Estate Planning Checklist: 12 Things to Get in Order

Estate Planning Checklist: 12 Things to Get in Order

It may not be a fun thing to think about or talk about, but it’s important to get your estate planning organized. Unfortunately, death doesn’t just happen to other people. We should all get our affairs in order so that our loved ones can focus on grieving and moving on once we pass.

Of course, a “getting your affairs in order before death checklist” may not rank as the ultimate way to kick off a relaxing weekend, but you will rest easy once it’s all said and done. Luckily, it’s not nearly as painful as you might think. It can be less painful than doing your taxes every year. Here, we break it down for you into 12 steps.

12 Estate Planning Must-Haves

Estate planning isn’t just something for retirees or people with multiple homes. All of us need to take this step and determine how and by whom decisions will be made if we are incapacitated or near the end of our life. We also need to funnel our assets to the appropriate people when our time on earth is over.

It can sound grim, we grant you that, but it’s actually a gift to your loved ones to get all of this taken care of. So let us take you through the dozen items to wrangle so you know your affairs are in order.

1. Last Will and Testament

This is super-important because it outlines how your estate (your assets) will be divided. A will is a legal document that serves a couple of important functions. Wills are mainly used to specify how you want to distribute your assets. Assets can include things like personal property, real estate, cars, bank accounts, art, jewelry, or stocks. Despite what some people think, you can give your assets to anyone. You aren’t limited to immediate family. You can even donate your assets to charities or nonprofits if you wish.

A will also ensure that the people you care about are taken care of after you have passed away. If you have any children, a will can name whom you intend to become their guardians if you die. It can also do the same for pets.

You can create a will online using digital tools (you will need it signed and witnessed, though) or work with an attorney, often for under $1,000, to create one.

Recommended: What Happens If You Die Without A Will?

2. Proof of Identity

When the time comes for a will to be put into effect, an executor of the estate plays a crucial role. This individual, who you can name in your will, carries out your will’s instructions. To help this person do their job, make sure you have all of your IDs in one place. Documents you will want to have may include:

•   Birth certificate

•   Social security card

•   Armed forces discharge papers

•   Marriage certificate

•   Prenuptial agreement

•   Divorce certificate

This will make following your directives that much easier.

3. Digital Logins and Passwords

In recent years, our digital lives have become inextricably woven into our “real life.” It’s not uncommon for people to have dozens of digital accounts, containing vital information about our assets. Should you fall ill or suddenly die, your loved ones will likely need to access some of them. For example, you may have financial account information there, and email may be how you interact with some of your closest friends and colleagues. Fortunately, there are many ways to properly document and keep track of your online accounts. Whether you use a digital vault, an integrated password manager, or simply pen and paper, you should establish a system for your loved ones. You can pass this information along to your financial power of attorney to deal with, or you can name a digital executor to close your accounts and distribute your assets.

4. Property Deeds and Titles

Any titles you have for cars, homes, or real estate need to be gathered and put in a safe place. Details on that “safe place” need to be shared with one or two key people in your life, like your next of kin and/or your will’s executor. However, just gathering these items doesn’t mean you can necessarily spare your loved ones the process known as probate. Probate is a potentially complicated and expensive process in which a deceased person’s property is reviewed and allocated. Having a will is of course an important step, but with real estate, for example, things can get complicated even with that document in place. To skip the probate process, you can create a revocable living trust (which is discussed below), and then transfer ownership of your properties to it and list the trust as the current owner.

It’s important to remember that any names on titles or deeds will overrule anything you write in a will. For example, if you bought a car with your ex-wife a few years before you got a divorce and her name is still on the title, it won’t matter whose name you write in your will. She will inherit the car because it is her name that is on the title.

5. Revocable Living Trust

Above, we mentioned the potentially drawn-out and expensive process of probate and why you would want to take steps now to help your loved one’s avoid it later. Let’s drill down on one way to do just that. A revocable living trust is a type of legal instrument that allows you to use and control your property while you’re alive, but also change who inherits it at will. If you have one legally established, it allows all of the assets you entrust to it to skip probate, meaning your beneficiaries can receive your assets much more quickly.

After you’ve created a revocable living trust, you must also name a ‘successor trustee’ to manage your trust. This person will be responsible for distributing your assets to the proper beneficiaries.

Recommended: What Is A Trust Fund?

