Personal Finance

Student with $90K college fund falls $20K short

Student with $90K splurged on more than just tuition

A 22-year-old college junior named Kim is making people scratch their heads.

Appearing on "The Bert Show," an Atlanta radio show, in July, Kim, who did not provide her last name and used auto-tune to disguise her voice, said that she had been given a $90,000 college fund by her grandparents, but had spent most of the money before her senior year.

The college junior says she used some of the cash to pay for three years of tuition, but she also copped to buying school clothes and a trip to Europe.

"The first payment for my senior year just arrived, and I don't have the money, basically," she said on the radio show. "I've just been avoiding it. I knew the bill was coming."

Kim told the radio station that she is shy $20,000 to cover the tuition bill for her final year of school.

Kim's appearance on "The Bert Show," and the strong reaction she got from callers, went viral and inspired a lengthy Reddit thread.

I didn’t blow it. I just spent it in other places.
22-year-old college student

"It's not my fault," Kim said on air during one of her four interviews with the station. "Maybe [my parents] should have taught me to budget or something. They never sat me down and had a real serious talk about it."

While the show's hosts aren't financial experts, they did offer some sound advice, ranging from asking her parents for a loan to getting a part-time job that would subsidize what was left in her college fund.

Kim didn't go for either fix.

"[My parents] said there was nothing they could do for me," she said. "I know they have the money...They're not being honest with me, saying they don't have [money] because my dad has worked for like a million years, and they have a retirement account."

The struggling junior's situation is in no way unique; the majority of college students seek some kind of financial aid.

While it may seem like an easy fix, tapping into a retirement fund early can be costly. In most cases a 10 percent penalty is implemented on an early withdrawal. While there are some funds that will not charge if the money is used to pay for education, there are other risks of tapping into your 401(k).

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"The first and foremost reason I advise people not to raid their retirement funds to pay for college education is this: while there are many different ways to fund a college education, there is really only one way to fund retirement and that's to save while you are working," said Leslie Beck, owner and principal financial adviser at Compass Wealth Management in New Jersey.

Social Security typically covers only about 39 percent of retirement income and 51 percent of the workforce has no private pension coverage, according to the Social Security Administration. Tapping into that fund early often results in a loss of compounding interest and could leave retirees with less money when they need it most.

Of course, there are many ways for Kim to fund her final year of college. Scholarships, grants, traditional student loans, bank loans and even online loan funding sites. However, Kim wasn't terribly keen on those options, either.

"Then my parents suggested I go take out a loan at a credit union, and I'm, like, how am I supposed to do that?"

About 66 percent of full-time students pay for college with the help of financial aid, according to The College Board. While student-loan companies will usually allow college students to delay the start of repayment until six months after graduation, a bank loan needs to be paid back monthly, starting almost immediately. Not to mention, it requires a credit check or a cosigner.

My job is being a student right now. I never planned on working through college.
22-year-old college student

As for the part-time job suggestion?

"That's embarrassing," Kim said."I know [my parents are] trying to teach me a lesson and blah blah blah and character building but, like, I hope they realize [working part-time] could have such a negative effect on my grades and as a person."

According to a 2013 survey by YouGov, about 80 percent of college students are working at least part-time to shoulder some of their education costs. On average, students were working 19 hours a week in addition to attending classes.

In Kim's case, it seems that users were not angered by how she spent her college fund so much as her general attitude.

"At some point in time, people need to take responsibility for their own actions and not blame their parents," one Reddit user wrote. "Going into the senior year of college is arguably past that time."