by Jeanne Mahan, former financial aid officer at Tufts University

What do I do with my first tuition bill?

It’s July and that long-awaited tuition bill will be here any minute. Even though you’ve been preparing for it, the first tuition bill can still catch you off guard. Before making any payments, here are some things to know.

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 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 student to share their login information with you so that you can access and pay the bill.

Review the bill carefully to ensure that you need all the items for which you’re being billed. If your employer-sponsored health insurance plan will cover your student when they’re at school (as most plans will), you may be able to waive the school’s insurance coverage. Check to see that the meal plan your student has chosen is the one on the bill. Meal plans are 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. Check out the opportunities to use 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 borrowing parent loans is part of your payment strategy, 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 (grants, scholarships, loans, and work study) your student has been awarded, but that amount may be more than what you actually need to cover the bill. Consider using a payment plan, which allows you to divide your payments, interest free, over three, six, ten, or sometimes twelve 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. Day-to-day expenses, such as groceries, gas, utilities, and extracurricular activities will decrease when your child leaves your home, freeing up funds that can be used towards a payment plan.

As with any purchase, before making that payment 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.

Determine the Best Way to Pay for College

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. Visit our website to learn more about Jeanne Mahan.