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Opinion: Summer the perfect time for scholarship search

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For a kid, summer often is a time to relax, forget about the rigors of school, sit by the pool and get a tan, and maybe earn some spending money in a summer job. But summer also is the perfect time to get your high schooler thinking about higher education and how to pay for it.

According to the 2020 How America Pays for College study by Sallie Mae, the amount of money American families paid for higher education increased across the board for the 2019-20 academic year. The study found that American parents pay the bulk of this cost, 44%, scholarships and grants covered the second highest portion, 25%,, and loans paid for about 20% of the cost of college for a typical family.

With homework and extracurricular activities paused, students can spend some time thinking about how to maximize scholarships, often referred to as “free money,” to pay for college. Unlike student loans, which must be repaid with interest, scholarships do not have to be repaid and are no cost to families.

Earlier this year, my office launched the Show Me the Money Scholarship Search Engine as part of our Financial Literacy Portal. We partnered with Sallie Mae, a nationwide consumer banking institution specializing in student loans, to gather more than 6 million scholarships worth over $30 billion in one place for students. The search engine connects Missouri students with scholarship and grant opportunities tailored to their unique interests.

Identifying the right scholarships and submitting applications can be time consuming —– but the search engine makes it a little easier. If your child isn’t quite ready to submit applications, it can be a useful exercise to see what is available. Perhaps it will inspire them to become involved in an extracurricular activity, start volunteering or even have a part-time job to start saving.

In Missouri, the Most 529 Education Plan is a versatile tool for families saving for education costs. Missouri’s 529 plan allows contributors a state income tax deduction of up to $16,000 (if married and filing jointly) and earnings in Most accounts grow tax free. A dollar saved is one less to borrow, but the tax benefits of a 529 account mean a dollar saved is worth even more when it is used to pay for education. Funds in Most 529 accounts can be used nationwide for whatever education comes after high school including two- and four-year colleges, trade schools and graduate schools.

Outside of the treasurer’s office, the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development administers a number of scholarship and grant programs for Missouri students, including the A+ Scholarship Program, Bright Flight and Access Missouri. Students and families should see if they qualify and keep these in mind when making education decisions.

Information about all of these programs is available on the Financial Literacy Portal. Organized by financial goal, the portal has resources for the many stages of life as well as financial topics like building credit and budgeting.

Poolside or not, take time this summer to consider how you’ll pay for higher education. If the time is rapidly approaching, encourage your child to use the search engine to find scholarship opportunities.

Regardless of your background, there are financial resources available to help make higher education dreams a reality. Visit Treasurer.mo.gov to learn more.

Missouri state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick can be reached at info@treasurer.mo.gov.

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