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I could speak from experience on this one since I put three daughters through private school.  

You can never start early enough to save for college. Tuition room and board for a private college is currently running between $32,000 to $46,000 for non-Ivy League schools. They continue to increase at a rate of 2-4% per year. State schools are less, but costs are also rising rapidly.

Financial aid is available through a variety of sources. There are two forms of financial aid:

Scholarships and Grants that do not have to be paid back are awarded to students based on academics or need. The formula for determining who gets what is complex. It is also confidential to the college and different for every institution. Colleges are businesses. They try to improve their place in academia by bringing in better students each year. They also have to conform to certain federal guidelines based on a number of factors including sex, race, economic diversity and geographic location. So the formula for determining who gets accepted to a college and who gets money via grants and scholarships depends a lot on how the mix of applicants fit into the criteria the college is working with.

That being said, above average students may get, if they are lucky, from 5-20% in a form of grants and scholarship money regardless of financial need. Top students could get much more.  The rest of the financial aid is usually based on financial need.

Loans

The more money a child has in their name and the more money the parent has, the less in terms of grants that the child will receive. Most financial aid is in the form of loans that have to be paid back. There are many loans available and there is a ton of information on them throughout the internet and via your own bank.

Saving money

Unfortunately, the more you save, the more affluent you look to a college and the less they will probably give you in terms of aid. At the same time, income is a big factor. So if your income or combined income with your spouse is significant, it will also greatly reduce your chances of getting aid.

Bottom line is you are going to end up paying regardless of what you do. It is advisable to save as much as you can as soon as you can. This will help with the burden later.

Savings plans

There are a number of savings plans available. The college 529 plan is currently the most talked about and probably the best program available for most people that are serious about saving money.

529 Advantages
  • Deposits may be tax deductible at the state level
  • There is no tax on the interest or capital gains of the investment as long as the money is used for education.
  • Money can be transferred from one child to the next if it is not used on the first child.
529 Disadvantages
  • To get the state tax credit, you have to use the investment firm that your state sponsors.
  • Investment selection may be limited.
  • You are only permitted to change the investment selection once per year.
  • If you do not use the money for education, all gains and interest will ultimately be taxed.
Conclusions

There is a tremendous demand for College education. In my opinion, the colleges are taking advantage of that and charging higher and higher fees. They are getting these fees and overbooking enrollment.  Parents have little to do but save for this huge expense or they and their child will be saddled with loans to pay off. For those that could afford to do so, the 529 plan even with its drawbacks is probably the best product to use. The web pages attached above should be a great resource.
 

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