Saving for college, how to prepare for tuition payments at any phase

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - As rising high school seniors head back to the classroom, the decision of where to apply for college and the financial aid process are just a few weeks away.

Whether you've been saving money since your child was born or their college tuition fund is looking a little bare, experts say there are many ways for families to get that tuition money together. Experts say when it comes to paying tuition-- the longer you wait, the less desirable your options are.

Tommy Blair, the Director of Financial Aid at Roanoke College says there are three ways to pay tuition: past, present or future.

He says many families began preparing in the past, setting aside money each month or year to save for their child's tuition. Even saving a little each month can make a major dent in tuition costs-- $50 a month from the time they're born can add up to nearly $11,000 by the time that first tuition check is due.

If families didn't save, there are still options now to pay those costs-- like applying for financial aid and scholarships. It can be difficult, but the family could also make budget cuts to make tuition payments out-of-pocket.

The final option is the future, taking out loans now that will have to be paid off later. Experts say that's something that families really need to think about.

"Students certainly need to make good decisions when it comes to student loan debt," says Blair. "They'll hear from me quite often, reasonably manageable limits. [Loans are] a good investment, within reasonable manageable limits."

He says it's important to keep debt ration in mind while applying for those loans, not taking out more than they can feasibly pay back once they graduate.

If tuition is just too high and taking out major loans doesn't make sense for the student financially, they may have to move on to a second choice school-- choosing something that better fits their family budget.