How to finance college without drowning in debt

How to finance college without drowning in debt. As any consumer who has tried to pay their own or someone else’s way through higher education can attest, getting a degree is expensive.

But there is a way for consumers to pay for college without taking on large amounts of credit card debt and massive private student loans, according to television station KNDO in Yakima, Washington. The first and most important step, the report said, is understanding the "true cost" of a college degree. Tuition is expensive everywhere – though public universities are more than $11,000 cheaper than private schools per year, on average – and those costs don’t include things like housing, meals, textbooks and supplies.

The station also recommends consumers look into getting help from the federal government to pay for tuition. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can open the door for nine federal student aid programs and more than 600 others administered by states and various institutions. Students can also seek scholarships, and not just those for academics. The report says that there are scholarships for everything from left-handed people to those whose parents work in certain professions. Anyone interested in getting a scholarship should seek them out online.

The report says that there are long-term savings accounts called 529 education savings plans that can help those who want to plan for the future education of young family members. The earnings of these accounts are tax-free in every state but Alabama. Further, there is grant money available for some students, though these are often not big enough to cover the entire cost of an education. A recent law was passed that limited federal Pell Grants to $5,500. The upside of these grants, though, is that they do not have to be paid back.

And for those currently in college looking to save some money, the report says that reining in credit card spending, or cutting it out entirely, is the best way to do it. Credit card debt is not easy to pay off thanks to high interest rates, and, because of the soaring cost of education, bills can pile up in a hurry even if students try to live within their means.

A 2009 poll from Sally Mae said that 92 percent of undergraduate students with credit cards use them to pay for things like books, supplies, and other school-related expenses. Thirty percent use them to pay their tuition as well.