6. Debts

It would be nice if all debts vanished when our lives ended, but, sorry, that’s not how things work. Your beneficiaries are going to need to know about and potentially address your debts (these are often paid out from your estate before the remaining assets are distributed). To smooth the process, compile a list of all your debts. This may include things like:

•   Auto loans

•   Credit cards

•   Mortgages

•   Personal loans

•   Student loans

On your list include contact information for the lender, your account number, login information, and approximate debt amount. For credit cards, include a list of frequently used credit cards and ones you simply have but rarely use. If you have a lot of open cards in your name, and aren’t quite sure how many you have, you may want to get a free credit report from Annual Credit Report .

7. Non-probate Assets and Beneficiaries

If you have assets that are able to skip probate, meaning they can be transferred directly to the named beneficiaries after you die, then you should keep up to date on naming beneficiaries (say, if a death or divorce has occurred) and keep a list of these assets with account details. Which details exactly? Details like where any paperwork or policies are, account numbers, and contact information for the issuing entity are a good place to start.

Non-probate assets include such things as:

•   Insurance policies

•   401(k) accounts and IRAs

•   Pensions

Non-probate assets should not be listed in your will because any designations you make with each institution will override anything you write anyway.

8. Financials

While you are gathering all of your estate materials, make sure to keep a neat list of all your login and password information for the following:

•   Bank accounts

•   Car insurance

•   Credit cards

•   Health insurance

•   Home insurance

•   Life insurance

•   Loans

•   Pension plans

•   Retirement benefits

•   Tax returns

If everything is online, you may want to make sure every account is listed along with your other digital accounts in your password manager or digital vault.

9. Advance Healthcare Directive

An advance healthcare directive (also known as an AHCD) allows you to decide, in advance, how medical decisions should be made on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your wishes. AHCDs typically have two parts: designating a medical power of attorney (you may also hear this called a healthcare proxy; we share more on this below) and a living will.

A living will describes and outlines your medical care wishes just in case you are ever unable to communicate them to your healthcare providers or loved ones. It can describe any aspect of healthcare preferences, and can include things like:

•   End-of-life requests

•   Medications

•   Resuscitation requests

•   Surgeries and surgical procedures

10. Power of Attorney

This is an important part of putting together your estate-planning checklist. The goal here is typically to make sure that, if you were incapacitated (say, due to dementia or a medical emergency), someone could act on your behalf. When you give someone power of attorney, that person then has legal authority to manage all of your affairs. There are two types of power of attorney: financial and medical.

A financial power of attorney is responsible for:

•   Accessing your bank accounts to pay for healthcare, bills, groceries, and any other housing needs you have

•   Collecting upon any debts you have

•   Filing taxes on your behalf

•   Applying for benefits, such as Medicaid

•   Making investment decisions on your behalf

•   Managing any properties you own

A medical power of attorney (also sometimes referred to as a healthcare proxy) is responsible for:

•   Choosing which doctors or care providers you see

•   Deciding what type of medical care you receive

•   Will advocate if there are disagreements about your care

It’s not uncommon for one person to be designated as both a financial and medical power of attorney, but they don’t have to be the same person. It often provides tremendous peace of mind to know you have designated who will look after your best interests in the situations outlined above.

11. Funeral Wishes

Okay, take a deep breath for this one. It may sound morbid at first, but wouldn’t you want your earthly remains and any celebration of your life to reflect your wishes? So it can make sense to spell out what you want to happen to your body (say, burial, cremation, organ donation).

You can also detail funeral wishes. This typically includes things like what type of music you want to be played or passages to be read, and you can even specify that you want charitable donations instead of flowers.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you communicate your wishes. Unlike other things on this list, there isn’t a formal, legal document you need to sign, but you can usually include your wishes somewhere in your will.

12. Speak with an Estate Planner

Now that you’ve read almost all of this estate planning checklist, you should still consider getting some skilled guidance. Even if you’re completely comfortable writing up legal documents, it’s a good idea to visit an estate planner to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases. He or she may have recommendations for you that can save everyone money and better protect your beneficiaries.

Recommended: Estate Planning 101: The Basics of Estate Planning

The Takeaway

While it can be a difficult topic to think about, estate planning takes time and patience. If you have children, dependents, or a spouse, clear up a weekend and do it as soon as possible. Life happens fast even in the best of circumstances

Estate Planning Made Easier: SoFi and Trust & Will Partnership

Now that you know the steps involved, here’s a super-simple way to approach some of these to-do’s: with a digital estate planning partner. No in-person sales pitches or long phone calls required! SoFi has joined forces with Trust & Will*, a leading provider, and offers a 10% discount to help you purchase Guardian, Will, or Trust-based estate plans.

