Single Mom, NO savings, never married, paying back huge debt =NO college money for my son?

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Any suggestions on what to say to my only child when I tell him I have been struggling for 2.5 years to pay back lawyer debt (thanks to his father) and now I don’t have a dime in savings to help him with college?. I’ve been paying back $ 27,000+ in lawyer debt. I have $ 9,000 left to pay. I pay my mortgage on our condo, pay basic bills. I receive no child support or alimony (was never married). All my bills ARE paid on time. I live paycheck to paycheck. I have no savings, I have almost no 401K. I cannot help my son pay for college. I assume it’s up to his father and my son’s own part time job and any Federal loans he can get.

I can’t take on more debt. I will be age 53 when he starts college and will finally, finally have the lawyer debt paid off (I hope) and can finally start up my 401k contributions again. I will have only 10 years to save up for my entire retirement.

My son is going to hate me when he finds out ALL his friend’s parents are paying their way for college and I am “selfish” and want to “go shopping” instead of paying his huge college loans. (his stepmother and father tell my son these things about me).

I live in a small condo, drive a simple car and do not take any expensive vacations. I do not waste money, I do not own expensive fancy electronics. I do not buy designer clothes. But I so live in a very very expensive state and county. I do not receive any child support. I do work, of course. My son lives half with me and half with his father (who is married).

If his father does not foot the college bill, my son will have to rely on loans, loans, loans and be in huge debt. I feel bad, but what should I do? Should I forgoe any hope of 401K savings for myself? What happens when I am 65? How will I survive? I am worried.

I could not go to college as I did not qualify for any student loans. My parents did not loan me any money, so I worked for 4 years, then took out expensive bank loans to go to business school for 18 month course (no degree) because that’s what I could afford while living with my parents.
I moved out immediately after I graduated, and struggled very hard with room mates, for years, and paid back my debt. I never received any money from any relatives.

12 Comments
  1. Reply
    Thundercat
    April 29, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    You need to try and be calm. The best thing to do is be honest with him NOW. There is no law which says you need to pay for college. If he knows early that money is tight, he can take part time jobs to save his own money AND do well in school so that he will be eligible for scholarships. My parents are low income (they say poor) and only had enough money to pay for my tuition and dorm fee the first year of college. The rest was up to me. With scholarships, working at the univ, saving money from summer jobs, I put myself through college the last 3 years and all of grad school.

    As for retirement, NEVER sacrifice yours to pay for college. He can get a loan to go to school, you can’t get a loan to retire. If he works hard, studies hard, he probably won’t have to take out too many loans. And if he picks a decent degree that earns good money, he’ll pay off the loan easily while he is still young. Involve him in your regular finances and bill paying so he has a better understanding of it.

  2. Reply
    LuvYorkies
    April 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Honey let me tell you that you should not even worry about that. If you teach your son to be responsible and work hard and get good grades, then he will probably qualify for financial aid, a scholarship and if he is smart, he will not go abroad to study somewhere fancy and expensive but instead stay home(dorm life is expensive) and help take care of you. I would also say that if you pray about it to god he will help you. And just for reassurance the bible in 1 Peter5:7 says:
    “Throw all your anxiety upon {God} , because he cares for you.”
    Just pray about it and see what happens.
    I understand what you are going through. I am 13 and my childhood was something like that, but then things got better. They may get worse but things will get better.

  3. Reply
    rpe
    April 29, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    College is expensive, and few if any of your son’s classmates parents will be paying their way through college. Don’t worry about it, he’ll be able to apply for financial aid (loans and grants) like the majority of everyone else.

  4. Reply
    RoaringMice
    April 29, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    How old is your son? If he’s in his mid-to-late teens, it’s time to have a very frank financial conversation with him. But before you do that, you are going to have to talk over paying for college with his dad, because you need to see the full picture. Because you can’t “assume” that paying for college is up to his dad, his job, and the feds. You need to know where he stands, so he can make smart choices. And that means talking to his dad.

    When you do talk to him, try to remember – and remind the dad – that this conversation isn’t about the two of you. It’s about your son. And even if you only get the dad to agree to pay for part of his college education – well, that’s something.

    In your legal proceedings re: your son, the custody papers, is the issue of paying for college covered? It’d help to review all that before you start these conversations. Once you’ve reviewed the custody papers and spoken to his dad, you can talk to your son.

