Financial Fitness Zone

Families borrowing less for college, report finds

Americans are borrowing less for college, and instead relying more on savings and income, a study from a student lender found.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the typical family paid 22 percent of the total college cost through borrowing, according to Sallie Mae's annual How America Pays for College study. That's down from 27 percent in the previous two years.

Meanwhile, the share of college costs paid through savings and income rose. Student savings and income paid for 12 percent of costs on average, up from 11 percent in the previous year. Parent savings and income rose from 27 percent to 30 percent.

A large reason behind the shift was that parents making more than $100,000 significantly boosted their contributions to their children's education. It's been easier for them to do so, given a rising stock market and disparities in the economic recovery, said Sarah Ducich, co-author of the study.

"Their savings and income have rebounded a little faster than other people," she said.

The typical low-income family, however, is also borrowing less. More of their college cost was paid for with income and savings as well, although the decline in borrowing largely came from the increased use of grants and scholarships.

On average, families earning less than $35,000 paid for 45 percent of the costs for college with grants and scholarships, compared to 37 percent a year earlier.

"The federal government has stepped up with more Pell Grants," Ducich said. "And colleges and universities ... are targeting their aid to students at need and perhaps getting better at it."

The average family spent $20,882 on college last school year, similar to the last three years, but off a peak of $24,097 in 2010.

To cope with those costs, students often choose a nearby college with in-state tuition and live at home or with relatives, the study found.

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