Interested in the easy and reliable route to estate planning? Check out what’s offered by SoFi in partnership with Trust & Will.

Photo credit: iStock/Kerkez

*Trust & Will, a leading digital estate planning platform, is offering a 10% discount specifically for SoFi members. No promo code required. The 10% discount is automatically applied at checkout to the initial purchase of any Guardian, Will, or Trust-based estate plan.
SoFi member benefits are provided by third parties, not by SoFi or its affiliates. Providers pay royalty fees to SoFi for the user of its intellectual property. These fees are used for the general purposes of SoFi. Some provider offers are subject to change and may have restrictions. Please contact the provider directly for details.
Trust & Will 961 West Laurel Street San Diego, CA 92101 United States

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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Do I Need a Will? Who Needs a Will (And When?)

Do I Need a Will? Who Needs a Will (and When?)

If you’re thinking, ‘Do I need a will?’ chances are, the answer is yes. Thinking about a will can feel morbid and unnecessary, especially when you’re young, healthy, and still growing your wealth. And it’s true that not everyone needs a will, especially if you’re single and growing your worth. What’s more, because the term “will” can be used to encompass end-of-life directives, it can confusing to know exactly what people mean if they say, “You should have a will.”

So, we’re here to clarify the topic. Read on to learn exactly which documents are needed if the worst were to happen and you were unable to make your end-of-life wishes known.

What Does a Will Really Do?

Simply speaking, a will dictates what will happen to your assets when you die. It can also be used to provide direction for who will care for any children and pets you have. Without a will, your property will be passed on according to state law, which means that your belongings may go to your spouse or nearest surviving relative, like a parent or sibling.

In some cases, this can be fine. But for people with children or people who own a home, this may not be ideal. Not only that, but dying without a will may put a burden on surviving relatives, leading to a costly and complex process.

In short, a will can communicate your wishes. For instance, it can:

•   Dictate who the executor (the person who administrates the will) is

•   Make a plan for how property will be distributed

•   Make a plan for how children or pets will be cared for

•   Make a plan for how debts and taxes will be paid

Creating a will does not need to be a long and complicated process. But it does need to be legal. While handwritten wills are acceptable in some states, they may be subject to additional scrutiny and may still need a signed witness to be valid.

Recommended: How To Make a Will: 7 Steps

What Does a Will Not Cover?

Let’s review some terms to see what different documents do:

•   A simple will determines what happens to your assets after you die.

•   A living will and other advance directives dictate what may happen if you were incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. Both can be drawn up at the same time. These are legal documents that spell out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive. It typically communicates your preferences about other decisions, such as pain management or organ donation. In addition, if you have very specific wishes about whom you want to make financial and healthcare decisions if you were to be incapacitated, a living will can document those. This can be helpful if, for example, you’re not married but would want your partner (and not your parents) making these decisions if you were unable to make them yourself.

The guidelines and requirements for creating these documents can vary state by state. Attorneys, as well as online planning templates, can provide the documents to cover all potential end-of-life what-ifs, including creating a living will and advance directive, as well as a standard will to cover all bases.

Recommended: What Happens If You Die Without A Will?

When Do You Need a Will?

In a nutshell, you need a will if you have a spouse, children, or considerable assets. A will can take the guesswork out of matters if you were to die and can avoid legal complications.

Even if your life is relatively “simple” to unpack, a will can ensure there are no uncertainties and that your survivors are crystal clear about your wishes. Some times to consider a will:

•   When you want to leave things to family and friends. These may not be valuables but could be meaningful, sentimental items

•   When you own property

•   When you have a spouse and/or children

•   When you want to provide to a charity

•   When you have a positive net worth

•   When you have a complicated financial picture

In short, a will can help answer any questions your survivors may have, simplifying a process that may be emotion-filled. It can also help provide peace of mind that if you were to die, your loved ones will have a road map.

Are You Married? You Need a Will

You may think a will isn’t necessary if you’re married. After all, your assets will simply go to your spouse, right? It’s not that simple. State laws do differ. Typically, but not always, spouses, domestic partners and blood relatives are first in line when it comes to receiving inheritance. Having a will ensures that you direct where you want your estate to go, protecting the interests of those closest to you.

Another issue comes up when you pass away without a will, which is known as being intestate: the state gets involved in a potentially lengthy process called probate. A court-appointed administrator will identify legal heirs and determine how your estate is divided and bills are paid, according to the laws of your state. This can make for a complicated situation in which your spouse must wait for an inheritance, potentially causing financial hardship.

