It’s probably no surprise: The cost of college is going up. Tuition and fees for a four-year degree at a public, in-state college topped $38,600 — and that number jumps to $99,720 for a degree from a public, out-of-state school and $133,920 for a private college, according to the latest data. Student loans are skyrocketing, too, with the average borrower graduating with more than $30,000 in debt.

If you find yourself wondering how to get money for college, don’t panic. You can help cover the cost of college and ease the burden of student loan debt by following these six do’s and don’ts of college savings.

 

DOs:

DO Set a goal:

Use a college savings calculator to determine how much money you need for college. This will be based on your child’s age and expected high school graduation date. The calculation will help you set a goal for monthly savings. A Sallie Mae survey found 88 percent of parents who set college savings goals were confident they’d achieve them.

DO Understand savings vehicles:

Saving for college is a lot easier if you use the right savings tools. 529 plans are great options to save for higher education but the tax-advantaged accounts are not the only options for earning an A+ in college savings. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts also have tax-free status and can be used to cover college costs such as tuition, books and supplies. Learn more about the options here. Although there are no tax benefits, contributing to a savings account or purchasing savings bonds for college is better than not saving at all.

Do Apply for scholarships and grants:

There are tons of options for “free” money to help offset the cost of college. Schools, churches, local nonprofit groups, labor unions and social organizations are all great sources of scholarships and grants. The U.S. Department of Labor has a free scholarship search tool. The college’s financial aid office can also point you to resources.

 

DON’Ts:

DON’T Wait too long to start saving:

It’s never too late to start saving for college, but the earlier you start funding a college savings account, the more time you’ll have for your money to grow. Consider this: If you save $25 per week in an account that earns 6 percent interest from birth until your child is age 9, you’ll have $26,750 at the end of 18 years— even if you stop saving. If you wait until your child’s ninth birthday to start saving, that same $25 per week at 6 percent interest will add up to just $15,800 by the time college starts. The power of compound interest means saving earlier is better than waiting.

DON’T Overlook financial aid:

Billions of dollars in federal financial aid via grants, work-study programs and loans are available to students who qualify. Check out the U.S. Department of Education website to learn more about financial aid eligibility and to use the online calculator to determine how much your child could receive for college.

DON’T Sacrifice retirement savings:

It might be tempting to redirect 401(k) or IRA contributions to college savings plans, but it’s a mistake. Students can get loans to attend college but there are no loans to cover the cost of retirement. Prioritize retirement savings and, if extra funds are available, contribute to a college savings account.

It’s never too early to start planning for college, and your Farm Bureau agent can help. The more prepared you are to cover the costs of higher education, the less stressful it’ll be when the college sends the first bill.