Most parents want to do everything they can financially to help their child get into college. That often means a lot of early planning and saving and pulling together funding to cover college bills. The next crucial step? Paying for college tuition by the due date.
There are consequences for missing a bill or paying late, such as dropped classes or late fees, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed. With a bit of organization and knowledge, you can confidently stay on top of things.
1. Check the E-Bill Account Information
"The most common slip-up is simply forgetting because the statement was never received, or it went to the student, who didn't get it to the parent," explains Robert Farrington, founder of the student loan debt and investing site The College Investor.
These days the billing statement may be sent electronically to the student. Make sure your child's contact information on their online billing account is up to date, especially the linked e-mail address. Otherwise the student may not receive a statement in the first place.
See if you can be added as an authorized user, which allows you to access the online billing system to make payments. Opting to receive a paper bill is an added protection. Just make sure it's sent to you and not to your child.
2. Look for Notification of Disbursement
The school is required to notify your student in writing each time loan money is disbursed into the student's online billing account. This notice includes the loan amounts and exactly how and when they'll be received. If your student doesn't get this, or some of the information is incorrect, reach out to the school and inquire as soon as possible. Otherwise the money may not be deposited on time, or you may end up falling short of funds.
3. Review the Billing Statement
Once you receive the billing statement, go through it with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors. Check to make sure all of the amounts for tuition, fees and room and board are correct. This should be done right away. If not, it could result in costly snags, which means extra calls and paperwork with the bursar's or financial aid office.
4. Line Up Your Funds
The funds to pay for your child's tuition will most likely come from several sources including financial aid, student loans, and savings. It's important to make sure all the sources of funding arrive before the payment deadline so you have the money you need.
Financial aid and student loan disbursements are usually split into two or more payments during the academic year and applied first to tuition and fees, room and board, and any other charges you've previously approved. Double-check with the school for its payout schedule, and make sure your child applies for a private student loan with enough time to go through the application process so their loan will disburse on time.
Work-study paychecks are sent to your child once a month, so plan accordingly if you are using these funds toward tuition.
5. Mind the Rules for First-Time Borrowers
If your child is a first-time, first-year undergraduate borrower, they may have to wait 30 days from the first day of the enrollment period until they receive their first student loan disbursement. You can contact the school's financial aid office to see if this applies.
Students who are first-time borrowers of Federal Direct Loans are also required to go through entrance counseling before their funds are disbursed. This is a 20 to 30 minute online session that helps your child understand what taking out a federal loan entails. You'll also want to make sure your child has reviewed and signed their Master Promissory Note (MPN), which is a legal document that contains the terms and conditions of their loans.
6. Make Sure Requirements are Fulfilled
To qualify for federal student aid, your child needs to meet the credit-hour requirements and register for the adequate number of classes. Your child will also need to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which is defined by the school. If your child is deferring payments on their federal (and some private) student loans until after graduation, then they must be enrolled at least half-time. To prevent potential hiccups, any issues should be addressed well before the first disbursement is scheduled to hit your child's student account.
7. Know Your Payment Options
The school may have several tuition payment options you can choose from. In some cases, you can opt to make monthly payments that are spread out over the course of 12 months. While this may be easiest on your finances, some schools charge a fee. You may also have the choice to defer part or all of your payment. Contact the bursar's office or look online to find out what payment arrangements are available.
If you have any questions about your financial aid award or availability, reach out to the school's financial aid office. If you have administrative questions, such as when to expect billing statements from the college, payment options, loan disbursement amounts and timing, or when to expect money to deposit into your child's student account, contact the bursar's office. Equipped with the right information, in addition to some advance planning, you and your child can be better prepared for paying for college tuition.