There’s another reason why a will is valuable if you’re married. It’s likely you and your spouse will create what’s known as a mutual will (these should be created with a lawyer’s help). After one partner dies, the remaining party is bound by the terms of the mutual will. This kind of document can, for example, be used to ensure that property gets passed to the deceased’s children rather than to a new spouse. In this way, a will can smoothe family dynamics in the future and ensure that your wishes are followed.

Recommended: Joint Will: What Is a Mutual Will?

Do You Have Kids? You Need a Will

One motivating factor for creating a will is when a couple has children. A will not only allows you to choose a guardian for your children, but it also allows you to name a guardian for your children’s finances — and they don’t necessarily need to be the same person.

It’s important to create a will even if the assumption is that the child’s other parent will look after the children. Not only can a will provide a template for a what-if situation if both parents were to pass away, but it can also ensure that your children will receive the share of your estate that you desire when they’re older.

Having a will can minimize disruption in case the worst were to happen and one or both parents were to pass away. If there is no will, the court will decide, and while the court will keep the best interests of the children in mind, the parents are the ones who know the kids best and may have the best solution.

In short, a will allows you to make sure:

•   Children are cared for by the people you wish

•   Children’s finances are cared for by the people you wish

•   Adult children will receive the inheritance you desire them to have

•   Any unique circumstances regarding child care is taken into account

Do You Have a Positive Net Worth? You Need a Will

Even if you’re single, a will may make sense if you have a positive net worth (aka, more assets than debt), which may include owning a house. Depending on your net worth, you may consider creating a trust. This can help your family avoid the probate process.

You can also be very specific about how you want your assets allocated in the future. For example, you may want to provide gifts to charity upon your death.

You also want to check your beneficiaries for any accounts, including retirement accounts and life insurance policies. The named beneficiary takes precedence over who’s named in a will, so it can be a good idea to double check that the named beneficiary is the person you want to receive those assets.

Are You Young, Single, Asset-free, or Without Kids? You Don’t Need a Will (Yet)

While you may not need a will if you don’t have any dependents, property, or assets, it’s still worth thinking through what you do own. For example, if you have a life insurance policy or retirement account, make sure the beneficiary you name matches who you would want to have those funds as time passes.

But a will can ensure there is no confusion over your wishes, especially if you have pets to be cared for or mementos you know would be meaningful to the people in your life.

How to Set Up a Will

A 2021 survey of over 2,500 people from, a caregiver website, found that the past year made more people realize the importance of having estate planning documents. However, 2 out of 3 people don’t yet have a will. One big justification: Not enough time to create a will.

However, creating a will does not need to be complex. Online templates can walk you through the process. An online template may be free or may cost $100 and up, depending on the complexity. More expensive templates may be state-specific and detailed.

One critical aspect: Make sure the will is legal in your state. This may mean the will needs to be notarized and signed in front of witnesses. Once you have a will completed, it can be a good idea to make several copies and let the person you’ve named executor know where they can find the will in case you were to die.

If you have multiple, complex assets (such as several jointly-owned properties or properties jointly-owned with different people) you may need an attorney. This may cost $1,000 and up but can give you the peace of mind that everything is covered.

The Takeaway

While creating a will may not exactly be a fun activity, it doesn’t need to be very time-consuming or expensive. It’s an important process that can deliver some valuable peace of mind for the future. It lets you know your “house is in order,” and that your wishes are clearly captured. With a will in place, your worldly goods go where you want them to go, and you ensure that loved ones are taken care of in the way you see fit. When you get these documents done, you’ll also save those nearest and dearest to you from having to deal with legal red tape during an emotionally challenging time. Yes, death and wills are a topic many of us would like to avoid. But being pragmatic and taking care of this important legal concern is the right, responsible step to take.

The Simple Way to Protect Loved Ones: SoFi and Trust & Will

To help you with this important process and make sure it isn’t arduous, SoFi has partnered with Trust & Will*, the leading online estate planning platform in the U.S. — to give our members 10% off their trust, will, or guardianship estate plans.

Interested in the fast, easy, and reliable route to estate planning? Check out what’s offered by SoFi in partnership with Trust & Will.

