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By Adam Zoll | 12-04-2013 03:00 PM

College Planning Talking Points for Parents

Asking children to fund at least part of their education and articulating your own expectations should be two key goals of the conversation, says consumer advocate Eleanor Blayney.

Adam Zoll: For Morningstar, I'm Adam Zoll.

The rising cost of college means that more parents are searching for ways to speak to their children about how to meet this financial challenge.

Here with some tips is Eleanor Blayney. She is the consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

Eleanor, thanks for being with us today.

Eleanor Blayney: Thank you. I'm pleased to be with you.

Zoll: Let's start with a basic question. At what age would you advise parents to start having this conversation, this dialogue, with their children about the expectations with regard to who is going to pay for college?

Blayney: I think it's good to get an early start, to get the boundary set so everybody understands what is available from the parents for the child's education and what the expectations are for the child--to work or to get scholarships or to get loans.

For many families, a college education is now a financial goal almost as large, if not larger in some cases, than a home purchase. It's not an easy thing to do, and everybody has to shoulder some responsibility. The earlier you start talking about that and how you're prepared to help your child, the better.

Zoll: I imagine that college is on students' radar once they hit high school, but would you recommended that parents even start younger than that in terms of getting the child to think about this issue?

Blayney: I don't know if you want to get into the dollars and cents too early. I think you start by showing them the value of the education and explaining to them why this is important, to begin to sensitize them to the fact that this is an investment that you're making in your child and that there's a return to that investment in the form of the education, the job skills, the preparation for life ahead. So begin to start talking about it as a very important investment in their future.

Zoll: There are lots of different ways that parents can go about this. I've heard of parents telling their children that there's a set dollar amount, giving them an actual dollar figure: Here is how much we'll pay; anything above this is your responsibility.

Other parents take more of a negotiating approach--more of a give and take in terms of what school the child will go to, what they will pay, what the child may have to take out in loans.

Is there a specific approach that you recommend, or does it just need to be whatever the family is comfortable with?

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