    When he applies for financial aid, he’ll list the income of the parent(s) who has primary custody. Your income will be used to determine his eligibility for aid.

    Get your son thinking about methods of paying for school. Talk through the following:

    How are his grades? That could be something he can focus on, and it can be impactful. What I’d like him to do when it comes time to apply for colleges is apply to reach/fit/backup. His reach schools should either be those that give out great aid to people with financial need (if you’re calculated to have financial need based on your incomes – example Grinnell), or to schools that tend to give out great merit aid (if your income is too high, but his grades are strong – example, Wesleyan U in CT). His fits should include the good public schools in his home state. His backups are both academic and financial backups. They are schools where his GPA and SATs are rather high for them, so he stands a chance of getting some merit aid. They should include both public schools in his home state and private schools anywhere in the US. Ideally, some of them would be schools that are actively seeking students like your son. An example is Regis College, in Mass., which recently went co-ed, and is actively seeking male students.

    His super backup is community college. A lot of students go to cc because they don’t qualify for the aid they’d need to attend their desired four year school. So it should be an idea, back of mind, for in case the financials don’t work out.

    He could consider the military, via either ROTC and the ROTC scholarship, the service academies, or the National Guard/Reserve. All of those options would pay for his schooling, in exchange for his service.

    If his academics are strong enough, he can apply to some of the schools that are free of tuition. The Cooper Union, Olin College of Engineering, Alice Lloyd, Berea College, Deep Springs, College of the Ozarks, CUNY Teacher’s Academy, CUNY Macaulay Honors Program, Curtis Institute, and Webb Institute. Some of those also include free dorm, etc.

    As an aside, why don’t you receive child support? That has nothing to do with the fact that you weren’t married. Child support is not about you. It’s about your son. Why is his dad not paying child support? IMO, should be.

  5. Reply
    spalmer
    April 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Not all parents help their children with college… in fact, very few pay for the majority of the schooling. Most students are funding their own school with federal student loans, grants (if they’re eligible), scholarships, and through working. You need to focus on your retirement — not your son’s college. Financial experts recommend that parents make sure their retirement accounts are maxed out prior to helping their children with college because your child can always borrow for college… but you cannot borrow for retirement. If your son is disrespectful about you not paying for his college… allow him to live with his father or on his own (once he’s 18). You should not go into any debt to pay for his college. He can choose a school that’s less than $ 5,500/year and pay for it with federal loans (this is what a lot of students do). If he chooses a school close to home, offer to let him continue living with you free of charge in order to help him out. Your son should be applying for all the scholarships that he can find… you could offer to help him with this process – but, don’t do it all. Help him search for available scholarships and assist him in writing essays (but make sure that he is also working hard). Your son can fill out the fafsa to find out if he’ll qualify for any need-based grants and he will be eligible for federal loans. Try not to talk negatively about his father… just state the basics regarding college. Let him know that he can continue living with you – rent-free and go to school (if you’re willing to allow this). Let him know that he needs to be searching for scholarships and applying during his senior year because you will not be able to fund his college education. He can then talk with his father about whether he’ll help with college expenses. Take care of yourself and your retirement… otherwise you’ll have to hope that your son will support you (which may or may not happen). Start maxing out your 401k as soon as you can because you’ve already missed decades of saving for retirement. You may want to try to get a second job so that you’ll have income to contribute to your retirement savings. If your son gets upset about the college… let him know that there are thousands of schools that cost less than $ 5,500/year and he can afford with federal loans (or scholarship money). He could start at a community college for 2 years – so much cheaper and most students regret that they don’t start at a cc (because of the savings). Be honest about the finances and don’t let your son bad-mouth you or make you feel bad. Many parents do not have a college savings for their children and may try to help out some… but not much. Your son does not have to be in huge debt; however, he’ll need to choose an affordable school. He could get a college degree (4-year) for under $ 25,000 easily… or he could choose a private college and choose to borrow $ 135,000 for a 4-year degree — he’s got to be smart. Use student loan calculators to identify what his loan repayment would be — for example, if he borrowed 20,000 over 4 years, his monthly repayment would be $ 230/month for 10 years… but if he borrows $ 120,000 over 4 years, his monthly repayment would be $ 1424/month for 10 years. He needs to keep his loan amounts low enough that he can pay for them. The average student graduates with $ 26,000 in student loan debt with a 4-year degree. Good luck to you son, but don’t let him guilt you too much — most parents cannot afford to foot the entire college bill.

