By J. Weinger
Is there a young person in your life who is preparing for college? Even if you aren’t a parent, you may have a niece, a nephew, a godchild or someone you are connected with in another way who is headed off to school that you want to help. This is somewhat different than if it is your own child, and you don’t want to step on any parental toes. On the other hand, some high school seniors might have little support at home. Whatever the case, here are some ways you can help a teen prepare for college even when the child is not your own.
Setting Up a 529 Plan
Depending on your relationship with the child and the child’s parents as well as your own financial situation, you may want to consider setting up a 529 college savings plan. You can actually do this when the child is still very young. There are tax advantages to putting money in a 529 plan although you should be aware of the limits that would require you to file a gift tax return. A 529 plan should be discussed with the parents because they may make sacrifices in their own lives to plan for the child’s college that would not be necessary if they were aware of this account.
Researching Financial Help
You can help the teen in your life research grants and loans. This includes both federal and student loans. While it probably won’t extend to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which requires information about the parents’ finances, you can still look at what is available and what the process is for applying. You can also research scholarships, which are not need-based, and help your teen with putting together the application and meeting deadlines.
Applying for Financial Help
Private lenders may require a cosigner. If the parents are unable or unwilling to do so, this might be a place where you could step in. It does mean that you will be responsible for the loan if the student defaults, but having a cosigner on a student loan is fairly standard procedure, and in the vast majority of cases, it goes smoothly. You know the person best and how responsible they will be. With the permission of the parents, you could also assist in completing the FAFSA, which can be done online.
Being a Sounding Board
Some parents have a specific vision for the path their child’s life will take: their hearts are set on their child studying medicine, law or business. If the child’s ambitions do not dovetail with that of the parents, there can be friction. Worse, the child may not have another adult to talk to about alternatives. Kids who are trying to find their own way don’t need more advice at this stage so much as they just need someone to listen to them, take them seriously and guide them toward resources and other possibilities. It may be that at the end of these inquiries, the child decides the parents were right after all, but at that point the decision feels more like their own.