Photo credit: iStock/evgenyatamanenko

SoFi member benefits are provided by third parties, not by SoFi or its affiliates. Providers pay royalty fees to SoFi for the user of its intellectual property. These fees are used for the general purposes of SoFi. Some provider offers are subject to change and may have restrictions. Please contact the provider directly for details.
*Trust & Will, a leading digital estate planning platform, is offering a 10% discount specifically for SoFi members. No promo code required. The 10% discount is automatically applied at checkout to the initial purchase of any Guardian, Will, or Trust-based estate plan.
Trust & Will 961 West Laurel Street San Diego, CA 92101 United States

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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Is the Average College Tuition Rising?

Is the Average College Tuition Rising? 2023 Price of College

Between 1991 and 2022, the average published tuition and fees increased from the following amounts, after adjusting for inflation, according to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid in 2021:

•   $2,310 to $3,800 at public two-year schools

•   $4,160 to $10,740 at public four-year schools

•   $19,360 to $38,070 at private nonprofit four-year institutions

This piece will cover the average cost of college tuition and fees in 2021-2022, the increase in college tuition costs, the reasons for the rise of average college tuition, and college tuition options you may want to consider for yourself.

Average Cost of College in 2021/2022

In 2021-2022, the average published price for tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students were as follows, according to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid:

•   $10,740 for public four-year in-state institutions, $170 higher than in 2020-2021

•   $27,560 for public four-year out-of-state institutions, $410 higher than in 2020-2021

•   $3,800 for public two-year in-district institutions (including average community college tuition), $50 higher than in 2020-2021

•   $38,070 for private nonprofit four-year institutions, $800 higher than in 2020-2021

Increase in College Tuition Cost Over the Last 10 Years

Generally speaking, tuition has increased in the past decade. According to data from The College Board, the average published tuition price at a four-year nonprofit university during the 2011-2012 school year was $28,500 , while in 2021-2022 that number jumped to $38,070 .

However, tuition increases have remained at historically low rates for both the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. This can likely be attributed to decreased enrollment and tuition freezes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reasons for the Rise of Average College Tuition

What are the reasons for the rise of the average college tuition? There are many reasons, including the following.

Less State Funding

After the 2008 recession, state and local funding for public higher education was cut dramatically. While there have been incremental increases in the amount of funding these institutions receive in the past 10 years, in most states funding for these institutions has not been restored to previous levels.

Now, there is concern that the Covid-19 pandemic may cause additional cuts in the future.

Campus Improvements

As many colleges increase their offerings, they must hire more faculty, make accommodations to house more students in residence halls, and implement capital and technological improvements. These costs may require students to pay more.

Non-instructional expenditures may include recreation centers, computer systems, housing, and food — all of this plays a role in tuition rate increases.

Recommended: How to Pay for College

Marketplace Lacks Transparency or Competition

The higher education marketplace lacks competitiveness and transparency, according to a report by the Manhattan Institute , which contributes to an increase in costs:

•   Families may not know discounts right away: Students often do not know how much it will cost them to attend college because they only see the sticker price until after they’ve applied and been accepted, when the financial aid award shows the discounts and grant aid available. Transparency allows us to comparison-shop and colleges and universities can compete with one another for students’ business.

•   A small number of colleges in an area: When small numbers of colleges exist in an area, costs often increase because no competitiveness occurs, particularly with students who commute to campuses.

•   Perception of the financial value of education: As long as students believe improved earnings opportunities and the demand curve goes up, prospective students’ expectations determine how much they will pay for school.

•   Regulations affect the marketplace: New business models haven’t appeared that offer higher education at a lower cost. Regulations due to federal intervention control financial aid dollars and accreditation requirements limit new entrants.

Personnel Costs Increase

The Higher Education Price Index measures the price change of the amount of money that institutions must spend to keep things going, including salaries for service and clerical individuals, administrators, professors, janitors, and even landscape professionals.

For example, in 2021, faculty salaries increased by 1%, as compared with 2.7% in 2020. Clerical costs increased 2.8%, and fringe benefits rose 4.1%.

Lack of Regulation or Caps on Tuition

No central mechanism controls college costs in the United States at the federal level. An unregulated fee structure means that colleges and universities can charge as much as they want in tuition and fees. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, cap tuition.

In 2009, Missouri enacted one of the nation’s most stringent caps on tuition by limiting in-state tuition and required fee increases to align with the Consumer Price Index. Institutions would face fines if they exceeded that cap. However, Missouri’s governor lifted the price cap, and colleges can begin increasing without limits in July 2022.