  6. Reply
    United
    April 30, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I hate to say it, and I know it will be hard, but this is something you will need to talk about with his father. The responsibility is on both of you, and your son should know that. I was raised by a single mother who was in almost the exact same situation. For this reason I ended up going to community college for the first two years of college because it was the only option for me . I ended up getting good grades and transfered to an even better college than my friends and I was still able to live on campus and get the college experience for my junior and senior year. It was actually better in my opinion because I appreciated it alot more and it felt really good knowing I did it on my own, not to mention I paid half the price. Not once did I expect my mom to pay for my tuition, much less resent her for not being able to. Talk to your son and explain it to him and I am sure he will understand. It would be smart to start researching your options now though, either on the internet or schedule a meeting with the college planning dept. at his highschool. Feel free to contact me if you need anything.

  7. Reply
    Anonymous
    April 30, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Believe it or not, the majority of parents don’t (and shouldn’t) pay for their kids college education. Studies show that those students who pay for it themselves have a higher chance of actually graduating. You should NOT put yourself in a bind for HIS education. Take care of yourself first, or he will get the double whammy of having to financially support you when you are old, grey, in ill health and broke. Plan for your retirement and realize that if HE can’t come up with a way to attend and then ultimately graduate, he prob wouldn’t have done it anyway… nothing worse than a parent who sacrifices everything for a kind who doesn’t realize what the parent just did, and then ends up dropping out anyway.

    Don’t pay for anything. It’s his payoff, not yours. And don’t feel guilty about it ONE BIT!!! Honestly, you are doing him a favor.

  8. Reply
    Beeinski
    April 30, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Honey, if this is your worst problem then you are doing a hell of a lot better than most. Parents think they owe their kids college…since when did that become law. I went to community college, became a nurse and did just fine. I had small loans but paid them back. Believe it or not..kids do fine…don’t baby him. Help when needed,but too many kids now rely to heavily on their parents and feel entitled to an education. You owe it to your kids to love them, and raise them right. The struggle helps, so don’t worry…you will be fine. I don’t have kids, but I can tell you my mom helped me with rides, and being there for me emotionally, but she said, “If you want it, you get it.” You struggled, and you are doing fine. Don’t shelter him. You want the best for him, but he needs to want it for himself to, and be honest with how you struggled, and he will learn. Believe it or not…you are the best teacher for him.

  9. Reply
    Zia
    April 30, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Okay, so while there isn’t a LAW requiring you to pa for college, Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) will absolutely require the income information of you, your husband AND his stepmother on his application to school if he wants any aid. Even if your son were to move out and pay his way, even if he is not a dependent on anyone’s taxes, he will need your income information, your husband’s and his step mother’s information on his college financial aid forms

    until he either turns 24, or fathers a child. (that’s just the Federal Government’s rules).

    First of all, private schools generally offer better aid for families with incomes on the lower side. So if your son has stellar grades, leadership, sports or anything like that, it is worth looking into private universities and colleges. They are not always bound by the same rigid rules as public schools.

    Secondly, community college (around $ 20 a credit) is a great way for your son to graduate from a good college or university by transferring to his other school after two years. MANY students even from “well-off” families are doing this to save money.

    Third, your son can take out his OWN loans, and to help him lock in a lower rate, his father can co-sign for his loans. I don’t think you should co-sign given you just broke away from debt, but his father can co-sign to help make sure that the money HE takes out does not have a ridiculously high rate. This can be used to help pay for tuition, books, an apartment or anything he needs for school.

    What research has your son done on the college process, FAFSA, jobs, grants and scholarship opportunities?

    It sounds like his father might not be the best role model, but as a young man he sounds a little behind in the college game. I came from a low-income family and so I had to do ALL of my college research and applications myself, but in the end it really paid off because I received grant money that I did not have to pay off. I think it’s time to be honest with your son, so that he can start to be accountable for his future.

