How to Help Grandkids Pay for College

by Rick Kahler

How to Help Grandkids Pay for College photo

Would you like to help your grandkid pay for college? Unfortunately your generosity could actually damage your relationship with them. Use these suggestions to help with college expenses without losing your grandkid’s love in the process.

One financial goal held by many of my clients is to help pay for their grandkids’ education. This generosity can foster gratitude and family closeness. Unfortunately, it can also foster resentment and family misunderstandings. Here are some suggestions for helping with grandchildren’s college expenses in positive and supportive ways:

1. Be fair.

This doesn’t necessarily mean giving each child the same amount down to the penny. It’s perfectly fine to consider factors like various family’s incomes or kids’ different abilities and career goals. One possibility might be to define “fairness” as helping grandkids to be on a reasonably equal financial footing when they graduate.

2. Give what you can afford.

Sacrificing your own retirement security to pay for college ends up being a family burden, not a gift. Give out of love, not guilt, and don’t allow family members or your own feelings to manipulate you into giving more than you can manage. Also, before you go overboard with a generous 529 plan for the first grandkid, remember that you have no control over how many grandchildren you might have. It’s easier to start conservatively and give more at a later time than to take away what you’ve already given.

3. Work with parents, not against them.

For example, if parents require kids to pay part of their own college costs, don’t go behind their backs with payments to the grandkids. Use your funding to support parents’ wishes and plans, not undermine them.

We can help you gain control of your finances and live better...for less.

Subscribe to Financial Independence, our daily email newsletter. It doesn't cost anything. And, it could make a huge difference in the way you live!

Debt ChecklistSubscribers get Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist and What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Your Email:

We can help you gain control of your finances and live better...for less.

Subscribe to Financial Independence, our daily email newsletter. It doesn't cost anything. And, it could make a huge difference in the way you live! Subscribers get Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist and What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Your Email:

 4. Give without trying to control or manipulate.

It might be appropriate at times to give in ways that offer incentives for kids to help themselves like offering to pay off loans after graduation, for example, or making funds from a 529 Plan available after they finish their first year of school. However, a gift with strings or expectations attached (“I’ll pay for college only if you go to my alma mater” or “only if you become an engineer.”) creates resentment rather than appreciation.

5. Set clear limits as appropriate.

Unlike manipulating, setting limits is being clear about what you can and will give. Examples include: “I’ll pay tuition up to the amount for a state school; if you want to go to a more expensive school, you’ll need to cover the difference” or “We’ll pay $10,000, and that’s all” or “I’ll pay for undergrad tuition but graduate school is your responsibility.”

6. Make a Plan B.

Suppose you have a college fund of $25,000 for each grandchild. One gets a full ride scholarship and doesn’t need the money. Another chooses not to go to college. What do you do with their funds?

Before you decide, consider factors like tax consequences, fairness, and how best to support each grandchild. Some possible options include:

7. Communicate.

Talk with your children about the college funding you are able and willing to do for their children. Discuss funding plans, amounts, limits, and what the grandkids are expected to provide for themselves. As grandkids get older, let them know how you intend to support their education.

Finally, be more than just the bank. Be an active grandparent. Spend time with the grandkids, get to know them, listen to them, and encourage their dreams. Make financing their education only one narrow part of a deeper relationship that enriches both of you.

Reviewed May 2020

About the Author

Rick Kahler, MSFP, ChFC, CFP, is a fee-only financial planner and author. Find more information at KahlerFinancial.com. Contact him at Rick@KahlerFinancial.com or 343-1400, ext. 111.

Let us help you achieve your financial goals.

Subscribe to Financial Independence, our daily email newsletter. It doesn't cost anything. And, it could make a huge difference in the way you live!

Debt ChecklistSubscribers get Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist and What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Your Email:

Follow Us

We can help you gain control of your finances and live better...for less.

Subscribe to Financial Independence, our daily email newsletter. It doesn't cost anything. And, it could make a huge difference in the way you live!

Debt ChecklistSubscribers get Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist and What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Your Email:

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This