New research shows families are borrowing less to pay for college tuition, even though the cost of tuition continues to go up. Financial experts believe parents are making smarter decisions

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Four years ago the average family borrowed more than $24,000 to pay for for tuition. Last year that number dropped to just over $20,000.

But that doesn't mean tuition is getting cheaper.

More likely, it means families are making smarter choices about where their kids go to school and are taking advantage of tax credits and accelerating studies to reduce costs.

The latest figures on borrowing were put together by lender Sallie Mae. According to its report, families borrowed only 22 percent of the cost of college, which is down from 27 percent in the past two years.

And it looks like students who are first in their families to go to college are the most careful about how much they're willing to pay for tuition. They spent 18 percent less on educational costs compared to those whose parents went to college.

The latest data also may indicate that parents are getting better at choosing colleges or universities that make the most economical sense.

And don't be surprised if one of these days you get an invite in the mail from a teen for a gift registry. College students are now using registries, just like you see for weddings. Big box retailers are making it easy for teens to register online for bedding, shower caddies, and all the other dorm-room necessities.

Target and the Container Store are just two retailers that are promoting registries for students leaving for college.

At the Container Store, last year, registries for college-bound customers surpassed the number of wedding couples for the first time.

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