Now is the Time to Think about the Cost of College

The cost of a four-year college education is daunting. So how can you build a college fund? Find out about your options here.

You don't have to go far or long to hear or read about the rising costs of attending college. It's easy to lie awake at night wondering how you will be able to help your children when they're ready to start their education.

Colleges often provide financial aid for families who can't afford all the costs, but it's next to impossible to know in advance how much money a family will receive, and in most cases college estimates of a family's financial need are far lower than the actual need. So what's a good approach?

The best thing you can do is to start now: Start informing yourself about a variety of college savings plans in which the money you deposit is invested and will grow over the years and from which you can withdraw money tax-free for college expenses. Start looking at your household expenses and the family income, to get a realistic idea of how much money could be put toward school costs on a monthly basis when your child goes off to school. More important--start thinking now—even if you've just had your first baby—about how much you can set aside each week, month, or year toward education expenses.

To help alleviate your worry, inform yourself about education tax credits that you may be eligible for during the four years of undergraduate school. If your income allows enough savings, learn about putting money in custodial accounts or trusts to facilitate college funding.

And remember that if your children take out Federal student loans to finance their education, there are a variety of payment plans that help the graduate manage both living expenses and loan payments.

Statistics have shown that over the course of their lives individuals with college degrees earn considerably more than those without. And, of course, learning how to think and write and wrestle with ideas is invaluable. So think long term and remember that, despite its cost, a college education is worth it.