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Financial Tips for Older College Students

Whether you’re going back to school to finish a degree you started earlier in your life, or you’re planning to attend college for the first time as an adult, congratulations! You’ll see your efforts pay off in the form of higher lifetime earnings.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the expected lifetime earnings of an individual who only has a high school degree are $1.2 million. Those who have a bachelor’s degree are expected to earn about $2.1 million, and those who obtain master’s degrees are expected to earn $2.5 million.

Of course, obtaining a college degree is a big investment no matter what your age. But there are additional expenses older students must take into account that younger students generally don’t have to be worry about.

If you’re considering college later in life, here are five things to think about when balancing life and educational costs:

  • Childcare – Do you have young children? You may need to factor the cost of child care into your overall education budget. Remember that in addition to classroom time, you’ll also need a babysitter when you meet with other students to work on group projects or when doing homework on the weekends. To ease the financial burden, check with your school to see if child care is available. Or, consider trading child care services with another parent in a similar situation so you each have time to study.
  • House Maintenance – Class time and studying can take you away from household chores and yard work. Many adult students find it easier to hire a cleaning or lawn maintenance service, but the cost could set you back considerably each month. If you have older children, enlist their help to get more done around the house.
  • Healthcare – If you are leaving your job to return to school or switching to a part-time position, you may lose health care benefits. This becomes a greater issue if your spouse and/or children are attached to your health insurance. Research your company’s COBRA plan to see if you can continue your current benefits. And be sure to check your state’s health care exchange or if you need to enroll in an individual health plan. To minimize the need for costly medical care, be sure to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and get enough sleep.
  • Retirement – In addition to health care benefits, adults who leave full-time positions may also need to scale back their retirement savings. Automatic contributions to a 401(k) or Roth IRA may cease or need to be reduced in order to meet other school-related expenses. Do you have other investments to pad the loss? Will your increased earnings potential make up the difference? If you must put retirement savings on hold, ask parents and friends who regularly give you gifts on birthdays and holidays to consider cash gifts you can deposit into your retirement account. Devote any extra cash – like tax refunds – to your retirement savings as well.
  • Transportation – Take into account where you live in relation to the campus and how you’re going to get to and from school. Research gas prices, parking fees and public transportation to determine the most cost-effective option. Consider carpooling or enrolling in online courses when available to minimize transportation expenses and vehicle wear and tear.