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The 3 Step Approach To Paying Tuition & College Expenses

Don’t you wish everything in life could be solved in three steps or less?  It sure would make things a heck of a lot easier. While paying for college probably deserves more attention than three steps can provide, I am going to attempt to give you the quickest solution known to mankind for covering your tuition expenses.. and yes.. it will not surpass three steps.

The Made Up Situation

You just got your tuition bill in the mail for the first semester of classes and it says that you owe the University $10,000. Most people would gasp at this dollar amount but you chose to go to Princeton and $10,000 a semester is a pretty good deal after you factor in all your financial aid. Since this is your first semester and you plan on going to classes next semester, you can probably count on another $10,000 bill before the end of the year. So your total college expense billed through the University for the year will be $20,000. Now that we know what figure we are working with, let’s go ahead and see what your options are when it comes to paying this bill (besides check or cash).

The Three Step Approach To Paying Your Tuition Bill


  1. The Pay In Full Each Semester Bill Approach: This type of billing has been adopted by universities far and near and basically it allows the family to pay for each semester (in full) as the billing is generated. The majority of families pay for education in this manner and they usually utilize two sources to make these payments – savings or discretionary income. Based upon your “Made Up Situation” above, you can send in the check for $10,000 and feel resolved that you have done your part (financially) for the semester and eagerly await the mailing of your next billing statement. If step one doesn’t solve your tuition woes, then you should certainly move onto option two and see if it helps to provide light at the end of the tunnel (and no the light is not a train!)
  2. Monthly Payment Plan Approach: Most colleges and universities have some sort of monthly payment plan that they can provide for their families. Some are managed in-house and others utilize a third party to process the payments. Regardless of how they provide this option, it is definitely something for you to consider. My experience with monthly payment plans show that they don’t charge interest but they do usually have a nominal enrollment fee. Most payment plans can span over the entire academic year which typically is about ten months. Based upon the arbitrary payment amount above ($10,000 a semester), you would want to budget $20,000 on your monthly payment plan, or $2000 a month for a ten month plan. Still not providing a cure to your tuition bill blues? Let’s move onto step three!
  3. Education Loans Make Ends Meet Approach: Not my favorite option by a long shot. However, if you are unable to take care of your tuition bill using options 1 and/or 2, then it is time to look at additional education loans. My advice would be that you exhaust federal loan programs 1st and then as a last resort start looking at private options… including your local credit unions

Ok.. that is it.. the three step approach to paying your tuition bill. But wait! I have one more option if you are eager and/or interested.

The A La Carte Approach To Paying Your Tuition Bill

You are used to A La Carte in the lunch line when you get to pick and choose form the menu what you are going to eat for the day. Why not apply the same principle to paying for tuition? What if you are able to choose and mix and match from the three options above to find a way to cover your tuition bill? Sound like a good idea? Surprisingly, most schools will be “ok” with this approach.. as long as you do it right. Let’s take the $20,000 figure and come up with a quick scenario of how this can work.

  1. Option 1 (Pay In Full): I can’t afford to pay $10,000 each semester but my checkbook says that I can do about $2,500 a semester. Based upon that figure, that leaves me with $15,000 that I need to figure out how I am going to pay. Immediately, I look at option 2.
  2. Option 2 (Monthly Payment Plan): $15,000 over ten months would be $1,500 a month. My budget dictates that I can do about $1,000 a month. $1,000 a month for ten months would be $10,000. My balance was $20,000 for the year and I am paying $5,0000 with option 1 and $10,000 with option 2. That leaves me with $5,000 unaccounted for and that is when I refer to option 3
  3. Option 3 (loans): Since I am trying to pay as much as I can now (using options 1 & 2) and not maximizing my full loan eligibility, I only need to get a loan for $5000 to finish out the remainder of the tuition I will owe for the year.  Whew.. Glad that is over! Now onto more import things – like studying and going to class!

As you can imagine, I came up with that tuition payment scenario and situation very quickly. What you will want to do is sit down as a family and have that kitchen table conversation utilizing your numbers and figures and come up with the option(s) that works best for you. When you take the time and effort to make these decisions as a family it will benefit all involved (mom, dad, and student!).

Hope you found this article helpful. If you know of anyone else that can benefit from this information, please be sure to pass this along using the “share tab” below. Also, if you have any questions related to paying or saving for college or the financial aid process, don’t hesitate to contact CheapScholar. I always enjoy hearing from our readers.

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  1. […] you’re saving for college, paying for school right now or paying back your student loans, planning how to effectively allocate your money is crucial. When […]


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