Considering college? Workshop can help chart course



by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs


10/14/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Paying for college can be daunting. With preparation and research, students can earn a degree without gaining overwhelming bills.

The Airman and Family Readiness Center and Education Center are teaming up for a workshop 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 25 at the Maxwell Airman and Family Readiness Center to offer assistance on saving and paying for college.

Robertta Cole, the AFRC personal financial readiness consultant, said many recent graduates are having a difficult time finding jobs to cover their living expenses and college loans.

She recommends that students explore career goals when exploring school options to determine if their future salaries will justify education costs. "You've got to weigh the pros and cons," she said.

The workshop will discuss options for military members and their families through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Brig. Gen Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, said in a press release, "The Post-9/11 GI Bill is incredibly important because it reduces the financial burdens of higher education so that veterans have an opportunity to achieve their education goals. VA believes it is important for veterans to be aware of changes to the GI Bill this year and learn more about how these changes may affect them."

Cole said parents and students should have a frank discussion about finances when selecting a school. Parents need to be open about how much money is saved and how much will be provided for assistance.

Research will help parents and students become familiar with different loan and investment options, developing a plan to meet their financial needs.

Cole encourages students to review provisions for each option before investing. The internet, banks and investment companies can help them explore their options.

"It's like any investment opportunity, you have to research and be comfortable with how you invest," she said.

Some of the options available include:

POST-9/11 GI BILL

The VA website stated this bill provides full tuition and fees for eligible students attending public, in-state colleges and universities. The bill also assists those attending private or international schools, but the amount is capped at $17,500 per academic year. A new policy began this month stating eligible individuals can use the bill for non-college degrees, on-the-job training and correspondence courses. For additional information, visit gibill.va.gov.

FREE APPLICATION FOR FEDERAL STUDENT AID

U.S. Department of Education provides grants and loans to eligible students who complete and submit the FAFSA. Cole encourages parents and students to be extremely careful when completing these forms and seek guidance if necessary. "These forms are so complicated, and that's the main reason people are denied assistance," she said. For information, visit www.fafsa.com.

529 COLLEGE SAVING PLAN

Students of all ages can use this plan to save for any college cost, including tuition, textbooks and computers. These plans vary by state, and can be used at any college or university across the country. "The money is withdrawn tax free, as long as it is used for education expenses," Cole said. Anyone can open an account, including grandparents and other relatives. The account holder controls the money, which also is transferable, tax-free, to another 529 account.

529 PREPAID TUITION PLAN

Anyone can prepay tuition at public or private universities, locking in today's prices. Most of these plans do not cover other expenses, including room and board. How this money is guaranteed varies by state. Most plans require the parent or child to be a resident of the state when applying.

COVERDELL EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

Earnings are tax deferred, and withdrawals for education expenses are tax-free. This account differs from the 529 plans, since the money can be used to pay private elementary and high school expenses, too. The annual tax contributions are much lower than the 529 plans and vary depending on parents' marital status and income. In 2012, Congress will review contribution limits, which may change.