College Financing Options

Numerous college financing options exist for students. Students can tap into various options to pay for costs. Undergraduate students received an average of $14,800 of financial aid 2020-2021, according to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid, which includes the following:

•   $10,050 in grants

•   $3,780 in federal loans

•   $880 in education tax credits

•   $90 in federal work-study (jobs for college students)

Students may rely on scholarships, grants, work-study, and student loans, in addition to personal savings to pay for their education.


Scholarships refer to money received from colleges or another organization that students. Students don’t have to pay back scholarships. A total of 58% of students receive scholarships. Students receive an average award of $7,923 each, according to the Education Data Initiative .

Recommended: Private Students Loans vs Federal Student Loans 

Student Loans

Students can take advantage of federal or private loans. Federal loans are provided by the U.S. Department of Education. To apply for a federal student loan, students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year.

Private loans are provided by banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. These are separate from any sort of federal aid, and as a result, lack the protections afforded to federal student loans — like income-driven repayment options or the ability to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered by students only after they have reviewed and exhausted all other options for financing.

Students and parents borrowed $95.9 billion in 2020-2021, which decreased from $135.1 billion (in 2020 dollars) in 2010-2011.


Students can tap into federal or state grants or institutional grants. Grants can also come from employers or private sources. Institutional grant aid for undergraduate students increased by 62% between 2010-2011 and 2020-2021 ($22.0 billion in 2020 dollars).


Students can get a work-study award, which is money they must earn when they attend college. They must file the FAFSA in order to qualify for work-study and must work a job on campus to receive the money.

Personal savings

Families report paying $26,373 for college in 2020-2021, a 12% decrease from 2019–2020. It’s not uncommon for students to get help from their parents — nearly half of college costs are covered by parent income and savings, according to Sallie Mae’s annual How America Pays for College 2021 report. Strategies for paying for college for parents include things like setting up an account designed to help them save for college or other educational expenses.

As students and their parents consider their college options, they may consider focusing on programs that offer affordable tuition, or where they received a strong financial aid package. Some schools may even offer free college tuition for some students. Other students may opt to enroll in their school’s tuition payment plan, so they can spread tuition payments over a period of time.

Explore Student Loan Options From SoFi

Let SoFi help you explore low-cost loan options with our no-fee private student loans. Apply in just a few minutes and easily add a cosigner to the application. Plus, SoFi offers four flexible repayment options so borrowers can select the one that fits best with their financial plan.

The Takeaway

The average college tuition continues to increase. In 1991, the college tuition at a private four-year institution was just $19,360 and in 2022 it was $38,070. There are a number of reasons for increasing tuition rates, including factors like a dramatic decrease in state funding, lack of regulation, and an increase in operating costs at colleges and universities.

Many students rely on financial aid to pay for college. In the case that financial aid, including federal student loans, isn’t enough — private student loans may be an option to consider. If you think a private student loan is a fit, consider SoFi.

Find out more about how a private student loan from SoFi could help you pay for college.

Photo credit: iStock/MicroStockHub

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External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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3 Ways to Use Your Stimulus Check

Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans received stimulus checks from the federal government. As of March 2021, a year into the pandemic, the third round of stimulus checks have been approved with the American Rescue Plan Act.

This package includes one time payments of $1,400 for individuals making $75,000 or less and per person for couples earning $150,000 or less. Additionally, those with dependents would qualify for another $1,400 per child. The IRS sent out “Economic Impact Payments” as checks in the mail or electronically via direct deposit.

The stimulus checks are a measure to provide financial relief to millions of Americans. Many people used the proceeds of the checks to pay for food, utilities, credit card bills and other expenses while others saved the money for future emergencies.

The federal government also provided stimulus checks in 2008. The amount was much lower—individuals received $600 and couples filing jointly received up to $1,200.

These economic impact payments could be used by consumers in several ways, including paying off debt such as credit cards or private student loans, starting an emergency fund, or by investing the money for retirement.

Paying Off Debt

The additional $1,400 can come in handy for people who want to pay off their debt, especially higher interest debt such as credit cards. Consumers could use all or a portion of the stimulus payment to make extra payments on a credit card, loan, or other debt. Additional payments could go towards the principal portion of what is owed, or what the consumer originally borrowed, helping pay down the interest faster; if you want to do this, it’s smart to contact the lender to let them know and ensure those extra payments are applied to the principal balance.

People who still have other credit card debt could look into obtaining a personal loan. Generally, personal loans have lower interest rates than credit card debts. Securing a lower interest rate could potentially help expedite debt repayment, so long as the repayment term is not extended.

