For Mark Roberts’ Use: As you enter the home stretch in your career, you’re probably running in “high gear” as far as retirement planning goes. You’ve almost reached your goal! Suddenly, an enormous roadblock looms ahead: Your kids are going off to college, and you have to find a way to pay for it.

Obviously, prevention is the best “medicine”. If you set up a 529 college savings plan years ago, then you might be in good shape to speed right on past this little bump in the road. On the other hand, pointing out what you “should” have done certainly isn’t helpful, if you’re one of the many parents who didn’t take this financial planning step years ago. So a more productive discussion will focus on what you can do now.

Often, parents make the mistake of signing for enormous educational loans. However, it is important to consider the terms of repayment and the number of years you will spend repaying that debt. What is the interest rate? Will you carry that debt into retirement? How will that affect your retirement plans and lifestyle?

It’s important to remember that federal financial aid is available in many cases, and not only to low-income families. Eligibility is based on several factors, not just your income. At the very least, it makes sense to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and see what might be available to you. Federal and state grants do not have to be repaid. Your child might also qualify for work study programs, and his or her school might offer additional grants or other programs to help with the cost of tuition.

And of course, you have other options available to you. Some families decide that spending two years at a local junior college, and then transferring to a major university, is the way to go.

Since funding a college education is a major financial challenge, consult regularly with us as you make these decisions that will impact your future for years to come. Ideally, we can help you locate solutions that won’t require you to take on a massive debt just before you are set to retire.