

Convo 3: Talk about credit cards. 

Many college students get into credit card debt during college, so it’s really important for your child to understand how credit cards work and how to use them the right way.

Teach them how credit cards can get out of hand quickly due to sky-high interest rates.

A few tips: 

  1. Consider adding your child as an authorized user on your own credit card account so your child can build credit under your name. 
  2. You set the spending limit each month and set your own expectations.
  3. Review each statement every month together to see how your child’s doing.
  4. Explain the consequences of spending too much or on the wrong things. 
Why Should Cozy Up to Your Financial Aid Officer

Convo 4: Explain how student loans work. (It saves headaches later on.)

Explain that your child must pay back loans—with interest.

Federal student loans always carry a lower interest rate than private loans, so talk through those if your child must take out loans. You can both get familiar with student loan lingo (ever heard of an origination fee?) so your child understands exactly what happens when he or she takes out a loan.

Discuss interest rates, repayment schedules, grace periods and more.

Still not quite sure yourself? Find answers to some of the most common student loan questions here. 

Oh, and make sure you have a frank conversation about your own experiences with debt, including how it makes you feel.

Convo 5: Teach your kids how college payments work (and if you’re not sure, reach out to college professionals). 

It’s a good idea to have a conversation together and with a financial aid professional or admissions counselor at each college so your child understands how tuition, room, board and fees totals up and how scholarships and other awards play in. 

Talk about how tuition, room, board and fees are due prior to the start of the beginning of the semester and the start of second semester. 

Other Money Talks to Have with Your Soon-to-Be College Student

Covered all those subjects? Good!

Go through a few more of these conversations:

  1. Talk about scholarships. There’s no reason your child needs to wait until senior year to start looking for scholarships. It’s a mistake many families make. Start looking for scholarships as early as possible. You can even look for scholarships using Google.
  2. Talk about how money works. Saving, earning and investing is such a valuable conversation to have at any time.
  3. Chat about a budget for college visits and other items. All of it may cost more than you think. What will college visits involve? Airfare, hotels, etc.? Create a budget spreadsheet. It’ll come in handy whenever you start visiting colleges. 
  4. Take a look at several colleges’ net price calculators. These will give you and your child a great idea of how much a particular school will cost. Net price calculators are available on every school’s website. They allow you to enter information to find out what students paid to go to that college in the previous year—after taking grants and scholarship aid into account. 
  5. Explain the differences between work-study, scholarships, grants loans and more. Not sure you understand the differences yourself? Niche can help you learn more about different ways to pay for college.
  6. Talk through each and every financial aid award once the time comes. Once you start getting financial aid awards, make sure you both understand every single item on them—grants, scholarships, loans, work-study and more. If you aren’t sure what’s what (even after our explainer), reach out to your admission counselor or the financial aid office at each particular school. 

Having Great Money Conversations Matters

More than anything, you want to prepare your child for the “real world.” Don’t miss opportunities to talk about money matters!

Several open dialogues about your college investment (and how you can make it happen together) can really get you moving in the right direction.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!