Top Tips to Help Tackle the Costs of College

Top Tips to Help Tackle the Costs of College

04/14/2021 | Investment & Retirement


Updated 529 Savings and Student Loan Information


In recent years, Americans have become increasingly cost-conscious, cutting back and looking for more options to save where they can. In alignment with inflation and the rest of the economy, the cost of attending college has continuously risen in the past few years. In  the 2022-23 academic year alone, families reported spending $28,026 on college, an 11% increase from $25,313 in 2021-22 according to new data in “How America Pays For College 2023,” the annual study from Sallie Mae® and Ipsos.

Other report highlights include:

  • Scholarships and grants were used by 76% of families and covered 29% of costs.
  • 41% of families reported borrowing for college, covering 19% of costs.
  • 4 in 10 families did not use scholarships to cover college costs, most often citing a lack of awareness and low likelihood of winning for not applying.
  • In fact, 45% of families believe scholarships are only available for students with exceptional grades or abilities.

With rising costs and student loan payments resuming in October 2023, United Bank is sharing updated college saving tips with scholarships, 529 savings, and student loan options for you and your family.


“Financial Advisors at United Brokerage are experienced in college planning and specialize in helping clients uncover the best college savings options available. We approach the college savings process on an individual basis and work diligently to make sure we do not miss a single opportunity for savings and incentives.”
- Amanda Vance Giangola, MBA, Vice President, Financial Advisor, United Brokerage Services


 Seek Out Scholarships

Individual colleges offer various scholarships for students who attend their schools. Beyond those, there are thousands of scholarships available nationwide, specific to academic performance, athletics, and extracurricular activities. Scholarships have also become increasingly available for underrepresented groups. 

There are several new trends in college scholarships that parents and students should be aware of, including:

  • The rise of merit-based scholarships: Merit-based scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and other factors. These scholarships are becoming increasingly popular as colleges look for ways to attract top students.
  • The growth of online scholarships: Online scholarships are becoming more common as they make it easier for students to apply for scholarships from all over the world. There are several websites that list online scholarships, such as and
  • The increasing availability of scholarships for underrepresented groups: There are a number of scholarships available for students from underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities, and first-generation college students. These scholarships can help students from these groups afford college.
  • The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in scholarship selection: Some colleges are using AI to help select scholarship recipients. AI can be used to assess academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and other factors to identify students who are most likely to succeed in college.

All together, these scholarships award billions of dollars for college expenses annually, easing the financial burden and reducing the debt amount of debt students need to take on. This is essentially “free money” offered to students that, unlike loans, don’t have to be paid back. To connect more students and families to scholarships, Scholly—the top scholarship search app—is now free through Sallie Mae. To date, students have won more than $100 million in scholarships through Scholly.

Two additional resources for tracking down scholarships and their eligibility requirements are the College Board’s Scholarship Search (brought to you by the nonprofit behind the SAT standardized test for college admissions) and Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search tool1.

Lastly, don’t forget to check with local civic organizations that may offer scholarships. Examples in your community include the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and American Legion Clubs.



 529 Savings

One option for college savings that has grown more popular in recent years is the 529 plan.
A 529 is a specialized savings account specifically designed to help save money to pay for college in a way that is tax-advantaged for you. Benefits include tax-deferred growth, tax deductions, and tax-free withdrawals for money used to cover qualified tuition and educational expenses. 

Though there are a variety of options, opening a 529 account is straightforward. The main differentiator to consider is a savings plan versus a prepaid plan. Savings plans act more like a 401(k) in that they participate in securities, bonds, and stocks. A prepaid plan is more like a pension, growing at a guaranteed rate, but with more limitations, such as which states the plan applies to and for what the money can be used.

Technically, the account owner (the one who controls the investments) and the beneficiary (the one who benefits from the money) can be the same person, but 529 accounts are most often opened by a parent or grandparent with the intention of a family member using the money when they go to college.

There has been a series of recent changes to the tax laws that have affected saving for college. These changes include:

  • The SECURE Act of 2019: This act made several changes to 529 plans, including allowing funds to be used to pay for K-12 tuition, apprenticeship programs, and student loan debt. It also increased the annual contribution limit for 529 plans to $10,000 per beneficiary.
  • The SECURE Act 2.0 of 2020: This act made additional changes to 529 plans, including allowing unused funds to be rolled over into a Roth IRA and allowing grandparents to contribute to 529 plans without affecting their annual gift tax exemption.

These changes have made saving for college easier with more flexible options. However, it is still important to start saving early and to invest your money wisely.


“The array of different 529 plan options can be cumbersome for someone who is already overwhelmed with the burdens of everyday obligations. Often, we find that individuals are not aware of their own state’s 529 plan incentives or the different benefits that they provide. Many are also unaware that 529 plans have tax, investment, retirement, and estate-planning implications! Common misconceptions about 529 plans are unfortunate examples of how opportunities are missed.”
- Amanda Vance Giangola, MBA, Vice President, Financial Advisor, United Brokerage Services


Whether your 529 plan is for you or a family member, United Brokerage Services, Inc. can help you put together the right college savings strategy for your specific needs. 