For some, student loan debt may be a focus. In March 2020, the CARES Act temporarily paused federal student loan payments, reduced interest rates to 0% on all federal student loans, and temporarily halted collections on federal student loans in default. These protections have now been extended through Aug. 31, 2022. This does not apply to private student loans. The stimulus payment could help a borrower pay down their federal student loans or make extra payments.

Some may consider refinancing their student loans, should they be able to qualify for a lower fixed or variable interest rate, or preferable lending terms. This can make sense for some borrowers, especially those who already hold private student loans, but won’t be right for everyone. Federal loans offer borrower protections that private loans do not, so borrowers with federal student loans may want to consider all of their options carefully. Refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from all federal benefits, including the temporary relief offered by the CARES Act.

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Starting an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund comes in handy to pay rent or a mortgage, auto loan, student loans, or credit cards if you lose your job or your hours are slashed. Finding another full-time or part-time job could take several weeks or months and the additional money could be useful.

Saving for an emergency fund can be difficult after paying your bills each month. The money from the stimulus check could provide a boost to help start a rainy day fund. Having the extra savings can help prevent someone from having to rely on their credit cards and rack up more debt in case there is an emergency, say something like a last minute car repair or a sudden illness.

Having the extra money can also be a relief in the event of a job-loss since it can take several weeks for unemployment funds to arrive.

General recommendations suggest that people save three to six months of expenses in their emergency fund. In some situations, it may make sense to save more than three to six months worth of expenses. For example, freelancers with a fluctuating income may want to have more saved up. If you are not sure how much money you need, look at your monthly bills and determine which ones you can’t ignore if you lost your job for an extended period.

Another way to gauge how much to save in an emergency fund is to factor in things like the deductibles for your car and health insurance in case there is an accident and you need to make repairs to the auto or you get injured.

Starting an emergency fund with the money from your stimulus check is one way to get started. From there, more money can be added to your savings account whenever you get the opportunity. There are many ways to stash more money into your rainy day fund. Clean out your closet and see if there are any items you can sell online such as electronics, clothing, a bike, or musical instrument.

Save the money earned from a part-time job, freelance work, or your annual tax refund. Or review your budget and see if there is anything you can cut such as a streaming service you rarely use.

Those in a comfortable financial position, could transfer some money automatically from your weekly or bi-weekly paycheck into a new savings account. The amount could be small, but even $25 a week adds up over a year.

Investing the Stimulus Check

The extra money from the stimulus check could also be an investment. Depending on individual financial circumstances, the stimulus check could be used to make a contribution to a retirement account like an IRA. Others may be focusing on other goals like a downpayment for a house, a vacation, a wedding, or a home remodel.

Once you open an account and start putting money towards it weekly or even monthly, you may see the balance grow, especially as the investments appreciate in value and interest compounds

The Takeaway

The stimulus checks are intended to provide temporary relief to those struggling due to the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. How you use the money will depend on your individual circumstances. Some options include paying down debt, establishing an emergency fund, or investing.

A SoFi checking and savings account could be one place to stash your stimulus check. Getting started is as easy as depositing the stimulus check. From there, SoFi Checking and Savings makes it easy to earn interest and receive cash back on purchases. A SoFi Checking and Savings account allows you to spend, save, and earn money from one place. There are no account fees and your cash balance earns interest. The interest rate and fee structure is subject to change at any time, but SoFi aims to offer competitive interest rates and not charge any account fees.

With SoFi, account holders can create financial vaults within a SoFi Checking and Savings account for different reasons such as an emergency fund or investing account.

Building an emergency fund is a huge accomplishment. Get started with SoFi Checking and Savings.

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If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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When Should I Start Saving for My Child’s College?

It’s hard to find anything close to the pride and joy having kids can bring you. And one of the best gifts we can give them is a solid education. That means reading to them when they’re toddlers, helping them with homework, and paving the way to college.

It’s a good idea to begin putting a college plan in place as soon as you can.

As the end of high school nears, not only are grades and school involvement important, but here comes the potential expense of entry into college. Waiting until then to look at the cost of attendance could be jaw-dropping.

Whether you plan to foot the whole bill or cover just a portion, you may want to start thinking about how much you can save monthly to hit your target.

Considering the Future Costs

As you think about saving for college, consider the potential cost of when your child will actually attend rather than focus on what it costs now.

