Financial education when home becomes the college dorm

BOSTON Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:10am EDT

Graduating students attend their spring commencement ceremony at Ohio State University in Columbus, May 5, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Graduating students attend their spring commencement ceremony at Ohio State University in Columbus, May 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Raysha Duncan grew up less than 15 minutes from Purdue University, so when she started at the West Lafayette, Indiana, school three years ago, it made sense for her to live at home and save the high cost of room and board.

But with three younger siblings at home, this arrangement began to chafe by junior year. "I felt like I was missing out on something everyone else at school was doing," said Duncan.

For Duncan, however, moving out also meant taking out her only student loan of less than $4,000. She'll be back living at home this fall for her senior year. "I found the cost to be too much," Duncan said.

If August is the time parents are packing their college-aged kids up and off to school, this year there are likely plenty of students like Duncan who aren't going anywhere. Families may need some financial education when home becomes the college dorm.

Nearly two-thirds of students chose to live at home or with relatives as a cost-saving measure in the 2012-2013 academic year, according to lending giant Sallie Mae's annual "How America Pays for College" report.

That's because room and board fees can add up. Along with hikes in tuition and fees, the cost of living on campus jumped more than 10 percent in the past five years at private, four-year colleges to an average of $10,462, according to the nonprofit College Board. At public schools, the increase was greater, nearly 15 percent to an average of $9,205.

Students are looking for less pricey alternatives. Meagan Hurley, a soon-to-be junior at Georgia's Reinhardt University, decided to opt out of dorm living this fall to save money. Room and board is $6,958, according to Reinhardt's website, while Hurley's rent for an off-campus apartment with two roommates will be $300 per month.

Even with groceries and gas money, Hurley will still come out ahead. "Before I had to ask my parents for help," Hurley, 20, said. "Now I can put money back to pay off some of my student loans."

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed by Sallie Mae added a roommate to help cut costs.

Living at home, however, is even more commonplace. Americans under age 34 think it is acceptable for adult children to live at home with their parents for up to five years, according to a survey to be released Coldwell Banker Real Estate on Tuesday. As August began, the non-profit Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans ages 18 to 31 living at home is a record 36 percent, up 4 percent since 2007.

It's a national trend that extends beyond low-income families. One in two students from households with incomes over $100,000 also chose to live at home to save, according to Sallie Mae. "College has gotten so expensive that even wealthier families are feeling more pressure to cut costs," said Sarah Ducich, Sallie Mae's senior vice president for public policy.

To be sure, there are upsides to striking out on one's own. Freshmen who live in residence halls have been found to perform academically better than their commuting counterparts. Dorm life offers close proximity to class and the library, an instant group of new friends on campus, and an immediate sense of independence.

"Life isn't free, and it's never too early to learn that," said Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who directed the Coldwell Banker research.

Whether to charge rent or not is usually one of the first questions parents have to ask themselves, especially when students are staying home to save money.

Julia Hansen and her husband have charged her stepson, Michael, $350 each month he's lived with them while he attends New York University. In New York City, that's certainly below-market rent. Even so, Michael has to work about one shift a week at a nearby coffee shop to help cover it.

"We're paying most of his bills, but he has to feel like he has skin in the game," Hansen says. Lodging and food at NYU is $16,622 for the upcoming school year.

The Coldwell Banker survey finds 82 percent of Americans feel that adult children living at home should pay rent.

What's more, young adults benefit from the opportunity to manage their own money. Dr. Cora Breuner has two college students still at home, but they both have bank accounts they control. "I transfer funds in and try to trust they're using it for the right things," Breuner, a member of the adolescent medicine department at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Duncan said leaving home forced her to learn to cook "real food", organize her time, and learn to live with roommates.

Parents with kids at home should expect them to pitch in on household chores. It's also important to establish house rules early on as well as the consequences for breaking those rules, experts say.

In Breuner's experience, grounding a young adult is pointless. "You're essentially grounding yourself," she advised. "Taking away their phone or car, on the other hand, will get their attention."

Even if parents and students alike are happy to keep living together, don't get too comfortable. "The job of a parent is to help their children live independently," Ludwig says. Establishing when a child plans to move out helps this transition.

Duncan hopes living at home senior year will let her move out of her parents' home after graduation. She's using the money she saves on rent this year to pay off her loan so the debt isn't hanging over her head as she looks for a job next spring.

For now, she's trying to appreciate being close to her parents and siblings. "Roommates don't have to love you unconditionally," she said, "Plus, I won't be here forever."

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his/her own.)

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here Editing by Lauren Young and Chizu Nomiyama)

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