Deciding how to invest college tuition money depends on your family’s timeline. If you’re sending a child to college this year, counting on fast, significant investment growth is unrealistic. 

However, if you have a longer period of time, investing could be worthy of consideration. Investing is never a bad choice, and you can always use the money long after the graduation caps are tossed. 

United Brokerage Services, Inc. offers a variety of investment options ranging from managed asset plans and 401(k) accounts to mutual funds and municipal bonds. Working with a United Bank Financial Advisor who understands your needs can get you on the best path toward achieving your college financing goals.



 Payment Plans Through Your School’s Financial Aid Office

Your college of choice likely has a wide range of payment options available.

In addition to merit-based and need-based scholarships, most colleges get creative with financing plans. Some plans include prepayment of four years' tuition — the idea being that you pay a lower amount at the current price, without worrying about rising tuition costs. 

Many colleges also have monthly payment plans, where the semesters’ costs are evenly distributed across 12 months — a choice that helps keep payments consistent without having to pay a large sum at once out of pocket.

Note that with some monthly payment plans, colleges typically charge an additional fee, so be on the lookout for any upcharges.

Deferred payment plans are also an option offered through many schools. These payment plans give you the option to delay payments until schooling is completed, without accruing interest on the loan in the meantime. 

The details of these plans vary, so it’s important to ask specific questions at your school or financial aid office to help you understand the terms of your agreement.



 Apply for Student Loans

Student loans offer college students access to the money they need to pursue their degrees, typically with substantially lower interest rates than those available for typical consumer loans. Often, the payback requirements for these types of loans are deferred until after the student has completed school. 

Student loans are intended to bridge the gap between scholarships, financial aid, and the amount of tuition you can pay out of pocket.

In the U.S., there are two primary types of student loans — U.S. government-sponsored federal loans and private student loans, which are offered by private-sector financial institutions. Because they typically offer much lower interest rates and defer interest charges and payment requirements, federal loans are generally a much more appealing option for students than private loans. A great place to start your search for federal student loans is the website administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Roughly 64% of students graduate with student loan debt, indicating how simply necessary loans are for many people. Before taking on any student loan, make sure you’re clear on when your payments are due, what the minimum payment is, when you can refinance to get a lower interest rate, and the interest rate you’re working with. It’s important to note that the Federal Reserve could potentially raise interest rates again in 2023, depending on inflation. If they do make this change, interest rates on student loans will also increase, leading borrowers to pay more interest on their loans.

Additional student loan changes in 2023:

  • Student loan payments resume in October 2023. The pause on student loan payments that began in March 2020 will end on September 30, 2023. Borrowers will then be required to resume making payments on their loans.
  • A new income-driven repayment plan is available. The new plan, called the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan, features a lower monthly payment than the former REPAYE plan. Borrowers will also be able to qualify for loan forgiveness under the new plan after 10 years of payments, instead of 20-25 years under the former plan.
  • Borrowers can buy back certain past deferment and forbearance periods. Borrowers who have had their loans in deferment or forbearance in the past are now able to buy back those periods so that they count towards loan forgiveness. This will make it easier for borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness.
  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program has been expanded. The PSLF program has expanded to include more types of public service jobs and to forgive more debt. Borrowers who work full-time in qualifying public service jobs for 10 years are eligible to have their remaining loan balance forgiven.

These are just a few of the changes in college loans in 2023 that borrowers should be aware of and plan accordingly for. Not sure where to start? United Bank has advisors available to help you evaluate your situation and guide you to the best choice for your financial situation.



 Start a College Savings Account

Perhaps the most traditional way to cover college tuition and other higher education-related expenses is to open a savings account dedicated specifically to your college savings goals. The best strategy is simply to start saving as soon as possible by making regular (and realistic) contributions as often as you can. 

An especially smart saving practice is to regularly deposit financial windfalls, such as tax returns and bonuses.

While saving for college can be stressful, the team at United Bank has the resources and support you need to get started. Questions? Reach out today or visit our site for more information on available 529 plans.



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1 Originally set up as a government entity charged with servicing federal education loans, Sallie Mae is now a private company that still serves as the nation’s largest student loan originator.
United Brokerage Services, Inc., a registered broker-dealer is a subsidiary of United Bankshares, Inc., the issuer of UBSI stock. The investments offered through United Brokerage Services, with the exception of brokerage certificates of deposit, are not bank deposits and are not obligations of, or guaranteed by, any bank. These products are not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC. Investments are subject to risk including possible loss of principal. This information is not legal or tax advice and past performance is no guarantee of future performance.
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