June 4, 2019

Paying the Price of Parenting: More than Half of Americans Willing to Go Into Debt to Put Their Child Through College

Americans willing to take on an average of $31k in debt for their child’s higher education

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The recent college admissions scandal sent shockwaves through America and revealed the extreme lengths that some parents will go to get their children into the best schools. However, a new survey from COUNTRY Financial® shows that most Americans, while not breaking any laws, are willing to go to financial extremes when it comes to their child’s college education.  

The survey found that 56 percent of Americans would voluntarily go into debt to pay for their child’s college education, with the average person willing to take on $31K in debt. Interestingly, the survey also found that men are willing to take on a higher debt amount than women to pay for their child’s education ($35K vs. $27K). 

The majority of Americans (75 percent) believe it’s important to have a college degree when looking for a job, and 65 percent believe a college degree is worth the investment.  

“Parents obviously want to do whatever is in their power to help their children get a leg up in life,” says Doyle Williams, an executive vice president at COUNTRY Financial. “However, taking on tens of thousands of dollars of debt can have a major impact on their ability to save and prepare for their own financial future.  If paying for a child’s education is a priority, then successfully integrating college funding into one’s overall savings and retirement goals is all-important. Talking with a trusted financial planner can help you align your priorities and create a strategy to reach them.”  

Parents are saving for college, but it’s not enough

According to the College Board’s 2018 report on trends in college pricing, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions have increased at an average rate of 3.1% per year beyond inflation for the past 10 years. Given the rising costs of college, parents are saving up as early as possible, with 36 percent of Americans saving for their child’s college education when the child is the age of five years or younger. However, 30 percent of parents have not been able to save anything for their child’s education, with four in 10 parents admitting that having a child is more expensive than they anticipated.

Despite all the effort parents put into furthering their child’s education, their contributions are often not enough to cover the full cost of tuition — only 18 percent of parents predict/report that their contribution will cover 81 to 100 percent of their child’s education. In fact, six in ten of those surveyed said they predict they’ll be able to cover, or were able to cover, 60 percent or less of their child’s college education costs. 

“Even if you plan to assist your child with the financial costs associated with college, our survey’s findings show that the majority of families are not able cover the full tuition costs out-of-pocket,” said Williams. “Parents should be honest with their kids about what they will pay for, and then research all of the options the child has for furthering his or her education.”  

To make college more affordable, students are working while attending (61 percent), attending community college (27 percent), applying for scholarships (43 percent), applying for financial aid (42 percent) and, of course, taking out student loans (39 percent). 

Making sacrifices to prepare their kids for success with extracurriculars and prep classes

Sixty percent of those who attended or are planning for college said they have enrolled in at least one financially-taxing extracurricular to help improve either their own or their child’s chances of getting into college. The most popular extracurriculars included SAT or ACT prep classes (13 percent), private sports (12 percent), music, language or art lessons (10 percent) and hiring an academic tutor (4 percent).

To afford these extracurricular activities, Americans are willing to make financial sacrifices such as cutting back on vacations (29 percent), pulling from their savings accounts (26 percent),  taking out a loan (18 percent) and even taking on part-time jobs (17 percent). 

Parents still paying off own student loans

On top of the stress of paying for their child’s college education, parents also still worry about paying off their own student loan debt. Fifty-five percent of parents surveyed said it would take or has taken five years or longer to pay off their loans, and about seven percent of parents predict they won’t be able to pay off their student loans in their lifetime. One in three people who took out loans of their own say they would not be willing to take on debt for their kids. 

By comparison, out of all college students and graduates surveyed, 36 percent said that they expect it would take more than 10 years to pay off their student loans, while eight percent said they expect to never be able to pay them off.  

Interestingly, the survey found that those without a financial planner are more likely than those with a financial planner to say that they have not been able to put any money aside for their child’s college education (25 percent vs. 11 percent, respectively). 

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COUNTRY Financial® is a family of affiliated companies (collectively, COUNTRY) located in Bloomington, IL. Learn more about who we are.

About the COUNTRY Financial Security Index®  
Since 2007, the COUNTRY Financial Security Index has measured Americans' sentiments of their personal financial security. The Index also delves deeper into individual personal finance topics to better inform Americans about the issues impacting their finances. Survey data, videos and analysis are available at www.countryfinancial.com/newsroom and on Twitter at @helloCOUNTRY.  

The COUNTRY Financial Security Index was created by COUNTRY Financial and is compiled by Ipsos, an independent research firm. Surveys were conducted using Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®, a national, probability-based panel designed to be representative of the general population and includes responses from approximately 1,025 U.S. adults for national surveys. The margin of sampling error for a survey based on this many interviews is approximately +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.  

About COUNTRY Financial®  

The COUNTRY Financial® group (www.countryfinancial.com) serves about one million households and businesses throughout the United States. It offers a wide range of financial products and services from auto, home, business and life insurance to retirement planning services, investment management and annuities.  

Visit COUNTRY Financial on Twitter @HelloCountry, on Facebook @COUNTRYFinancial and on Instagram @countryfinancial.  

About Ipsos Public Affairs    
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