The debt that students now owe on private and federal loans they used to pay for college is at $1.1 trillion. At an average of more than $26,000, today's graduates are the most debt-laden generation in history.
But high school senior Carina Hishmeh of Anaheim is hoping not to join them in owing a lot of money on student loans.
"I don't want to put myself in a really bad situation where I have to work forever to pay them off," said Carina.
Carina and her single mother, Danielle Cruz, have spent hours going over the options.
"I've always told her if she wanted to go to college that if I needed to get a second job or use my 401(k) that we would get her through college," said Danielle.
So Danielle considered using her credit cards or taking money out of her 401(k) to pay for Carina's education, but when she talked to a financial planner she found out those were not good ideas.
"Huge mistake. There's no scholarships for retirement. Danielle is going to need that money down the road for her own retirement," said financial planner Jeff Motske. "Need to explore other options."
Motske is a certified financial planner and president of Trilogy Financial Services in Huntington Beach. He says families preparing for college often don't take advantage of all the cheap and free money available in grants and scholarships.
"We just had a client recently, their daughter was accepted at a school, received $10,000 a year. You can get even more than that if you apply and you're smart about it. They're based on merit, they're based on athletics, there's all kinds of different packages available," said Jeff.
Jeff is also reminding parents that the deadline to apply for federal financial aid is June 1, less than a month away. For families on really tight budgets they should encourage their son or daughter to take all of the classes needed to graduate in four years, not five. One way to do that is to consider community college for core classes, which will save you some real money.
For now the Carina and her mother are making sure to get their applications for financial aid in before the June 1 deadline.
"It'll be a struggle but it will be well worth it in the end," said Danielle.