    But you do not need to feel guilty. You probably feel guilty because what happened between you and your husband is still affecting him, even as a young adult, and you probably have some guilt from that. Also, you probably wish he didn’t have to do what you did. But what’s important now is that he discovers what’s important to him–and how to make that happen. By not taking out loans, you ARE supporting your son, you’re teaching him how to attain his goals independently. Plus, you really can’t be there or him if you don’t have retirement–you’ll put too much pressure on him to succeed without realizing it. I would say just sit down, and find out what he knows about college (like what are the different tuition amounts of the schools he wants to go to, and does he know how a loan works/what a good rate is?) Then calmly explain to him that you cannot afford to take out any more loans, and you guys can start talking about your options.

  10. Reply
    Anne
    April 30, 2011 at 3:20 am

    STAY AWAY from anyone on here that mentions private loans or any emails you get that chase you offering you private loans! Be careful. Do the FAFSA when it is time and the govt will provide you with the proper channels if you need to take out loans. They have lowered interest rates and all parent plus loans are now through the Dept. of Higher Ed. It is your choice if you need to pursue additional loans through a bank, etc. but remember this is his education so he has to be responsible for it. My son just left for college and I work at a college too. We make about half of what all of our friends make (even less than half in some cases). My son is going to a state university (small one so it has a personal touch and small classes) and that saves a lot of money. Check the state university ratings in US News and World Report and look for those that are rated high in your state. Figure out if he wants a smaller school or a larger one. If he goes to a public university outside of your state it will cost almost double. There are FAFSA (fed. financial aid calculators) everywhere online. I did a calculation a year ago when he was in high school and it ended up being pretty accurate when I finally actually did the paperwork. He needs to see his guidance office and start applying for scholarships early. Some of the big ones (Coca Cola, etc.) have early deadlines. We were surprised with a 2K renewable scholarship (private, not through the school or the feds) in the middle of July and found out it is renewable for all four years if he keeps his grades up. Make sure he belongs to clubs, activities, sports or does community service. This is important when applying for scholarships. ALSO…the federal govt and public universities are ALL about first generation students. If you did not go to college and you are a single mom, that is a plus right there (I am not sure whether your ex went to college or no or how you handle your tax situation with your son but…). My son was not first generation because I went but my husband did not however I know that they ask this question on college applications, I think the FAFSA and everyone right now wants to help the first generation college-bound kids.

  11. Reply
    Kim G
    April 30, 2011 at 3:46 am

    I agree with pretty much everything that has been said so far, but I wanted to add something.

    My folks didn’t have money for college either. I earned a small scholarship to a community college – it would pay 1 year of tuition (back then it was only around $ 300 ,,,, god how times have changed). I also qualified for a Pell Grant which offset the cost of books. The following year, I qualified for the Work-Study program too, where I earned minimum wage working 20 hours on campus. Small potatoes, yes, but I stretched that money as far as it would go.

    Your son needs to know that he is responsible for most if not all of his expenses. I knew my folks would help out with $ 10 in gas here and there, but I also knew they didn’t have it to spare. Besides, they were already paying my car insurance and health insurance. So I didn’t push for spending money.

    And when I moved on-campus at a university a few years later, I knew I was responsible for my bills. Not mom and dad. I took out a Guaranteed Student Loan, used my Pell Grant, and I had a waitressing job. Between all 3, I could cover all of my expenses ,,, again, I paid the bills b/c I made sure I stretched every penny.

    I do admit, from time to time my folks gave me a few dollars here and there during the college years, and were always willing to let me do my laundry at their house. But I graduated with a BA degree that I paid for. It was a great feeling knowing when it was over that I had done it on my own. I am still so proud of that piece of paper saying I have a degree.

    As for my own kids who are 16 and 17, I have already talked to them about how they are responsible for most, if not all, of their college expenses. They have known for years that they are expected to bring in grades that will lead to some type of scholarship. The only problem I anticipate is getting their father to fill out his part of the FAFSA – I just found out they require information from both parents even if they are divorced.

    Good luck and don’t try to take on a responsibility shouldn’t be yours.

  12. Reply
    joe
    April 30, 2011 at 4:38 am

    use swagbucks to buy stuff online for instense if he needs new cloths or if you need more shampoo then buy them off amazon and get it for free using swagbucks thats what i have been doing for a year now and i bought around $ 400 worth of merchandise you can virtualy buy anything you need! heres a link about it, and good luck!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQuVJlN5KtA

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