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Paying for College

Best Tools to Pay for College

Paying for your or your child's college education? These tools can help you manage costs.

As the cost of a college education continues to grow, so does the need for tools to manage the costs. In 2014-15, the average sticker price for tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public institution was $18,943 for in-state students and $32,762 for out-of-state students, and the average sticker price of a four-year private college was $42,419, according to College Board.

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These three tools are among the best to help you save for college, find scholarships to trim the cost of attendance and tackle student debt.

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Best College Savings Plan: If your state offers a tax incentive for contributing to its 529 plan, the break will usually trump lower fees in an out-of-state program. If your state doesn't offer a tax break, or if you live in Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana or Pennsylvania, which offer a tax break no matter where you invest, look for a state plan that fits your investing style. For low fees, we like New York's 529 college savings program. This plan charges no annual fees, and the underlying funds carry an average expense ratio of only 0.16%. But you don't get a lot of choices. If you're a hands-on investor, choose the Utah Educational Savings Plan, which lets you create a portfolio that automatically adjusts to your investment selections in three-year intervals as your child ages.

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Best Fast Financial Aid Estimator: The quick EFC calculator at Finaid.org makes it easy to get a rough idea of your expected family contribution. After filling in 10 fields, you’ll get an estimate that generally comes within $500 of the actual result, according to Finaid.org.

Best Student Loan Management Tool: Iontuition helps students and recent grads organize and track their student loans and evaluate repayment options, and it will alert you if your loan status or loan servicer changes. The free tool's chat feature connects you with loan counselors who can help you pick the best repayment strategy.

See Our Slide Show: 10 Colleges Lowering Their Tuition

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