If you need help paying for college, make sure to avoid taking on student loan debt unless you have to.
While it may seem embarrassing, asking your relatives for help can be an excellent way to get some financial assistance without high-interest student debt. And, you may be surprised by your family’s willingness to help.
According to a TD Ameritrade survey, 80% of responding grandparents said they gave their grandchildren financial support in the past year, primarily in the form of college savings. On average, grandparents gave their grandchildren $2,383 in aid per year.
When grandparents give cash to pay down student loans, they will not pay gift tax on any amount under $16,000.
Here’s how grandparents can help pay for college.
5 ways to pay for college tuition with your grandparents’ help
Talking to your family about money can feel awkward, but it’s important to have an open and frank conversation.
When sitting down with your grandparents, make sure you mention these key points:
- Your school’s total cost of attendance: The cost of college has skyrocketed since your grandparents were young. They will likely be shocked at the expense and won’t want you to take on that much debt.
- What financial aid you’ll receive and what your parents will contribute: Show your grandparents your financial aid award letter, including what scholarships, grants, and other aid you qualified for from your school. That aid will give them an idea of how much work you’ve done already, and what your parents are contributing (if applicable).
- What you plan to do in school: Tell your family about your major and your plans for after graduation. If you plan on working in school to offset your education costs, make sure you share with your grandparents what kind of work you expect to do and how much you’ll earn.
- What money you need to fill the gap: Finally, explain how much money you need after financial aid and working a part-time job to cover the total cost of attendance.
Once your grandparents have a full picture of your college expenses, you can ask the following questions to help you come up with a plan for how to pay for college tuition:
1. Have you contributed to a 529 plan or Coverdell account?
You may not realize it, but your grandparents may have already tucked away money for your college education. 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings accounts are special savings accounts families can use to save for college. Relatives, including grandparents, can save money for beneficiaries’ qualified education expenses.
Your family may have opened an account with you as the designated beneficiary and made contributions over the years, so ask your grandparents if there is an education savings account in your name. The money could have grown over time, helping you pay for a portion of your expenses.
2. Could you pay tuition directly to the school?
In some cases, your grandparents may be willing to pay a chunk of your tuition.
Typically, if someone gives you a large cash gift, they have to pay gift taxes, which can be substantial. But with the annual gift-tax exclusion set by the IRS, each grandparent can give you up to $15,000 in 2020 free of gift taxes. If you have two grandparents, that means they can give you up to $30,000 without paying gift taxes. Tuition paid directly to the school isn’t subject to gift taxes, either.
However, keep in mind that money given to you or the school as a gift can affect what financial aid you can get. It’s considered income, so it may lessen what grants or federal loans you’re eligible for later on.
3. Would you match some of your college savings?
Many family members will want to see that you’re serious about your education and will be responsible with their money. To prove that you’re focused on your goals, ask your grandparents to match your own contributions rather than make an outright gift.
For example, if you saved $2,000 by working over the summer and a part-time job during the semester, they may be willing to contribute an additional $2,000 to cover your other education expenses.
4. Are you willing to cosign a loan?
If your grandparents aren’t willing or able to give you a cash gift, they may be able to help you finance your education by cosigning a loan application. This approach can be a great asset if you need additional money for school and have hit the annual limit on federal student loans.
With private student loans, you’ll have to meet lenders’ credit score and income requirements. As a college student, you likely won’t meet those requirements on your own, so you’ll need a cosigner. If your grandparents are willing to cosign a loan with you, they can help you qualify for a loan and get more competitive interest rates than you’d get on your own.
5. Would you be willing to repay some of your student loan debt?
In some cases, your grandparents may be able to help you after you graduate. Once you leave school and start working, they may agree to match a portion of your student loan payments. Or, they will decide to pay off some of your debt rather than leave you money as an inheritance.
Other ways to pay for your college education
Not all grandparents will be financially able to help you pay for college; they have their own retirement and health expenses to worry about, and may not have the means to cover your education costs.
If you need more money and your family isn’t able to help you, make sure you explore other scholarships and grant opportunities. You can use sites like FastWeb, Scholarships.com, and Niche to find awards offered by private organizations and non-profit groups.