The brutal rise in college costs over the past decade is leading students to take on unprecedented debt with the class of 2013 graduating with debt that averages $35,200, according to a new study by Fidelity.
That figure, which includes federal, state and private loans, as well as debt owed to family and accumulated through credit cards, applied to the 70 percent of graduates who left school with college-related debt.
Even though the rise in college costs, which have outpaced inflation by 5 percentage points annually over the past decade, is well known it caught many students by surprise. Fidelity said half of students they polled with student loans were surprised how much debt they had accumulated. And 39 percent said they would have made different choices about college had they realized the extent of their debt burden.
“The number of graduates reporting surprise by the level of student debt they have accumulated is a big concern and shows that there is a considerable need for families to better understand the total cost of college,” Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement. “It is critically important for families to have thorough discussions related to college planning a lot earlier than they do now, and to understand their options and create a college savings and funding plan to help avoid significant post-graduation debt.”
Here’s some college planning tips from Fidelity:
Start planning sooner: Get involved in college planning and financing decisions with your family early, before it’s time to decide on a school.
Understand your potential post-graduation tab: Take time to understand the financial aid process, how different kinds of loans may affect post-graduation expenses and possible debt, as well as research how grants and scholarships can help off-set costs.
Consider future job prospects: Evaluate college thinking more about the majors offered and how they may impact career goals after graduation.
Control your costs: Look for ways to save and control costs while in school and create a plan to help manage expenses.
Save smart: Consider a dedicated college savings account, like a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan
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