FAFSA

What do I do with my first tuition bill?

It’s hard to believe, but July is here and that means you’ll soon be receiving your child’s first college bill (if you haven’t already). Although you may have been preparing for this day for what seems like an eternity, that first tuition bill can still catch you off guard. Here are some things you should know before making any payments.

First, most colleges use a “paperless” billing system. Usually, the student (not the parents) will receive an email notification that the college bill is due, and the charges can be viewed on the student’s web portal. Some colleges have parent portals that, with your child’s permission, allow you to view financial aid and billing statements. If your child’s school doesn’t have a parent portal, you may want to ask your son or daughter to share their login information with you so that you can access and pay the bill.

Review the bill carefully for accuracy and to ensure that you actually need all the items for which you’re being billed. If your employer-sponsored health insurance plan will cover your student when he is at school (as most plans will), you may be able to waive the school’s insurance coverage. Check to see that the meal plan you’ve chosen is the one on the bill. Meal plans are often one of the items where downsizing won’t hurt, as many students find they don’t make it to the dining hall 21 times per week. Investigate whether they may or may not be able to use their meal cards at other on or off campus establishments, and don’t forget all the mac and cheese and popcorn in the dorm! Review fees to ensure that you aren’t being charged a lab fee if your student’s schedule doesn’t include a lab science. And keep in mind, if your student is borrowing federal student loans and has not completed entrance counseling or a promissory note, the credits for those loans may not appear on the bill and action will be required of your child to secure that loan funding.

If you are considering borrowing parent loans, determine exactly how much you will need to cover the charges. The Financial Aid Office determined your eligibility for a PLUS loan based on the cost of attendance minus any financial aid your student has been awarded, but that amount may be more than what you actually need to cover the bill. If you haven’t considered a payment plan, you might want to do that now. A payment plan allows you to divide your payments, interest free, over 3, 6, 10, or sometimes 12 months, depending on the plan. For a small account setup fee, you determine the amount you want to pay over the term of the plan. Some families choose to use payment plans to cover the entire bill, while others will supplement a payment plan with a parent loan. Payment plans are a great way to keep parent borrowing at a more reasonable level or even eliminate borrowing altogether. Your day to day expenses, such as groceries, gas, utilities and extracurricular activities, will decrease when your child leaves for school, freeing up some funds that can be used towards a payment plan.

As with any purchase, before writing that check to the college or signing on the dotted line for a loan, make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for. If you have any questions about charges on your child’s tuition bill or financial aid credits, reach out to the school’s Student Financial Services Office for assistance, or seek the guidance of a qualified college finance expert.



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Written by Jeanne Mahan
Jeanne Mahan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. She worked as a senior financial aid officer at Tufts University and Quinsigamond Community College before joining College Coach.