There’s the matter of tuition and fees, usually reported as one figure. The averages for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to CollegeData:

•  $10,560 at public colleges (for in-state residents)
•  $27,020 at public colleges (for out-of-state residents)
•  $37,650 at private colleges

“Cost of attendance” for a year includes that figure and, usually, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. For the 2020-2021 academic year, CollegeData put the average cost of room and board alone at:

•  $11,620 at public colleges
•  $13,120 at private colleges

Living and eating at Mom and Dad’s obviously will reduce those costs.

The average price of books and supplies for students at both public and private colleges came to $1,240.

Now let’s say you want to estimate what college costs might be years later, when your child sets off for college. Assuming 15 years until your child starts as a freshman and a 5% increase in costs per year, here’s the estimate per year 15 years down the road for tuition, fees, room, and board.

•  Cost today at a four-year public college, in-state rate: $22,180
•  In 15 years: $46,111

•  Cost today at a four-year public college, out-of-state rate: $38,640
•  In 15 years: $80,330

•  Cost today at a private four-year school (average): $50,770
•  In 15 years: $105,547

Keep in mind that most college students take more than four years to get a bachelor’s degree. In fact, most take five or six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Those are big numbers, but every student who meets eligibility requirements can get some type of federal student aid, says the Federal Student Aid office. And then there’s merit aid, or merit scholarships, which are based on academic achievement or other talents or skills. Merit-based aid does not have to be paid back.

College Savings Vehicles to Consider

There are several options and accounts to help you with saving for your child’s college education. Some have tax benefits and others offer flexibility, should your child decide to forgo college, so you should explore the plan that best fits your specific needs.

Ways to save for college include:

•  A 529 plan, which breaks down into two categories: educational savings plans and prepaid tuition plans.
•  Coverdell Education Savings Account
•  UGMA/UTMA accounts

The difficult part in deciding when to start saving for college isn’t always as simple as picking out a savings plan. It might be less about “when” and more about “how”—finding room in your budget to meet education expenses and all your other financial goals.

Balancing College Savings With Retirement Savings

If you’re like many young parents, you may be wondering how to juggle college savings with all of your other expenses, including debts and retirement contributions. Drawing up a savings plan that doesn’t jeopardize your retirement planning or send your household finances into a nosedive is a great place to start.

Scholarships and student loans may be accessible to help pay for your child’s education, but the same cannot be said for your retirement nest egg. You would do well to consider how long you’ll need money in retirement and how that compares with four to six years toward a bachelor’s degree.

To get a better handle on how much money you will need to retire, the AARP advises asking four key questions : How much will you spend? How much will you earn on your savings? How long will you live? How much can you withdraw from savings each year?

One study found that the combined income and savings of parents and students makes up for nearly half (47%) of the funding families use to cover the entire cost of school. It also found that parents pay 10% of the total amount due by borrowing, and that students cover 14% with student loans and other debt-forming sources.

Parents deciding when to start saving for college might not want to think of it as an I-must-pay-for-it-all prospect. If you’re still stumped on how to balance both goals, it’s OK. At the end of 2019, before the financial repercussions of COVID-19, many non-retirees were struggling to save, the Federal Reserve found.

These eight tips for finding “hidden” money could help you get started thinking about funding retirement and college at the same time.

As college enrollment time gets closer, you could have a family discussion on how much student loan debt you and your child are willing to take on, if necessary.

💡 Recommended: Understanding the Different Retirement Plans

What If I Still Have Student Loan Debt?

Many parents who wonder when to start saving for their child’s college may also be asking how they can reduce their own college debt. U.S. student loan debt has ballooned to $1.71 trillion, the Fed reported. That’s an average of $37,700 in loans each for 45 million Americans.

If you find yourself with student loan debt while also saving for your child’s college education, there are at least four options that might help you to free up more money:

•  Federal student loan consolidation
•  Federal student loan forgiveness
•  Federal income-driven repayment plans
•  Refinancing private and/or federal student loans through a private lender

With student loan refinancing, depending on your credit history and income, you could qualify for a lower rate than the one you currently have on your student loans.

This could mean savings over the life of the loan, depending on the repayment term you select. But know that if you refinance federal student loans, you’ll lose out on any repayment plans or protections offered by the federal government, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans.

The Takeaway

When to start saving for a child’s college education? The sooner, the better. First, though, it’s best to make sure you are on steady financial footing, and then, if possible, find money here and there to save for your children’s college.

If you happen to still have student loans of your own, you may want to look at the flexible terms and fixed or variable rates SoFi offers to refinance student loans into one new loan with one monthly payment. There are no application or origination fees, and checking your rate takes two minutes.

Learn more about refinancing your student loans with SoFi.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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